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Bizarro Saturday Nite
10/02/02

We are going where???”  

"It's at the cemetery" was the response...   AT NIGHT??   I looked at Jim and he just shrugged his shoulders.  That's all he knew...   I'd been living in LA for 20 years and thought I’d seen it all.  This gig sounded really weird.   A jazz concert on a Saturday night held at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery??  Earlier, Jim calls up and says we're going to a concert but he won't say where.  I'll get the rest of the info after he picks me up.  I've known Jim a long time, since we worked on our first "spec" film together in NY — 1976.  Those were bonding experiences and we've remained good friends since.  More so as of late due to the parallels of our personal lives but that's another story — anyway...   Jim ain't gonna steer me wrong however the idea of a cemetery on a Saturday night?   I've been to a cemetery three times in the past 5 years and it wasn't fun.  I'm really not seeing this as an exciting night out.  Besides it's game one of the World Series and I'd be fine hangin' at the house with a few cocktails and snackies.   Jim comes over — we do the cocktails and watch of bit of the game.  "Ok... lets head over and see what all this is about"

As we drive over Jim shows me the flyer.  "An Autumn Night's Eve — Tribute to Woody Herman"   Playing is the Woody Herman big band with Shelby Lynn.  We drive through Hollywood not sure where this place is.  Jim remembers it being near the Paramount lot.  I think it's near the Sunset-Gower studio, formerly known as Colombia Studios.  The only reason I think it's there was the memory of looking at the cemetery sign as we'd leave blitzed thru the back door of Lucy's Mexican restaurant.   When one worked at Sunset-Gower, one would go to Lucy's for lunch.  Not wanting to rock the boat — we did... and those were some great margo lunches.  

We are in old Hollywood and this cemetery is the resting place for many old (and some new) Hollywood celebrities.   I've heard of this place, seen it on TV — had tourist ask directions to it however I've never been there.  Tickets were 75 bucks.   Jim got ‘em for free so there's nothing to lose.  I started thinking this could be a most interesting evening...

We park and approach the cemetery front gate. The sign now read "Hollywood Forever Cemetery".  Jim explains the place went belly up several years ago and this new company from the Tennessee took it over.  I wondered if they also ran Grace land.   "Tickets, please".   Jim flashes them to the attendant.  "Right this way gentleman".  The attendant points us toward the waiting area where golf carts are ushering people to the concert area, which is on the other side of the cemetery.  What's the point of going to a concert in a cemetery if you can't walk thru the graveyard?  Jim and I start hoofing it.  About 3 minutes in it hits me — I'm in a freaking cemetery!  It's night and it's chilly.  However the place is lit up like a movie set.  It looks cool... There are lights everywhere; strategically placed for dramatic effect.  They light the rims of the headstone.  For as far as one can see — headstones and fog.   In the distance, music from a big band jazz group.   We keep walking.  All I can think of is the Michael Jackson "Thriller" video. The place looks like every cheesy horror film I've ever seen.  We keep walking...  The music gets louder.  You can't help but stop and look at a headstone – all so weird.  Finally we reach a clearing where we can see the lay out.  Sure enough, there' a stage with a band, chairs set up for the audience and lots of lights and trucks.  There was even a film crew taping the show for some later broadcast, that'll be interesting — "Live From Hollywood Forever, final home of the Stars".   This is too weird.

Behind the audience is an area with tents representing various high-end restaurants from the area.    The whole thing is so surreal.  I've been to all these events, cemeteries, restaurants and concerts but never at the same time.  Jim and I absorbed the setting and decide the best thing to do is wander about and find the cocktail area.  We start recalling stories of our working on graveyard movie scenes.  One in St. Mary's, Maryland back in 1977 — a spec. film for which we never saw any money.  We were film gaffers, which meant we were part of the lighting crew.  On this film we were the entire lighting crew.  Needless to say, it was low budget and it was the first time I saw gravestones out of Styrofoam.  We joked about the whole experience and how stupid we were.  Not for working on a really bad movie and never getting paid but failing to realize the female art college in St. Mary's was a golden opportunity to meet some young ladies.  Instead, on our off days we kept driving to Annapolis, Maryland thinking we’d sync up with real high brow women.  What idiots we were!  Those women wouldn't give us the time of day unless we could point to our yacht parked off shore.  Neither of us packed our Thurston Howell III blue blazer so our scruffy look was less than vogue.  What were we thinking?  Jim goes, "And you should have known better!"  A clear reference to my years spent at an art college in Philly.  I shook my head in disgrace.  My feeble excuse:  trying to explore new ground — meet new people.  Four years of art school and the art school women were enough.  "Besides, wouldn't it have been fun to meet someone in a dress — NOT covered in paint or ceramic dust!"   We laughed at the whole escapade.  As it was, when our loser film finished shooting, we did have a big wrap party and we did invite as many of the St. Mary's art students as we could.  They came en mass, which is why the next morning we concluded what total idiots we were for not linking up with them sooner.  

We wandered over to the cocktail booth — "Are you VIP?"  " Excuse me?” I ask.  "Yes, VIP — your cocktails are free for VIP".  We flashed our tickets and sure enough — we're VIP.   So here we are, in a cemetery — walking around drinking brewskis — listening to jazz.   Is this for real?   The jazz was ok — the Woody Herman band was good but could it really compare to looking for Valentino's grave?  With brewskis?  We stocked up and headed into the darkness in search of celebs  — dead celebs.   

We wandered about — found Tyrone Power, Cecil B. DeMille and Marion Davis.  Here they were, names I'd heard for ages.  Some how standing before their graves — there was a connection, which put years of Hollywood lore in prospective. We stumbled upon Douglas Fairbanks and John Houston — WOW!!   Perhaps after twenty years in LA, none of this stuff would matter.  It was the opposite. You see the names etched in stone and it sinks in. These were real people, not just names from a seven second video clip on Entertainment Tonight.  This is the real Douglas Fairbanks.  And the real Peter Lorre and the real Jane Mansfield.  Hers was particularly touching.  She had several dried red roses lying on her stone.  Probably from her ex-husband, Mickey Haggerty the former Mr. America, who owns a little flower shop 6 blocks away.   It was touching... 

We didn't find Valentino — he was somewhere on the other side of the cemetery plus the beers were settling in.  I was getting tired.  We stopped back at the concert area and listened to some jazz.  Shelby Lynn was good but somehow the music felt overshadowed by the surrounding.   It was all so surreal.  I kept thinking how surreal as we drove back to my home and where this ranks for Hollywood experiences. In 20 years I've had a few wild experiences.  It may even top the Roosevelt Hotel...  

The Roosevelt was where Bobby and Sirhan crossed paths.  For the 15 years since the hotel has been closed, it's been available for film locations and special events.  It's where we were filming my creature movie with these seven-foot monsters.  It's also where they were holding the Los Angeles Transvestite Ball and Soiree on our last day of shooting.  Me, my crew and creatures all ended up at the Ball.  Every transvestite in Cali was there.  So were we.  It was so bizarre seeing my creatures mix it up with the trans.  I never thought that evening would ever be topped for pure visual overload.  Plus, as you get older — the harder it is to be held in awe.  So... It's nice to know an experience still can come along and remind me — "Dude, you're still in Hollywood and you ain't seen it all."    It was a good night...

George

 

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