In this week’s LA Weekly, an alternative newspaper distributed in the Los Angeles region, there is a humorous description of a recent visit to Forest Lawn Cemetery by artist and illustrator Tony Mostrom. He begins with references to the negativity expressed by East Coast visitors as well as the English writers Evelyn Waugh and Jessica Mitford. Here’s the Waugh contribution:
Even in the ‘20s, Forest Lawn Memorial Park (to give its full and proper name) was getting hit for its alleged lack of good taste and high-pressure salesmanship. British novelist Evelyn Waugh wrote a comic novel called The Loved One (1948), which made much comic hay out of, for example, embalmers plying their trade fine-tuning the faces of fresh cadavers at the in-house mortuary of Waugh’s barely fictionalized cemetery, Whispering Glades, transparently modeled on Forest Lawn:
“‘We had a Loved One last month who was found drowned. He had been in the sea a month and they only identified him by his wrist-watch. They fixed that stiff,’ said the hostess disconcertingly lapsing from the high diction she had hitherto employed, ‘so he looked like it was his wedding day. The boys up there surely know their job. Why if he’d sat on an atom bomb, they’d make him presentable.’”
Even today the molding of a corpse’s mouth into a smile, as described in the book, still occurs routinely in mortuary practice. Hopefully with the family’s consent.
Mostrom also provides helpful illustrations of his visit (including a 1940s vintage picture post card) and a description of his exploration of some of the older parts of the cemetery. He offers a “baker’s dozen” list of the celebrities who are buried there (some of whom would have been implanted in Waugh’s time):
Walt Disney, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Humphrey Bogart, Alexander Pantages, Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, W.C. Fields, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Lon Chaney, Jean Harlow, Nat King Cole
Since a visit to this site may well be on the “to do” lists of many participants in next year’s Waugh conference in nearby Pasadena, Mostrom’s light-hearted introduction is a good starting point for a current reading list on the subject.