I have two wonderful chapters in my manuscript Fame's Victim set in this cemetery in Hollywood. And two of the most fun characters who have popped into my head popped up to enhance the event (they are both alive in the novel). I did not know fully of this cemetery's fabled past, and my novel setting happens before it changed its name to Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It not only backs onto Paramount Studios back lot, but you get an - almost - straight-as-a-die line of vision to the HOLLYWOOD Sign (another setting in my novel).
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The Hollywood Forever Cemetery. (David McNew/Getty Images)
At the newly trendy Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where half of the graves belong to Jews, a long history of criminal association lives on.
by Jacob Silverman|
On a Saturday night in late August, hundreds of people assembled outside one of Los Angeles’ most popular cultural venues, waiting for its gates to open. Picnic bags and arm chairs hung on shoulders—The Jerk, the 1979 absurdist Steve Martin comedy about an ignoramus’ unlikely rise and spectacular fall, was to be screened—and many took surreptitious sips of craft beers. The line stretched two blocks along a strip-mall-heavy section of Santa Monica Boulevard in east Hollywood, rounding the corner of Gower Street for another few blocks. The questions pinging through the air were like those furtively asked outside a chic nightclub: “Do you think we’ll get in?” “Have you done this before?”
This wasn’t a revival theater or a movie night at the Hollywood Bowl. Rather, it was a typical Saturday night during the summer season at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which in the last decade has become as well known for its menagerie of eclectic events as for the many early film stars buried there—including director Ernst Laemmle, composer Franz Waxman, Yiddish playwright Peretz Hirschbein, and mobster Bugsy Siegel. That Saturday, the gates opened a few minutes after 6 p.m., and the masses poured in, streaming across the cemetery’s broad lawns. Picnic bags were opened, wine bottles uncorked, tea candles lit. The skunky bouquet of marijuana materialized, overwhelming the grounds’ natural jasmine aroma. By 7:30, about a thousand people had assembled, and a young Steve Martin emerged, projected 30-feet tall on a mausoleum’s whitewashed wall.
While a hit with partygoers, Hollywood Forever’s insouciant attitude toward matters of life and death elides its complicated past. Journalists have also been guilty of submitting to the charms of the place and its management. Most stories about the cemetery have focused on the success of its current owner—Tyler Cassity, a handsome 40-year-old from a wealthy Missouri family of cemeterians—and ignored the cemetery’s vibrant Jewish history, including the tale of Jules Roth, an ex-con who for much of the 20th century owned and ran it as a private fiefdom, milking it for money and terrorizing his employees. In a 2000 HBOdocumentary, The Young and the Dead, Cassity adopted a tone of almost philosophical whimsy when speaking of Roth, a bust of whom sits in the young entrepreneur’s office. “We’re still affected by his actions,” Cassity said. Now that several of Cassity’s business associates and family members—including his brother, his early partner at Hollywood Forever—have been indicted in a wide-ranging $600 million federal fraud case in Missouri, his statement seems less a nostalgic bromide than a literal statement of fact—and a warning of trouble to come.