Friday, March 23, 2018

Game Over: The Cast of "Press Your Luck"

Press Your Luck was a game show that ran for four years in the mid 1980s.  A modest hit for CBS, it was famous for the big board, through which contestants could win cash and prizes.  It was also famous for the "Whammy," an animated gremlin, who would steal all your winnings if you had the misfortune of landing on his square.  See a compilation video here.

The show made TV history in 1984, when an unemployed ice cream truck driver from Ohio swept the board, taking home more than $110,000 in cash prizes - a sum unheard of before and rarely seen since.  Larson used a new invention called a "VCR" to record the show, then memorize the proclaimed "random" patterns displayed on the big board.  "STOP!"

Ultimately, life would throw Larson the biggest Whammy of them all, along with the show's announcer Rod Roddy (Come on down!) and host/watch winder Peter Tomarken.  They are buried in Ohio, Texas, and California respectively.

Peter Tomarken hosted a series of game shows both before and after Press Your Luck, but none could ever rival its success.  He left Hollywood in 2000 and became a real estate agent, as well as an "Angel of Mercy" pilot, through which he transported patients for surgical procedures.  It was on such a flight on March 13, 2006, when his Beechcraft Bonanza crashed off Santa Monica, killing him and his wife Kathleen.  The cause was later determined to be improper engine repair.

Hillside Memorial Park, Los Angeles
Plot: Laurel Gardens, Block 16, Plot 4, Grave 3
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September 11, 2001, is a date all Americans will remember.  With the attacks on America serving as a backdrop, Rod Roddy received devastating news that day - he had colon cancer.  The long-running emcee of The Price is Right, who had served the same role throughout the run of Press Your Luck, would begin a two-year battle with his condition, ultimately passing on October 27, 2003.  He was buried with his mother in Fort Worth, Texas.

Location: Greenwood Memorial Park and Mausoleum, Forth Worth, Texas
Plot: Peace 44
GPS: 32.76205, -97.36848
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Michael Larson is the man who beat the Whammy at his own game.  Sadly he'd lose most of his winnings in poor investments and faulty home security.  He received little attention for his accomplishment at the time, but has received more in recent years, though sadly it is posthumous.  Larson died of throat cancer in 1999, while in hiding from the government on charges of tax fraud.  Watch his full episode here, and a TV Land special documenting it here.

Lebanon Cemetery, Lebanon, Ohio
Plot: Section C 

Friday, March 16, 2018

'Scuse Me While I Kiss The Dirt: The Shrine to Jimi Hendrix

Full disclosure.  I am not a huge Jimi Hendrix fan.  I am however, a fan of celebrity graves, and Hendrix has one of the best I've ever seen.  Located in Renton, Washington, just outside Seattle, it serves as a shrine to the rock icon.

Greenwood Memorial Park is where it's at, and you won't have any troubles finding it.  It's the only above-ground plot in the entire park.


"Can You See Me?"

"Stone Free"

"Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?"

"In From the Storm"

"Third Stone from the Sun"

"Mr. Bad Luck"

"I Don't Live Today"

Thursday, March 8, 2018

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

In 1962, Director Stanley Kramer set out to make the world's first epic comedy.  Most in Hollywood thought he was nuts, as he was known for his dramatic works.  Kramer's films offered social commentary, including Judgement at Nuremburg, for which he won the Academy Award, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.  But he had a yearning to conquer comedy as well, and many will claim he succeeded.

The idea behind the film was to take everyone who had ever been famous in comedy until that time and cram them all into one laugh-packed film, budget be damned.  Indeed, the principal cast has 12 of Hollywood's biggest names, with an additional 6 in supporting roles, and another 52 (that's not a typo) making cameo appearances.

The film begins with a dying Jimmy Durante, who literally kicks the bucket, informing five strangers of a fortune in buried loot.  While the group initially plans to share the money equally, it eventually devolves into a hilarious case of every man for himself.  See the trailer here.

With so many people involved in this production, it's hard not to have a grave or two.  I have 15.  Sadly, none of them are buried under the Big W.  Like the film, I've broken them down into principal cast, supporting roles, and cameos.

Principal Cast

Spencer Tracy heads the all-star cast, playing the beleaguered, hen-pecked Captain T.G. Culpepper.  It wasn't his first time working for Kramer, and it wouldn't be his last.  But it was his first comedy.  Like Kramer, he sought a departure from his dramatic personae, and Culpepper seemed to be the perfect fit.

Tracy died of a heart attack on June 10, 1967, just four years after the film's release.
Location: Forest Lawn Glendale
Plot: Court of Freedom, Garden of Everlasting Peace, Map #G30, Distinguished Memorial - Private Garden 8
GPS: 34.12254, -118.23504
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Milton Berle played businessman J. Russell Finch, taking a less-than-relaxing trip with wife Dorothy Provine and her domineering mother Ethel Merman.  Finch is one of the more stable, laid-back characters on the hunt for the money, often serving as the straight man to the other players, like in this scene with Terry-Thomas.

Berle died of colon cancer on March 27, 2002.

Hillside Memorial Park
Plot: Acacia Garden, MM 354-B
GPS: 33.97864, -118.38895
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Mickey Rooney played Ding Bell, an entertainer of sorts, en route to Vegas as the story begins.  Bell and his business partner Benjy Benjamin (Buddy Hackett) have a tendency to risk life and limb much more so than their competitors in this pursuit, as shown in this scene here.

Rooney was the last major star of the film to pass, on April 6, 2014.  He was survived by 11 children and 8 wives.
Location: Hollywood Forever
Plot: Cathedral Lake View, Elevation 15, Couch B-1501
GPS: 34.08855, -118.31652
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Phil Silvers played the conniving Otto Meyer, a fact I had to learn from IMDb.  His character's name is never given on screen.  Hands down, the most ruthless character in this cast, going so far as to strand a hapless Jonathan Winters in the middle of the desert, leading to a hilarious comeuppance later in the film.

Silvers died on November 1, 1985.

Location: Mount Sinai Memorial Park
Plot: Garden of Tradition, Lot 1004
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Supporting Roles
Jimmy Durante played Smiler Grogan, the motorist who's dying words put 14 strangers on a hunt for $350,000, the result of a "tuna can" robbery some 15 years earlier.  See Grogan drive off a cliff here.

Durante died of pneumonia on January 29, 1980.

Holy Cross Cemetery
Plot: F, T96, Space #6
GPS: 33.99071, -118.3876
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Peter Falk played "Third Cab Driver," a character who doesn't appear until the third act.  Like Phil Silvers, I never had any clue as to what his character's name was.  Thank God for IMDb.

Falk was most famous for his portrayal of Columbo.  Oh and one more thing.  He died of Alzheimer's Disease on June 23, 2011.

Location: Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park
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Jim Backus played Tyler Fitzgerald, a drunken charter pilot hired by Benjy and Ding.  Fitzgerald is basically every other character Backus ever played, including his signature role of Thurston Howell III.  Watch what happens when he decides to mix a few drinks mid-flight.   

Backus died from Parkinson's Disease on July 3, 1989. 

Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park
Plot: Section D, #203
GPS: 34.05818, -118.44153
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Jack Benny has an uncredited (!) role as "Man in Car in Desert." His character is proof that no good deed goes unpunished.

His "Jack Benny Show" co-star Eddie Anderson also appears in the film, with a much meatier role as "Second Cab Driver."

Benny died of pancreatic cancer on December 26, 1974.

Hillside Memorial Park
Plot: Mausoleum, Hall of Graciousness
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Selma Diamond played Ginger Culpepper, a character we never actually see on screen.  But that's her voice nagging Spencer Tracy by phone through the first half of the picture.  Hear a sample of it here.

Diamond died of lung cancer on May 13, 1985.

Hillside Memorial Park
Plot: Courts of the Book, Jacob-I-4004
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Morey Amsterdam is another actor uncredited in the film, in the role of Uncle Mike.  Quite frankly, I ain't even sure where (if) he appears in the film.  Perhaps it ended up on the cutting room floor.  But he seems a natural fit for the production, having come up through Vaudeville, radio, and TV like so many of the other performers.

Amsterdam died of a heart attack on October 27, 1996.

Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills
Plot: Courts of Remembrance, Map #E30 (Unit 4, Elevation 30), Single Wall Crypt #3632
GPS: 34.15007, -118.31985
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The film also features two actors who would later appear in the hit sit-com "Three's Company," Don Knotts and Norman Fell.  Their respective graves have already been documented in this blog, along with the graves of these fine gentlemen:

They only appear on screen for about five seconds.  Just goes to show the lengths Kramer went to to truly make this film an epic.

And finally, a nod to all the late performers in the film, not chronicled in this blog, including Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Dick Shawn, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Dorothy Provine, Stan Freberg, Sterling Holloway, Buster Keaton, Marvin Kaplan, Madlyn Rhue, Arnold Stang and Stanley Kramer.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Unidentified Buried Object

While this blog was created with the intention of highlighting graves of the famous, I often encounter strange or unusual markers in my travels.  Every so often, I'll take a break from Hollywood and profile some of these lesser known, but certainly odd graves as well.

In 2014, I was visiting the Dallas, Texas area, when I read a story too bizarre to be true.  It begins on April 17, 1897, when residents claimed that a spaceship crashed into a windmill, destroying both the craft and it's sole occupant, an extra-terrestrial.  Although he wasn't one of their own, the good people of Aurora felt that he deserved a decent Christian burial.

Intrigued, I knew that I had to see this grave, and fortunately, it wasn't too far from Dallas.  I made my way to Aurora Cemetery, where I found this historical marker.  Although mostly dedicated to documented Confederate history, the marker does denote the town's most famous visitor.

".....This site is also well-known because of the legend that a spaceship crashed nearby in 1897 and the pilot, killed in the crash, was buried here."
The thing that always struck me about this is the fact that the alien didn't receive top billing, as if this were a common, every-day experience.  How many small towns can claim to have an extra-terrestrial buried among their citizenry?

As for the grave itself, the marker, if there ever was one, has long since disappeared.  But legend has it that E.T. was buried under this old tree.

Hoping to kill the mystery, a group of scientists petitioned in 1972 to have the body exhumed in order to conduct an alien autopsy.  But in a hysterical act of bureaucratic red tape, their efforts were blocked by the cemetery association, as exhumations can only be authorized by next of kin.

In 1986, Hollywood came calling, and released a film documenting the incident, appropriately called Aurora Encounter.  Watch the hilariously awful trailer here.

Next: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World