Tuesday, December 15, 2020

It's a Wonderful Grave


James Maitland Stewart was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania on May 20, 1908.  He was the son of a local businessman who owned and operated the J.M. Stewart and Company Hardware Store, a family business first opened in 1848. 

As a child, Stewart was very interested in the emerging field of aviation.  His father however, wanted him to continue the family tradition of running the store after college.  Like his father before him, Stewart enrolled in Princeton, majoring in architecture.  Once on campus though, the younger Stewart became enamored of the many extra-curricular activities available to him, including the music and drama clubs.

Still inspired by aviation, Stewart wrote his thesis on airport design.  It earned him a scholarship to continue his studies as a graduate student, but he turned it down cold, preferring to join an intercollegiate summer stock company instead.  He moved to Cape Cod and joined the University Players.  I'm sure his father must have been proud.

Stewart made many friends among the company, including fellow graduate Henry Fonda.  The two became inseparable and would remain best friends throughout their lives and careers.  At the end of the season, Stewart, Fonda and some of the other cast members all moved to New York. 

He soon made his Broadway debut in a show called Carry Nation.  Although he had no lines, it led to bigger roles.  Just a few weeks later, he signed on to a production called Goodbye Again, in which he played a chauffeur.  Of Stewart's performance, the New Yorker wrote "Mr. James Stewart's chauffeur...comes on for three minutes and walks off to a round of spontaneous applause." 

Fame is fleeting however, and his next two productions were less than successful, so much so that he considered returning to graduate school in 1934.  He landed a leading role however in a show called Yellow Jacket and also made his feature film debut in a comedy called Art Trouble, directed by Shemp Howard.  Greater roles on Broadway would follow.

In 1935, Stewart was discovered by a Hollywood agent and signed to a seven-year contract with MGM.  His early roles were minor parts in films such as The Murder Man with Spencer Tracy.  In 1936, he had his first starring role in the film Next Time We Love, which partnered him with fellow University Player Margaret Sullavan, who helped Stewart cultivate the mannerisms that would later define his career.  The film was a box office success and put Stewart on the map.

Having achieved leading man status, Stewart was cast in a number of feature films in the late 1930s and early 40s, including Vivacious Lady, opposite Ginger Rogers and The Shopworn Angel, which reunited him with Margaret Sullavan.  In 1938, he was also cast in Frank Capra's You Can't Take it With You, opposite Jean Arthur.  It was the fifth highest-grossing film of the year and won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

In 1939. Capra and Stewart reunited for what many consider to be Stewart's finest film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  The film saw Stewart as an idealist thrust into the world of politics.  It was the most critically acclaimed performance of his career and the third highest-grossing film of the year.  He followed it up with 1940's The Philadelphia Story opposite Katharine Hepburn, for which he'd finally win his one and only Academy Award.

As America entered World War 2, Stewart put his Hollywood career on hold, becoming the first movie star to enlist in the armed forces.  He trained fighter pilots at Kirtland Army Airfield in Albuquerque before shipping out to England, where he was attached to the 445th Bombardment Group as pilot of a B-24 Liberator.  He was repeatedly decorated for his service and made history for his frequent promotions, rising from private to full colonel in just four years.

After the war, Stewart returned to Hollywood and resumed his acting career, once again reuniting with Frank Capra for the 1946 classic It's a Wonderful Life.  The film was a box office disappointment in 1946, so much so that Capra's production company filed for bankruptcy.  The film has thrived however as a cherished holiday classic.

The film's failure did little to slow down Stewart's career.  Throughout the 1950s and 60, he'd continue to star in a number of hits, including Harvey (1950), Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958).

In the 1970s, Stewart tried his hand at television, starring in two short-lived series.  The Jimmy Stewart Show premiered in 1971 and saw him as a small-town college professor.  It lasted for one season on NBC.  Then in 1973, he starred in the mystery series Hawkins on CBS.  Click on each title to view the series intro. 

By the 1990's, Stewart's health was in decline.  His wife Gloria died of lung cancer in 1994, and according to one Stewart biographer, it left him "lost at sea."  He became increasingly reclusive, even so with his long-time friends.  Over the next few years, he'd suffer a series of mishaps, including a fall at home and an irregular heartbeat.  He ultimately died of a heart attack on July 2, 1997.  He was 91 years old.

Jimmy Stewart was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.  More than 3,000 mourners attended his service.

Location: Wee Kirk Churchyard, Space #2, Lot #8
Inscription: "For He Shall Give His Angels Charge
Over Thee To Keep Thee In All Thy Ways"
Rest in peace, Mr. Smith.

  • The inscription on Stewart's marker is a passage from the Old Testament.  Psalms 91:11.

  • Indiana, Pennsylvania is home to the Jimmy Stewart Museum, first opened in 1995.  

  • Stewart never wrote an autobiography, but he did publish a book of poetry in 1989.  You can pick up a copy of Jimmy Stewart and His Poems from Amazon.

  • As noted above, Stewart left Hollywood at the outbreak of World War 2 to serve in the Army's Air Corps.  In 1942, he starred in a recruitment film for the service called Winning Your Wings.  You can watch the film in its entirety on Youtube.  Additionally, several books were written on Stewart's service, including Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe and Jimmy Stewart: Bomber Pilot.

  • Stewart was offered the lead role in the 1980 film On Golden Pond, but turned it down as he objected to the father-daughter relationship as depicted in the film.  The role went to his good friend Henry Fonda.

  • In 1985, Stewart was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award given to a civilian, "for his contributions in the fields of the arts, entertainment and public service."

  • In his final years, Stewart served as a pitchman for Campbell's Soup.  Though her never appeared on screen, he provided voice-over services for the spots.  Here's one such commercial.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

You Big Dummy!


John Elroy Sanford was born in St. Louis on December 9, 1922.  His father, Fred Sanford, left the family when John was just four years old.  He was raised by his mother Mary Hughes, who was half-Seminole, a contributing factor to Sanford's reddish complexion, a trait that he also shared with his older brother, Fred, Jr.  

Sanford was a born entertainer and was already performing during his teenage years.  He made his first appearance in 1939 on a national radio show called the Major Bowes Amateur Hour.

During the 1940s, he had yet to achieve star status and continued working in a variety of day-to-day jobs.  In one such position, he earned the nickname "Chicago Red" and was known as the funniest dishwasher on this Earth.  This moniker was given to him by his friend Malcolm Little, whom the world would remember as Malcolm X.

During this time, Sanford began setting his sights on becoming a professional comedian.  He crafted a nightclub routine that proved highly successful.  His act caught the eye of famed singer Dinah Washington during an East Coast performance.  She invited him to Los Angeles, where he began appearing at the Brass Rail nightclub.  While performing there, he was noticed by Dootsie Williams of Dootone Records, who signed him to his first professional contract.  Under the Dootone label, Sanford released a series of comedy albums that proved wildly successful.

By the 1970s, Sanford was an established comedian who had taken the stage name of Redd Foxx.  He had a few bit parts in movies, but was soon approached by NBC to appear in a new series based on a British sit-com called Steptoe and Son.  The American version, retitled Sanford and Son, saw Foxx as co-owner of a father and son junk business in Watts, California.  It premiered as a mid-season replacement in January 1972 and ran for six seasons on the network.  You can watch the iconic series intro here.

Foxx used the series as a means of providing work to a number of his fiends and colleagues, including Slappy White, Pat Morita, Donald Bexley, and most famously, LaWanda Page as feisty Aunt Esther.  He also employed friend Stymie Beard of Little Rascals fame, as Foxx was a lifelong fan of the Hal Roach series and had even incorporated it into his early act.

Contrary to popular belief, Sanford and Son was not canceled by NBC.  It folded in 1977 when Foxx left to star in his own variety series on rival network ABC.  Ironically that same year, Foxx appeared as a guest on the struggling ABC variety series The Brady Bunch Hour, in which he pimped his upcoming series.  You can watch that segment, as well as some really un-Brady stand-up comedy, here.

His departure from the series caused a rift with co-star Demond Wilson, who felt betrayed by the move.  Wilson stated that he had received no heads up regarding Foxx's new series, and only learned of Sanford and Son's cancellation while walking the halls at NBC.  As a result, Wilson declined to participate in the 1980 Sanford revival series.  Foxx fired back at Wilson while appearing as a guest on The Donny and Marie Show.  In a Star Wars-inspired segment, Foxx claimed to be an extra-terrestrial from Sanford, a planet that has no sun.

Throughout the 1980s, Foxx would continue to make guest appearances on television while starting new business ventures as well.  He opened a company in Hollywood called Redd Foxx's Car Velvetizing.  It specialized in adding a fuzzy velvet layer to vehicles with vinyl tops, helping many of them earn the nickname "pimpmobile."  Despite my best efforts, I could not find an online brochure.

By the 1990s, Foxx was facing severe financial difficulties and was constantly at odds with the IRS, who had a habit of seizing his home and possessions.  His generosity to friends and family over the years only worsened his economic stability, as did his three failed marriages.  Needing to revitalize his savings, Foxx signed on to the CBS sit-com The Royal Family, which partnered him with actress Della Reese.  The series also starred a very young Naya Rivera, who passed away herself in 2020 in a drowning accident.  You can watch the series intro here.  

The series premiered in September 1991.  A few weeks later, on October 11th, Foxx was giving an on-set interview to Entertainment Tonight.  One of his producers became irate that Foxx was not participating in a scene that was being rehearsed, one in which he had no dialogue and was merely seen walking in the background.  Foxx begrudgingly complied with the producer and walked through the scene, but fell to the floor in doing so.  You can watch Della Reese describe the scene here.

At first, no one suspected anything was wrong, as Foxx had made a career out of pratfalls and fake heart attacks.  When Reese went to help him, she realized just how serious it really was, when Foxx asked her to "get my wife."

When paramedics arrived on the set, they initially pronounced him dead, but he was temporarily resuscitated and transported to Queen of Angels Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center.  He died there a second time, just four hours later.  He was 68 years old.

Redd Foxx was buried at Palm Memorial Park in his hometown of Las Vegas.  His headstone features a red fox.

Location: Devotion Section,
Lawn Space #4091, Space #311G

Rest in peace, you big dummy!

  • The character of Fred Sanford was in fact named after Foxx's brother.

  • In a bid to avoid military service during World War 2, Foxx consumed a bar of soap before his physical.  It caused a series of heart palpitations which the doctors mistook to be a natural condition.  The ploy worked, and he was given a pass from military service.

  • Foxx's Sanford and Son co-star Lawanda Page was the subject of a previous post on this blog.  You can revisit her grave here.

  • As mentioned in Lawanda's blog post, Redd Foxx used to own an office building in downtown L.A.  Although it has since been torn down, the sidewalk out front still contains the signatures of Foxx and his friends written in cement.  If you look closely, you can also see his footprints as well.  Read about it here.

  • Foxx released a joke book in 1977.  You can pick up a copy of The Redd Foxx Encyclopedia of Black Humor from Amazon.  

  • Hollywood car creator George Barris created a customized roadster for Foxx, dubbed "Redd Foxx's Li'l Red Wrecker."  Check out the specs here.

  • At the time of his death, Foxx was in excessive debt to the IRS and had very few assets.  As a result, longtime friend Eddie Murphy paid all of his funeral expenses.

  • As mentioned above, Foxx was good friends with actor Pat Morita.  It's probably not a coincidence then that Morita was cremated at the same Las Vegas cemetery where Foxx was laid to rest.

  • The truck that was used on Sanford and Son is now in the hands of Tim Franko and Jeff Canter, owners of BlueLine Classics in North Royalton, Ohio.  You can visit the truck in their showroom there, or catch it at car shows and celebrity events.

  • The Royal Family was shot on what is now Stage 31 at Paramount.  In the 1960s, it was home to the original Star Trek TV series.  In essence, Redd Foxx died on the bridge of the Enterprise.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Ava Gardner

Ava Lavinia Gardner was born in Grabtown, North Carolina on Christmas Eve, 1922.  She was the youngest of seven children, born to a family of sharecroppers.  The family grew tobacco.

When she was just 15 years old, Gardner's father passed away from bronchitis, and her mother supported the family by running a boarding house for teachers.  Gardner graduated from high school in 1939 and attended secretarial courses at Atlantic Christian College. 

One year later, she went to New York City to visit her sister.  While there, her brother-in-law Larry Tarr, a professional photographer, offered to take a portrait of her as a present for her mother.  Tarr liked the finished product so much that he displayed it in his storefront window on Fifth Avenue.

The photo caught the eye of a Loews Theatre employee, who suggested it be submitted to MGM Studios.  Tarr did just that, and Gardner was invited to audition with their talent department in New York, headed by Al Altman.  After giving her a screen test, Altman famously commented "she can't sing, she can't act, she can't talk, she's terrific!"  They gave her a contract and she was off to Hollywood.

For the first few years, Gardner settled for mostly bit parts.  Her first starring role would come in 1946 when she was cast in the Mark Hellinger film The Killers, based on the story by Ernest Hemingway.  Gardner played Kitty Collins, the first in a long line of femme fatales.  

She followed it up with a string of hits for MGM, including Show Boat (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) and The Barefoot Contessa (1954), a role she accepted for her own lifelong obsession of walking barefoot.  Her last leading role was in 1964's The Night of the Iguana, for which she was nominated for both a Golden Globe and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress.  Click on each title for its theatrical trailer.

She continued to act however, and her next role was opposite Burt Lancaster in Seven Days in May, a 1964 thriller about an attempted military takeover of the U.S. government.  That same year, she accepted the role of Sarah, wife of Abraham, in The Bible: In the Beginning (1966).

In 1968, Gardner moved to London.  There she underwent a hysterectomy in a bid to beat uterine cancer, the disease that had taken her mother's life.  She returned to the U.S. throughout the 70s, appearing in a string of disaster films, including 1974's Earthquake.  Her final film, Regina Roma, was released in 1982, but she continued to appear on television, including a recurring role on the primetime soap opera Knots Landing.

In 1986, Gardner suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed.  Prior to this, she was already suffering from an autoimmune disease called lupus erythematosus and had been a lifelong smoker.  Combined, these conditions marked the beginning of the end.  She passed four years later on January 25, 1990.  She was 67 years old.

Ava Gardner was returned to her home state of North Carolina and was buried at Sunset Memorial Park in Smithfield.  

The town has practically turned her grave site into a tourist attraction.

While you're in town, be sure to visit the Ava Gardner Museum, which opened in 1996.  You can take a virtual tour here.

Rest in peace, Ava.


  • Gardner had three Hollywood husbands, beginning with Mickey Rooney in 1942.  She'd leave him just one year later citing cruelty, blaming it on his gambling and womanizing.  Him.  That little midget.  Her second marriage was to jazz musician Artie Shaw, but it didn't last any longer.  Finally in 1951, she married Frank Sinatra, who left his wife Nancy to be with her.  Although the marriage would only last for six years, Gardner would define him as the love of her life.  Despite that, neither Sinatra, Rooney, nor Shaw attended her funeral.  Jerks.

  • In her final years, Gardner decided to release her autobiography, asking writer Peter Evans to serve as her ghostwriter.  During their collaboration, she discovered that her ex-husband Frank Sinatra had at one point sued Evans.  As a result, they were no longer able to work with one another and Evans left the project.  Gardner subsequently released her memoirs Ava: My Story in 1990.  In 2012, Evans passed away and his estate released his version of the story, entitled Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations

  • Gardner actively petitioned for the lead role of Mrs. Robinson in the 1967 Dustin Hoffman film The Graduate, a role that ultimately went to Anne Bancroft.  Producer Mike Nichols felt that at 44, Gardner was too old for the part.  
  • As noted by Al Altman above, Gardiner was not known for her singing abilities.  All of her numbers in Show Boat were dubbed by actress Annette Warren.  However, Gardiner's voice was left intact on the film's soundtrack album. 
  • Gardiner appeared as a guest on the game show What's My Line? in 1953.  You can watch her appearance here.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

#100: Robert Reed


John Robert Rietz, Jr. was born in Highland Park, Illinois on October 19, 1932.  He was an only child, born to a pair of high school sweethearts.  His father, John, Sr., worked for the government while his mother ran the household.

During his formative years, his family moved around a lot, settling in Texas and then later Oklahoma.  While there, he worked on the family farm and joined the local 4-H club, but was more interested in being a performer.  As a teenager, he wrote and produced dramas for the local radio stations and appeared in stage productions at Central High School. 

When he graduated in 1950, he enrolled at Northwestern University to study drama.  While there, he had the lead role in eight stage productions.  He then studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

When he returned to the U.S., he joined an off-Broadway group called "The Shakespearewrights."  Throughout the 1950s, he starred in a number of productions, including Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream.  By the end of the decade, he moved to Los Angeles, and adopted the stage name of Robert Reed. 

There in 1959, he made his first appearance on television, as a guest on the sit-com Father Knows Best.  Two years later, he'd star in his first feature film, a horror/thriller titled Bloodlust!.  You can watch it in its entirety on Youtube.

Following the film, Reed landed his first starring role on television on the legal drama The Defenders (right).  The series saw Reed and his co-star E.G. Marshall as a father/son legal team who handled cases with a social aspect, such as civil rights, atheism and euthanasia.  It was a huge hit for CBS, earning 22 Emmy Award nominations over it's four-year run.  You can watch the intro here.  During the show's hiatus, he made his Broadway debut in Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park.

After The Defenders was canceled in 1965, Reed made several guest appearances on television.  Then in 1968, he was asked to test for a new sit-com created by veteran producer Sherwood Schwartz.  The Brady Bunch debuted the following season and would have a successful run on ABC for the next five years.

As early as the pilot episode, Reed was not happy about the part.  In the years that followed, he would admit that he had only taken the role of Mike Brady for financial reasons, finding its saccharine plots unrealistic and beneath his training as a classical actor.  As a result, he constantly found himself at odds with Schwartz.

"We fought over the scripts.  Always the scripts," Reed recalled.  "Sherwood had done Gilligan's Island....just gag lines.  That would have been what The Brady Bunch would have been if I hadn't protested."

In addition to the scripts, Reed found it difficult to play the love scenes opposite co-star Florence Henderson, who quickly determined that Reed was gay.  Reed's sexuality had become an open secret on the set, one that just simply wasn't discussed.  As Schwartz later recalled "I felt sorry for the guy.  Here he was the father of America and he can't come out of the closet."

As the Brady cast began to film what would ultimately be their final episode in the spring of 1974, Reed once again found himself battling Schwartz over the episode's plot, one that saw Bobby Brady selling hair tonic door to door.  Unable to meet Reed's demands for a rewrite in the time available to him, Schwartz simply wrote him out of the episode.  As a result, Mike Brady, TV's most loving father, missed his oldest son's high school graduation.  Ridiculous.  Schwartz later acknowledged that if the series had been picked up for a sixth season, Reed would not have been invited to return.

With the Bradys temporarily behind him, Reed was free to pursue the more dramatic roles he felt he should be playing.  In 1975, he made a guest appearance on the series Medical Center as a doctor who undergoes a sex change operation, a role for which he won great critical acclaim.  Here's a scene before the surgery and here's another one after.

Reed also appeared in a number of notable mini-series in the late 70s, including Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots, in which he played Dr. William Reynolds, a slave owner.  Watch him tear down the help in this clip.

In 1976, Reed returned to the role of Mike Brady on the short-lived Brady Bunch Hour (right), a variety series created by Sid and Marty Krofft.  When asked why he returned to the role he had so despised, Reed acknowledged it gave him the opportunity to sing and dance, hallmarks of his pre-Brady life.  Here's one such segment.  He'd return to the Brady universe on several other occasions, the most successful being 1988's A Very Brady Christmas, the second-highest rated made-for-TV movie of the year.

By the early 90s, Reed's health was in decline.  In late 1991, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.  According to his friend actress Anne Haney, Reed was also HIV positive at the time.  "He decided that he was going to fight them one at a time and that he was going to beat the cancer first," Haney recalled.

But it became apparent to Reed that he was not going to win either battle.  In April 1992, he called Florence Henderson and confessed that he was terminally ill.  He asked her to notify the rest of the cast.  She had only just begun to do so when Reed died on May 12, 1992.  He was 59 years old.

After Reed's passing, the truth of his health status and sexuality finally became public knowledge.  Haney stated in one interview that he would not wish to be remebered that way, but rather for his body of work.  "He came from the old school, where people had a sense of decorum.  He went the way he wanted to, without publicity."

Robert Reed was buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois.

Location: Annex 6, Lot 21
Inscription: Goodnight, Sweet Prince

Rest in peace, Mr. Brady.


  • The inscription on Reed's marker is a quote from Hamlet.  It is uttered by Hamlet's best friend Horatio as the title character dies in his arms.  

  • Reed never published his own memoirs, but he did write the foreword for Barry Williams' tell-all classic, Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg.  He died just one month before the book was published.  Pick up a copy from Amazon.

  • E.G. Marshall, who was Reed's co-star on The Defenders, later appeared on The Brady Bunch as Marcia's principal.  The two stars shared no scenes together.

  • While starring on The Brady Bunch, Reed also had a recurring role on the detective series Mannix as Lieutenant Adam Tobias.  Coincidentally, the Brady sets were re-used in the Mannix episode "One for the Lady."

  • Reed made a guest appearance on the sci-fi series Galactica: 1980.  Robbie Rist, who had appeared on The Brady Bunch as Cousin Oliver, appeared in the same episode, but the two shared no scenes together.

  • In 1989, Reed reprised the role of Mike Brady on the NBC sit-com Day By Day.  You can watch the episode in its entirety on Youtube.  I highly recommend it.

  • Reed's co-stars Ann B. Davis and Florence Henderson have both been profiled here at Six Feet Under Hollywood. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Blog #99: Ten Years of Grave Hopping!


I launched Six Feet Under Hollywood in 2018 as a means of showcasing the many famous graves I've visited in my travels.  The fun began eight years earlier on a trip to Los Angeles when a friend and I realized we were driving past the cemetery where Sorrell Booke (AKA Boss Hogg) was buried and we decided to stop and take a look.  Once we were there in the park, our other plans for the day went out the window, and we found ourselves going from grave to grave to grave.  I've been hooked ever since.

That was November 2010.  This month marks ten years since that first grave and coincidentally, it also marks 100 blog posts (next week).  So, I thought I'd share some fun facts and stories from a decade of grave hopping.

Over the last ten years, I have visited 437 distinct graves in 28 states.  Oddly, those only account for 435 people, two of whom were reburied!  As you'd expect, California accounts for more than half of the total.

Looking at what makes each of these people famous, more than 73 percent were in the entertainment industry.

I've had some interesting experiences with this hobby.  Here are just a few that I will never forget.

Roxie Roker.  Ironically, I haven't profiled Roxie yet on this blog.  That's a shame, cause I love this story.  Roxie was famous for two things - she starred on the hit series The Jeffersons for more than a decade and in real she was the mother of singer Lenny Kravitz, who's become even more popular than she was.  

When Roxie passed away in 1995, she was buried in her hometown of Miami.  I can state definitively that she is the most famous person buried at Southern Memorial Park.  It's not even close.  On a trip to Florida in 2013, I knew I had to stop to pay my respects. 

Normally I'm pretty good at finding these graves.  I do my research ahead of time and map them out.  This one wasn't so easy however and I was totally stumped, so I went by the front office to ask for directions.  I usually try to avoid this step, as some cemeteries are hesitant to identify famous burials. 

I was met by a woman who appeared to be in her early 20s.  I felt confident that she was too young to know who Roxie Roker was and probably wouldn't give me any static.  My hunch paid off, when she asked me how to spell Roxie's name.

Once she located the site in her records, she offered to show me to the grave personally.  True southern hospitality.  I accepted her offer and we climbed into a golf cart.  She drove me to the location and got out to see the grave for herself.  When she saw Roxie's full name on the marker, Roxie Roker Kravitz, the lightbulb went off.  She asked "I wonder if she's any relation to Lenny Kravitz." 

At this point, I figured she wouldn't mind the truth, so I told her that yes, this was in fact Lenny's mother and that she had been on The Jeffersons.  As it turned out, my tour guide was a huge Lenny Kravitz fan, but even after working at Southern Memorial Park for two years, she had no idea that his mother was buried there.  Additionally, she had recently started watching The Jeffersons on Bounce TV, and was a big fan.  I called up Youtube on my phone, and we listened to the theme song together.  This of course, led to dancing.  Not exactly what you're supposed to do at a grave.  

I left her with some advice.  Be sure to come by this spot every year on Mother's Day.  Who knows, maybe she'll get to meet Lenny one day.
Penn and Teller.  Speaking of dancing at one 's grave, there was the time I paid my respects to Penn and Teller.  But wait you say - Penn and Teller are not dead!  I know.  That's what makes this story even weirder.

It was on a trip to Los Angeles in 2015.  My friend Jon and I were grave hopping again at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.  We had just paid our respects to John Ritter when a portly gentleman approached us and asked us for a favor.  He had with him a 1990's era video camera that had seen much better days.  He wanted to know if we would film him dancing on one of the graves.  Anyone else might have told him to get lost, but fortunately for him, we love crazy people.

We followed him to the grave and were shocked to see that it was a cenotaph for Penn and Teller, two magicians with a regular show in Las Vegas.  Our visitor explained to us that he was himself a magician, despite the Disney Store name tag on his work shirt.  He further explained that Penn and Teller had completely stolen his act and became rich in the process, a point he can never forgive them for.  He wanted the video in order to show his grandmother that he had gotten his revenge.  He did a jig for the camera while we did our best to contain our laughter.  I think we were mostly successful.

Mr. Ed.  One of the first posts I did for this blog was Mr. Ed, the talking horse from the 1960's sit-com.  While I profiled the grave itself, I didn't go into too much detail about finding it or of nearly dying in the process.

In 2017, I discovered that Mr. Ed had retired from show business in the late 1960s and spent his final years on a farm in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, about an hours drive from Oklahoma City.  He passed away in 1979 and his owner buried him in the backyard.  For more than a decade, the grave remained unmarked.  Then in the the early 1990s, a local radio station got wind of the story and bought the farmer a five-foot granite headstone.  Despite being on private property, it attracts tourists to this day.  I knew I had to see it.

I planned my trip for Memorial Day weekend and caught a Southwest flight from Baltimore.  We had beautiful weather that day and our flying time was a comfortable three hours.  

With less than thirty minutes to go, we started hitting severe turbulence.  As many times as I had flown, I had never felt anything this bad.  We made a very sudden drop and my stomach felt like I had just taken the first loop on a roller coaster.  This wasn't simple turbulence I thought, and my fears were confirmed when the oxygen masks were deployed.  As I put mine on, I noticed the woman in the seat in front of me holding her phone above her head as she recorded a goodbye message to her family.  

The cockpit informed us that they were attempting to make an emergency landing.  I remember thinking to myself wow, this is how I'm gonna go out.  Visiting the grave of a talking horse.  How appropriate.

To my great relief, we landed safely at a general aviation airport outside Branson, Missouri.  One passenger had to be removed by ambulance, but the rest of us were able to walk off the plane.  

Unfortunately, the airport was so small that it had already closed for the day at 6:00 p.m.  Even worse, it was in the path of an approaching tornado.  How much worse could this situation get?  We sheltered in place while the storm passed, then waited for Southwest to send us a replacement plane.  In the interim, I was interviewed by the local ABC affiliate and the story went national.  We didn't take off until midnight.

The next day, I drove out to the farm where Ed is buried.  There were no cars in the driveway, but I knocked on the door anyway.  No answer.  I walked around to the garage and noticed a real estate lock box on the door.  Assuming that the property was up for sale, I figured it would be ok to walk out to the backyard and visit the headstone.  Right or wrong, I felt that I had earned this after the night before.

When I saw the headstone, it felt like all this had been worth it.  It was magnificent.  I couldn't believe the detail and knew it was one of the most unique I had ever seen.  

As I began snapping photos, I heard a vehicle approach from behind.  I turned and saw a pick-up truck stop on a gravel driveway behind the house.  A farmer got out of the driver's seat and began to approach me while his wife went into the house.  I was busted.  There was no denying it.  I feared she was inside calling the police to report a trespasser.

I immediately apologized and began telling my story.  The owner, Mr. Leonard Walker, was a very kind gentleman who had bought the house from the original owner, knowing full well that it was a tourist attraction.  I was not the first person he had ever caught on his property, and fortunately he's very accommodating to his visitors.  He told me second-hand stories of Ed's final days and snapped a photo for me.  Thank you again, Mr. Walker.

Don Rickles.  Mr. Warmth is another celebrity I haven't profiled here on the blog, but I'll never forget my visit to his grave.  It was December 2018 on another trip to Los Angeles.  This time, we were walking around Mt. Sinai Cemetery in Burbank, just a stone's throw from Warner Brothers Studios. 

As we stood at Don's headstone, another visitor approached the grave.  He was an older gentleman who looked familiar but not someone I could readily identify.  We said hello and explained to him that we were Don's fans and that we had come out to pay our respects.  He appreciated that, because as it turned out, he was Don's manager, Tony Oppedisano.  I couldn't believe how lucky we were to meet someone who not only knew Don but had worked so closely with him.  So of course we peppered him with questions about their many years together.  He enjoyed sharing those stories and was glad that Don's fans haven't forgotten him.  To that end, he created a Don Rickles Youtube Channel, which you can visit here.

Whitney Houston.  When "The Voice" was silenced in 2012, the media went out of its way to report that she was buried wearing $500,000 in jewelry.  When the news got out, her family became concerned that grave robbers would attempt to unearth her for a quick pay day.  So they hired a private security detail to stand watch over her grave in the town of Wakefield, New Jersey. 

I must stress that she's buried in a public cemetery.  You won't see the locked gates of Forest Lawn Glendale that many of Hollywood's elite employ for their final arrangements.  This park is open to everyone.  Or so I thought.

I entered the gates of Fairview Cemetery and quickly found her grave.  I parked my car on a side road, taking note of a black truck parked near the grave.  As I made my way on foot, the driver emerged from it and asked me what I was doing there.  When I told him I had come to pay my respects to Whitney Houston, he told me that her grave was for family only and that I'd have to move along.  I jokingly replied "OK, I'm here to see the guy next to her."  Humor wasn't his thing.

I was denied my visit on that trip, but after some time, the family decided it could no longer pay for 24/7 surveillance and the security detail was let go.  I finally got to visit Whitney's grave in 2015, and sadly, by that time, her daughter Bobbi Kristina had passed as well, and was buried in the plot next to her mom.  You can read my blog post here.

Texas Space Alien.  This was one of the most bizarre graves I've ever had the pleasure of visiting.  It's in the town of Aurora, Texas, about an hour's drive from Dallas.

There in 1897, residents claim that a UFO crashed into a windmill and killed the pilot.  The good people of Aurora felt that their un-Earthly visitor deserved a decent Christian burial, so they conducted a funeral at Aurora Cemetery under a large tree.

Over the years, a number of headstones have been placed at the site honoring this unusual grave, but they tend to disappear as soon as they are put in place.  For now, this tree is all you have to go by.  You can read about my visit here.  Believe it.....or Not!

Specimens!  Finally, on a visit to Ohio, my friend Brian told me about a local cemetery where the victims of an insane asylum fire had all been laid to rest.  That was all it took.  I knew I had to visit the redundantly named State of Ohio State Old Insane and Penal Cemetery.  I was not disappointed.

Most of the deceased had been inmates at the Central Ohio Lunatic Asylum, which burned to the ground in 1868.  Rather than being identified by name, their markers bear their asylum inmate number, so it's really hard to tell who's buried where.  The crown jewel of this cemetery however, are the two stones merely marked "Specimens," giving visitors no hint as to what secrets they hold.  

You can read about my visit here.

Thanks for reading my blog - this week and every week.  Let's see what - or who - the next ten years provide.

Next week:  The 100th blog!  Who will it be?  Submit your guess in the comments below.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Blog #98: The Jonestown Memorial

Today is the 42nd anniversary of the tragedy in Jonestown.  Every year when this date rolls around, I always plan to do a blog post about it.  Then I promptly forget.  So here we are in 2020.

A brief history lesson for those unfamiliar with the story.  On November 18, 1978, 918 members of the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project in Guyana, South America committed mass suicide.  They did so at the behest of their leader James Warren Jones, who founded the organization in Indianapolis in 1955.  Jones ordered his followers to do so after a Congressional visit to their community, through which he believed they were about to be shut down. 

Jim Jones.
Following the visit, Jones made the ultimate decision, ignoring his followers suggestions that they either relocate to the Soviet Union or disband entirely.  Jones, an avowed socialist, told his followers to commit revolutionary suicide as he called it, saying "you can go down in history, saying you chose your own way to go, and it is your commitment to refuse capitalism and in support of socialism."  You can listen to his entire 45-minute decree here.

Jones ordered his followers to die by poison, in this case cyanide.  History and pop culture often tell us that they consumed it with Kool-Aid, but this was not the case.  The drink of choice was actually Flavor Aid, a Kool-Aid knock off.  Oh yeah!  Many were hesitant to drink the lethal concoction, so Jones gave them a choice - drink it or my guards will shoot you.  

While a handful of followers did survive, 918 died that day.  Of those, 412 bodies were unclaimed.  They were buried in a mass grave at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland California, the city from which Jones ran the People's Temple before its exodus to Guyana.  Jones himself was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.

In 2011, relatives of those who perished came together and created a memorial to the victims at Evergreen.  Four large slabs were placed atop the remains, on which are carved all 918 names.  

The very last name on the list is James Warren Jones.

This blogger, joined by friend Jonathan Daitch, visited the site in December 2017 to pay their respects. Daitch took the photos seen on this page.

Rest in peace.  And remember - don't drink the Flavor Aid.

Next week: The countdown to blog #100 continues.


  • For more than two decades after the tragedy, Jonestown remained the largest single loss of American civilian life at 918.  This would be eclipsed on September 11, 2001, when more than 3,000 Americans were killed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

  • This blogger first became aware of Jonestown in the early 1980s via the documentary series In Search Of hosted by Leonard Nimoy.  You can watch the episode on Youtube.

  • The tragedy took place the day after the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special had its one and only broadcast on network television.  Watch it on Youtube.

  • The term "don't drink the Kool-Aid" has its origins with the tragedy.  Despite its reference to the wrong drink, its another way of saying think for yourself.

  • Evergreen Cemetery is also the official cemetery of the Hell's Angels biking group, who have their own section in the park. 

  • If you want to learn more about Jim Jones or the tragedy at Jonestown, take a voyage to your public library.  It's all in books.
      * The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and People's Temple
         Jeff Guinn.
      * Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People
         Tim Reiterman.
      * 1,000 Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown
         Julia Scheeres.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Blog #97: John Ritter


Jonathan Southworth Ritter was born in Burbank, California on September 17, 1948.  Yeah, that's his real name.  His father was of course Tex Ritter, a country music and theatrical star who appeared in a number of westerns.  During production of Song of the Buckaroo in 1938, Tex met actress Dorothy Fay, whom he would marry three years later and begin his family with.

Growing up, Ritter wasn't contemplating a career in Hollywood.  He saw himself in Washington.  He served as student body president at Hollywood High School before studying politics and psychology at the University of Southern California.  His heritage finally caught up with him however, and he changed his major to theater arts.

Ritter graduated in 1970 and immediately found work in television.  He made a guest appearance as a college hippie on a detective series called Dan August.  The series starred Burt Reynolds in the title role as well as Ritter's future Three's Company co-star Norman Fell.  You can watch the episode, entitled "Quadrangle for Death," in its entirety here.  

The following year, Ritter made his theatrical debut in a Disney comedy called The Barefoot Executive, the completely plausible story of a chimpanzee hired by a major television network to schedule successful primetime programming.  Here's a clip that completely embarrasses the likes of Kurt Russell, Harry Morgan and Wally Cox.  

The Waltons.

In 1972, Ritter began a recurring role on the CBS drama The Waltons.  For the next four seasons, he'd appear as Reverend Matthew Fordwick on the hit series.  Judy Norton, who was a regular on the show, vlogs about it today.  She recently devoted an episode to discussing Ritter's performance on the series.  You can watch that vlog here.

He stayed with the series until 1976, when he accepted the role that would define his career, that of Jack Tripper on Three's Company.  For the next eight seasons, he'd share a Santa Monica apartment with a bevy of beautiful ladies surrounded by wacky neighbors and landlords. 

Then in 1984, Ritter was given a spin-off series dubbed Three's a Crowd. It lacked the chemistry of the original series however, and would only last for one season before ABC pulled the plug.  You can watch that series intro here

In 1987, Ritter took the title role in a series called Hooperman, which saw him as a cop by day and a building manager (landlord?) by night.  It was a modest ratings success, lasting for two seasons.  Ritter even won a People's Choice Award for his work on the series.  Check out the intro here.

8 Simple Rules.
Hearts Afire was his next series, which began in 1992 and ran for three seasons.  He co-starred with Night Court alum Markie Post.  The series began in Washington and saw its two main characters attracted to one another despite sitting on opposite sides of the political aisle.  As the series progressed, the two would marry and move to a small rural community while firing several supporting cast members along the way.  Honestly, I don't even remember this series.  I can't find the intro anywhere, but here's a whacky clip featuring Post with special guest star Rush Limbaugh as himself.  Hijinks ensue.

Ritter's final series was the sit-com 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.  Like most of his post-Three's Company series, it did alright, but it was never a huge ratings hit.  The series saw him married to Katey Sagal of Married With Children fame, with the titular daughter played by Kaley Cuoco, who would go on to much greater success a few years later with The Big Bang Theory.

On September 11, 2003, during rehearsal on the second season's fourth episode, Ritter became ill, complaining of chest pains, vomiting and heavy sweating.  He was taken from the set to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, the same hospital where he was born.  Doctors initially believed it to be a heart attack, but their ultimate diagnosis was an aortic dissection.  It took his life at 10:48 p.m., just six days shy of his 55th birthday.  

He was buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

Location: Court of Liberty, Gardens of Heritage, Map #H23,
Lot #1622, Companion Garden Crypt #2
Inscription: "And in the end, the love you take is
equal to the love you make." - The Beatles

Rest in peace.


  • In 2010, Ritter's widow Amy Yasbeck shared with readers her memories of their years together in her memoir With Love and Laughter, John Ritter.  Pick up a copy from Amazon.

  • Ritter was born with a birth defect known as coloboma, which resulted in a hole in his left eye.

  • While still in college, Ritter appeared as a lucky bachelor on The Dating Game.  You can watch his segment here.

  • Three's Company would produce three pilot episodes before finally becoming a series.  Ritter appeared in all three versions along with Norman Fell and Audra Lindley, but with different female roommates.  One other difference is that Ritter's character was named David.

  • Ritter's son Jason, an actor in his own right, got his start as a toddler appearing in the opening credits of Three's Company.  Look for him here as Joyce DeWitt is being introduced.

  • Ritter would return to the Three's Company apartment on two separate occasions.  The first was a quick clip in the 1992 film Stay Tuned.  Then in 2002, 8 Simple Rules devoted an entire episode to the 70s sit-com, which saw Ritter as Mr. Roper in a hilarious dream sequence.  Click on each title to see more.

  • Earlier this year, Six Feet Under Hollywood visited the grave of Ritter's co-star Don Knotts.  You can re-visit that blog here.

  • Ritter was survived by his mother, who was 88 at the time of his passing.  She subsequently passed just two months later.