Hollywood by Hearse
A few weeks ago, a friend told me she was going to a screening of “Saturday Night Fever” at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. I was envious beyond belief. Hollywood Forever, final resting place of Rudolph Valentino, is possibly my favorite cemetery in the world. It is quite literally where celebrities went to die in the early to mid-20th century. You buy a map to the celebrity tomb sites in the gift shop (see the online version here), and if you’re lucky, you might encounter some old biddies in church hats gossiping about the lives of antiquated Hollywood stars you’ve never heard of.
Unlike the prissy Forest Lawn cemetery chain, where celebrity grave gawking is sternly frowned upon despite clientele like Liberace, Hollywood Forever sits like a giant, shameless Dia de los Muertos altar to the dramatic lives and deaths of those catapulted to glory, chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood movie industry. What better place to watch a trashy outdoor film?
But more than anything, Hollywood Forever reminds me of a simpler time: Los Angeles in the late 1990s, when I met “Creepy Hearse Guy” in a film studies class at my college and fell in love.
Creepy Hearse Guy’s real name was Igor. He’d earned this nickname from his habit of wearing his waist-length hair tied back with a small piece of rope fashioned into a noose, and the fact that he drove a hearse to school. Igor’s hearse was a late 1970’s pearl gray Cadillac Victoria that his equally eccentric father had given him as an 18th birthday present. As a teenage goth girl, I was drawn to Igor and his creepy ride like a moth to a flame, and we dated for the rest of my college years. I became, by default, Creepy Hearse Girl.
We derived great thrills from traumatizing the cashiers at the Del Taco drive thru at 3 a.m., touring celebrity grave sites and going on road trips on the weekends. Igor and his father had built a custom-sized coffin as a summer project, and it was surprisingly comfortable to nap in during long drives. Igor even got his car outfitted with vanity plates that read “C U SOON.” I quickly accepted that while I was Igor’s girlfriend, the hearse was truly the love of his life. It was only a question of time before we joined the Phantom Coaches Hearse Club, Los Angeles’s premiere hearse owner’s automobile club, with its boastful motto, “We put the ‘fun’ back into ‘funeral’.”
And the fun we had! Cemetery picnics, a 19th century New Orleans funeral re-enactment with a Dixieland Jazz band, trips to Knott’s Scary Farm, and tearing down the highway in the creepiest convoy you’d ever see. The other members were mostly blue collar Angeleno car nuts, with a few well-heeled goths thrown in. (Maintaining a hearse is not cheap; the gas bills alone might bankrupt you.) The highlight of our membership was a convention hosted at one member’s Las Vegas home. He lived at the end of a cul-de-sac and had somehow talked his neighbors into letting the hearse club members park up and down the street, before covering the pavement with sand for a “beach party” complete with a frozen margarita machine and a stage where spooky Elvis impersonators performed. Nobody does Vegas like the Phantom Coaches Hearse Club!
Sadly, Igor sold his hearse shortly after graduating from college, and we parted ways shortly after. But I’ll never forget those thrilling, ghoulish days when I was half of L.A.’s Creepy Hearse Couple.