A walk among THE STARS
By Dick Russ
Being an avid automobile enthusiast I read a lot of auto magazines besides the Jaguar Journal. I submit this for your enjoyment assuming that not everyone reads the “Automobile” magazine as I do. What I found most interesting about the article was a discussion about what movie stars drove and did their wheels outlive them; or are their cars in museums or are still prowling the streets today?
The editor crossed the street to visit Marilyn Monroe. The platinum-haired beauty really wasn’t much of a car enthusiast-the only car she had ever owned was a 1956 Ford Thunderbird she received as a Christmas gift. The Playboy founder Hugh Hefner lies immediately to Marilyn’s left, having long ago purchased the marble crypt so he could be assured of sleeping next to the star whose photograph became the magazine first ever centerfold.
Hugh was a real car enthusiast; he especially loved German wheels. Among them was his prized 1969 Mercedes 600 Pullman Limo, a 1959 300SL and a 72 BMW 3.0CS. Some folks even say the name for his famous monthly magazine was inspired by the then-newly defunct Playboy Automobile Company. Playboy magazine’s co-founder’s mother even worked in the Playboy car company’s sales office in Chicago which certainly gives credence as to where the magazine’s name came from. Of special interest to all our club members is one of our members and good friend Clifton Hill in Shawnee actually had one of these famous Playboy cars. It was neat that I had an opportunity to actually see one of these cars which before that I had never heard of a Playboy car
Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial park where these stars are laid to rest is a tiny park (just 2 ½ acres) that is hidden behind a few nondescript office towers on Wilshire Blvd in Hollywood and if you didn’t know where the entrance was you would never find it. It’s quiet, peaceful and filled with flowers and handsome trees. And on a square foot basis it hosts more celebrities than the lunch time dining room at the Brown Derby in Hollywood.
If you ever had a opportunity, and in Holly wood, you might just take a walk by the graves of Monroe and Hefner and the many more famous laid to rest in Westwood. You can’t help but pause and try to imagine the lives they led-working under the lights, the parties along with the beautiful homes and interactions with fans, critics and stardom’s delirious highs and crushing lows. And if you are like me, wonder what did this person drive? Did their cars outlive them? Are their wheels in museums or prowling the streets today? I know that Clark Cable bought one of the first E-Types and drove it to the studio each day. I also know that Cary Grant had a XK140 because La Neal and I bid on it at an auction (that’s another story), anyway we didn’t get it .
Near the Monroe and Hefner Crypts rests crooner and actor Dean Martin. Dean and his pal Frank Sinatra Rat Packer owned a slew of sweet rides including a 76 Stutz Blackhawk, the avant-garde 1962 Italian-American Ghia L6.4. Dean and Frank both owned one of only 26 ever built. It was based on the 1957 Chrysler Dart Concept car. The Ghia wasn’t cool enough out of the box for Dean “The King of Cool” so Dean had the famed Hollywood car customizer George Barris (of Batmobile fame) tweak it with his extra helping suave. It was later sold in 2012 for just under $200,000.
Natalie Wood is nearby buried under a beautiful tree amid the central lawn after having mysteriously drowning at Catalina Island in 1981. She was only 43 years old. When she was only 19 and already a huge star bought a new 1957 Mercedes 300SL roadster and promptly had it painted bright pink. It had Rudge wheels and a beautiful red leather interior. In 2014 it sold at an auction for $1.84 million. I will always remember how gorgeous she looked when I first saw her in “Rebel Without a Cause.” And how alive she was.
Not far from Monroe’s crypt lies actor Robert Stack, like Wood’s and Hefner, he also was a proud owner of a Mercedes 300SL roadster. Although probably best remembers by his audiences as the blundering Rex Kramer’s 1980 “Airplane”, in 1960 Stack was a rising star of the ABC drama “The Untouchables” where he played Elliot Ness the famed Chicago Law enforcement and prohibition agent. It is said that every day Stack would drive down Sunset Blvd. on his way to the studio and passing the Mercedes dealership, stare at a bright green 1957 300SL on display. Finally his wife, Rosemarie, threw up her hands and said in effect, “Why done you buy the damn thing?” Yet Stack didn’t do so saying “he would never pay that much money for a car for himself”.
As fate would have it, Stack didn’t have to spend a dime. Unbeknownst to him, The “Untouchables”producer (and star of I love Lucy) Desi Arnez bought the car for him, a special gift for his winning the best Actor Emmy for 1960. Stack owned the SL right up to his death in 2003. A decade later, the car sold at auction for a cool $808,500. Sorry Mr. Ness, but that deserves a cool martini.
Actor Jack Lemmon, who died in 2001 at the age of 76 has the best headstone in Westwood. It simply reads “Jack Lemmon”-then, below “In”. Yet the two time Oscar winner was the complete opposite of a car guy. Lemmons son, Chris, confessed: Dad was the worst driver ever. He wrecked a magnificent sports car for pretty much in every film he drove in. In “How to muder your wife”, he practically destroyed a Aston Martin. During the filming of “Tribute”, he wrecked a vintage MG that he bought from Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk). Lemmon’s grave lies in a prime spot at the end of a line of four stars that includes Carroll “Archie Bunker” O’Conner, legendary write-director Billy Wilder (“Some like it hot”) and Peter Falk of “Columbo” fame.
Most don’t consider Westwood Memorial a sad place; it’s a celebration of lives lived uniquely and full-up. It is also at times, a reminder of the absurdity and unpredictability of our existence. Remember the horror movie “Poltergeist”, Heather O’Rourke rests in a crypt near the entrance. She was only 12 years old when she dies in 2004.
And last but not least was one my favorites near Jack Lemmon’s grave is actor and Comedian Rodney Dangerfield that died in 2004. I met Rodney when LaNeal and I were in LasVegas at a casino that he was starring. He came up to me and ask if LaNeal was my wife? I responded she was and he said she is sure stunning and to hang onto her(which I planned to all the time). Inscribed under his name on the headstone was: “THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD”. Whether he was a car guy I don’t know, but it sure made me feel good to have him approach us and make the above observation about LaNeal. I always remember his hilarious stand up routines which many revolved around his wife and her lousy driving. One in particular was about his wife when she took her drivers test. “Was she ever happy. She got 18 out of 20! Yeah! Two guys jumped out of the way”!