Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery’

Hollywood Events

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

HOLLYWOOD EVENTS

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When visiting the Hollywood/Los Angeles area, be sure to take in many of the cultural events available to the public from the following organizations:

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UCLA Film and Television Archive:

Billy Wilder Theater

10899 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles

(310) 206-8013

For a listing of all events, please go to:

http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/

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Hollywood Forever Cemetery

The Masonic Lodge

Cinespia

6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood

Questions: email events@hollywoodforever.com

For more information, please go to:

http://www.hollywoodforever.com/culture

http://cinespia.org/

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Cinefamily at Silent Movie Theatre

611 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles

(323) 655-2510

For a listing of all events, please go to:

http://www.cinefamily.org/

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The Hollywood Heritage Museum in the Lasky-DeMille Barn

2100 N. Highland Avenue

(across from the Hollywood Bowl)

(323) 874-2276

For more information, please go to:

http://www.hollywoodheritage.org/

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Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Events and Exhibitions

Various locations

For more information, please go to:

http://www.oscars.org/events-exhibitions/

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William H. Clune at Hollywood Forever

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

William H. Clune: Pioneer theater and film producer

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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William Henry Clune was a pioneer motion-picture theater owner, whose name is associated with the early days of film production. Born in Hannibal, Missouri, on August 18, 1862, Clune came to California in 1887. His interest in railroading ceased with the successful termination of a real estate venture, which provided him with sufficient capital to enter the field to which he devoted himself—the motion picture industry.

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Clune began with a film exchange in 1907 which distributed the films of the pioneer producers including the old Essanay, Edison, Biograph and others. While operating the exchange, he opened his first theater, a penny arcade on Main Street, in Los Angeles. This was followed by the building of Clune’s Theater on Fifth at Main Streets where the Rossyln Hotel now stands. His next venture was leasing the property on Broadway between Fifth Avenue, and Sixth Street, where he built Clune’s Broadway Theater. Then he took over the Clune’s Auditorium at Fifth and Olive Streets, later renamed the Philharmonic Auditorium. He also built Clune’s Pasadena Theater and Clune’s Santa Ana Theater. At one time, his chain included theaters in Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Bernardino, Santa Ana and San Diego.

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Clune’s Broadway Theater as it appeared in 1910… (Cinema Treasures)

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Clune’s Broadway Theater (later called the Cameo), as it looked in 1999 (lapl)

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Clune’s Auditorium, originally located at Olive and Fifth Streets

across from Pershing Square, is now a parking lot.

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Clune’s Pasadena Theater is believed to be the city’s first movie house.

The building, no longer a theater, still shows the original name. (hometown-Pasadena)

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In 1913, Clune and his wife Agnes sold their Pasadena mansion at 1203 Fair Oaks Avenue at the corner Monterey Road. The site is now a Pavilions grocery market. At this time, Clune separated from his wife and moved into an apartment at the Los Angeles Athletic Club at 431 West 7th Street. Agnes and their son James took up residence in another mansion at 314 South New Hampshire Avenue.

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In 1915, Clune assumed control of Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Studios on Melrose. On the property, Clune built rental studios for lease to independent production companies.

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Clune’s Studio on Melrose (now Raleigh Studios).

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At this studio, Clune produced and filmed Ramona (1916), the famous book dealing with early California life. Following that, Clune made other films including The Eyes of the World (1917) from the story of Harold Bell Wright.

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William Clune stood out in motion picture production. In his room on the twelfth floor of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, many of the largest movie deals made were negotiated. Clune had faith in D.W. Griffith, and backed the director financially and agreed to exhibit The Clansman, which was later retitled The Birth of a Nation (1915) at Clune’s Auditorium where the world premiere was held.

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As the executive head of a chain of screen houses, Clune was an active and shrewd showman. For a number of years, he fought an enforcement of old city ordinances prohibiting electric sign displays. City bureaus complained against Clune’s electrical advertisements, but Clune refused to budge from his determination to “light up Broadway.”

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Clune liked to use electricity to “light up Broadway” much to the dismay of the city council.

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In 1924, Clune retired from the theatrical business, having sold all his theaters and leased his studios on Melrose to the Tec-Art Company. Retirement from film production did not mean retirement from active business as he had acquired large holdings in downtown real estate, dating back to 1900, and had many other interests.

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Shortly after noon on October 18, 1927, William H. Clune died of a stroke in his apartment at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. His body was taken to the Sunset Mortuary at 8814 Sunset Boulevard and he was interred in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Cemetery.

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William H. Clune’s crypt (no. 994) in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

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In addition to his other activities, Clune was on the regional board of the Bank of Italy, a member of the Brentwood Country Club, Jonathan Club and Elks Club.

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Clune’s estate was bequeathed to his son James, the president of Clune’s holding company. Thought to be a millionaire several times over, yet few were able to estimate his actual fortune. His wife Agnes, according to his will, was not named but received her share of the estate by a property settlement years earlier. Publicly, the only estimate of the value of Clune’s estate at the time said that it “exceeds $10,000,” but most experts determined that it was close to $6 million which in today’s exchange would be around $81.5 million.

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At the studios Clune owned on Melrose (across the street from Paramount), Douglas Fairbanks made The Mark of Zorro (1920) and The Three Musketeers (1921), Walt Disney rented space in the 1930s and the Hopalong Cassidy television series was filmed here, as were Superman. Robert Aldrich filmed Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Ronald Reagan hosted Death Valley Days. In 1979, the heirs of William Clune sold the film plant and it became Raleigh Studios. The studio that William Clune created is believed to be the oldest continuously operating film studio in Hollywood.

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Raleigh Studios (the old Clune Studios) today…

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Mickey Rooney’s Grave

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

CELEBRITY GRAVES

Mickey Rooney’s grave at Hollywood Forever

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R.I.P Mickey

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Mickey Rooney’s Funeral

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

FUNERALS/MEMORIALS

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Mickey Rooney’s funeral held at Hollywood Forever

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Mickey Rooney’s casket at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

(Family photo / Los Angeles Times April 18, 2014)

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Page Peters at Hollywood Forever

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

Page Peters, Hollywood Cemetery’s first celebrity resident

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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Page Peters was born in Louisville, Kentucky and educated at the Western Military Academy. Peters was one of Hollywood’s sexiest and most well liked actors at the time of his popularity around 1914 to 1916. He is not related to actor, House Peters. Among his more important roles in films were in Pasquale (1916) with George Beban; Davy Crockett (1916), The Gentleman from Indiana (1915), and Ben Blair (1916), with Dustin Farnum, An International Marriage (1916), with Rita Jolivet; He Fell in Love With His Wife (1916), with Florence Rockwell, and Madame La Presidente (1916) with Anna Held.

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On June 26, 1916, Peters and a party of friends drove down to Hermosa Beach from Los Angeles for a day’s outing at the home of a mutual friend, Harry Graves, at Fourth Street and Strand. Early in the morning, Peters and several of the house guests decided to take a dip in the Pacific ocean. Peters and a female friend ventured out beyond the others where,  apparently he was seized with a cramp. The young woman, a Miss Graves, tried to assist him to keep afloat and screamed for help, but it came too late. His body was found about one-hundred feet from the shore by some of the searchers in a motor boat. A pulmotor was brought down from Redondo Beach and men worked on the stricken actor for two hours in a vain effort to restore his life.

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The verdict of the medical examiner was that Page Peters, who was 27 years old, and very strong, died of heart failure rather than drowning.

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Peters funeral was held at Hollywood Cemetery a few days later on a day, which coincidentally was three years to the day that he first started working in films. The pallbearers were all members of show business and among the six were Al Christie, Horace Davey, Ray Meyers, and Raymond Russell, who worked with him in his first picture. At the request of his parents, the funeral was filmed under the direction of Al Christie, Peter’s first director and Anton Nadge, who photographed his first, filmed the funeral, using the same camera.

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Page Peters is possibly the first actor to be buried at Hollywood Cemetery. His grave, near the eastern wall across from the Cathedral Mausoleum, is unmarked.

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The unmarked grave of actor Page Peters is in the

general vicinity noted above, Section 9, Lot 428.

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The 86th Annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial Service

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

HOLLYWOOD EVENTS

 The Eighty-Sixth Annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial Service

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 Friday, August 23, 2013

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

6000 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, California

Cathedral Mausoleum

12:10PM

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This year’s Valentino Memorial Service will include new videos acknowledging the 100th anniversary of Rudolph Valentino’s arrival in America will be shown. There will also be a tribute video saluting his cinematic career.

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In addition, a video saluting Valentino’s friend and costar, Mae Murray with be presented and the guest speaker will be Michael G. Ankerich, the author of the new biography “Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips.” Also speaking will be Christopher Riordan who will update the audience about Falcon Lair. Riordan lived in the guest home on the estate, as the property overseer.

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This year the Memorial is themed to salute the 90th anniversary of the Mineralava Tour. There will be a special display of Mineralava artifacts including two of the trophies that Rudolph Valentino presented (one to a dancing couple, the other for the beauty contest). The trophies will be made available at the conclusion of the service for people to get their photo holding them. Live singing of Valentino music will be presented by the Evans & Rogers musical team.

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Acknowledgements: Valentino Memorial Committee: Tracy Ryan Terhune, Stella Grace, Chanell O Farrill, Marvin Paige. Research on the Mineralava Tour—Rebecca Eash; Mineralava Tour video—Donna Hill; remaining videos—Frank Labrador.

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Valentino’s Lady in Black legend grows

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

RUDOLPH VALENTINO

Valentino’s Lady in Black legend grows

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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One of the legends that have developed after the death of silent screen idol, Rudolph Valentino, was about the mysterious Lady in Black. Many have claimed to be her and others have donned the black veil and dress in their memory over the past eighty-seven years. Just a few that have either laid claim or have been credited to the legend are Pola Negri, Marion Benda, Jean Acker, Estrellita del Regil and her mother Anna, and the one who is most accepted to be the original Lady in Black, Ditra Flame.

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Another woman who also has a claim on the legend is one that most Valentino fans probably have never heard of. Her name is Florence Harrison. Florence’s story is as mysterious as the woman she was alleged to be.

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Harrison’s claim to the title was not known until several years after her death and was made by a man who was her son. This is what is known. Several years ago a copy of the book, Valentino As I Knew Him, written by the actor’s friend and manager, S. George Ullman, surfaced with the following inscription:

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“In loving memory of Rodolpho Valentino and my beautiful mother, Florence Marie Rittenhouse (Marie Valentino) who died in Los Angeles of cancer on March 7, 1947. May my beautiful mother and the beautiful memory of her that I will cherish to my grave and Valentino, may they both rest in peace in each other’s arms! My mother was the original ‘Woman in Black’ and quit when others tried to copy her and make a cheap publicity stunt out of it. T. G. (Tony Guglielmi).”

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There was a Florence Marie Rittenhouse who was born in Pennsylvania in 1900 to Charles and Lillian Rittenhouse. A professional pianist, Florence married Samuel Harrison and moved to Washington D.C. There the Harrison’s had three children: Warren, Thelma and David. One day in 1934, according to family lore, Florence and her eleven year-old son David, left Washington and moved to California, never seeing her family again. Nothing more is known about Florence until her death from breast cancer on March 7, 1947 at the County General Hospital in Los Angeles.

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As for David, he enlisted in the Army in 1942. The family also claims that he had mental health problems and was apparently not able to live on his own. Were those problems a result of his stint in the Army, since they never would have inducted him if they were present before?

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The Tony Guglielmi (Guglielmi was Valentino’s real name) that signed the book was most likely Florence’s son, David Harrison, but why would he sign it that way? He implies that his mother was married to the actor by calling her “Marie Valentino,” so did David, who was born in 1923, believe that he was Valentino’s son? Was Florence one of the many anonymous Lady’s in Black that appeared at Valentino’s memorial over the years? Or were these the wild delusions of a mentally disturbed young man? All we have is a brief inscription on the title page of biography on Rudolph Valentino, so unfortunately we may never know. Florence Harrison is just one more name added to the already crowded legend.

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The 86th Annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial is coming up on Friday, August 23, 2013 at 12:10 p.m. in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Be there. To learn more about the history of the Valentino Memorial, read the book, Valentino Forever: The History of the Valentino Memorial Service by Tracy Ryan Terhune.

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L.A. Story at Hollywood Forever

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

HOLLYWOOD EVENTS

PEN Center USA and Hollywood Forever proudly present: L.A. Story: Reading Event

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Reading line-up announced for the event, which will take place at Hollywood Forever and celebrate writing in and about Los Angeles

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Continuing its collaborative reading series, PEN Center USA will present. L.A. Story at Hollywood Forever on June 21, 2013. Doors for the event will open at 8pm. The reading will begin at 9pm and will feature Janet Fitch (Paint it Black, White Oleander), Rachel Kushner (The Flamethrowers, Telex From Cuba), Jim Krusoe (Parsifal, Iceland), Doug Kearney (Fear Some), and Jim Gavin (Middle Men). A book signing will follow the reading.

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PEN Center USA, a literary nonprofit based in Beverly Hills, has a membership of more than 600 professional writers. PEN Center USA strives to protect the rights of writers around the world, to stimulate interest in the written word, and to foster a vital literary community among the diverse writers living in the western United States. PEN Center USA has a long successful, history planning literary events in and around Los Angeles.

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Tickets for L.A. Story are $10 online and $15 at the door. Tickets are ON SALE NOW at http://hollywoodforever.ticketfly.com/

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Location Address:

THE MASONIC LODGE AT HOLLYWOOD FOREVER

6000 Santa Monica Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90038

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For more information on Hollywood Forever, please visit www.hollywoodforever.com or email events@hollywoodforever.com.

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Peggy Shannon at Hollywood Forever

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

On Broadway, she was a Ziegfeld Follies girl and successful ingénue, enough so to have Hollywood take notice.  Once considered the successor to Clara Bow, the titian-haired Peggy Shannon, a pretty actress whose appearances in major roles gave her the potential for stardom, ended her life in heartbreaking loneliness.

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Peggy Shannon was born Winona Sammon on January 10, 1910 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. As a child, her interest in music led her to study the piano and violin. She hoped to be a teacher until Madge Evans came to Pine Bluff on a tour promoting her line of hats. “I was only about 10 and knew then I wanted to be in show business,” Peggy recalled.

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In 1924, her mother Nancy took her and her sister Carole to visit their aunt in New York, who happened to live in the same building as Goldie Glough, the secretary of Florenz Ziegfeld, who was preparing a new Follies show. Goldie told Will Page, a press agent for Ziegfeld, about Peggy’s beauty and he had her pose for publicity pictures with Ziegfeld.

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“It was just a stunt, but I didn’t know it then,” Peggy later recalled. “They took me to Ziegfeld’s New Amsterdam offices and photographed me, curls, silk gingham dress and all, with Mr. Wayburn and Mr. Ziegfeld. The next day newspapers carried the story form Ziegfeld’s office that he had signed an Arkansas newcomer. They said I could be in the chorus for a while, more to justify their story than became they wanted me.”

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She appeared in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1924, along with Will Rogers, Lupino Lane and Mary Nolan (also buried at Hollywood Forever). After one season, Earl Carroll hired her for his Vanities of 1925. She kept busy during this time, modeling during the day, then after appearing in the Vanities she joined the floor shows at Texas Guinan’s.

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In 1926 Peggy married actor Alan Davis. The following year Earl Carroll put her in the ingénue lead in What Anne Brought Home opposite William Hanly and Mayo Methot. For the next three years she appeared in comedic roles for William Brady, a noted producer who planned to make her a star.

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That would all change when B.P. Schulberg, the head of production at Paramount saw her in Napi on Broadway and signed her to a contract. It was during this time that Paramount was recruiting many Broadway actors for film, including Sylvia Sidney, Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins.

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Within four days of her arrival in Hollywood, Clara Bow had her second nervous breakdown. Peggy was summoned into Schulberg’s office and was told she would replace Bow in her next picture, The Secret Call (1931) opposite Richard Arlen. “The interview was very brief,” Peggy said of her meeting with Schulberg. “He sent me away telling me I had many things to do as production started the next morning.”

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She read the script and was impressed by it and somewhat staggered by the realization that the role was the most important in the film, and the longest. That meant learning hundreds of speeches. But she discovered that films were different from the stage. “I didn’t have to learn the entire role at one time,” she said. “I could study it every night and keep ahead of production.”

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Peggy admitted that the assignment frightened her. “Frankly, I was scared,” she said. “I expected to be taken out of the cast any minute. I couldn’t believe that such a wonderful break had come to me. I kept thinking, ‘That’s some other girl with the same name. It really can’t be me. And if it is me, I’d better keep my enthusiasm under control.’”

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Paramount’s advertisement for The Secret Call called Peggy “The new Clara Bow,” “The successor of the ‘It’ girl,” “Greatest find of the year” and “Clara Bow’s redheaded rival.” The film did well at the box-office however the reviews were lukewarm. The New York Times reported that Peggy would “be remembered as the young lady who succeeded Clara Bow, when that actress became indisposed. Miss Shannon is attractive, but The Secret Call does not present many situations calling for much more than a gentle stroll through its various scenes.”

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Peggy made four more films for Paramount and a few independent films, including False Faces (1932) in which she had some good scenes with Lowell Sherman. Leaving Paramount, she signed a contract with Fox in February 1932 and appeared as a nightclub singer in The Painted Woman (1932), opposite Spencer Tracy. She was billed as Tracy’s first romantic lead. The New York Sun reported that Peggy was “improving” but Fox executives disagreed and dropped her option.

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She worked as an independent in such films as Girl Missing (1933), directed by Robert Florey and Turn Back the Clock (1933) with Lee Tracy. Peggy’s career was beginning to lag and second rate films followed such as Fury of the Jungle (1933), The Back Page (1934) and The Fighting Lady (1935).

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In late 1934, Peggy decided to return to Broadway in Page Miss Glory with newcomer, James Stewart. “James Stewart and Peggy Shannon are amusing as one of the bums and his fiancée,” wrote the New York Evening Post.

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Then it was back to Hollywood and Universal where Lowell Sherman directed her in the lavish production of Night Life of the Gods (1935). Next it was off to Warner Brothers in the Perry Mason who-done-it, The Case of the Lucky Legs (1935). Still not happy, Peggy returned once again to the stage to do The Light Behind the Shadow. Unfortunately Peggy was replaced early in production, reportedly due to a tooth infection but rumors were that it was due to her drinking, a habit she was quickly developing.

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After another failure on Broadway, Peggy reported to Republic for a film with Marian Marsh. Then it was Girls on Probation (1938) for Warner Brothers. The film co-starred Ronald Reagan and was notable as Susan Hayward’s first film.

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In mid-1938, Peggy and a female companion were involved in a car accident with another driver receiving lacerations on her nose and cuts on her legs. It was rumored that alcohol was involved. Friends in the business tried to help giving her small roles but in some cases her drinking would get in the way. One of her last films was Café Hostess (1940) for Columbia.

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In 1940, Peggy decided to end her fourteen year marriage to Alan Davis. She declared that he struck her on one occasion at the home of actress Wynne Gibson, who testified for her friend that he struck her “over something very inconsequential.” She added that because of her husband’s disinclination to work she had to support him as well as herself during their marriage. “He was just lazy—he played all the time,” she told the judge.

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Several months later, in October 1940, Peggy married cameraman, Albert “Al” Roberts in Mexico. They set up housekeeping at 4318 Irvine Street in North Hollywood, along with their German Sheppard, Spec. By now, Peggy was forgotten by the studios and seldom received offers, causing her to drink even more.

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In early May 1941, Roberts and his friend Elmer Fryer left for a few days on a fishing trip. When they returned on Sunday, May 11, Roberts found Peggy slumped dead across the kitchen table with her head on her arms; she was barefoot and clad in a sun suit. A cigarette, burned to the tip of her fingers, was in her right hand. Three glasses and a soft-drink bottle found in the sink were turned over to the Coroner to check for traces of poison. Peggy Shannon was 31. She was laid to rest at Hollywood Cemetery a few days later without much fanfare.

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Roberts was devastated by Peggy’s death. He was afraid that someone might think he had something to do with her death. In a conversation with Detective William Burris, Roberts said, “Bill, you’ve got something on your mind. You don’t suspect me of Peggy’s death do you?” Burris assured him that was not the case and he was merely awaiting the report of the autopsy.

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“Well, Bill,” Roberts told him, “if you have anything on your mind, get it off, because you won’t see me again.” Burris asked what he meant and Roberts told him that he was going to commit suicide. “I told him not to be like that,” Burris said, “that he had had one too many.”

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Three weeks after Peggy’s death, in the early morning hours of Memorial Day, May 30, 1941, Roberts took Spec to visit Peggy’s grave at Hollywood Cemetery. Afterward he returned to his home on Irvine Street and wrote three notes: one to ‘those concerned’ and two to his sister Phoebe, who lived in Glendale.

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At about dawn he called his sister and said he was going to kill himself. “Al, don’t do it,” she screamed into the phone. Suddenly she heard a shot and then, the barking of the dog. When police reached the house, Roberts was dead. A rifle was found near the body. In one hand he still grasped the telephone receiver. His body rested on the same chair where he had found Peggy’s body; like her, his head had fallen forward on the table. Two empty liquor bottles and two soft drink bottles were on the table. Nearby Spec lay whimpering.

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This home, at 4318 Irvine Street in Valley Village (formerly North Hollywood), is where

actress Peggy Shannon died and her husband, Albert Roberts committed suicide.

(PLEASE NOTE: This is private property. Please DO NOT disturb the residents)

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In his note Roberts wrote:

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“It happens that I am very much in love with my wife, Peggy Shannon. In this spot she passed away. So in reverence to her you will find me in the same spot. No one will ever understand, as it should be. Why don’t you all try a little bit harder—it wouldn’t hurt, I can truthfully say for both of us. Adios amigos. Al Roberts.”

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In a note to his sister, he expressed bitterness against those who he said, had feigned fondness for his wife during her lifetime. Although he doesn’t name them, it sounds like he could be referring to family members:

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“To Phoebe. If you have to ship the stuff to China do it. They can never prove what I have done with it. Spec and I went out to the cemetery around 1 a.m. They talk so much about her flowers for Memorial Day. Well, they have never been near the grave. Mrs. Ross and I put on fresh flowers as much as we could, but them dirty leeches, they wouldn’t take her a pansy but they would take her clothes and say they love her more than life. But you stress that, honey. You know how Peg supported them. Any denials just ask them to prove how they lived all these years. Al.”

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In a second note to his sister, Roberts expressed concern for his dog, Spec.

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“You take Spec,” he wrote, “and ship him to Johnny. If you don’t I will never forgive you. I promised him that. All five have said they could not be bothered with him. I know Johnny and he will be great pals. Peggy has said so time and again. So, please, take him, ‘our child’ and send him on. He certainly is entitled to that. With love Al. P.S. Hey, bury me in my gray suit. Al.”

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The following day, the coroner released the results from Peggy’s autopsy. Her death was apparently caused by a combination of low vitality, run-down condition and a heart attack. “A chemical analysis has not yet been completed by the Coroner,” a police representative said, “but examination so far shows no traces of poison or any bruises or marks.”

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Ironically, Albert Roberts’s body was not laid next to Peggy’s, but was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale. Whether it was the decision of his family or Peggy’s to not have them be together, is not known.

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A few weeks after Peggy’s death, her mother hired  private detectives and attorneys to investigate deeper into her daughter’s death. Nothing apparently came of their search.

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Peggy Shannon’s grave at Hollywood Forever is near the southern border of Section 5 in plot 31, grave 4. Her pink tombstone is inscribed “That Red-Headed Girl, Peggy Shannon.” Her mother and sister are buried nearby.

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Thomas Smith Robson at Hollywood Forever

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

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Thomas Smith Robson, the scion of a great English family, was the son of Robert Robson, Esq., Newcastle-on-Tyne, and Emily Jane Snowden. His brother, William Snowden Robson, was an English lawyer, judge and liberal politician and a Member of Parliament. There was no similarity between these brothers, while Thomas was a jolly, roistering, mad-cap fellow, his brother William was the personification of English respectability. Both brothers were born at 26 Eaton Square, one of the somber but eminently aristocratic squares of London.

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In his early life Robson earned a PhD degree at Heidelberg, Oxford and other institutions. He was an expert chemist, man of letters, a thorough student of law, and an expert linguist of several European languages. Robson possessed a splendid physique, lived only at night, and slept during the day. When he wanted an evening alone, he would order a dozen quarts of Riesling wine, drinking the entire batch before the sun rose. He eventually became an embarrassment, dimming the dignity of his family traditions, and was sent on his way.

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In 1890 he arrived in Denver with fourteen trunks and a desire to do something unusual. Accordingly, he sent all his belongings on prospecting outfits into the desert and took up with a infamous army officer whose only asset was his military title. Breaking ties with his family, he spent his last cent getting to Montreal, where he and the officer bluffed their way into the most fashionable hotel on the officer’s signature. They then became reporters on the Montreal Star until they were discovered and driven from town.

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Then Robson went down to Boston and became a waiter in a 10-cent lodging house. Evidently this wasn’t strenuous enough so he hitch-hiked his way to Roxbury in mid-winter, with green apples as his only food for ten days. He then met a wealthy New Yorker, who attempted to make him general agent of a big colonization scheme. However Robson would rather starve than work for another man, and so he became a stove tinker, finally making his way to Montana on a stock train. He was taken care of on the way by an actor who owned a large stock farm, and who promised to give him work at a good salary for as long as he wanted it. Five miles before reaching the farm, Robson changed his mind and dropped off the train and away from the actor permanently.

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Robson then traveled to Northern California and stirred up a band of reservation Indians to do wild deeds; he stayed with them for many months. His next stop was San Francisco but he remained there only a short time. In 1896 he jumped on a train for Los Angeles. There he met J.R. Carson, who ran the Old Curiosity Shop on North Main Street who persuaded Robson to write home to his family. He did and soon discovered that his father was dead, and that he and his brother shared the estate. He was not interested in money except for the good he could do with it and the trouble he could stir up.

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When he received his share of the inheritance, he booked a suite at the Van Nuys Hotel and then rented a room in a 25-cent lodging house to sleep in. He bet friends that he could escort one of the most notorious women in the city to one of the best hotels. He won his bet by bribing the clerk with a hatful of money. A quick trip to San Francisco followed, and there he sent out invitations to his former cohorts, a collection of loafers and loungers and gave them a royal banquet at the Poodle Dog, San Francisco’s first and most famous French restaurant. On the way back to his apartment he lay down in a mud puddle in his evening clothes, defied the police and stopped traffic. A wrecking car crew and a wagon load of officers put him to bed.

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Returning to Los Angeles, Robson found that a sewer trench was being opened on Main Street, and as a practical joke, he hired a gang of men to fill it up in the middle of the night. He then engaged several undertakers, and had horses and lines of funeral coaches sit outside a friend’s house all day. Another time, about a hundred boys rushed into a busy drug store one morning in answer to a fake advertisement Robson enlisted in the newspaper.

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Finally bored with his antics, he started for England. Stopping at New York he bought a hand organ and a monkey from an Italian street musician, and performed up and down Fifth Avenue until he was arrested and put in jail. In Paris he threw gold around the streets, treated every homeless person he could find and gave money away. One day someone gave him a bad Franc, and he became so angry that to show his disdain for money, he emptied all his money down a sewer and was left penniless. Once he replenished his supply of money, he attempted a “scientific demonstration” of the insidious effects of constant absinthe drinking, and informed his friends that he was now engaged in a work that would benefit humanity. This experiment resulted in his being locked up in a private asylum.

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Going to London, his brother William was not pleased to see him, for his antics were not those of a dignified Member of Parliament. But Robson took offense of a speech made by his brother and left for Venice. There he set to organize the gondoliers into two factions, got them insulting each other and involved in a huge fight, and then fled in the night. Returning to Paris he remained there for a year or two.

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Finally he returned to Los Angeles in ill health. He asked Benjamin Balmer for help and Balmer took him into his home and cared for him. Robson is alleged to have settled down and with the exception of an occasional night of his own when he would lock himself in his room and spend the evening drinking, he kept clear of trouble and the police.

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Balmer claimed that Robson was unclean in his habits and frequently became intoxicated. In spite of this, Robson was well cared for by the Balmer family, and Mrs. Balmer acted as a nurse for him. For the last two years of his life he was broken down and scarcely able to help himself. On January 12, 1904 Thomas Smith Robson died at the Balmer home at 465 Bixel Street. He was 49 years old. Robson left a considerable estate valued for administrative purposes at about $50,000 in England, personal property in California amounting to $9,490 and real estate valued at $3,450. His entire estate he left to his brother William in England.

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William hired an administrator in San Francisco to handle his brother’s estate. For the care and attention that the Balmer’s gave Robson, they asked for $4,000 from the administrator, and when he was refused, they brought suit. As a reward for his kindness toward Robson, Balmer was allowed $2,400 by the judge.

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Instead of returning his body to England, Thomas Smith Robson was buried at Hollywood Cemetery in Section 12 (Chandler Gardens) and a large granite cross was placed on his grave. The inscription reads: “Sacred to the Memory of Thomas Smith Robson PhD (Heid) Youngest Son of R. Robson Esq. J.P. of New Castle Upon Tyne England. He Died at Los Angeles on 12th January 1904 Aged 49 Years. The Dead Shall Be Raised Incorruptible And We Shall All Be Changed.”

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Note: Robson’s brother, William Snowdon Robson (1852-1918) was a Member of Parliament between 1885 and 1886. Robson married Catharine Burge, daughter of Charles Burge, of Portland Place, London in 1887. He was invested as a Queen’s Counsel in 1892. He again held the office of Member of Parliament between 1895 and 1910. In 1905, he was knighted and was appointed to the Privy Council. He was Solicitor General for England and Wales from 1905 to 1908, and Attorney General for England and Wales from 1908 to 1910 when he was made a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and a life peer with the title Baron Robson, of Jesmond in the County of Northumberland. He resigned as Lord of Appeal two years later. William Snowdon Robson died aged 66, at Telham Court, Battle, Sussex. In available biographies, there is no mention of his younger brother, Thomas Smith Robson.

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