Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Frank Gorshin: Six Feet Under

Frank John Gorshin, Jr. was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 5, 1933.  He was the son of Slovenian immigrants to the United States, who were very active in Pittsburgh's local Slovenian community.  Frank got his first taste of show biz singing in the Slovenian Singing Society Preseren.

By age 15, Frank was already a skilled impressionist.  He took a job as a theatre usher, where he studied the mannerisms of those on the silver screen.  Before graduating from high school, he was already performing in nightclubs.

After a tour with the Army, Gorshin returned to America and resumed his public career.  He appeared in a number of films and television series throughout the 1950s and 60s, including The Ed Sullivan Show.  Gorshin made a number of appearances on the show, and was a guest on February 9, 1964 - the same night the Beatles made their iconic premiere.  History also forgets one other guest from that night - future teen heartthrob Davy Jones.  The things you learn on the internet.

In 1965, Gorshin was cast in the role that would mark his career, that of the Riddler on the iconic Batman television series.  He was the first of the rogues gallery to taunt the dynamic duo, appearing in the pilot episode.  Watch him chew up the scenery in this compilation video.

Over the next three years, he'd play the character in ten different half-hour installments, earning an Emmy nomination along the way (Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy).  Yes, even the Academy acknowledged that Batman was a comedy.

After Batman completed its run, Gorshin made a memorable appearance on another pop culture juggernaut, Star Trek.  Watch him try to match wits with Captain Kirk here.

Gorshin never hurt for work, continuing to appear on stage and screen for the next three decades.  He made appearances in such series as Hawaii Five-O, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and of course, Murder, She Wrote.  His final guest role was on an episode of CSI, directed by Quentin Tarantino, which aired two days after he died.

In 2002, Gorshin was on Broadway in a one-man show called Say Goodnight, Gracie, playing the iconic showman George Burns.  It was nominated for a 2003 Tony Award for best play.  By 2005, he was touring the country with the production. 

After completing a performance in Memphis in April, Gorshin boarded a plane bound for Los Angeles.  While en route, he experienced difficulty breathing, receiving emergency oxygen from the flight crew.  Once on the ground, he was transported to a hospital in Burbank , where he passed on May 17, 2005.  A lifelong smoker, Gorshin died of lung cancer, emphysema and pneumonia.  Jesus.

Gorshin's family returned him to his native Pittsburgh, where he was buried with his parents and his brothers at Calvary Catholic Cemetery.  The headstone befits his iconic showbiz career.

According to a groundskeeper at Calvary who spoke to me on the subject, Gorshin's burial vault was painted lime green with a question mark on either side.  We can only hope that this is true.

Next:  Tragedy strikes on the set of Twilight Zone: the Movie.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Satan Buried in Ohio Cemetery!

In the 1920s, Ohio veterinarian Walter Brown founded the Brown Pet Cemetery in Columbus.  For the next five or six decades, it would see a lot of traffic.  Grieving pet owners put a lot of time and clearly a lot of money into creating shrines to their departed four-legged friends.

The property is well maintained, so at first glance, you might think it was still in operation.  But the cemetery is largely abandoned.  Burials are no longer permitted.  Instead, it's the curious who come out to see what remains of this former local legend.  Documentaries have even been produced, one of which, created by PBS, you can view here.

The headstones offer a fascinating snapshot of a bygone era.  The names and memorials often reflect common pop culture references of the time.  There are several Lassies buried here, as well as at least one Rin Tin Tin.  And there are some that would undoubtedly be considered offensive or politically incorrect today.  Consider yourself warned.

I'd hate to meet their worst boy!

I'd love to know how they chose the name.

I've seen human headstones less devoted.

A celebrity sighting?

Larry Harmon is buried in LA, thank you very much.

I like this one because I can't imagine that those who rededicated the stone were even alive when the dog passed away.


Better left buried.

Next: On the hunt for Rerun!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Specimens! The Final Resting Place of Ohio's Criminally Insane

Six Feet Under Hollywood was originally designed as a blog detailing celebrity graves.  But every so often in my travels, I encounter other less-famous graves that just beg to be profiled.  While never household names, the graves themselves have a story to tell.  Such was the case on a recent visit to Columbus, Ohio.

It's here that you'll find the redundantly named State of Ohio State Old Insane and Penal Cemetery.  It opened its doors in 1868 when the Central Ohio Lunatic Asylum (actual name) was destroyed by fire.  Seven inmates perished in the disaster.  Read a fascinating period-specific newspaper account of the incident here.

Additional inmate burials would follow, and eventually the state included prison inmates and the homeless as well.  A plaque outside proudly declares "We recognize the courage of past state hospital residents who lived with mental illness and inspired future understanding."

Unlike most cemeteries, you won't find many names on these markers.  Most are identified by their patient identification number, using the prefix "M" for male and "F" for female.

While these tantalize the imagination with questions of who each of these individuals really were, there are two much more curious stones found within the park, each labeled simply as "Specimens."  One can only imagine what might be buried in these plots.  Perhaps that inspiration for future understanding came through the study of abnormal brains.

If you're looking to visit, ignore most directions found online.  Communication is a lost art.  The cemetery is located behind the heliport for the Columbus Police Department.  Simply put that location in whichever map software you use for the best directions.  It will take you past an industrial area, through a gate, and down a long, seemingly deserted road.  But once you're in the parking lot, the cemetery can't be missed.

Next:  Another odd cemetery in Columbus???

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Mae West: Six Feet Under

Mary Jane "Mae" West was born on August 17, 1893 in Brooklyn, New York.  In the early 20th Century, she started her show biz career in vaudeville, but with a killer wit and a body to match, it didn't take long for Hollywood to notice.

In a career spanning seven decades, West was a proclaimed actress, comedian, singer and playwright, but was most famous for being one of the first great sex symbols, a badge she wore with honor.  Because of this, she was a controversial figure, who often faced censorship. But she would continue bucking the system itself, later proclaiming "I believe in censorship.  I made a fortune out of it."

I could add five or six paragraphs here discussing her extensive career, her vast fortune, or the men who knew her best.  But that's for someone else's blog.  Let's dish on death.

In August of 1980, West suffered a stroke at her home in Los Angeles.  It left her completely unable to speak, a cruel irony for one known for her husky contralto voice. She died three months later on November 22.  She was 87 years old.   Her face was 20. 

After a private service conducted in Los Angeles, West's family took her back to Brooklyn, where she was laid to rest at Cypress Hills Cemetery.  Her body was interred in the West family crypt within the Cypress Hills Abbey, pictured at right.  There she joined both of her parents and her brother.  Her sister Matilda would complete the family circle just 18 months later.

A word of caution if you go to visit.  Do not go on Saturdays.  The abbey is locked to the public on those days, and unless you're lucky enough to find a security guard who is either sympathetic or not that bright (like I did), you won't get in.  Suffice it to say, Rodney, I owe you big for this one!

Once inside, take the stairs up to the second level.  Turn right and proceed down the hallway, where you'll soon notice this landmark on the floor.  The exact location is Aisle EE, Special Section #2.  Flowers and other tributes are always appreciated.

West was famous for her catchphrase of "why don't you come up and see me sometime," which was somewhat prophetic.  Don't strain your neck eyeing this one.

Here's a closer look.

Next: Who am I?

A comedy legend in a Pittsburgh park, a TV villain with a green question mark.