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These Stars Are Spending Eternity in Chatsworth

Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery has a long list of legendary celebrities in residence.

Fred and Ginger danced together in life; they rest not far from each other in death.

So do other celebrities who graced city screens–small, big and silent. Chatsworth's  Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery is the final resting place of quite a few well-known entertainment figures.

Didn't know that? You also may not know some interesting facts about Oakwood's celebrities.  For instance, Hollywood's publicity mill claimed that Fred Astaire's legs were insured for $1 million, and Ginger Rogers was a lifelong Republican and a proud member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, as well as a vocal supporter of the Hollywood Blacklist. And the surprises don't end there.

Named the fifth greatest actor among the 50 Greatest Screen Legends by the American Film Institute, Astaire also sang and choreographed. It wouldn't have seemed so, however, based on the notes from his first screen test: "Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little."

Astaire was a horse racing enthusiast and owned Blue Valley Ranch in Chatsworth Lake Manor; his racehorse Triplicate won the Hollywood Gold Cup in 1946.

A stage actress and singer as well as dancer, Rogers won an Academy Award in 1940 for her role in Kitty Foyle. Born Virginia Katherine McMath, she was a distant cousin of Lucille Ball, according to Ball's daughter, Lucie Arnaz, as well as being related to Rita Hayworth through marriage. The Hollywood that Rogers compared to "an empty wastebasket" paid her a reported $219,500 in 1938 and made her the highest-paid star of 1942. Particularly close to her mother, Lela, Rogers shares a grave marker with her at Oakwood.

Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane, who played the title role in the hit 1960s TV series, was once buried at the cemetery. Before the role for which he was best known, however, Crane hosted a hugely successful Los Angeles radio program featuring interviews with stars such as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Mary Tyler Moore. In 1978 Crane was murdered in Scottsdale, AZ, bludgeoned to death with a video camera tripod while he slept. Crane had been touring with his play, Beginner's Luck, to which he'd bought the rights that same year. To this day the mystery of his murder remains unsolved. Crane's remains have since been disinterred and moved to a cemetery in Westwood.

It's A Wonderful Life's town temptress, Oklahoma! cast member and Oscar winner Gloria Grahame was born Gloria Hallward and was reportedly a descendant of King Edward III. Though cast in Oklahoma!, Grahame was tone deaf, necessitating the painstaking editing of her songs. Grahame scandalized society with her marriage to Anthony Ray, the stepson of her ex-husband, Nicholas Ray. Her nuptials to Anthony were the fourth and last of her marriages.

Other famous figures buried at Oakwood include:

If it seems surprising that such legendary entertainers are buried at Oakwood, it may be due to the cemetery's remote location, tucked away in a corner of Chatsworth, itself located in the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley. The city's landscape makes it a natural environment for ranches and raising horses. This also makes it ideal for Western film settings, which is why several Western film actors are buried at Oakwood.

"I think it's the scenery," says Virginia Watson, curator of the Virginia Watson Chatsworth Museum. "It's beautiful." The cemetery is nestled back against the rocky foothills that are distinctive of the city. And "it could be word of mouth," surmises Oakwood's vice president Lupe Perez. "We try to treat everyone the same with courtesy and professionalism. Families come in and bring us treats. We get cards and thank-you letters. It makes us feel good."

There's also a natural reverence that cemeteries naturally elicit from guests, but it seems to be especially prevalent at Oakwood. Perhaps it is the awe-inspiring, vast area that includes winding roads, two chapels, rattlesnake season warning signs, numerous flat burial markers and views that make it seem as though you're in a park, that account for its ambience. Or it could indeed be the welcome guests receive.

Most definitely it is, at least in part, due to the legends of those whose grave markers show names that were as big in life as they remain in death.

AG March 09, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Good article! I have been interested in famous person's resting places, pioneer cemeterys and funerary art for years now. If you are too, look into the popular GPS website/game called Waymarking.com or Geocaching.com. Become a site member, its FREE. Many of the famous graves are GPS located and archived(facts & pics) there(by members with GPS units) along with other historical places of interest. Thats how I found the celebrity graves you wrotew about. PS....You forgot to mention (famous actor & cowboy stunt man) Mr & Mrs Montie Montana graves. BTW: I heard a unsubstantiated rumor that Roy Rodgers two parents (Slye- real family name) are interned in the Oakwood Cemetary. I haven't been able to confirm that yet. Know anything about that?

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