Scandalous tales, mysterious deaths, and young stars doomed to tragedy. These are the stories lurking in the dark at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Many of these were Paramount Pictures stars and scandals. Did you know that the 24 stars in the original Paramount Pictures logo once represented the stars under contract at the studio? Every time they got a new star under contract, they added a star to their logo…and that my friends, is where we get the saying MovieStar.
To celebrate our 5 year anniversary, my husband and I decided to do something spooky since `tis the season of Halloween. I have never been on a movie studio tour, except Universal Studios, which I think of more of an amusement park than a real behind the scenes movie studio tour (sorry Universal, I still enjoy going on your tour). The Paramount Pictures After Dark Studio Tour looked like it might have spirits floating around stage doors, or at least, I was sort of hoping it would. Even though I didn’t see the ghost of Howard Hughes or Lucille Ball, we were shown the exterior of their offices.
We also saw the exterior of a few famous sound stages that were constructed going back to 1929, like Stage 25. Many Televisions shows have been filmed there like The Lucy Show. Stage 18 was built in 1941 and was home to Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery, thriller Rear Window, 1947, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly . Our tour guide told us a story about Alfred Hitchcock and how he built an amazing set inside this soundstage to create New York City for the movie Rear Window. Evidently, he opened up the basement of the building so he could build New York skyscrapers to look even taller for scenes in the movie.
This is also the soundstage where the infamous black comedy Sunset Boulevard, 1950, starring Gloria Swanson, Nancy Olson, and William Holden was filmed. There is also a famous scene of the aging silent screen star, played by Gloria Swanson, entering through the Bronson Gate and famously saying “Without me, there wouldn’t be any Paramount Studio”. Check out this blog post from dearoldhollywood for photos of locations for filming the movie at Paramount Pictures and nearby locations in Hollywood. GlamAmor.com expertly breaks down the brilliant costume design by Edith Head who transformed Gloria Swanson into Norma Desmond, one of the most iconic film characters of all time.
I must also mention that one of my favorite Jerry Lewis movies, Cinderfella, 1960, was also filmed in Stage 18. If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend it. It is comical and laugh out loud funny and is a great one to watch on family movie night.
‘Lewis, Jerry’ ‘s musical entrance down grand staircase was done in one take, a Lewis trademark. But Jerry’s 7-second rush up the same 63 steps landed him, and his heart, in the hospital.
Some exteriors were shot at a Beverly Hills mansion also used in “Beverly Hillbillies, The” (1962)
On our tour I also got a shot of the Hollywood Landmark water tower that used to actually hold water as part of the studios’ self-sustaining small city. The studio also has its own gas station. All of the major studios have their own water tower with their logo on it and stands as a symbol of their small city within a city. Our tour guide recalled that even though the tower no longer holds water, the studio owners keep the tower as a studio symbol and Hollywood landmark “because other studios had water towers and so would they”.
You might be wondering right about now, whether I made it into any actual historic sound stages. Well, no, but our tour guide did take us into a very dark Dr. Phil sound stage, where he pointed out how small the studio actually is compared to how it looks on TV……the magic of Hollywood. Interestingly enough, the Dr. Phil Stage butts right up against the walls of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Which leads us into our next part of the tour….the cemetary.
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
The Hollywood Forever cemetery houses the Garden of Legends. This is where many famous stars and their scandals and mysteries are buried. Our guide took us to the graves of famous Hollywood legends like Cecil B. DeMille, one of the founders of Paramount Pictures, whose grave site has a view of the studio beyond the lake. Many other Hollywood legends are also buried here such as, Douglas Fairbanks, Peter Lorre, Mickey Rooney and Janet Gaynor. As we walked through the dark cometary , the tour guide told stories about the famous legends and their scandals. There are two that really stood out to me among many:
The “Fatty” Arbuckel Scandal:
“Fatty” Arbuckle got his start on the Vaudeville circuit, then in 1913 became one of the Keystone Kops famously throwing pies in the face in silent pictures. Then in 1921, Arbuckle signed a 3-year contract with Paramount for $1 million, which was an unheard of amount, even by Hollywood standards at the time. In 1921 “Fatty” Arbuckle got caught up in a terrible scandal.
According to ThoughtCo., “”Bambina” Maude Delmont, who frequently set-up famous people in order to blackmail them, claims that Arbuckle herded 26-year-old Virginia Rappe into his bedroom and party goers later heard screams coming from the bedroom and then she was found bleeding behind him when he opened the door”.
But, according to ThoughtCo., Arbuckle had a different version of the story “that when he retired to his room to change clothes, he found Rappe vomiting in his bathroom. He then helped clean her up and led her to a nearby bed to rest. Thinking she was just overly intoxicated, he left her to rejoin the party. When he returned to the room just a few minutes later, he found Rappe on the floor. After putting her back on the bed, he left the room to get help.” Nonetheless, Arbuckle was arrested and charged with the murder of Virginia Rappe, who eventually died 4 days later at a hospital from a ruptured bladder.
After 3 trials, two convictions and one acquittal, “Fatty” Arbuckle, was blacklisted by the Hays Office and his career was destroyed. Arbuckle eventually began directing under the name William B. Goodrich. Sadly, he died at the age of 46 from a heart attack in his sleep.
The Rudolph Valentino and the cursed ring scandal:
In the beginning of the tour we each took a red rose and were asked to leave it at a gravesite that touches us as a way to pay our respects. I held onto my rose for the entire tour until….our last stop on the tour, the crypt of Rudolph Valentino. Our tour guide shared a couple interesting stories about this crypt and about how Valentino died. One is about the Lady in Black who since his death has been leaving fresh flowers at his crypt. Her identity is a mystery. Also, evidently, since Valentino’s death was sudden and unexpected, and he was 3 million dollars in debt, a friend, June Mathis, who had recently gotten divorced, gave Valentino her former husband’s crypt next to hers. There were arrangements made to raise money to build a memorial for his final resting place but never came about due to the depression. This is why this silent screen legend is buried in the corner in a small crypt.
A Cursed Ring
Rudolph Valentino left New York City because he was infatuated with a married socialite and went to San Francisco. It was there that he found a silver ring with a semi-precious stone in it. The jeweler he bought it from told him that all the former owners of the ring had bad luck. Intrigued, Valentino had to buy it. A series of unfortunate events happened after he began wearing the ring. First, he wore the ring while making “The Young Rajah” which flopped so badly he did not work for two years. He did not wear the ring again until he went on his promotional tour of the “Son of Sheik.” Within two weeks of wearing it he died from peritonitis.
He left the ring to actress Pola Negri who he was dating at the time of his death. Her health failed soon after, which almost ended her film career. She gave the ring to a singer named Russ Columbo, who could have been a double for Valentino. Columbo later died in a mysterious shooting accident. Columbo’s cousin then gave the ring to Joe Casino, who wore the ring and was run over by a truck. The ring was later worn by an unknown actor in a screen test for a film about Valentino’s life. Ten days later, the actor died at the age of 21 from a rare blood disease. After all of these strange deaths and string of bad luck events, the ring was put under lock and key in a Los Angeles bank, which suffered a few bank robberies and a fire. Today, the whereabouts of the ring are unknown, possibly reeking havoc on the lives of the owner….
This is where I left my Red Rose…..
United States History: https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h3872.html
Paramount Pictures Studio Tour: http://www.paramountstudiotour.com/studio-tours.html
Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/sunset-boulevard