Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Horse is a Corpse, Of Course, Of Course

I hate the Mister Ed theme song.  Undoubtedly one of the worst earworms you'll ever get stuck in your head.  And I've never been a huge fan of the series either.  Even by 60s standards it seems a little bizarre.  But I do love celebrity graves, and when I heard that Ed himself (real name "Bamboo Harvester") was buried in an Oklahoma farmer's backyard, I couldn't book my plane ticket fast enough.

Now before I go any further, I have to state that there is some controversy regarding exactly which horse you'll find in Tahlequah.  In an interview given before his own death, series star Alan Young (Wilbur) stated that Bamboo Harvester died in a freak accident in California, and that his trainer had the body cremated.  Young purported that the horse who retired to Oklahoma following the show's cancellation was one used for publicity photos, but was never actually filmed on screen.  A dead ringer for the real Ed, this stand-in was named "Pumpkin."

Whichever horse it is, he retired from Hollywood following the show's cancellation in 1966, and moved with his owner to a farm an hour's drive from Oklahoma City.  Over the next 13 years, Ed enjoyed his role as a local celebrity, often appearing in the annual 4th of July parade.  (If anyone reading this has any old photos from those events, we here at Six Feet Under Hollywood would love to see them!)

Then on February 22, 1979, Mister Ed passed away.  His owner buried him in the backyard, and placed a simple wooden cross on the spot.  At some point in the 1980s, the farm changed hands, but the new owners were well aware of the Hollywood secret buried in their backyard.

For the next 11 years, the plot remained undisturbed.  Then in 1990, a Tulsa rock station, Z-104.5 FM, got wind of the story.  Deciding that Ed deserved a more dignified marker, they organized a fundraiser for a new memorial, a five-foot granite behemoth.  It was dedicated in a ceremony featuring a color guard (!) and a bouquet of carrots.

Location: Walker Farm, Highway 82, Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Since that time, the marker has attracted a variety of tourists.  Bear in mind, this marker is on private property, so if you're planning a visit, be respectful of that.  Knock first, or try to call ahead.

Here's something else to note.  The farm's current owner, Mr. Leonard Walker, once met the grandson of the original owner, the farmer who owned and buried Mister Ed.  According to Walker, the grandson believes that the marker is approximately 13 feet away from Ed's true burial position.  The grandson fondly remembers his youth, spending time with and riding Ed, then attending the service his grandfather held when the horse passed away.

Here are some better shots of the marker's inscriptions:

Top section

The radio station that arranged for the marker in 1990 is today known as "The Edge,"
offering Oklahomans alternative rock.
This inscription seems to caution that this may or may not be the real Mister Ed.
And prosper!
Finally, a note of thanks to Mr. Leonard Walker, for welcoming me to his property (uninvited!) and allowing me to take these photos.  He spent the afternoon telling me some of the stories you read here, stories he's undoubtedly told over 100 times. 

  In 2004, FOX tried to reboot Mister Ed as a wacky new series starring Sherilyn Fenn of Twin Peaks fame.  Who did they get to voice Mister Ed?  George Jefferson himself, Sherman Hemsley.  View the entire, unsold pilot here.

Shameless Plug:
  While traveling to Oklahoma to visit this site, my flight had to make an emergency landing in Branson, Missouri, after our cabin depressurized.  On the ground, I was interviewed by the local ABC affiliate in a story that went national.  You can watch that interview here

Friday, April 20, 2018

Our Gang/The Little Rascals

I grew up watching this old black and white TV show called The Little Rascals.  Years later, I discovered it had been created as a series of movie shorts way back in the 1920s under a different name - Our Gang.  Why the name change?  As with all decisions in Hollywood, it had to do with money, and just exactly who owned the property - its creator, Hal Roach, or the studio that produced it, MGM.

But whatever you call the show, you certainly know the names.  Spanky, Buckwheat and Alfalfa, just to name a few.  Between 1922 and 1944, more than 100 child stars would appear in the series, some of whom would find great success in Hollywood, like Perry White himself, Jackie Cooper, or TV's Baretta, aka Robert Blake.  Ok, bad example.

Tragedy befell most of the former Rascals, who had a tendency to pass under less than honorable circumstances.  While they've been laid to rest across the country, I've encountered five in my travels, presented here for the first time.

Alfalfa, aka Carl Switzer, was a member of Our Gang from 1935 to 1940.  Like many child stars, he had trouble transitioning to adult roles, and accepted parts in a variety of B movies.  His best post-Rascals part however, was in the 1946 film classic It's A Wonderful Life.  Look for him at the 0:43 mark in this clip.  Yes, he's Mary's dance partner.  He'd move around the country and try a variety of occupations before returning to Hollywood and settling down as a dog trainer. 

He had a number of famous clients, including Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.  Another client was a man named Moses Samuel Stiltz.  In January 1959, Stiltz hired Switzer to train his hunting dog.  While doing just that, the dog chased after a bear, and much like Switzer's career in Hollywood, it completely disappeared.  Switzer offered a reward of $35 for the dog's return, and he was only too happy to pay up when a good Samaritan found the pooch.  Switzer even threw in $15 worth of drinks from the tavern where he also tended bar.  And where apparently, he was also a regular himself. 

On the night of January 21, Switzer had had a few, and got to thinking about the $50 he had spent.  Why should he be out of pocket because of another man's dog?  The more he thought about it, he decided that Stiltz owed him that $50, which he then set out to reclaim.

OK, I didn't mean for this to be a how did they die blog.  But let's be honest, this story has meat.

Switzer showed up at Stiltz's house in a drunken rage.  He demanded that Stiltz reimburse him, which Stiltz promptly refused.  The two began to fight, and Switzer smashed a dome clock over Stiltz's head, causing him to bleed from his left eye.  Stiltz retreated to his bedroom where he retrieved his .38-caliber revolver.  Enraged, Switzer produced a knife and threatened to kill Stiltz, who promptly shot him in the groin.  Alfalfa died en route to the hospital.

Location: Hollywood Forever, Hollywood, California
Plot: Garden of Memory, Grave 6, Lot 26
GPS: 34.08917, -118.31954

Trivia: Alfalfa died on the same day as legendary Hollywood producer Cecil B. DeMille.  As a result, his death received little media attention at the time, even given its extraordinary circumstances.  In a final indignity, the two were both buried at Hollywood Forever, though DeMille's final resting place is infinitely more grandiose.

People often wonder if the dog featured on Switzer's marker is supposed to be Petey, the Our Gang pooch.  According to his family, it is not.  Rather, it is a nod to his chosen profession as a dog trainer.

Buckwheat, aka William Thomas, led a very different life.  Although he had a successful ten-year run as the character, he became increasingly disinterested in continuing his Hollywood career.  At the age of 23, he enlisted in the Army, serving for three years and earning two of our Nation's highest medals.  After he was discharged, he returned to Hollywood, though not as an actor.  He learned the craft of film editing and cutting, becoming a lab technician at Technicolor.  He died on October 10, 1980.

Location: Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California
Plot: Acacia Slope, Lot 773, Grave D
GPS: 33.964, -118.3371

Trivia: In 1990, anchorman Hugh Downs delivered a "where are they now" segment on the TV news program 20/20, and presented Bill English, a grocery clerk from Arizona, as the real Buckwheat.  One viewer that night was former Rascal George "Spanky" McFarland, who couldn't believe what he was seeing.  McFarland had known William Thomas and his family, and more importantly, had known that he had died.  A few days later, McFarland confronted English on another news program, A Current Affair.  Watch it here.  As a result, a producer of 20/20 was fired and the network was sued by Thomas's family.  Fake news!

Darla Hood continued to enjoy success as an entertainer after ending her run with Our Gang, organizing a vocal group called "The Enchanters."  Later, she went solo, touring night clubs and landing guest spots on TV.  Then in 1979, while helping to prepare a reunion of the surviving Our Gang cast members, Hood checked herself into Canoga Park Hospital for a simple appendectomy.  While there, she contracted hepatitis from a blood transfusion, which led to her death of heart failure on June 13, 1979.
Location:  Hollywood Forever, Hollywood, California
Plot: Abbey of the Psalms, Sanctuary of Light, Top Row, Corridor G-4, Crypt 7213
GPS: 34.0892906, -118.3211975 (hddd.dddd)

Trivia:  In 1962, Darla reprised her Our Gang role on The Jack Benny Program, with Jack himself appearing as Alfalfa.  See the show in its entirety here.  She comes in at about the 4:20 mark.

Chubby, aka Norm Myers Chaney, was a Maryland native who responded to a nationwide casting call for new Rascals as the pictures entered the dawn of talkies.  He spent three years in the role before returning to his native Baltimore.  Not long after, his excessive girth was diagnosed as the result of a glandular ailment, one that would lead to his death from myocarditis on May 29, 1936.  He was only 21 years old, and he was the first Our Gang alumni to pass away.

Location: Baltimore Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland
Plot: Section E, immediately on your right as you enter the front gate.
Traveler's advisory:  This cemetery is in a really rough neighborhood

Trivia: Chaney's mother was unable to afford a headstone for her son, who's grave remained unmarked for 76 years.  In 2012, a Detroit musician launched an online fundraising drive, raising $4,500 for the stone you see here.

Farina, aka Allen Hoskins, enjoyed a solid ten years with Our Gang, which started when he was just one year old.  Like other members of the company, he served his country during World War 2, then settled into a new life in the world of physical rehabilitation in the San Francisco area.  In July 1980, he fell into a coma, and was admitted to a local hospital, where he passed on the 26th.  The cause of death was listed as cancer. 

Location: Evergreen Cemetery, Oakland, California
Plot: Serenity A, Base 19, Row 3 (just north of the Hell's Angels)
GPS: 37.7733612, -122.1801987 (hddd.dddd)

Trivia: The character of Farina was written to be played by either gender, and was often portrayed as both a boy and a girl, sometimes in the same short!

As noted above, Hoskins has some pretty famous neighbors, as Evergreen is the official cemetery of the Hell's Angels biker gang.  They own a wide section of the park, which is relatively close to Hoskins. 

Evergreen is also the final resting place of hundreds of members of the Jim Jones cult, all of whom committed mass suicide in 1978. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ohio Man Drives his Harley Davidson Through the Pearly Gates

Every so often, I like to review some of the more unusual or out-of-the-way graves I've encountered in my travels.  Celebrities are fine, but I also appreciate extra-terrestrials, cults and other odd figures buried on American soil.

Take for example, Bill Standley of Mechanicsburg, Ohio.  Bill was by all accounts a regular guy.  A family man, father of 4, with 9 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.  He spent 47 years as a commercial truck driver, and was active in his local unions.  His hobbies included fishing, dancing, and horseback riding.  And then of course, there was his Harley.

Bill had a passion for his motorcycle, and with it came a dilemma.  He had two sons, both of whom wanted it upon his death.  Unable to choose between them, he adopted an unusual plan.

Bill passed in 2014, but he started planning his funeral 18 years earlier.  A funeral that would see him permanently positioned atop his cherished roadster, entombed in a homemade Plexiglas vault.

Ghost Rider.
Funeral services were held on a cold, wintry day in January.  Mourners were given the opportunity to view the unusual casket at Skillman, McDonald and Vernon Funeral Home in Mechanicsburg before embarking on the most unusual funeral procession the state had ever seen.

Man and Hog.
I wish I could say that I'd been privy to these events.  Sadly, I'd not learn about it until some months later.  Fortunately, I'd already been planning a trip through Ohio to visit some other graves, and was able to work in a detour to pay my respects to old Bill.

I've no idea why there's a monkey atop Bill's grave.  One can only imagine.  The inscription on his side of the joint stone reads, appropriately, "East Bound and Down, Still Going On."

Local members of the media were also on hand for Bill's funeral.  For a fascinating report, courtesy of WBNS TV-10 in Columbus, click here.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Hazzard County Graveyard

The Dukes of Hazzard.  One can't discuss 1980's television without eventually coming around to this landmark series about two good ol' boys, their sexy-as-hell cousin Daisy, and their souped-up Dodge Charger the General Lee.  While it's come under fire in recent years for its use of confederate heritage, it still remains the most heavily merchandised TV series to date.  As actor James Best once put it, "I always felt CBS was embarrassed by Dukes because it was a southern show.  But boy they took the money quick enough."

While there are countless blogs devoted to the series itself, none have ever documented where the stars were laid to rest.  Until now.  I love it, I love it!

Sorrell Booke of course, played the conniving Boss Hogg, a character that became so popular he once appeared on the CBS sit-com Alice.  Don't believe me?  See it here.  Booke was an established Broadway star and TV character actor before accepting the role that would quite literally follow him to the grave.  He was the first to pass, on February 11, 1994, after a long battle with cancer.

  Booke and co-star Denver Pyle (below) were the only two actors to appear in all 147 episodes of the series.  While Booke passed in 1994, his surviving castmates reunited three years later in the television movie Reunion in Hazzard.  The film was dedicated to Booke, though shockingly, his name was misspelled.

Hillside Memorial Park, Los Angeles
Plot: Court of Dedication, Block 2, Plot 72, Space 4B (right under a tree)
GPS: 33.9796906, -118.3911133 (hddd.dddd)

The inscription on Booke's grave reads:
"Beloved Pa, Grandpa, Brother and Boss."

Denver Pyle was cast as the Duke patriarch, Uncle Jesse, a phrase in existence long before the series Full House.  Pyle was so revered in the series that he even served as narrator of its Saturday morning cartoon counterpart, The Dukes.  In 1983, he married his second wife, Tippie Johnston.  Years later, upon his death in 1997, he was buried in an unmarked grave in Forreston, Texas, next to his in-laws.

Trivia: Pyle was an established Hollywood fixture for more than 50 years before finally receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an event that wouldn't happen until December 12, 1997 - two weeks before his death.  His appearance as Uncle Jesse in the 1997 television movie Reunion in Hazzard was his final role.

Location: Forreston Cemetery, Forreston, Texas
Plot: Look for the Johnston stone.  You can't miss the thing.

Waylon Jennings served as the Balladeer, or as folks up North called him, the Narrator.  Waylon was given free reign by series creator Gy Waldron to take his scripts and "Waylonize" them, giving the words a more down-home feel.  Take this scene here for instance.  Here's another fine example. While Waylon is beloved by Dukes fans the world over, it was his country music career that he is best remembered for, after passing from diabetes on February 13, 2002.

Waylon was the only billed star to appear as himself in the series, in a final season episode called, appropriately, "Welcome, Waylon Jennings."  He originated the role in 1975's "Moonrunners," the film on which Gy Waldron later based the series.

Location: City of Mesa Cemetery, Mesa, Arizona
Plot: Section 766, Lot 1, Grave 6
GPS: 33.43812, -111.83554

Waylon's headstone bears two passages:
"I am My Beloved's, My Beloved is Mine.  A Loving Son, Husband, Father and Grandfather."
"A Vagabond Dreamer, A Rhymer and Singer of Songs.  A Revolutionary in Country Music Beloved by the World."

Peggy Rea had a recurring role as Boss Hogg's wife Lulu, older sister to Sheriff Rosco.  She originated the part in the early episodes filmed in Georgia, then joined the rest of the cast when they moved production to Burbank.  While Boss himself never got to drive the General Lee, Lulu did on one occasion, outrunning her brother and jumping over a barn.  Rea died of heart failure on February 5, 2011. 

Rea was simultaneously on CBS's other southern family drama The Waltons.

Location: Santa Barbara Cemetery, Santa Barbara, California
Plot: Columbarium

Parley Baer also had a recurring role on the series, in the form of local physician Doc Appleby.  We're guessing that Doc was his given name, considering that his real name was never given.

In 1997, Baer suffered a stroke, permanently ending his career.  Five years later he'd suffer an additional stroke, which ultimately ended his life on November 22, 2002.

Despite a television career of nearly 50 years, Baer is best remembered for having provided the voice of Ernie, the Keebler Elf.

Location: Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills
Plot: Court of Liberty, Gardens of Heritage, Lot 1101, Space 1
GPS: 34.1441574, -118.3163757 (hddd.dddd)

Cremated Cast Members

James Best, who portrayed Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, died on April 6, 2015.  In the years leading up to his death, he was a regular at Dukes of Hazzard fan events, including the popular "DukesFest" hosted by series regular Ben Jones (Cooter).  In 2009, he published his autobiography, Best in Hollywood: The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful.  He also self-produced a biographical documentary entitled Rosco Remembers, which you can view in it's entirety here.

Christoper "Chip" Mayer portrayed replacement Duke Boy Vance throughout most of season 5, during a hotly contested walkout by series stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat.  After his dismissal from the series, he had a modestly successful Hollywood career, mostly during the daytime, and in endless guest appearances on 80's favorite The Love Boat.  Mayer passed quite suddenly from a brain aneurysm on July 23, 2011. 

It was initially reported that he'd been buried in Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.  Through diligent research however, the team here at Six Feet Under Hollywood eventually confirmed he'd been cremated and given to his father in New Jersey.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

OJ Simpson: The Trial of the Century

There isn't a whole lot of introduction necessary for this one.  If you're reading this blog, you're probably old enough to remember the OJ Simpson murder trial of the late 1990s, not to be confused with the OJ Simpson robbery and assault trial of the early 2000s.  But back in June 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend/sunglass procurer Ron Goldman were found brutally murdered in Brentwood, California.  Brown's husband/batterer OJ Simpson was the prime suspect, dragging America through a yearlong trial and setting back race relations more than 100 years.

Brown and Goldman were laid to rest in the Los Angeles area.  As the years passed, other key figures from the case would pass on as well, though most from natural causes (we think).  Here are four of the most prominent.

Victim #1.
Nicole Brown Simpson died on June 12, 1994.  Just 35 years old at the time, German-born Brown had been married to the former professional football player since 1985, six years after their first date (while Simpson was still married).

Her body was discovered the following morning at her home at 875 South Bundy Drive in Brentwood, lying in the fetal position in a pool of blood.  I'd post the photos here, but hey, that's what Google is for.

Trivia: In the 2016 mini-series American Crime Story, a bereaved OJ Simpson (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.) pulls up to Nicole's grave to take a look.  This incident could not have happened in reality, as Nicole's grave is at the bottom of a hill, completely inaccessible by vehicles.

Location:  Ascension Cemetery, Lake Forest, California
Plot: Section A, Tier 17, Grave 97

Victim #2
Ronald Lyle Goldman also died on June 12, 1994.  A friend of Nicole's, he had arrived at her home to return a pair of sunglasses, an act of kindness that would prove fatal.  Police summed it up to his having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Although O.J. would inevitably be found not guilty in the criminal trial, he was held liable in a subsequent civil trial filed by the Goldman's family, and was ordered to pay $8.5 million.

Trivia: Goldman is buried in the same row as Marvel Comics legend Jack Kirby, the co-creator of such classic characters as Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four.

Location: Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park
Plot: Beth Olam Garden, Plot 63, Grave D
GPS: 34.15208, -118.79898

The inscription on Goldman's marker reads:
"Sometimes when we're alone and lost in thought and all the world seems far away, you come to us as if in a dream, gently taking our hands and filling our hearts with the warmth of your presence.  And we smile, knowing that although we cannot be together for now, you're always close in our thoughts.  Missing you now, loving you always."

Jackie Chiles.
Johnnie Cochran, who served as quarterback of the legal dream team that successfully defended O.J., died of a brain tumor on March 29, 2005.  He lives on however, in the world of daytime television.  If you've got a phone, you've got a lawyer.

In addition to O.J., Cochran represented a number of pop culture icons throughout his career, including Todd Bridges, P Diddy, and the King of Weird, Michael Jackson.

Trivia:  O.J. went to the funeral!

Location: Inglewood Park Cemetery
Plot: Machester Garden Mausoleum, Chapel of Honor, Crypt 1202
View Map

The inscription on Cochran's marker reads:
"Our Hero, Husband, Father, Son, Brother And Beloved By All.  Warrior For Justice."

Not David Schwimmer.
Robert Kardashian was a long-time friend of OJ, who received national attention as one of the first to publicly proclaim his belief in OJ's innocence, a point he would later reconsider.  He formed the legal dream team that ultimately saw Cochran as it's head, but was always found next to Simpson during the trial.

Trivia:  Kardashian has three daughters, who have, with some success, entered the entertainment industry.

Location: Inglewood Park Cemetery
Plot: Park Terrace Section, Lot 628

The inscription on Kardashian's marker reads:
"A Man of Tender Heart and Generous Spirit."

Full disclosure, I have not actually been to Kardashian's grave.  So thanks to the nameless Internet person from whom I borrowed this photo.