CELEBRITY DEATHS AND FUNERALS
By Allan R. Ellenberger
A former Broadway matinee idol and cavalry officer, Lewis Stone was, for the last 35 years of his life, one of the leading film actors in Hollywood. A native of Worcester, Massachusetts, Stone made the stage his career after completing his college education. He had made considerable headway in the theater when he was called into the Spanish American War.
After the war, Stone returned to Broadway with a role in Sidetracked, which made him a star and a matinee idol within a matter of months. Subsequent plays such as The Girl of the Golden West and The Bird of Paradise – popular plays of the time – gave him the chance to master his craft.
One of the first actors from the legitimate stage to see the possibilities in movies, Stone made his first major screen appearance in 1915 in Honor’s Altar, which was directed by Thomas Ince. Stone’s popularity soared in the new medium and he soon won roles in other silent films. Among his better known credits were The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), Scaramouche (1923) and The Girl from Montmartre (1926). He received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for the 1928 film, The Patriot.
Lewis Stone and Alice Hollister in Milestone (1920)
It was after the advent of sound that he reached his greatest popularity as Judge Hardy in the Andy Hardy series with Mickey Rooney. He spent most of his years as a screen actor with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer where his credits included Mata Hari (1931), China Seas (1935) and Three Wise Fools (1946).
Lewis Stone (left, front row) and his Andy Hardy family
In September 1953 Stone was preparing to accept a role in a forthcoming Paramount production of Sabrina (1954) starring Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart and was awaiting the arrival of the script. At the time, the Stones were being annoyed by a group of boys who would take midnight swims in their pool and toss furniture in afterward.
The former residence of Lewis Stone
On the evening of Saturday, September 12, 1953, Stone and his third wife Hazel, were watching television at their home at 455 S. Lorraine Boulevard when they heard a racket in the back yard. When he investigated, Stone found lawn furniture once again floating in the pool and glimpsed three or perhaps four teenage boys running towards the street. Stone gave chase despite his wife’s warning not to exert himself.
Upon reaching the sidewalk, Stone suddenly collapsed. A gardener, Juan Vergara witnessed the chase and summoned aid. Sadly the actor died of a heart attack on the sidewalk without regaining consciousness. Lewis Stone was 73.
The sidewalk where Lewis Stone died
Within the hour, police took three boys, one of them 13 and the other two 15, into custody and booked them on suspicion of malicious mischief. They told officers that they previously had taken a swim in the pool and “thought it would be funny if they threw the furniture into it” because Stone had chased them before. After being booked at the Wilshire Station, they were lectured by police before being released to the custody of their parents pending possible Juvenile Court action.
Lewis Stone was survived by his third wife, Hazel (Wolf) and two daughters Virginia and Barbara.
Stone’s funeral was held at his home on Wednesday, September 16. Last rites were conducted by Dr. Ernest Holmes, founder of the Institute of Religious Science, in the ballroom of the Stone home. More than 100 invited friends including film executives, producers, directors and actors occupied the ballroom and the adjoining paneled library beneath a replica of a Raphael Madonna.
Pallbearers carry the casket of Lewis Stone into his home for the funeral. Compare with the photo below and notice the same doorway, window and columns.
“A great friend, a great citizen, a great artist has left us,” said Dr. Holmes. “To know this man was to admire and to love him.” He said that Stone was a religious man whose philosophy was that “not some people but all people are immortal.”
Among those present were executives of MGM including Louis B. Mayer, Dore Schary, Edward J. Mannix, producer Jack Cummings, and many others.
Mayer, actors Robert Young and Charles Ruggles and agent Fred Fralick were among the pallbearers. Also present were Mickey Rooney, Fay Holden and Celia Parker who played Stone’s family in the Andy Hardy series.
Dozens of other actors who worked with Stone were there – Louis Calhern, Ralph Morgan, Russell Simpson, Donald Crisp, Otto Krueger, Marjorie Rambeau and many more. Directors who guided him in his film productions such as Mervyn LeRoy, Frank Lloyd and Robert Z. Leonard were present.
Dr. Holmes in his brief service quoted poems that were favorites of Stone, including the “Good-Night, Sweet Prince” passage from Hamlet that is the requiem for actors. Singer John Gary sang “Abide With Me” and “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Stone’s body was taken to Rosedale Cemetery where it was cremated. His ashes are listed as being sent to Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York where he purchased a lot in 1914. His first wife Margaret and two daughters are buried there unmarked, but his ashes, according to his daughter, were scattered over his ranch in Malibu.
Stone’s estate which was valued at $150,000 was left entirely to his widow, Hazel. The will, dated February 18, 1935, explained that everything was left to Hazel, and nothing to his two daughters because they had been well provided for under insurance policies. Stone’s friend and attorney, Lloyd Wright, was named executor. Wright’s probate petition estimated the estate’s income as $3,500 a year.
Walter Hampden took over the role of Oliver Larrabee in Sabrina that was originally intended for Stone.
NOTE: The address above is a private residence. Please DO NOT disturb the occupants.