From New Times Los Angeles Online - newtimesla.com  

February 17-23

There was nothing amusing about G.V. Ayers' first visit to the Hollywood Cemetery in the spring of 1998. As the newly appointed chief of California's cemetery and funeral bureau, only weeks earlier Ayers had narrowly averted having to padlock the gates of the vaunted -- and scandal-plagued -- Los Angeles graveyard. Although scarcely anyone other than a few state regulators knew about it, the final resting place of Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Tyrone Power, and a host of early motion picture and civic icons had come perilously close to being boarded up and declared off-limits.Bankrupt, in disrepair, and with perhaps $9 million looted from its supposedly sacrosanct endowment-care fund by its now deceased former owner of more than 50 years, the once glamorous cemetery to the stars, including its Gold Cross Mortuary, was a financial basket case. Relatives of those buried at the place that the colorful and secretive Jules Roth once marketed as the Cemetery of the Immortals had long clamored for authorities to investigate. By the time auditors finally showed up in 1995 and uncovered massive accounting irregularities, prompting the state to seize the property, the last thing anyone in Sacramento wanted was to shutter it at taxpayer expense. State cemetery officials were already reeling from scandals at Paradise Memorial Park in Santa Fe Springs, where body parts had turned up in a dirt pile, and at Lincoln Memorial Park in Carson, which Roth also owned. Partly owing to those scandals, the Legislature had voted to abolish the corrupt and ineffectual state cemetery board. Ayers, a former Church of Christ minister, had been picked to head the new bureau -- a fresh start -- under the auspices of the Department of Consumer Affairs. It was with a sense of relief that he arrived in Hollywood to meet the cemetery's youthful new owner, Tyler Cassity, 29, the soft-spoken son of a Missouri insurance executive. Cassity had just finished doing state officials an inadvertent favor by taking the troubled graveyard off their hands. His sealed bid of $375,000, which in retrospect seems amazingly paltry for a property that had been appraised at $8 million a few years earlier, was the only offer. After calculating what it might cost to rescue the landmark property from disgrace, not to mention the challenge of placating countless relatives of those interred there, other potential buyers had concluded that no price was worth the risk. Within the death industry, Cassity and his brother (and partner), Brent, 32, seemed like prime candidates for Chump of the Year. Upon seeing the place, even Ayers had doubts. As his young host drove him around the 62-acre grounds in an electric cart, confidently sharing his vision for the cemetery's future, all Ayers could see were tilted tombstones, a scraggly lawn, and crumbling roads. The mausoleums were rife with leaky roofs and broken skylights. An entire wall in the Jewish mausoleum, near where gangster Bugsy Siegel lies, was covered with a creepy yellow residue. Roth hadn't repaired the ceilings in 30 years. He (or someone) had raided and sold statuary from the mausoleums. And he had not repaired earthquake damage. Plywood had been used to replace the broken marble panels covering crypts. Other crypts lay open and empty. Dozens of bodies, including that of makeup artist Max Factor, had been disinterred and moved to other cemeteries on orders of angry loved ones. "I was very impressed with Tyler's goals and wished him all the luck in the world," recalls Ayers. "But seeing what he faced, I also remember asking him -- good-naturedly, of course -- if he and his brother were nuts." The question no longer seems relevant. Now almost two years into Cassity's bold revival of the elegant century-old burial ground that he has rechristened Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the mausoleums no longer leak, crypts are stain-free, the grass is green, once pothole-ravaged roads have been repaved, and there's even a program (albeit slow and expensive) to shore up slumping grave markers. He has pumped $3 million into the property (although he freely concedes it could use $10 million). In the months leading up to the state's 1996 revocation of the former Hollywood Memorial Park's license to sell new burials, there were barely two funerals a month being conducted there. In fact, for the last two years under Roth's larcenous stewardship, the cemetery generated more revenue from disinterments than burials. Nowadays, there are closer to two funerals a day. Yet Cassity is barely out of the starting blocks. There are 90,000 inhabitants of the cemetery's graves, crypts, and niches (for cremated remains), and he speaks confidently of adding 90,000 more: "Enough to keep us busy here for the next 50 to 60 years." If all goes according to plan, not only will he become a wealthy man, but even using the most conservative figures, the cemetery could wind up with a healthy endowment in excess of $8 million, more than enough to fulfill Roth's once cavalier claims of eternal care. He has brought in architect Bryan Lourd to create an aesthetic face-lift and expansion of the massive Abbey of the Psalms Mausoleum, one of five, and Nancy Goslee Power, who designed the Norton Simon Museum's new gardens, for the landscape design. Within a year or so, he expects to bulk up the sales staff to 200 from its current two dozen. He's already at work on plans to transform a corner of the Beth Olam Jewish section of the cemetery into a meditation garden. At a ceremony last month marking the 41st anniversary of the death of film director Cecil B. DeMille, who is entombed there, Cassity, surrounded by actor Charlton Heston and other celebrities, unveiled plans to restore a historic chapel on the grounds as a DeMille museum. It will open during the middle of next year.Thus far, his only critics appear to be those who are peeved at the cemetery's new name. A few historic preservationists grouse that Hollywood Forever sounds more like a tacky souvenir shop. Otherwise, the turnaround has been widely cheered, including his policy of contributing far more than the modest minimums required by the state to replenish the endowment fund that Roth ravaged. "There's no question they've accomplished a remarkable comeback over there," says state cemetery inspector Ted Jackson. Cecilia DeMille Presley, granddaughter of the legendary DeMille, agrees. "What's happened is marvelous," she says. "The cemetery had become so scary that our family had stopped going to visit." Smartly dressed and with collegiate good looks sufficient to land him a job at Paramount Pictures next door, Cassity seems supremely miscast as a cemeterian. Neither does he appear to think like one. What else can you say about a cemetery owner who read Jessica Mitford's industry-savaging The American Way of Death -- and liked it? In fact, he speaks at length about his business and rarely utters the word death. "I don't think of myself as being in the death-care industry," he says, making an exception. A Columbia University graduate who majored in English Literature, he never envisioned being caught up in a world of funerals, headstones, and mausoleums; not even after his family came to own a dozen funeral homes and a cemetery. In the late '80s, the family unloaded them for a princely sum during a wild acquisition binge by a few industry giants willing to throw lots of money around in a race for market share. The boom has since turned bust, and some of the industry's big players have fallen hard. Loewen Group, the Canadian-based funeral home and cemetery operator, filed for bankruptcy protection last year. Service Corporation International, the industry behemoth with headquarters in Houston, last month had its massive debt downgraded to junk bond status. Besides Hollywood Forever, the brothers own cemeteries near Kansas City and St. Louis, and with lots of properties now for sale at bargain prices, they have big plans to buy more. But, oddly, for someone in Cassity's position, death care isn't what it's all about -- at least the traditional kind. He talks openly of revolutionizing the industry. "Look at that headstone," he says, motioning to a nearby grave. "We're more interested in filling in the dash between the date of birth and the date of death." To accomplish that, the brothers' company, Forever Enterprises, has gone beyond the customary service-casket-and-grave trade into the world of online digital memorials, biographies, and family archives. Housed incongruously in an ornate upstairs hall at the cemetery's 1920s office building, which was once a Masonic lodge, Forever Studios is like any other state-of-the-art production facility, except it happens to be at a graveyard. For a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, editors create minidocumentaries with the use of family photos, videos, and recorded interviews. The end product may be viewed by pressing a touch screen at any of several multimedia kiosks scattered throughout the cemetery, via home video, or by anyone at any time (and presumably forever) at the company's Web site. Many of the nearly 10,000 clients the brothers have served so far, here and in the Midwest, have chosen to have Forever tributes played at their funerals. For the uninitiated, the effect can be a surprise. Typically, at a recent service in the chapel for a 94-year-old Jewish great-grandmother, some guests gasped when Forever representative Ilania Hofler, who preceded the Rabbi, stood in front of a flat-screen TV to introduce an electronic photo album of the deceased set to the woman's favorite music -- Elvis Presley singing Love Me Tender. As a lifetime of poignant images filled the screen, people alternately laughed, cried, and exchanged glances as if gathered around the kitchen table with the family scrapbook. After the service, some couldn't stop talking about it. Other clients with a view toward leaving a visual record of themselves for future generations buy documentary packages that are indistinguishable, except perhaps in length, from professionally produced television biographies. Forever's archives are filled with clients who've departed into the great beyond and who, with the press of a button or click of an icon, can not only be recalled but observed ruminating about their lives. Content runs the gamut from the serious to the mundane; stories from childhood, first dates, embarrassing moments, what jobs were like, and (most commonly) how others figured into their lives. "There's almost always what I call a breakdown point when the handkerchiefs come out," says Hofler, the biographer, whose biggest challenge is to help people talk freely about themselves or about loved ones in front of a camera. But most people come away from the experience feeling "justifiably good about themselves," she says. "There's something truly cathartic about it." Recalling his interview for a biography of his 84-year-old mother, Chuck Donaghho, 48, an Eagle Rock schoolteacher, says, "I wasn't too sure about the concept at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I want future generations of our family to know what she was like." The notion sprouted when, as teenagers, Cassity and his brother ran across a tape recording of their grandmother, who had died a short time earlier, and mixed it with video footage, old photos, and music to create a family tribute. Soon, along with a few buddies, they advanced from shooting weddings and baptisms to selling Here's Your Life video albums door-to-door. After finishing college in 1992, Tyler was stunned upon returning to Missouri to find Brent running a successful production studio from the basement of his St. Louis home. Joining forces, they made the switch from analog to digital equipment, and the Forever concept took flight. Cassity was in Whittier early in 1998 demonstrating the company's technology to industry types gathered at the huge Rose Hills Cemetery when he heard that Hollywood Memorial Park was on the auction block. On the way to the airport, he drove over to take a look for himself and was smitten. "I fell in love with this place immediately," he recalls. "It was a cultural icon full of cultural icons." To his way of thinking, it's also the perfect place to launch a revolution. If regular folks (not to mention those in the stodgy death-care biz) find it difficult to grasp the Forever concept, why not make it easy for them? Not only is there a to-die-for abundance of Hollywood glitterati planted beneath the swaying palms outside his office, there's a nearly inexhaustible supply of archival material to memorialize their lives. As a first order of business, he assigned a studio team to churn out Forever biographies to cover a hot list of the cemetery's celebrity inhabitants. The 100th anniversary edition of Hollywood Forever's official guide, which rolled off the presses earlier this year, is devoted to 101 Stars and Founders of Historic Hollywood and, says Cassity, it just scratches the surface. If there's a weakness in his plan to restore the cemetery to its former glory, the solution may lie in celebrities choosing Hollywood Forever as a final resting place. Except for director John Huston and animator Mel Blanc, few have done so in the last dozen years. Frank Sinatra clearly would have been a coup, and Cassity acknowledges that he would welcome rock idol Jim Morrison, whose body Pere Lachaise has threatened to disinter for the disruption it has brought to the famed Paris cemetery. Thus far, Cassity's still waiting for the next megastar, but that isn't to say that he isn't attempting to address the issue, albeit delicately. When actress Hedy Lamarr died in Florida several weeks ago, he put out feelers through a third party to see if the family would be interested in having her interred at Hollywood Forever. Although the family opted for cremation, a decision on what to do with the remains is reportedly still pending. In a sense, Cassity has become the curator of a treasured landmark. An aspiring novelist, he has developed a voracious curiosity about the place. He reads every magazine article, newspaper clipping, and book reference about it he can find. He's developed an affinity with researchers, historians, and everyday people who wander through the gates in search of clues to L.A.'s past. He's even become a popular figure among the mostly old-timers who gather to swap and sell Hollywood memorabilia, some of whom, upon learning who he is, treat him with a kind of reverence. "I'm a storyteller at heart," says Cassity, "and there are so many incredible stories in this place." Other L.A.-area cemeteries are older (Odd Fellows in East L.A. was established in 1870) and larger (Forest Lawn Glendale has more than 300,000 interments), but few rival the mystique of Hollywood Forever. When San Fernando Valley pioneer Isaac Lankershim and his son-in-law, Isaac Newton Van Nuys, established the Hollywood Cemetery Association and bought 100 acres for the cemetery in 1899, Hollywood was a dusty enclave with 500 settlers living along wide dirt avenues flanked by ranches, wheat fields, and lemon groves. Records show the first person buried there was a Mrs. T. W. Price, a blacksmith's wife. In the ensuing century, she's been surrounded by a disparate throng of movie stars, pioneer settlers, exiles from czarist Russia, titans of business and industry, even Confederate soldiers. The settlers include Harvey Wilcox, the Kansas prohibitionist credited with founding Hollywood; his wife, Daeida Wilcox Beveridge, who gave Hollywood its name; homesteader John T. Gower; and U. S. Senator Cornelius Cole, after whose children 10 of Hollywood's streets are named. Among the obelisks and fairy-tale Greek and Egyptian temples that surround a small lake at one end of the grounds, the names read like a Who's Who from the first half of the 20th century. There's Griffith J. Griffith, who donated the land for Griffith Park; Arthur Letts, founder of the Broadway department stores; Harrison Gray Otis, the first major publisher of the Los Angeles Times; and philanthropist William A. Clark Jr., who was instrumental in organizing the L.A. Philharmonic. Facing Santa Monica Boulevard between Gower Street and Van Ness Avenue, the property once covered the entire megablock stretching south to Melrose Avenue. But in 1920, the association sold off an unused lower 40 acres to make way for Paramount and another studio, which housed RKO General in the '30s and '40s. Inevitably, the cemetery grew with the motion-picture boom. Besides Fairbanks, DeMille, and Power, near the lake are the graves of Columbia Pictures czar Harry Cohn; director John Huston; actresses Janet Gaynor and Marion Davies; and singer Nelson Eddy. The mausoleums hold silent-screen stars Norma and Constance Talmadge, Barbara LaMarr, and Mary Miles Minter; movie pioneer Jesse Lasky; actors Peter Lorre, Clifton Webb, and Peter Finch; actresses Eleanor Powell and Joan Hackett; and director Victor Fleming (Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz). Musicians include Woody Herman, Art Pepper, and Nelson Riddle. Among the ranks of the near famous are Clark Gable's father, Anthony Quinn's son, Rita Hayworth's brother, Charlie Chaplin's mother, and Elmer Berger, inventor of the rearview mirror. The cemetery is even known for stars who aren't there. Although a marker near the lake bears the name of sex idol Jayne Mansfield, her family's change of plans led to her being cremated and her ashes were scattered elsewhere. Gone with the Wind Oscar-winner Hattie McDaniel, who died in 1952, wanted to be buried there but couldn't because of the cemetery's former exclusion of African-Americans. Cassity offered to right the wrong last year, and even though relatives decided against having McDaniel disinterred from L.A.'s Rosedale Cemetery (where, incidentally, she broke the color barrier), some of them were on hand at Hollywood Forever last December for the unveiling of a monument in her honor. Another star, singer Mama Cass Elliot, was the last person to be cremated at the cemetery's crematorium in 1978. As might be expected, the place has on occasion been the focus of worldwide attention. In 1926, for Valentino's interment, hundreds of thousands of fans lined the streets between the cemetery and the Beverly Hills church where the funeral took place as an airplane flew overhead dropping rose petals. At services for Tyrone Power in 1959, so many well-wishers jammed inside the grounds before the gates could be secured that those inside the small chapel had to strain to hear Cesar Romero's eulogy. Among those turned back from the funeral, apparently at the order of Power's widow, was ex-wife Linda Christian and Power's two small children. A poignant photo of Christian and the kids kneeling alone in an empty church was splashed across daily newspaper front pages the next day.Yet much of the cemetery's charm lies not so much in who is buried there, but in the how and why. The flat gravestone of child star Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer of Our Gang fame is inscribed with a picture of Pete, the gang's trusted dog. Not far away, the modest marker of actress Peggy Shannon bears the inscription "That Red-Haired Girl." Promoted as a sex symbol when she arrived in Hollywood in the '30s, she committed suicide after quickly slipping from leading roles into bit parts. For years, someone has kept the lakeside marker of Virginia Rappe -- the young beauty that actor Fatty Arbuckle was accused, but never convicted, of murdering -- well-groomed. Elmo Lincoln, the silent screen's original Tarzan, who died in obscurity in 1952, hasn't faired much differently in death. His cremated remains occupy a tiny niche in a lonely corner of the cemetery's oldest mausoleum. By contrast, other gravesites make onlookers smile. A rocket monument hovers above a NASA scientist, and atop Bugs Bunny creator Mel Blanc's tombstone are the words "That's all, folks." But of all the stories behind the names at Hollywood Forever, none may be more compelling -- or bizarre -- than that of the man who once occupied the office where Cassity now sits. Jules Hine Frederick Roth, who was 97, died in his sleep a couple of weeks before Cassity first laid eyes on the cemetery in 1998, and, perhaps more importantly, before L.A. County District Attorney Gil Garcetti's office got around to prosecuting him. Among other things, he left behind a string of Playboy Club keys in his office desk drawer and what may be the world's only swinger's wet bar installed at a cemetery. But there was something else: huge file boxes crammed with photographs, love letters, two wills, and countless other items that revealed a secretive and surprising life. Erudite, charming, and with expensive tastes, Roth was Hollywood Memorial Park. He had been there for so long that to the people around him, it seemed he had never been anywhere else. Even longtime acquaintances who listened to his stories about making his first million dollars by age 23 or his exploits in the oil and securities businesses had a hard time believing that much of it was true. "Jules was the kind of person where you knew him, but you didn't really know him," says ex-cemetery association officer Thurston Gordon, 91, who first met Roth in 1940. Not even Gordon, who knew Roth perhaps longer than anyone, suspected that his ex-boss had once been one of L.A.'s most notorious white-collar criminals. Or that after spending time in the penitentiary at San Quentin for stock fraud in the '30s, the man better known as Jack Roth would revert to his given name and settle into decades of stylish -- and respectable -- obscurity as the don of a great cemetery. Among his associates, Roth had long been rumored to have once gone to jail. But according to Marilyn Simpson, who went to work for him in 1974, no one seemed to know for sure -- or for what -- until the name Jack Roth popped up in a 1994 biography of infamous oil-stock swindler C.C. Julian. Julian's artful scams and wild social life came to epitomize L.A. greed and decadence in the '20s. A young Roth had been Julian's right-hand man (he reportedly once decked Charlie Chaplin in a Los Angeles nightclub as actress Mary Miles Minter watched) and wrote newspaper ad copy for Julian that reeled in millions of dollars from unsuspecting investors. "[Roth] appears to have been a totally amoral person who learned at the feet of the master," says San Francisco State University history professor Jules Tygiel, author of The Great Los Angeles Swindle. So completely did Roth pull down the curtain on his notorious past, however, that not until after the book was published did Tygiel learn that his ex-Julian lieutenant, Jack, was the Jules of the cemetery. Perhaps because his grand jury testimony was instrumental in bringing down several prominent political figures of the day, Roth escaped prosecution for his role in the Julian affair. He was less fortunate with his own stock brokerage in downtown L.A. Convicted on 21 counts of grand theft and securities fraud in 1932, he was sentenced to between 11 and 95 years in prison. The case didn't go smoothly. At a hearing, Roth disappeared from the courthouse and skipped bail, prompting a nationwide manhunt. He turned up at the Canadian border in upstate New York disguised as a farmer before being arrested in New York City and returned to stand trial. Sent to prison, he was pardoned by the governor after five years. Fresh out of San Quentin, he arrived at the cemetery in 1937. His deceased parents were there. During his high-flying Julian days, Roth had made sure that his father, who died in 1923, and mother, who passed away four years later, were interred side by side at the cemetery's then new and exclusive Cathedral Mausoleum. (Valentino is just down the hall.) That an ex-con straight from prison could control one of L.A.'s most celebrated cemeteries within two years was no small feat. Roth may have come closest to explaining how he did it while being deposed in a 1992 civil case. Feeble but still articulate, he claimed that he had become an unpaid "consultant" at the cemetery in 1937. Incredibly, considering what is known about his financial dealings, he insisted that he "had been called in [by the cemetery's management] to straighten out the endowment-care fund." His first visit there after prison may have been simply to pay his respects to his parents. But there were soon compelling reasons to return. Alta Phillips, the attractive, young, red-haired daughter of the cemetery superintendent was a trained paralegal who had already assumed a key management role. She and Roth quickly became an item. According to Gordon and others, she taught Roth much of what he knew about being a cemeterian. Their romance spanned five decades, coinciding with his 40-plus-year marriage to onetime vaudeville dancer Virginia Carville, another longtime intimate relationship with a former actress named Phyllis Lee Towers, and numerous other short-term girlfriends. Although famous and desirable, the cemetery hit some rough times during the Depression, and by the late '30s, Gordon says, there were plenty of investors in the privately held cemetery association willing to unload their shares. "Jules was very clever," he says. "He got hold of the shareholder list -- I suspect with Alta's help -- and one by one began buying off prospective sellers at depressed prices." By 1939, Roth controlled the place. Exactly how much money Roth took from the cemetery's endowment funds and the less prestigious Lincoln Memorial Park that he acquired in the 1950s may never be known. By law, cemeteries subject to the state's endowment-care program are required to set aside certain minimum amounts from the proceeds of each grave, crypt, and niche they sell. The principal can't be touched. Only the interest may be spent and only for a cemetery's maintenance. In Roth's case, auditors found that more than $2 million had been illegally commingled between Hollywood Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and the Gold Cross Mortuary and that a lot of it had been used illegally for other purposes. But, in all likelihood, investigators uncovered only a portion of the abuses. Because of statutes of limitation in such matters, the probe focused on activities that only went back as far as 1993. As it was, auditors were still poring over records seized from the cemetery office when Roth died in January 1998. Investigators might never have even uncovered the Hollywood mess had it not been for the misdeeds discovered at Lincoln by maverick reformer Ray Guinta, who served briefly as the head of the now defunct cemetery board before being squeezed out. At Lincoln, Guinta and his team found coffins illegally buried just two inches below the surface, children's graves crammed along the edges of roadways, and other graves wedged illegally between the base of one plot and the top of another. More horrifying to loved ones, however, were that dozens of headstones had been tossed in trash bins, and many plots had been sold repeatedly. Nothing of that sort had ever been alleged at Hollywood, but that isn't to say that Roth's caretaking of the dead had not come under suspicion. Relatives were outraged at the lax security that had allowed vandals to topple tombstones and young partygoers to hold all-night beerfests in the area around the lake for a while in the 1980s. He finally beefed up security after a woman's decomposed head was stolen from one of the mausoleums and later recovered under a parked car outside the cemetery. He had even been the target of a class-action suit after turning some of the cemetery's roads into a temporary parking lot for Paramount employees. But except for an occasional slap on the wrist (he was asked to appear before the cemetery board twice in 20 years), Roth managed to elude serious scrutiny. Indeed, the only person to be prosecuted as a result of the state's lengthy probe was the cemetery's longtime comptroller, James Myers, Alta Phillips' nephew. In a plea arrangement, Myers agreed to pay a $50,000 fine and make restitution of $372,000 in return for pleading no contest to three counts of misusing endowment funds. The outcome left more than a few former coworkers stunned and disappointed. "Jim was no crook," says one, asking not to be identified. "His big mistake was being a yes-man to Roth." Sources close to Roth say he took a salary of about $60,000 a year for his management of Hollywood and Lincoln, but investigators discovered about 26 separate financial entities linked to the cemeteries through which he raked in far more. Friends say he spent lavishly, ate at the finest restaurants, and that he and his wife, who died in 1982, traveled frequently (and separately). After World War II, he bought a 103-feet-long U.S. Navy submarine chaser at government auction (some say he took a tax write-off by listing it as a cremation vessel) and converted it to a luxury yacht that he named Queen of Sheba. Employing a captain and small crew, he sailed to Europe and elsewhere numerous times and hosted legendary parties in anchorage at Newport Beach. He collected artwork, including sculpture and paintings, ostensibly for the cemetery's mausoleums and offices. But friends say much of it wound up in his imposing Hollywood Hills home. Yet, his personal papers, as well as people who knew him, indicate that he often seemed to be in need, or want, of more. In the late '50s, he explored the possibility of drilling for oil beneath each of the cemeteries and probably would have, at least at Lincoln, had Union Oil not already bored a well fewer than 1,300 feet from the cemetery's gates. Court documents show that once in the '70s and again in the '80s, Roth faced personal debts that exceeded $2 million and had put cemetery shares up as collateral. In the mid-'80s, after the inept former state cemetery board finally raised questions about his handling of endowment funds, Roth infuriated those with friends and relatives at Hollywood Memorial by selling off two long strands of the cemetery's Santa Monica Boulevard frontage -- for nearly $9 million. A developer promptly erected two unsightly strip malls. But where did that money go? When auditors finished untangling the mess, there was only about $1.8 million in the Hollywood cemetery's endowment coffers. "He would spend and spend," says Mildred Arnold, a nurse who attended him during the last decade of his life. For years, there had been trips to Las Vegas and midnight poker games. Even in failing health, says Arnold, Roth routinely sent her out to buy hundreds of dollars worth of lottery tickets at a time. But he was also generous, especially with the women in his life. Among his personal effects are years of correspondence that reveal what appear to be simultaneously intimate and caring relationships with his wife, Virginia Carville, Alta Phillips, and Phyllis Lee Towers, not to mention other romantic liaisons. (All three are interred at the cemetery.) "His women were all beautiful -- a lot of them were connected to show business in some way -- and they all adored him," says Benjamin Wolfe, 89, who worked for Roth for many years. Others, including Simpson, say that Carville knew about her husband's wandering eye and came to accept it. The same may be said of Phillips. Among Roth's personal effects that turned up at the cemetery is an undated letter from Phillips in an envelope marked: "For Jules Roth, in the event of my death." Inside is a small black-and-white snapshot that she apparently took of the dapper, smiling young Roth at the cemetery shortly after they met. A typewritten note that accompanies the photo begins: "Look at your funny self in 1937. Two suits, a sailor hat, no mustache, and no dough, yet I fell for you." It concludes: "You can go on through your life knowing that one gal loved you for yourself and never stopped loving you in spite of your wife, your many dames, and your hellish disposition. Just a one-man woman, that was me." Not long after Cassity settled into his new job, he made a startling discovery while on a weekend shopping expedition. In a Westside junk shop, on a cluttered table surrounded by oddball lamp shades, he came face-to-face with an exquisitely sculpted bronze bust of the man whose cemetery he had come to own. It had been hauled off along with everything else of value in Roth's Hollywood Hills home and sold at auction to help satisfy the ex-owner's personal debts. Barely three months after he died, the house itself appeared on the auction block. Childless and without relatives, Roth had been generous to a good many people in his last will and testament, signed in 1990. He bequeathed $25,000 here and $50,000 there to numerous cemetery employees, his driver, his caregivers, and the only two surviving relatives of his deceased wife. But by the time he died, there was nothing left for any of them. As a formality, the state attorney general's office, on behalf of the cemetery bureau, filed a claim hoping to tap into the estate to recover some of the missing endowment money. "But we were way at the back of the line," says Jackson, the cemetery inspector. There wasn't even money for all the death expenses. Homer Alba, who worked for Roth for a decade and stayed on after Cassity took over, recalls the gray January afternoon when Roth's body was transported from a funeral home across the street (Gold Cross had been shut down) to the cemetery's Cathedral Mausoleum, where he was unceremoniously laid to rest next to his wife and parents. "It saddened me," he says. "It had started to rain and instead of spending $125 for a hearse, they had his casket in the back of a pickup truck." Cassity bought the bronze bust. He keeps it in his office.