Friday, July 20, 2018

Aunt Bee: Six Feet Under

Full disclosure.  I've never been a huge fan of The Andy Griffith Show.  But I get it.  It has its own place in the pop culture Hall of Fame, and a large part of that is due to the show's matriarch, Aunt Bee, played by actress Frances Bavier.

She was born on December 14, 1902 in New York City, a far cry from Mayberry indeed.  After graduating from Columbia University, she began her career in vaudeville, before eventually moving to the Broadway stage.  Film roles would follow, including the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, along with roles on such popular TV series as Perry Mason and The Lone Ranger.

People often forget that Andy Griffith was a spin-off of another popular series, Make Room for Daddy.  The original pilot featured two familiar faces - Andy, playing his soon-to-be iconic character of Andy Taylor, and a then-unknown Ron Howard in his first appearance as Opie.  Bavier also appeared in the pilot, playing an unrelated character named Henrietta Perkins.  When the concept went to series however, she was recast in the more familiar role of Aunt Bee.  Watch the entire Daddy episode here.

Bavier resented the character, and by her own admission, cared little for Griffith either.  Despite all this, she logged more time in Mayberry than any other actor, appearing in both the original series and it's follow-up, Mayberry R.F.D.  I still don't know what that stands for.

In 1972, she retired from acting, and retreated to a simpler life in Siler City, North Carolina.  Given her New York background, it seemed an odd choice.  "I fell in love with North Carolina," she explained, "all the pretty roads and trees."  A local author chronicled this transition in her memoirs.

Bavier enjoyed her final years, doing charity work with the Easter Seals Society and by writing encouraging letters to her fans all over the world.  She was also quite the cat lover, and according to at least one report, would today be a prime candidate for the TV series Hoarders.  Read about her reclusive lifestyle here.

Then in late 1989, she was admitted to Chatham Hospital's coronary unit, where she spent two weeks undergoing observation.  She was released on December 4, but passed away just two days later.  The official cause of death was congestive heart failure, with supporting factors being breast cancer, arthritis, and COPD.  She was just eight days shy of her 87th birthday.

She was interred at Oakwood Cemetery, a simple country graveyard in Siler City.  As you travel down the country road leading to the park, be sure to look for a local business called, what else, Aunt Bee's.  Though it's not in any way related to Bavier. 

Normally I like to offer readers directions for finding burial locations, but you won't have any trouble finding this one.  In fact, you can spot it from the road.  At seven feet tall, it towers over every other headstone at Oakwood.  It even bears her character's name, and given her disdain for Aunt Bee, you really have to wonder who made that call.

Rest in peace, Aunt Bee.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Arizona Governor's Pyramid Tomb

He was Arizona's first governor, and apparently, it's most eccentric.  While this site typically brings you the dirt on celebrity graves, we occasionally like to profile the more bizarre and unique ones we encounter in our travels.  And the self-erected pyramid of George W.P. Hunt certainly qualifies.

He was born on November 1, 1859 in Hunstville, Missouri (the town was named after his grandfather). While born into privilege, his family would lose everything in the War Between the States.  However, he still finished college and made his way west, eventually settling in Arizona.  Deciding on a career in politics, his early bids for office were unsuccessful, but he'd later be elected governor no less than seven times.  Term limits anyone? 

When his wife passed in 1931, he felt that she deserved nothing less than a shrine, and he erected the pyramid on a hilltop in Papago Park overlooking nearby Phoenix.  Three years later he'd join her in the tomb, which was clearly constructed of bathroom tile.

Location: Papago Park, Phoenix, Arizona
Address: 625 N Galvin Parkway

We had hoped to include a YouTube video or two here for you to enjoy.  Unfortunately, all of those on YouTube suck. 

Next up: The Man Who Had Two Graves!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Cesar Romero: Six Feet Under

Cesar Julio Romero, Jr. was born on February 15, 1907.  Born in New York City, he'd later earn the nickname "The Latin from Manhattan."  The things you learn on the internet.

Romero grew up in Bradley Beach, New Jersey, where his father owned a sugar import business.  The Crash of 1929 however, would put the family in financial straights, pushing Romero, a budding actor, into the role of provider for his brothers and sisters.

Throughout the 1930s, he routinely played Latin lovers on the big screen, starring opposite such notable actresses as Carmen Miranda.  In 1941, the two teamed up for Week-End in Havana, for which he was billed as "a specialist in rumba and romance."  See the trailer here.

When America entered World War 2, Romero put Hollywood on hold and enlisted in the Coast Guard, where he was eventually promoted to the rank of Chief Boatswain's Mate.

After the war, he returned to Hollywood and resumed his career, working with the likes of Tyrone Power, Martha Raye and Barbara Eden.  But it was a call from 20th Century Fox in 1965 that would forever enshrine him in the pop culture Hall of Fame, when he was offered the role of the Joker on the 1960s Batman television series.  Convinced that he owed his Latin lover image to his swarthy moustache, Romero refused to shave it for the series, opting instead to simply paint over it.  Watch the late Adam West discuss the hilarious results of that decision here.

In the 1970s and 80s, Romero regularly landed guest star spots on television, including this episode of Charlie's Angels, where the drama takes place, where else, but on a dance floor.

In late 1993, Romero checked in to St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica.  While being treated for bronchitis and pneumonia, he developed a blood clot, which would end his life on January 1, 1994.  One day after my 1993 dead pool expired.  In the end, the joke was on me.

Romero was cremated, placed in a uniquely designed family urn, already occupied by his parents and two siblings. 

Location: Inglewood Park Cemtery, Los Angeles
Plot: Mausoleum of the Golden West, Alcove of Music, Niche 408

 Romero was a registered Republican, probably the last one to ever live in Hollywood.  In 1960, he campaigned regularly for Richard Nixon.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Carroll O'Connor: Six Feet Under

Carroll O'Connor.  Archie Bunker.  The two names go hand in hand.  And they both rose to national prominence in 1971 with the premiere of "All in the Family," a series that would literally re-write the sit-com industry for generations to come.  Gone were the Cleavers, the Nelsons, and all the other families who got along.  The Bunkers offered a more realistic vision of the modern family.

He was born John Carroll O'Connor on August 2, 1924.  Like his TV counterpart, O'Connor grew up in New York, spending much of his youth in Queens.  He appeared on stage throughout most of the 1950s and 60s, but failed to gain national attention until the 1970 film "Kelly's Heroes."  By that point however, he had already appeared in a record three pilot episodes for "All in the Family" under it's original name "Justice For All," which was ultimately picked up by CBS. 

O'Connor suffered from diabetes, which ultimately forced him to retire, having completed 12 seasons as Archie Bunker (on two back-to-back series) and six seasons starring on "In the Heat of the Night."  He lost a toe to the disease, before ultimately suffering a massive, fatal heart attack on June 21, 2001.  He was 76 years old.  The story dominated the evening news broadcasts.  See a compilation video here.

A funeral mass was held in Los Angeles.  Several co-stars from both series attended, with Jean Stapleton being the only notable exception.  The actress who appeared alongside O'Connor as Edith Bunker was committed to a play at the time and could not attend.  O'Connor's best friend and fellow actor Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing on "Dallas") delivered the eulogy.

Following the service, O'Connor was laid to rest at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village in Los Angeles in it's famed "Celebrity Row."  Sadly, his son Hugh preceded him in death by six years, having committed suicide in 1995.  He was already interred in the plot by the time O'Connor himself passed away.

This photo was taken prior to the death of O'Connor's widow Nancy, who ultimately passed on November 10, 2014, after a long bout with Alzheimer's Disease.

While visitors can pay their respects to O'Connor in Los Angeles, they can also see a museum of artifacts from his career some 3,000 miles away in the town of Covington, Georgia, where much of "In the Heat of the Night" was filmed.  Stop by the Visitors Center to see photos, costumes, and O'Connor's on-set chair from the landmark series.

Farewell Archie.  Those, truly were, the days.

Trivia:  In 1963, O'Connor screen tested for the role of the Skipper on "Gilligan's Island," a part that ultimately went to Alan Hale, Jr.  While studio execs favored O'Connor for the part, producer Sherwood Schwartz wanted someone more loveable. 

Fan Video of the O'Connor Family grave
  "Justice For All" Unaired 1968 pilot
  "In the Heat of the Night" reunion in Covington

Monday, July 2, 2018

Bil Keane: Six Feet Under

Bil Keane is not exactly a household name.  Fans of the daily comics know his work however, as creator of the strip that would define his legacy, "The Family Circus."  The strip, which made it's debut in 1960, follows Bil and Thelma Keane as they raise their four children, Billy, Dolly, Jeffy and P.J.  As you might have surmised, the characters are loosely based on the artist's own family.

Bil Keane was born William Aloysius Keane in 1922.  His family lived in Pennsylvania, where as a schoolboy he taught himself to draw by following the style of those cartoons published in The New Yorker.  After high school and a tour with the army, Keane settled with his family in Paradise Valley, Arizona in 1959.  From there, he launched the series that he would continue to draw for more than 50 years.  Bil Keane passed of congestive heart failure on November 8, 2011.

Keane was laid to rest in Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Phoenix.  Should you decide to visit, you won't have any trouble locating the grave, as Keane's is the only above-ground monument. 

It is also notable for its decorations, the very characters he spent his lifetime perfecting.  One can't help but assume that Keane designed the sarcophagus himself, given the attention to detail his characters are given.  It offers a refreshing celebration of life, a quality not often found among other such memorials.

Before his passing his 2011, Bil passed the torch, or in this case the pen, to his son Jeff, who continues to draw "The Family Circus."