My love affair with the city of angels started a long time ago. To be precise - 24 years, 2 months, and one day ago. As political refugees, my parents, my sister, and I came to Los Angeles to make a new home here, leaving Russian life behind. I knew close to nothing about this city then, but it cheered me up from the get go. The city felt free of the usual constraints. It smelled different. It looked different. The streets started at one end of the rainbow and ran all the way to the horizon. A lot of open sky above our heads and plenty of stars beneath our feet - on Hollywood Blvd... What's not to like?
Los Angeles is the city of secrets and delights, which can be yours just for the price of asking. As listeners of this program, you know that I never miss a chance to talk about the latest discovery. Have you heard about a cemetery at the back of Paramount Studios, in the heart of L.A.? I've known about it for years, but went there, for the first time, only a week ago. You might guess it was a sad occasion. My father, who had been ill for a few months, passed away, without much fuss, quietly, with an impeccable sense of timing-exactly the way he lived. I went to the cemetery to make arrangements for the funeral. The cemetery on Santa Monica Blvd. near Vine, where a few family friends had already been buried, seemed the right choice.
The imposing entrance is flanked by two Italian Renaissance-style buildings dating back to the early 30s. One of them used to be a Masonic Lodge. Today, the name on the marquee reads Hollywood Forever... Feel free to smile; that's what I did. Behind the gates, away from the noisy street, is a beautifully landscaped and well-maintained park. It is huge! 63 acres. Passing by, one would never guess how big it is. The earliest graves date back to 1901. Among the many proud names one encounters there are Otis, Chandler, and Griffith. And, of course, it being Hollywood, such celebrities as Cecil B. DeMille, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks and, even, the notorious Bugsy Siegel.
Imposing tombstones vary from the sublime to the ridiculous, from Greek temples and Egyptian obelisks to - God forgive me for saying this - a huge phallic rocket, erect and ready to shoot into space. There are meadows, old trees, a lake, and, who knows, what else. Even after four prolonged visits it feels like I've hardly scratched the surface.
Choosing the best site for my father's grave, I got carried away... as if I were organizing one of my art exhibitions, searching for the perfect place for an especially valuable work of art. My father, who was a wonderful tailor, was born with a gold needle in his hand. What he could do with a piece of fabric and scissors was not far from what Yasha Heifetz could do with a melody and violin. Father was an artist in his own respect. And boy, did he love to sing and dance. In Hollywood Forever, he will be in the good company of Jews and Italians, Greeks and Armenians, Asians and Latinos, many of them artists.
Being an art critic is being an observer. So, seeing this cemetery up close and personal, I have my own take on this truly unique Hollywood landmark. Think of it as a huge, ever-evolving public artwork a hundred years in the making. Imagine a gigantic crossword puzzle, each square ready to be filled in, only not with letters but with the memory of lives well-lived. After all, life is short, art is forever.
I dedicate this program to the memory of my father, Oleg Goldman.