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Forest Lawn: That Was Hollywood : At Glendale memorial park, see famed statuary, fine art and the final resting place of many stars.

April 30, 1993|KATHRYN BAKER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Kathryn Baker is a Sherman Oaks writer

With its open sales pitches, gift shop and faux-European statuary, Forest Lawn evokes images from Evelyn Waugh's biting satire "The Loved One," published in 1948 and set at a fictional memorial park remark ably similar to Forest Lawn.

Nonetheless, the grounds are beautiful, and thoughtful contemplation is easily attained. Don't expect the information booth to provide locations of movie star graves--that information is considered private. However, other sources, such as Ken Schessler's gossipy guidebook "This Is Hollywood," include maps of the stars' final resting places.

There are actually five Forest Lawns, the most famous ones being in Glendale and the Hollywood Hills. (The others are in Cypress, Covina Hills and Sunnyside.) Visitors are welcome at these "memorial parks," which provide a surprisingly cheerful respite from urban traffic and noise.

We went to the Glendale Forest Lawn, which seems to be the mother of all Forest Lawns, judging from the mature evergreens and the era of movie stars entombed here. It is off the Golden State Freeway at 1712 S. Glendale Ave. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but some of the buildings close earlier. The information booth is at the entrance. This self-guided tour requires a car. A few of the park's rules:

* Turn down the car radio and maintain relative quiet. Services will probably be going on during your visit.

* No artificial flowers. A shop at Forest Lawn sells real ones.

* No picnics; no lying on the grass or benches.

* No photographs inside the buildings.

* Fido must stay in the car.

10-10:45 a.m.: Drive all the way to the top of Forest Lawn to admire the views. With its steep, green hills and tall trees, this seems a world away from the dusty San Fernando Valley below. The headstones, except for the occasional elaborate memorial, are flush with the ground, so there is no overwhelming sense of being in a cemetery.

Park by the Freedom Mausoleum and, armed with notes from "This Is Hollywood," look for grave sites. We found Walt Disney's marker in a corner garden to the left of the entrance to the mausoleum. Errol Flynn's grave can be found in front of a small bronze statue in the adjacent Garden of Everlasting Peace. Sammy Davis Jr. is also buried in this area.

Inside, the mausoleum is cool and eerily silent, so we left quickly after quietly observing the tombs of Nat (King) Cole, Jeanette MacDonald, Clara Bow, Chico Marx and Larry Fine of The Three Stooges.

10:45-11 a.m.: Drive back across the park to the Court of David. The original Michelangelo statue is in Florence, Italy, but Glendale is a bit closer, and this full-size marble reproduction is quite impressive. It is surrounded by plaques commemorating David's battle with Goliath, and the 23rd Psalm, with taped accompaniment.

11 a.m.-noon: Back in the car again, continue up the hill to the Hall of the Crucifixion-Resurrection, named for the pair of huge paintings housed here. Next door is the Forest Lawn Museum. We were somewhat disappointed when this turned out to be an art museum instead of a museum about the park.

Forest Lawn advertises its funeral philosophy as "Everything in One Place," and the museum follows suit: The reproduction and original sculptures range from Michelangelo to Frederic Remington. There's an ancient coin collection, medieval armor, letters from Martha Washington, ancient stone carvings and reproductions of British royal jewels. A small sign says plots at Forest Lawn may be purchased for as little as $345, plus the maintenance fee.

At the center of the museum is a gift shop, displaying postcards, picture books, key chains, spoons and religious items. Across the parking lot is the Church of the Recessional, modeled after Rudyard Kipling's church in Roggingdean, England. It houses some Kipling mementos.

Noon-1 p.m.: A drive down the hill to the Great Mausoleum, a big, Gothic-looking building that is the centerpiece of Forest Lawn, Glendale. The main attraction inside the building is the beautiful central Memorial Court of Honor and its reproduction of Michelangelo's famous "La Pieta," among others. A taped narration, meanwhile, describes the creation of the stained-glass replica of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper." A light behind the mosaic re-creates the effect of the dawn-to-dusk filtered daylight on the faded original painting.

Two of Hollywood's most famous names are entombed in the mausoleum, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, side by side in the Sanctuary of Trust, just off the Memorial Court. However, a posted sign warns visitors not to go beyond the main room into the private sanctuaries. We could see the Sanctuary of Trust. There was no security in evidence, but it didn't seem worth it to risk the embarrassment of getting ejected from Forest Lawn for celebrity-mongering.

Also entombed are Theda Bara and Jean Harlow, who has her own room. Outside the Great Mausoleum and down a hill sits the impressive grave site of evangelist Aimee Semple MacPherson, guarded by statues of two kneeling angels. According to "This Is Hollywood," legend has it that the evangelist was interred in 1944 with a working telephone.

Back in the car, we bid farewell to the lush, peaceful surroundings, passing a fountain depicting Moses' discovery in the rushes. On the way out, we pass the mortuary offices.

Plots as low as $345? "Everything in One Place"? We don't stop in. Maybe later. Much later.

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