Article on Hollywood Forever (Formerly known as Hollywood Memorial Park)

From the Los Angeles Times:


Owner of Hollywood cemetery sees graveside videos as the way to go.

by Ted Shaffrey -- Westside Weekly

HOLLYWOOD -- If Tyler Cassity has it his way, people who visit the deceased at Hollywood Forever Cemetery may soon see their loved ones looking back at them. As the new graveyard operator of the 99-year old cemetery, Cassity is looking to breathe fresh life into an old way of remembering the dead. "Fifty percent of all Southern Californians are cremated", said Cassity, who will reopen the cemetery's crematorium within months. It was closed after Mama Cass Elliot -- of The Mamas and The Papas fame -- was cremated there in 1972. "The physical body is losing less importance to people at the time of death. What is more important is the body of work, memories a person leaves behind." With this in mind, Cassity -- whose family bought, renamed and reopened the former Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery in April -- has initiated a number of renovations at the graveyard. One of those is the mutimedia "Forever" program. For about $1200, the cemetery will make an approximately 25-minute video presentation celebrating the person's life via interviews withloved ones and footage of the deceased before death. A plan also is in the works to put up kiosks with video screens throughout the burial ground wherein visitors may relive the life of those buried nearby. Or those whose ashes sit in the building outfitted with niches for the containers, taking up much less real estate. "People are pushed into paying five grand for a rock with a name on it," said Jay Boileau, a former music video producer and 3-D animator who handles the cemetery's research and development. "We're giving people so much more." Dealing with the dead has been a way of life for the Cassity clan. Friends of people whose remains are here and city officials breathed a sigh of relief this past spring when the family from Missouri bought the legendary Hollywood cemetery out of bankruptcy court. Two local prominent cemetery operators had passed on the deal after initially showing interest. The last party, Eileen Callahan, claimed the cemetery had suffered too much damage from the Northridge earthquake in 1994 and was near capacity. Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, who represents the area, worried aloud at the time about an abandoned 62-acre cemetery in the middle of Hollywood. To the rescue came the Cassity family, who own several graveyards in the midwest. After hearing of the cemetery's plight on "Entertainment Tonight," they bought the cemertery for $375,000. The first thing they did was change the name. Tyler Cassity came to Los Angeles to take charge of the venture for the family. Central Casting couldn't have done a better job of picking a Hollywood graveyard operator. With movie-star good looks and an undertaker's demeanor, success for the cemetery has meant for Cassity a departure from traditional ways of doing business in death. So far he's achieved his goal: With a years-long waiting list, the family recouped their initial $375,000 investment within weeks of reopening in April. Thus far, Cassity said he has made roughly $1.5 million in renovations, with millions more to go. He is relandscaping the land to add space for 60,000 new graves and crypts, primarily by eliminating unnecessary roads and building more mausoleums. When established in 1899, the cemetery was one of the first in the country intended to double as a city park. Cassity also is trying to re-establish that original notion. "People go to Pere LaChaise cemetery in Paris to escape the city." he said. "This is a great place to explore. The history of the city is here." Indeed it is. A stone's throw from the gravesite of Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, is Las Vegas visionary and Hollywood mobster Bugsy Siegel. Near to the final resting place of L.A. Times founder Gen. Harrison G. Otis, lies his successor, Times Publisher Harry Chandler. Griffith J. Griffith, after whom Griffith Park is named, is buried there as is Daida Wilcox Beveridge, the woman who who named her husband's real eastate holdings "Hollywood" following a pleasant conversation on a train. A few crypts over from her lie the remains of Jules Roth, the man who took over the cemetery -- after spending the Great Depression in San Quentin -- and ran it finacially into the ground before dying this past January. Acclaimed film director John Huston lies in peace near the park's lake, as does Elmer Berger, the man who invented the rear-view mirror for cars. To capitalize on the history, Cassity will open a gift shop near the Santa Monica Blvd. entrance. He recently succeeded in getting the graveyard put on the National Registry of Historic Place and is eligible for redevelopment funds from the city. Also, the cemetery is used by entertainment industry productions about once a week. The Hollywood sign is easily visiblble from grave sites. "For many that's the appeal of this cemetery, eternally resting underneath that sign," Cassity surmised, while gazing at the celebrated sign overlooking the graveyard on an unusually clear day. "We had 10 burials last week." Cassity encourages the myth of the place. This Sunday, for example, there will be a public memorial service marking the 40th anniversary of the death of Tyrone Power, who is buried here. Several of the actor's former co-stars and friends will present eulogies. A similar service for Rudolph Valentino, the most popular destination at the cemetery, drew about 100 people in August -- the most who have come to the service in years, said attendees. What does a man who runs a cemetery in Hollywood think of an afterlife? "I like what the Dalai Lama said in his book recently," Cassity said, perhaps avoiding the question. "Religion in modern society is like the corner drug store. You go and pick out what you want.