THE INNER ELOISE CLUB (Find Your Inner Child at The Plaza Hotel)

7 Aug

By Cheri Sundra 

NYC: The Plaza Hotel
Photo Credit:  Wally Gobetz

THE INNER ELOISE CLUBPhoto Credit:  Cheri Sundra

Described as the Holden Caulfield for kindergartners, or anyone willing to embrace their inner child, she is the enormously famous little girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel–“the only hotel in New York that will allow you to have a turtle”.    First published in 1955, Kay Thompson’s ELOISE, a children’s book “for precocious grownups”, is the creation and literal brain-child of author, Kay Thompson, who is known for being quite a character in and of herself. Thompson is also well-known for her appearance in the movie Funny Face (“Think Pink!”) with Audrey Hepburn.

THINK PINKPhoto Credit:  myhumblefash

The James Dean of children’s literature, ELOISE gave a generation of little girls permission to rebel.  She lived parents-free, crayoned walls and ordered up room service for herself and her dog, Weenie, and her turtle, Skipperdee, demanding that the staff “Charge it please. Thank you very much.”

Palm Court, the Plaza, New York Photo Credit:  Tom Barnes

ELOISE understood the power of connections and networking, even at the tender age of six—“The Bell Captain knows who I am.”   When told by The Manager that she is a nuisance in the lobby, ELOISE announces, “My mother knows The Owner”.  She skiddered about The Plaza, slomping her skates and making a terrible racket, not caring one bit about “the ladies” in the lobby with the revolving door and marble pillars, until she was good and ready to return to her “mostly companion”, her “rawther” British nanny.

Happy 66th Birthday LIZA MINNELLI! and Happy CABARET's 40th Anniversary.(Feb.12,1972)

Photo Credit:  Mikie Reyes

Liza Minnelli is often cited as the possible inspiration for ELOISE. Kay Thompson and Judy Garland were so close that Thompson was Minnelli’s godmother. Another theory is that ELOISE was Thompson’s alter-ego. Kay Thompson was definitely a real-life character, as well as being light years ahead of her time.

Thompson, who attended the same high school as Tennessee Williams, was a prodigy on the piano by the time she was sixteen.  Often described as a gifted and attention-seeking oddball, Thompson’s ambitions included becoming a musical star-but her act, high camp, was twenty years ahead of its time.  Despite inclusion in a few musical productions that were popular in their day, Thompson’s role has been mostly unreported in the history of popular music.  When all was said and done, despite wanting to be famous for being Kay Thompson, she became most well-known as the creator of ELOISE and the epic marketing machine that followed.

Despite being created during the 1950s, ELOISE is definitely a child of modern times. Today, we live in the age of the Toyetic, a phrase created by studio executives to describe any movie or TV show’s potential to support the sale of toys and similar merchandising methods. Kay Thompson was forward-thinking when she formed ELOISE, Ltd. after the success of the first ELOISE book. Headquartered appropriately at the Plaza Hotel (where Thompson was allowed to live rent-free), Thompson managed all of the merchandising and publicity pertaining to ELOISE. Thompson is credited with creating one of the first publishing saturation marketing gambits. ELOISE was not just a book, she was also a doll sold exclusively at Lord & Taylor, several toys, her own wardrobe for Neiman Marcus, and she even made her television debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1956.

Eloïse, mon premier contact avec New York?

Photo Credit:  Marine Armstrong

While modern sociology scholars like to credit He-Man as being the first children’s character created for the sole purpose of selling products, I would argue that during her heyday, the ELOISE marketing machine was like He-Man on crack, with the added appeal of selling big ticket items to adults thanks to her endorsements for products such as Kalistron Luggage  and Renault Automobiles    in addition to the numerous products marketed at younger fans.

Eloise goodies

Photo Credit:  Syd.EGore

In 1962, at the height of her celebrity and ELOISE-mania, Kay Thompson mysteriously picked up and left New York, with only a toothbrush, and moved to Rome.  Shortly after, she pulled the plug on the whole ELOISE franchise, refusing to even finish the final ELOISE book. After her death in 1998, Thompson’s estate put ELOISE back on the market again, much to the delight of children and adults everywhere.

EloisePhoto Credit:  Luvzdollz

 It has been reported that Thompson became jealous that her creation became more famous than she was herself.  Thompson was a woman known for being fastidious and precise about every aspect of her appearance and career.  When ELOISE was first published, Thompson insisted that her name be above the title, as if on a marquee.  During the height of the ELOISE craze, Thompson reportedly called book stores to ask “What is the title of the book in the window?”  When the clerk would inevitably answer “ELOISE”, she would shout “That is incorrect! The title of the book is Kay Thompson’s ELOISE!”

Even after becoming urber-successful, Kay Thompson was still an insecure, self-absorbed, restless six-year old.  And in the final analysis, aren’t we all?

UntitledPhoto Credit:  rodkimble

Fifty-six years later, you can still make plans to get in touch with your inner-ELOISE and skibble over to The Plaza.  Remember the ELOISE moto–“Getting bored is not allowed!”


The Marilyn Monroe / Wizard of Oz Connection

26 Apr

by Cheri Sundra

There’s no place like home if you still like it hot at the Hotel Del Coronado! 

Hotel Del Coronado

Photo Credit: Keith Yahl

While many movies are filmed on location, only a few unions of celluloid and location are as legendary as the sight of Marilyn Monroe cavorting on the beach at the footsteps of The Del.  Add to that legend the fact that the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, did much of his writing at the hotel, even reportedly basing his designs for the fictional Emerald City on the Hotel del Coronado itself, and you have the stuff that creates movie magic right at your fingertips. 

Located in Coronado, California, just a short water-taxi or ferry ride across the bay from San Diego, the Hotel del Coronado is one of the last surviving examples of a Victorian-era wooden beach resort.  This beachfront luxury hotel was built in 1888 and was the first to use electric lighting.  Thomas Edison himself supervised the hotel’s wiring!  At that time, The Del was considered a splash of civilization to visitors traveling by dust-covered wagon or crowded railroad car through the untamed American West. 


More than a century has passed since the formal opening of the Hotel Del Coronado, but contemporary guests still see this grand lady of the sea as an escape where guests can experience the opulence of the Victorian era.  Many visitors are drawn to the hotel looking to encounter literary and cinema history. The hotel touches their imagination with whispers about the past in a visceral way that allows guests the opportunity to have a firsthand “Pop Culture Travel” experience. 

Some enthusiasts visit The Del seeking the fictional Land of Oz.  Author L. Frank Baum used to sit in a rattan rocking chair outside of the hotel’s majestic formal dining room, The Crown Room, contemplating the Pacific Ocean while writing three of the books from his Oz series:  Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, The Road to Oz and The Emerald City.  Baum even designed the crown-shaped chandeliers for that dining room, which were reportedly inspired by the crown worn by the lion in the Wizard of OZ.

According to the Heritage Department at the Hotel del Coronado, Baum’s habit was to work from early morning until noon because he generally spent the afternoon “in realizing that he is truly again at Coronado.”  It’s very easy to see why Baum found the hotel so enchanting and inspirational.  With its fanciful red roofs, magical spires and whimsical design, The Del is as close to the Emerald City that you can ever get in real life.

Land of OZ 2011

Photo Credit: Steven l. Youngblood

There is always a chance that you will find Dorothy singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow on the hotel’s television channel, that is when they are not running the comedy classic Some Like It Hot.  While filming on location at the hotel with co-stars Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe could frequently be seen walking The Del’s private beach.  The hotel isn’t exactly shy about letting people know that “Marilyn Monroe slept here”.

What is the  Marilyn Monroe /  Wizard of Oz connection?  Find out at Old Soul Swagger!

         Photo Credit:  Cheri Sundra

 Filmed in 1958, this cross dressing comedy was both co-written and directed by Billy Wilder. Regarded by critics as one of the finest movies ever made, Some Like It Hot was listed by the American Film Institute as the best comedy of the 20th Century.  The plot centers around two musicians, played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, who dress up in drag and join an all girls band to elude prohibition-era bootlegger gangsters after witnessing The Saint Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929.  Their characters become enamored of the band’s vocalist and ukulele player, Marilyn Monroe, and they struggle for her affection while trying to maintain their disguises.

The movie’s last line—“Nobody’s perfect”, delivered by actor Joe E. Brown after his love interest, the Jack Lemmon character, reveals that he is indeed a man and not a woman, was never intended to remain in the movie.  Fortunately, Wilder couldn’t come up with anything he liked better, so the line stayed.  Today, it is still regarded as a classic last line on par with “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”, which is fitting for this classic movie, filmed on location at a classic hotel which is also associated with classic children’s literature.  Wilder even gives a nod to the line in his epitaph  on his tombstone at the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park in Hollywood, where he is ironically spending eternity with Some Like It Hot stars Marilyn Monroe  and Jack Lemmon   

To book your own classic vacation at the historic Hotel del Coronado, visit

Watch Tony Curtis as he revisits the Hotel del Coronado

For information about Visiting Dead Celebrities, Visit my Pop Culture Travel Blog Halloween Post

Take a Pilgrim Plantation THANKSGIVING Vacation

24 Nov


Plymouth Rock           Photo Credit: Tom Harjo

Despite earning the title “Most Disappointing Historical Landmark”, Pilgrim Memorial State Park is one of the most heavily visited locations within the National State Park System.  More than 1 million people visit Plymouth Rock each year to pay homage to the faith and courage of the men and women who founded the first New England colony.  Luckily for history buffs and the tourist industry in Plymouth, Massachusetts, there is more to do year round than gaze upon a weathered hunk of Dedham granite.  Yet nothing beats walking along the same terrain as the Pilgrims, and spending time in this destination filled with history and tradition during the “America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration”, which occurs annually on the third weekend of November.
Wampanoag Guide

Photo Credit:  eracose (Margaret Ayad)

This year, the 15th Annual Thanksgiving Celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts was held on November 19th thru the 21st, 2010.  The celebration of Thanksgiving is literally brought to life as Native Americans, Pilgrims, Soldiers, Pioneers and Patriots climb right out of our history and emerge onto the streets of Plymouth.  One of the major features of the celebration is the parade that begins on the Plymouth historic waterfront.  This is America’s only historically accurate chronological parade which shows the preservation of America’s history by starting with the Pilgrim era and representing each century from the 17th thru the 21st.  The parade is both educational and entertaining to attract visitors from all corners of the United States and beyond.  It includes historical reenactments, vintage American cars and elaborate handmade floats.  The festival surrounding the parade is designed to treat visitors to a visual trip back to colonial times.
What to make for Thanksgiving?

Photo Credit:  sfPhotocraft

The Annual Thanksgiving Celebration also coincides with the New England Food Festival where attendees line up at the entrance by Plymouth Rock to sample the very best soups, chowders and desserts from area restaurants.  New England style culinary demonstrations are performed by the renowned chefs from Le Cordon Blue and the Culinary College of Boston.  At the food festival, chefs vie for valuable prizes as well as the prestige that comes with being a winner.

While enjoying the scenic views of Plymouth Harbor at Pilgrim Memorial State Park, visitors can admire The Mayflower II, a full-scale reproduction of the type of ship that brought the Pilgrims from England to America in 1620, which is anchored at the park and open for tours from March through the end of November.  Visitors can climb aboard the ship and explore her from bow to stern while encountering costumed role players, modern-day staff and maritime artisans.

Happy Thanksgiving


No one knows for sure what happened to the original Mayflower.  The last record of the ship was an assessment of her value in 1624.  The Mayflower II was constructed in England and sailed to America in 1957, and is officially part of the Plimoth Plantation.

History literally comes alive at the living history museum that recreates the original Pilgrim settlement where it’s 1627 all of the time.   Plimoth Plantation is open daily from late March through late November annually.  Visitors are treated to an authentic recreation of the original Pilgrim settlement including the recreated home of the Pilgrims’ Native American neighbors and a food program featuring 17th-century cuisine.

There is no more historically appropriate location for eating Thanksgiving dinner than at Plimoth Plantation itself, where Pilgrim role players and Native interpreters will entertain dinner guests with stories, riddles and music, while they dine on classic roast turkey with the founders of the feast.

On Thanksgiving Day, downtown Plymouth provides a day full of fun festivities in celebration of the town’s significance in being the home for the very first Thanksgiving.  Next year, plan your own Plimoth Plantation Thanksgiving Vacation—you’ll be glad that you did!

Cheri Sundra © 2010
All Rights Reserved

Take an Assassination Vacation

3 Nov

by Cheri Sundra

How long does a memory resonate in the collective subconscious? 


 The JFK Assassination

Dallas: Dealey Plaza

Photo Credit:  Big Yank Ball

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy arrived in Dallas, Texas, and never got out alive.  The nation’s 35th president was gunned down, while sitting in a convertible next to his beautiful young wife, as his motorcade traveled past the now infamous Dealey Plaza. The aftermath was one of the first mass media events that unfolded in real time on TV while the nation watched in horror.

Whether you believe that it was a single sniper or several shooters, and whether or not the Cubans or the Russians or the CIA or the Mafia were involved , once you step into Dealey Plaza, you will feel like you are on sacred ground.  It is the place where more than two million historians, assassination buffs, conspiracy theorists and citizens of the world in general, make an annual pilgrimage.
dealy plaza

Photo Credit:  Todd Landry

Some death scenes represent something far deeper than simple voyeuristic pleasure, and Dealey Plaza is a location that allows visitors to touch history in a real way, since images of the Kennedy Assassination have been burned into our collective consciousness as one of the most controversial cases in modern history.  Almost everyone who visits the JFK Assassination Site runs out into the middle of the road, risking injury by moving car, to set foot on the “X” that marks the spot where the fatal shot hit our handsome young president, turning the lights off in Camelot forever.

Right next to Dealey Plaza, people carve their conspiracy theories into the back of the fence that surrounds the train station parking lot where some say a second assassin stood to deliver the final blow to the President’s head. The fence scribes don’t seem terribly fond of Senator Arlen “Magic Bullet Theory” Specter.
The picket fence on the Grassy Knoll

Photo Credit: Chris Freeland

But things aren’t all doom and gloom in Dallas.  Visitors going to The Sixth Floor Museum inside of the notorious Texas School Book Depository,  where the Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald fired his rifle at least three times from a window perch, will also learn that a little song about an ant that pulls rubber tree plants wasn’t just something that Shirley sang to Laverne.  It was also John F. Kennedy’s campaign song performed by none other than Frank Sinatra.

The museum is the top tourism draw in North Texas and reminds visitors of the “Camelot” White House era by examining the life, times and legacy of the Kennedy Presidency, before getting to the event that changed the course of American history forever.  The exhibit also provides a moment-by-moment account of the day of the assassination, and a day-by-day recollection of that harrowing November week. Of course the museum exhibits images from the famous Zapruder film which has been examined more than any other footage in history, and visitors can see for themselves the spot where Oswald crouched and fired his rifle.

The MLK Assassination

Lorraine Hotel

Photo Credit:  Brian Bubonic

To support the city’s striking garbage collectors; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to Memphis and checked into the Lorraine Motel.  He was shot dead by James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968, when he stepped out onto the balcony outside his room, inciting riots across the country.

Years later, when the Lorraine Hotel was a foreclosed property slated for demolition, prominent citizens found a way to keep the site sacred as a memorial to the fallen civil rights leader.  The balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot now exists as part of the National Civil Rights Museum where, with a little help from your imagination, you can ride on that infamous Montgomery bus with Rosa Parks.  In evocative displays, the museum chronicles the struggle of African Americans from the time of slavery to the present.

The Lorraine Hotel itself, with its 1950s style sign, is so well preserved that visitors forget what year it is when they walk down the ramp to the museum.  Seeing the place where King was shot, after seeing the print countless times as part of our Pop Culture lexicon, is a jarring experience.
Loraine Hotel-1

Photo Credit:  Carter G. Woodson Project TEACH

In the annex across the street, inside the building where James Earl Ray perched and assassinated Dr. King, you can experience for yourself where the gunman stood and visualize what he saw before he shot the Civil Rights Leader.  This building contains a provocative exhibit about the assassination and the case made against Ray.

The RFK Assassination

Ambassador Hotel and Cocoanut Grove nightclub (1921), 3400 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California

           Photo Credit: Steve Minor

Shortly after midnight, on June 5, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot in the pantry area of The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after delivering a short victory speech.  He died the next day.  Sadly, a website set up during efforts to have the site declared a historical landmark now reads “Everyone spoke, but it’s history”.

 Demolition of the Ambassador Hotel was completed in 2006, despite the historical significance of the property.  The Ambassador Hotel was designed by renowned architect Myron Hunt (Rose Bowl Stadium and Caltech) and was situated on Wilshire Boulevard.  For decades, the hotel’s Cocoanut Grove was the hot spot for live entertainment giving rise to stars like Bing Crosby and Barbra Streisand and hosting such celebrities as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Gene Kelly, Diana Ross, Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and Julie Andrews. It’s where Marilyn Monroe had her start as a model, as a client of a poolside modeling agency. Howard Hughes and Jean Harlow were some of the many longtime residents who made the Ambassador Hotel their home. The hotel was used so regularly as a set for film and television; people were calling it The Ambassador Studios. Yet, with all of this history, The Ambassador Hotel has disappeared forever, and so has our chance to experience that piece of our collective history in a visceral way.

Today, on the site of the former Ambassador Hotel, stands the Robert F. Kennedy Community School.  The school just completed the installation of a visible tribute to the iconic Ambassador Hotel in the form of an interactive public artwork for school children and educators.

The grand sweep of our history may not engage every American, but there are places and moments that manage to snag the public imagination.  In the case of the Ambassador Hotel, imagination is all that remains.

Cheri Sundra © 2010     

All Rights Reserved 


4 Oct

by Cheri Sundra

Marilyn Monroe's Grave

PHOTO CREDIT:  Brad Johnston

Halloween only comes around on October 31st, but gravesite tourism happens year round.   The Dead Celebrity Tour of Pop Culture is traveled by many.  That’s because they are always “in”, which is movie star Jack Lemmon’s   epitaph.     Don George, global travel editor for Lonely Planet, says that visiting dead public figures is something that people have been doing for as long as they have been traveling.  “It just takes a kind of a bizarre twist in a place like Hollywood, where the magnificence and the extravagance of the lives of these people is carried on into death,” George explained to Fox News during an interview.  The most iconic figures always draw the biggest crowds.  The trifecta of dead celebrity grave hopping would have to include Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison and Marilyn Monroe. 

Graceland at Night
Photo Credit:  Richard and Cindy Krause

As dictated by his larger-than-life personality while alive, a visit to pay your respects to the King of Rock and Roll is the Las Vegas of celebrity gravesite visits.  After a nasty episode that involved grave robbers at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis, Elvis is now buried at home. 

The Eternal Elvis experience starts with a tour of Graceland,   as visitors are greeted by The King singing “Welcome to My World” as they enter through the front door of his iconic mansion.  Tourists get to see the world-famous Jungle Room, TV Room and Trophy Building.  Fans have the opportunity to tour his airplanes and can even eat a peanut butter and banana sandwich at the restaurant in the Graceland Plaza and Visitor Center Complex    across the street, as a form of communion with The King.  While at Graceland, you can’t help thinking that “the King has left the building” since it is like touring a monument to the excess that finally killed the poor boy of humble beginnings from Tupelo, Mississippi.
Elvis Presley's grave                                                              Photo Credit:  Eddy Abbott

While visiting Graceland, make sure you bring a permanent marker.  Fans have been writing messages to Elvis on the wall surrounding Graceland since it was installed in 1957.   Since his death in 1977, the unique cultural and sociological phenomenon has intensified.  Some of these personal tributes sound like petitions to Saints instead of graffiti.   Fans ask Elvis to bless them with everything from money and happiness to a cure for cancer. A crew cleans the wall regularly with a pressurized water system, so there is always room for new round of messages. 

Graceland Walls

Photo Credit:  ilovememphis

More than 2 million visitors set out on a pilgrimage each year to visit the Pere Lachaise Cemetery,   one of the most visited tourist attractions in Paris, where Jim Morrison is the main draw.  This historical cemetery, which holds the title “Most Visited Cemetery in the World”, also contains the graves of Proust, Chopin, Balzac, and Moliere, in addition to Oscar Wilde, whose tombstone can be identified by the purple lipstick smudges left by gay admirers.  Morrison, the front man for the Doors, is buried in “The Poets Corner”.  There are diagrams of the cemetery at each entrance.  Morrison fans have been notorious nuisances leaving litter, graffiti, and cannabis behind after their visits.   Complaints by numerous families of the deceased about desecration of surrounding grave sites seem to matter little to the Parisian authorities, who are well aware that Morrison’s grave has become a major draw for tourism on par with the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. 
The End (tombe de Jim Morrison à Paris)

Photo Credit:  cdomdom38 (dom combarnous)

Everyone visits Hollywood hoping to run into a celebrity or two.  A visit to the final resting place of Marilyn Monroe never disappoints gravesite tourists, since Hollywood’s most famous icon is interred at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park,  which has more dead celebrities per square inch than anywhere else in the world.   Located behind the skyscrapers that line Wilshire Boulevard, Pierce Brothers is just steps away from LA’s most fashionable addresses and busiest intersection.   The most intimate cemetery in Hollywood has acquired Rodney Dangerfield,  Farrah Fawcett, Dean Martin ,  Truman Capote and a host of other celebritiesincluding Marilyn Monroe’s co-star in Some Like It Hot,  Jack Lemmon and the movie’s legendary director,  Billy Wilder.    Incidentally, Marilyn Monroe fans should note that 12305 5th Helena Drive, the address where the goddess herself became immortal, is less than three miles away  from her final resting place.  But if you decide to visit, make it brief since the owners are not thrilled by Monroe fans seeking to take a peek at their property.  Another advantage experienced by gravesite tourists who make Marilyn Monroe  a destination, is that she is conveniently located near the two other memorial parks most chosen by the Hollywood elite as  their final resting place.
Farrah FawcettPhoto Credit:  Atwater Village Newbie

At Forest Lawn Memorial Park,    located in Glendale California, they claim to have more major Hollywood stars on their grounds than anywhere else in the world.    More than a million tourists make a pilgrimage each year to search for their favorite beloved dead celebrities and over 60,000 people, including Ronald Reagan, have actually been married at this historic cemetery.  “Golden Age” Hollywood stars are buried on these grounds such as Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Jean Harlow and Errol Flynn.  Other tenants include George Burns, Walt Disney, Nat King Cole and countless other Hollywood mega-stars, but there is a huge downside to exploring this cemetery during a gravesite tourism outing.  The sheer size of the park can make finding your favorite star an exercise in frustration—over a quarter of a million people have been buried at Forest Lawn.   This park is comprised of over 300 acres of prime California real estate.  The cemetery does nothing to encourage sightseeing by movie fans and refuses to offer any assistance by way of directions or by providing a map pinpointing specific graves to help tourists.  Many of the celebrity tombs at this location are private, with no entry access for the public since they are located in exclusive gardens or behind locked gates.  Cemetery employees have a reputation for being downright hostile when interacting with fans seeking to pay homage to dead celebrities.   

Temple          Photo Credit:  Tom Barnes
Those tending to the stars at Hollywood Forever , often called Disneyland for the Dead,   are much more accommodating to the needs of tourists seeking the burial places of dead celebrities—maybe it’s because the location also offers a terrific view of the historic Hollywood sign.  These hallowed grounds are often used for birthday parties, political fundraisers and weddings.  Tourists can purchase a map pinpointing specific celebrity graves at the Hollywood Forever flower shop as they drive through the park entrance.  Hollywood Forever is located directly behind the famous back lot of Paramount Studios.  After a visit to Hollywood Forever, visitors will forevermore notice how many movie and television scenes with a cemetery setting are actually filmed in this memorial park.  Hollywood Forever boasts celebrity greats such as Rudolph Valentino, Tyrone Power, and punk rock legend Johnny Ramone.   You’ll also find monuments to stars not really buried at the cemetery, such as Jayne Mansfield, who was actually laid to rest in Pennsylvania.   Mansfield’s real grave is engraved with an earlier birth date than her cenotaph at Hollywood Forever.   Hattie McDaniel, the Academy Award winning actress who played Mammy in Gone with the Wind, was originally denied access to burial at the memorial park in 1952 because she was black.  In 1999, a new owner wanted to right the wrong and have McDaniel interred in the cemetery.  Her family did not want to disturb her remains and declined the offer.  Instead, Hollywood Forever erected a memorial in her honor that has become one of the most popular visitor sites in the cemetery.
Alfred or Not?

Photo Credit: Tom Barnes (Alfred or Not?)

Visiting dead celebrities has become so popular, that you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home to partake in the voyeuristic pleasure of peeking into the afterlife of the famous.  Thanks to various websites such as,     seeing the final resting place of your favorite star is just a mouse-click away.   This site relies on volunteers to contribute pictures and information to its database, making it a Wikipedia-like listing of burial places of just about anyone who amounted to something in anything.  Happy Grave hunting!

Cheri Sundra © 2010     

All Rights Reserved 


1 Jun

Love Assassination Conspiracies?

Bugs Bunny or The Brady Bunch?

Literature, Music or Movies?

Elvis or Marilyn?



Cheri Sundra

Popular culture is an exciting travel destination.  You’ve been there yourself.  The desire to visit places that other people have been to is part of human nature.  Some of these places are real and some are imaginary.  Others exist in the past.  And there are locations that only endure within the emotional realm. Pop culture inspired experiences become part of who we are.   They often weave in and out of each other to reaffirm their place in our collective consciousness over and over again.

The Stone Pony

Photo Credit:  James Loesch

Music is always one of the stops on The Pop Culture Tour of America.  Few can say that they have ever visited a seaside community anywhere without looking for that “long lost shaker of salt” with Jimmy Buffet at least one time before they had to pack it up and go home. I’ve lamented with New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen about the highway being “jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive” while sitting in traffic, waiting to pay my toll on the Atlantic City Expressway with Born to Run playing on the radio.   I’ve thrown Beach Boy CDs in my suitcase to play in the rental car during trips to Southern California.  I couldn’t help but grin every time I passed a bar on the Sunset Strip or Venice Beach and heard the cords for LA Woman drift out into the streets at night.  And I had Sweet Home Alabama ready to go as I drove my rental car into the state from Mississippi.


Photo Credit:  J_Mixtli

Despite the fact that I’m not exactly fond of country music, and didn’t even bother touring the Grand Ole Opry, by the time I left Nashville I had a newly purchased Charlie Daniel’s CD from his museum gift shop and an undeniable impulse to sing at least three Johnny Cash songs at any given moment.  And speaking of Johnny, one of my fondest memories of Memphis was getting caught in a violent thunderstorm on Beale Street and hearing his song Cry, Cry, Cry in what seemed to be a spontaneous burst from the shops and bars lining the block.

     At some locations, the entire vibe is set by some aspect of pop culture.  I went to sunny California and landed in the Emerald City, literally. I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself in the fictional Land of Oz during my visit to the Hotel Del Coronado off of the shores of San Diego.   Author L. Frank Baum used to sit in a rattan rocking chair outside of the hotel’s majestic dining room, The Crown Room, contemplating the Pacific Ocean and writing The Wizard of Oz. Many sources compare the Emerald City to the design of The Del itself.

Hotel del CoranadoPhoto Credit:  Anthony Schultz

There is always a chance that you will find Dorothy singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow on the hotel’s television channel–that is when they are not running the comedy classic Some Like It Hot.  While filming on location at the hotel with co-stars Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe could frequently be seen walking The Del’s private beach.  The hotel isn’t exactly shy about letting people know that “Marilyn Monroe slept here”.

Marilyn monroe:Photo Credit:  marilyn-monroe 2011

 During my next trip to the West Coast, I couldn’t help but laugh when I learned that Marilyn, Jack and Some Like It Hot director Billy Wilder are spending eternity together at Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park.  During the drive from Hermosa Beach to pay homage to Hollywood’s most tragic goddess, I put away that Beach Boys CD and popped in the Marilyn Monroe one that I bought from the gift shop at The Del.

 The Dead Celebrity Tour of Pop Culture is traveled by many.  I guess that’s because, as the only other word etched in Jack Lemmon’s tombstone other than his name says, they are always “in”.  Celebrity epithaphs  are quite different from those of regular mortals.  Maybe it’s because more people share the memory of the person buried there.  When I stood in front of Dean Martin’s resting place a few doors down from Marilyn’s, I noticed that he had Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime inscribed below his name.  I was kind of embarrassed when I couldn’t help but hum a few bars.  Then I laughed because the tourists who followed after me broke right out into song.  When I visited Pierce Brothers again a year later, I noticed a new resident, Rodney Dangerfield.  His tombstone said it best—“There Goes the Neighborhood!”

valentino shrinePhoto Credit:  Uendi Quinn

 I stopped to see the Valentino Shrine at the resting place for the stars, Hollywood Forever.  The cemetery borders the back lot of Paramount Studios.  Since my visit, I’ve noticed that the location is often used to film cemetery scenes for television and movies.

 As if cemeteries aren’t bad enough, some travelers visit the actual places where the famous have died.  I sang the lyrics “Good Bye Norma Jean……..” with Elton John on the way to sneak a peek at the gate of 12305 Fifth Helena Drive, where Marilyn Monroe became immortal.  On the way there, I stopped to see if there were any bloody glove prints on the gate at 875 S Bundy Drive (now renumbered 879).  How could you not?  Both addresses are located just a few blocks from each other in Brentwood.

Texas School Book DepositoryPhoto Credit:  Sheehan Family

     Some death scenes do represent something far deeper than simple voyeuristic pleasure.  I looked out of a window from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depositary at the site where a handsome young President was gunned down while sitting in a convertible next to his beautiful young wife on a lovely sunny day in Dallas Texas.  The aftermath was one of the first mass media events that unfolded in real time on TV while the nation watched together in horror.   I also ran out into the middle of the road to set foot on the “X” that marks the spot where the fatal shot hit JFK.  And I wasn’t the only one risking injury by moving car.  It wasn’t all doom and gloom.  I learned that a little song about an ant that pulls rubber tree plants wasn’t just something that Shirley sang to Laverne.  It was also John F. Kennedy’s campaign song performed by none other than Frank Sinatra.  Before leaving Dallas for good, I made sure that I took some grass from the Grassy Knoll for my scrapbook.


Photo Credit:  s.v.e.n.

I was greeted by Elvis singing “Welcome to My World” as I entered the front door to Graceland.  I couldn’t help but think that the King has left the building.  I got the impression that I was touring a monument to the excess that finally killed the poor boy of humble beginnings from Tupelo, Mississippi.  I ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich in the restaurant across from Graceland as a form of communion with The King of Rock and Roll.

Fans have been writing messages to Elvis on the wall surrounding Graceland since Elvis had it installed in 1957.   Since his death in 1977 the unique cultural and sociological phenomenon has intensified.  Some of these personal tributes sound like petitions to Saints instead of graffiti.   Fans ask Elvis to bless them with everything from money and happiness to a cure for cancer. Someone named Julie once scrawled a message that said “Your blue suede shoes kept running through our minds—all the way from Chicago!”  I can relate.  I played Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock over and over again during the drive from Nashville to Memphis.

Spontaneous tributes pop up to honor the dead all over the Dead Celebrity Tour.  Marilyn had a bench dedicated in her honor near her wall of the mausoleum where people leave flowers, money, jewelry and notes addressed to Norma Jean.  At the Kennedy assassination site, people carve their conspiracy theories into the back of the fence that surrounds the train station parking lot where some say a second assassin stood to deliver the final blow to the President’s head. The scribes don’t seem terribly fond of Senator Arlene “Magic Bullet Theory” Specter.   While living in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I had to laugh when I would frequent Independence Mall and see people throwing pennies onto Ben Franklin’s gravesite.  I often wonder if he would be insulted since he did say that “a penny saved is a penny earned”.

Ben Franklin grave

 Photo Credit:  dicksonk

When the Lorraine Hotel was a foreclosed property, prominent citizens found a way to keep the site sacred as a memorial to the fallen civil rights leader, Dr, Martain Luther King, Jr.  The balcony where he was shot now exists as part of the National Civil Rights Museum where, with a little help from my imagination, I rode on the infamous Montgomery bus with Rosa Parks.

 The act of traveling itself is a destination in Pop Culture.  Many people have gone searching for their kicks on “America’s Main Street”, Route 66.

Route 66Photo Credit:  rjyuu

 I followed the Mother Road from Santa Monica, California to Flagstaff, Arizona with a stop at the Grand Canyon since it was in the neighborhood.  At some  points during the road trip I felt very “Brady Bunch” since I’ve relived their fictional sitcom trip to the Grand Canyon numerous times thanks to reruns. When I stopped in Oatman, Arizona, an old gold mining town where donkeys roam freely on the streets and Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their wedding night, I was reminded of the Brady Bunch episode that featured none other than Gilligan Island’s Mr. Howell as a deranged prospector who locks the Brady’s in an old ghost town jail.   Did I mention that Mr. Howell is buried at Pierce Brothers?  The tombstone of Jim Backus reads “Darling Husband” and I’m sure that Lovey would agree.

     During my trip along Route 66, it occurred to me that the  ghost towns are actually from a different era comprised of abandoned gas stations and overgrown diners with rusty neon signs.

California Coastal Highway 1 is another drive that has earned its place in American pop culture.

Portal to Big SurPhoto Credit:  PatrickSmithPhotography

Jack Kerouac went On the Road along the coast between San Francisco and Big Sur while he was writing the book that has inspired generations of rebels without a cause.   Ansel Adams captured the images of earth, sky and sea in Carmel-by-the-Sea.   I ate dinner at the Hog’s Breath Inn, the restaurant owned by Carmel’s most famous mayor, Clint Eastwood.

Clint's jointPhoto Credit: Happy Tinfoil Cat

I also stopped by Cannery Row in Monterey California to pay homage to John Steinbeck’s book of the same title. I visited the Aquarium that now sits on the site of the Hovden Cannery.  And before reaching Los Angeles, I was inspired by Bugs Bunny to spend a night in Pismo Beach, the place that he and Daffy were headed to when they made that wrong left turn at Albuquerque.

 Popular travel destinations often have diverse meaning to people of different generations.  While visiting San Francisco once in July, I thought of Mark Twain, who is often quoted as saying “the coldest winter I ever spent was my summer in San Francisco”.  If he really did say it, he wasn’t kidding! I also couldn’t help but wonder why Rice a Roni is still the “San Francisco treat” since Ben and Jerry’s has national headquarters in the Bay Area.

San Francisco Lombard StreetPhoto Credit: bigrigbearsea

Apparently my daughter went to the same destination with Tony Hawk because his video game keeps you skating past the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.  When we stood at the top of Lombard Street, I was recalling a comedy routine by Bill Cosby about driving in San Francisco while my daughter was grabbing her skateboard out of the rental car, saying that she wanted to live the experience that is part of “Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam”.

     Each person who visits and experiences a place during their own Pop Culture Tour contributes to that destination becoming part of the American lexicon and history along with our shared illusions and conventions.  And that’s exactly how it should be.