Sunday, November 26, 2017

Stones and Bones 2 - Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City

(Suggested by: Angie Reynoso Akbarzad)

Holy Cross Cemetery is a Catholic burial ground and thus it is considered consecrated ground. The cemetery is located in Culver City, California just outside of Los Angeles. The front gate is made from beautifully designed wrought-iron and the top of the gate features a large cross. The grounds are immaculate with weeping willows and pines trees bursting forth from the ground. Much of the statuary is Roman Catholic in design. Many celebrities have been buried here in an area of the graveyard known as "The Grotto." One of these celebrities is Sharon Tate who was laid to rest in a family plot that also contains her and Roman Polanski's unborn baby. Another that is dear to Diane's heart is Bela Lugosi. Join us as we share the history and burials of Holy Cross Cemetery.

Harry Culver was a real estate developer who had fought in the Spanish-American War and spent time in the Philippines working in the mercantile business. He eventually settled in southern California and in 1913, he announced plans to develop a new city that would be annexed from Los Angeles. That city was incorporated in 1917 and named for him, Culver City. He promoted the city with advertisements that read, "All Roads Lead to Culver City." The city eventually became home to three major movie studios and Sony Picture Studios, which was originally MGM Studios, is still there. Movies created here were "The Wizard of Oz," the original "King Kong" and "Gone With the Wind." During Prohibition, Culver City became infamous for its speakeasies and nightclubs like The Cotton Club. Howard Hughes' Hughes Aircraft built a plant in Culver City in 1941 and this is where the Spruce Goose was made.

Holy Cross Cemetery was opened in 1939 at 5835 West Slauson Avenue. Originally, the grounds were part of the Rancho La Bollona claim that dates back to the early 1800s. That land grant was a Mexican land grant and incorporated nearly 14,000 acres that was given to Ygnacio and Augustin Machado and Felipe and Tomas Talamantes for the grazing of their cattle. The cemetery's grounds spread over 200 acres. "The Grotto" that we mentioned earlier is in the southwest part of the cemetery that one can find by turning to the left after entering the cemetery and following the leftmost road up the hill. One thing that taphophiles will immediately notice is that this cemetery has no tombstones. It has a strict "No Tombstones" rule. The main mausoleum is also fairly unique in that an effort has been made to give it an atmosphere of warmth and comfort, rather than just sterile and hollow death. A mural depicts the resurrection of Jesus in warm, bright colors and there are many stained-glass windows that do the same with bursts of color as they filter the sun's rays.

Many famous people are buried here. One of the more surprising burials at Holy Cross is that of Nazli Fouad. Her stone is quite simple, but what it states at the top makes this burial quite remarkable: "Queen Mother of Egypt." Nazli Abdelrehim Sabry was born in 1894 in Alexandria. She married Egypt's King Fouad in 1919 and was the mother of King Farouk. When he became king, he bestowed upon her the title of  'Queen Mother' on January 20, 1938. The title was withdrawn in August of 1950 for several reasons. One was because she supported the marriage of her youngest daughter to a Coptic commoner whom the Egyptian monarch considered to be an opportunist and a sleaze. This would prove to be true when Nazli's daughter would be murdered by this man.The other reason is what has allowed her to be buried at Holy Cross, she converted from Sunni Muslim to Roman Catholic. Being Queen was tough for Nazli. She was an educated woman and very independent, but after her marriage to the King, she was confined to the palace and not allowed to leave very often. The couple would fight often and he would hit her. She attempted suicide once by overdosing on aspirin. After his death she would travel more and visited America many times, particularly to come to the Mayo Clinic for treatment of a kidney ailment. She eventually moved to Beverly Hills where she lived in exile for 30 years and that is where she died on June 29, 1978 at the age of 83.

Ray Bolger was an actor and dancer. He is known famously as the Scarecrow from "The Wizard of Oz" movie. His first cinema contract was with MGM and was signed in 1936. Aside from the Wizard of Oz, he also appeared in MGM's first film done in Technicolor, "Sweethearts." Originally, Bolger was cast as the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz and he was not happy about that. He wanted to be the Scarecrow, but Buddy Ebsen had already been given the part. The two switched parts, but Ebsen soon had to give up the Tin Man part when the powdered aluminum make-up coated his lungs, leaving him near death. Bolger did not escape make-up woes either. His face was permanently lined by the Scarecrow's make-up. He died of bladder cancer in 1987. He's buried in the Mausoleum, Crypt F2, Block 35.

Jackie Coogan was one of the first child actors in the history of movie making. He made his acting debut with Charlie Chaplin in the movie "The Kid." Our favorite part that he played later in life was Uncle Fester on the TV show "The Addams Family." The Coogan Act became law to protect child actors when Coogan sued his parents for squandering his earnings. There were some interesting events in Coogan's life. One happened when he was eighteen years-old. His best friend was kidnapped by two men who demanded a $40,000 ransom for his return. There was actually no intention of returning the friend. The men had killed him shortly after kidnapping him. The police eventually arrested them and put them in a jail in downtown San Jose. A mob broke into the jail and hanged the killers in a nearby park. Coogan was reported to be present and to have held the lynching rope. The second event was a fatal car crash that only he survived. His father was driving when the car was forced off the road by another car. Killed were his father; his friend, 19-year-old actor Junior Durkin; their ranch foreman Charles Jones, and actor and writer Robert J. Horner. Coogan died in 1984 at the age of 69 from a heart attack.

Jimmy Durante was born in 1893 in New York City to Italian immigrants. He wasn't much for school and left it at a young age. He started doing comedy in a vaudeville act and by the 1920s,he had opened his own club. Fame would come for him on Broadway and then he started work in radio and television. Soon there were movies too. He had a very distinctive voice and a gruff singing voice. His rendition of "Frosty the Snowman" is much loved. Durante died on January 29, 1980 from pneumonia.

Fred MacMurray was a comedic actor most known for playing the part of the father in the 1960s show "My Three Sons." He got his start in vaudeville in the late 1920s and then moved on to Broadway. He got his big break in 1935 with the movie "The Gilded Lady." He later starred in some beloved family films like "The Shaggy Dog" and "The Absent-Minded Professor." He died from complications from pneumonia in 1991. His burial is located in the Mausoleum.

John Candy was born in Canada in 1950 and rose to fame as a comedian starring in dozens of movies and TV programs. My favorite movies of his are Spaceballs and Splash. In 1994, Candy died of what was assumed to be a heart attack while filming the movie "Wagons East!" in Mexico. He was only 43 years-old. There were three now-shelved projects that Candy was connected to that are considered cursed projects. These were a film adaptation of John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces, a film adaptation of Mordecai Richler's The Incomparable Atuk and a biopic about silent film comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. The reason these projects are considered cursed is because Candy, John Belushi, Sam Kinison and Chris Farley were all attached to these projects and the same roles in these projects, at one time. They all went on to die before making any of the films. Candy is located in the Mausoleum right under Fred MacMurray.

Lawrence Welk was a musician and bandleader who hosted "The Lawrence Welk Show" for 31 years. That show was one of the most successful music variety shows in American history. The music he shared came to be known as "Champagne Music" and I remember watching it with my folks throughout my childhood. He died at the age of 89 in 1992 from pneumonia. His grave marker has an image of him holding a director baton with a band of musical notes behind him. The epithet reads, "Keep a song in your heart."

Rita Hayworth was a beautiful dancer and actress. The press called her the "love goddess" and she was one of the most glamorous movie stars of the 1940s. She made 61 films over 37 years and the American Film Institute has her in the top twenty-five on their list of greatest stars of all time. Fred Astaire claimed that she was his favorite dance partner. During World War II, she and Betty Grable were the top two pin-up girls. Because of that fact, some may find it hard to believe that Hayworth never did any nude photos or scenes in a movie. Hayworth was born in 1918 and her birth name was Margarita Cansino. She went by Rita Cansino in her early acting career, but it was decided her name sounded too exotic and limited the parts offered to her and so her last name was changed to Hayworth, which was her mother's maiden name. She became a real life princess for four years while she was married to Prince Aly Khan of the Persian Qajar dynasty. Tragically, she was diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease when she was only 61 and it eventually killed her at the age of 68.

Bing Crosby was born in 1903 and eventually became the best selling recording artist of the 20th century. He was not only a singer, but also an actor, which made him one of the first multi-media stars in the 1930s. As proof of this, he has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. An American poll declared him the most admired man alive in 1948 and he was attributed with keeping up the morale of soldiers during World War II. He became an inspiration to countless singers and many mimicked his style. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are just a couple of those people. His most beloved song was a rendition of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" and it became his biggest hit. One of my favorite things he did was the narration for Disney's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." A fun fact: his daughter Mary played Kristin Shepard on Dallas and she is the one who shot JR. Two of his sons committed suicide by shooting themselves. Crosby died at a golf course, where he had just finished playing, from a massive heart attack on October 14, 1977. His grave marker has the wrong birth year and declares him "Beloved by All."

Bela Lugosi is, of course, best known for his portrayal of Count Dracula in the 1931 movie "Dracula." He loved to act and literally would take any part offered him no matter what the pay, except for the part of the monster in the movie "Frankenstein." He led a very hard life and spent the latter part of it addicted to morphine and methadone. The podcast "You Must Remember This" just wrapped a series featuring Lugosi and Boris Karloff that was excellent and we highly recommend that for a thorough look at his life. He was born in Hungary in 1882 and did not learn English readily. He first played Count Dracula in the theater on Broadway. He memorized his lines phonetically. He then went on to play the part in the Universal movie, which launched him into acting in other horror films. He starred several times with Karloff in movies and the two were rivals of a sort. Lugosi ended his career taking parts in Ed Wood's low budget movies, the final one being Plan 9 from Outer Space. He died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956. His wife at the time and his son, decided to have him buried in his Dracula cape. His grave marker just simply reads, "Beloved Father."

Sharon Tate was an actress who is most known for the horrific way in which she died as one of the victims of the murder spree by the Manson Family. We covered that murder in our Haunted True Crime episode about the Manson Murders. She was born in 1943 and her beauty led her to entering pageants. Her acting career started in Italy, where her father was stationed in the Army, as a movie extra. Her family eventually moved back to the US and she moved to Los Angeles and signed a contract with Martin Ransohoff. She started acting in small parts for television shows and finally had her first major role in the movie "Eye of the Devil." She eventually was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in the "Valley of the Dolls." Tate was killed in the home that she shared with her husband Roman Polanski. He was away at the time and she was entertaining several friends. She was also eight-and-a-half months pregnant at the time. A rope was wrapped around her neck and thrown over the rafters. She was stabbed 16 times and an X was carved into her belly. She was buried with her unborn son, whom was named Paul posthumously, in her arms.

Holy Cross Cemetery is beautiful with its iconic Grotto and beautiful grounds. The list of famous people buried here goes on and on. And there are many other luminaries here as well. But even more importantly are the fathers and mothers and grandparents and siblings that have been laid to rest here. They may not be known to the world, but they were special to someone. Holy Cross should be on any taphophiles' visit list and that, was just a little about the Stones and Bones found there!

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