I don’t usually walk through cemeteries at dusk. However, cemeteries aren’t typically tucked between high rises.
The Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park is an exception to this rule.
Westwood is home to dozens of movie premieres each year, but many people don’t realize that it’s also the final resting place for some of Hollywood’s most memorable film and entertainment icons.
Just past a parking structure where Wilshire Boulevard meets Glendon Avenue and roughly one mile from UCLA, Westwood Memorial Park is among the oldest cemeteries in Los Angeles and is a designated city Historical-Cultural monument.
The unassuming cemetery is the resting place of such stars as “West Side Story” actress Natalie Wood, film director Billy Wilder, pin-up model Bettie Page, writer Truman Capote, actor Jack Lemmon and perhaps most famously, his “Some Like it Hot” co-star ““ Marilyn Monroe.
In the park’s “Corridor of Memories,” layers of fans’ pink lip stick imprints mark Marilyn Monroe’s crypt, a tradition that has permanently stained the porous stone a shade rosier than its neighbors.
Folded notes and pennies lie wedged between the crevices of Monroe’s tomb and atop her nameplate. And faithful fans of the film star leave roses that overflow from the vase beside her name, where her former husband, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, also left fresh red roses for 20 years following her death.
However, other graves aren’t as easily identifiable. In fact, some aren’t marked at all, including those of musicians Roy Orbison and Frank Zappa.
A collection of Hollywood fan sites provides elaborate directions to navigate the cemetery, with alphabetized databases that reveal stars’ locations in the park ““ which is surprisingly challenging to navigate, even for its small size. Those in search of specific stars will benefit from a map.
During my visit, several fans roamed the grounds with bundles of flowers and printed directions as they paid homage to their favorite icons. And while the park is a tourist destination, photography is discouraged.
My friend and I were fortunate to meet one regular visitor with impressive knowledge of the park’s layout. The self-proclaimed film connoisseur, who wished only to be known as “Alex,” said he visited the park daily, whether on his lunch break or after work, to seek inspiration among his favorite film icons.
With his direction, we discovered the park’s more hard-to-find markers, among them that of Sylvia Barnhart, Marilyn Monroe’s hairdresser. Her nameplate touts her most famous achievement in capital letters ““ “Turned MARILYN into THE BLONDE.”
Humorous epitaphs emblazon other markers, including television host Merv Griffin’s note ““ “I will not be back right after this message” and Rodney Dangerfield’s ““ “There Goes The Neighborhood.”
Those nostalgic for Old Hollywood will appreciate the park’s history and celebrity icons, whose quotes and likenesses mark many headstones.
The park is tranquil and remarkably quiet for its short distance from the rush of Wilshire Boulevard. And while it’s easy to spend more than a couple hours exploring the grounds, just keep in mind that the park is first and foremost a cemetery.
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