Seeing Stars: Final Resting Places of the Stars

11160 Stranwood Avenue,
Mission Hills, CA. / (818) 361-7387

This medium-sized Catholic cemetery is located right next to the historic San Fernando Mission (which is worth seeing itself). It's a nice-looking park, and well cared for. Unfortunately, it takes a fairly long drive up the 405 to reach the cemetery, which is situated in the foothills at the north end of the Valley.

There are several notable stars' buried here, although finding them can be a bit tricky. Fortunately, I can provide directions for you to most of their graves.

(Click here to see an interactive map of the park.)

Superstar Bob Hope (1903-2003) was buried at San Fernando Mission Cemetery on the morning of July 30, 2003. Mrs. Hope said that when she asked Bob where he would like to be buried, he said (with his typical wry humor) "Surprise me."

The choice of San Fernando certainly surprised most observers, who had expected that he would probably be buried either at Holy Cross (the largest Catholic cemetery in L.A.) or Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills (near his home in Toluca Lake). San Fernando is a beautiful cemetery, but its location is somewhat remote.

Bob, who lived to be 100 years old, was one of the most beloved American performers of all time. From his early work in vaudeville, to his years on the radio, to his classic "road pictures" with Bing Crosby, to his many TV specials, Bob was a master of comedy and a memorable personality.

He made a string of musical-comedies in the 1940's & 50's (such as "Paleface" and "Sorrowful Jones"), playing essentially the same character in each film: brash, sarcastic, loveable - but basically cowardly; a smart aleck opportunist who was forever getting in over his head; a wannabe Casanova who was lost when it came to wooing the ladies...His perfect timing and delivery has influenced countless comics since then, including Woody Allen, who admits to having copied much of Hope's style as a loveable loser (not to mention Bob's trick of talking directly to the camera during a movie).

The six delightful Hope & Crosby "road pictures" (e.g. "The Road to Rio," "The Road to Zanzibar") continued this image; Bob played the crafty but reluctant sidekick, often a con-man of sorts, who was always being dragged into precarious situations by his buddy, Bing, but who never seemed to get the girl at the movie's end. Although his singing voice may have been eclipsed by Bing's own talents, Bob actually had a very pleasant voice, as demonstrated by his renditions of "Thanks for the Memory", 'Buttons & Bows" (from "The Paleface") or "The Road to Morrocco").

As a stand-up comedian, he had an incredible knack for getting big laughs from old jokes that should have come across as stale groaners. It was his delivery, of course, that sly wink... and the fact that it was Bob Hope up there. Everybody loved Bob.

But it may have been his countless trips to war zones to entertain U.S. troops that guaranteed his place in history. When most of us wanted to be home with their family at Christmas time, instead Bob would be out on a stage in Vietnam, or Korea, or some other godforsaken war zone, putting on a show to cheer up American troops stationed there, dragging along his celebrity friends and talking to the sick and wounded. It's hard not to admire that kind of effort.

According to a family spokesman, Bob Hope's casket was temporarily placed into a mausoleum vault. Burial will come later when a family grotto is finished (his mother is also buried here.).

Thanks for the memory, Bob.

Update: in 2005, the remains of Bob Hope were moved from the temporary crypt at San Fernando Cemetery, to the San Fernando Mission itself.  There, a special garden was created next to the Mission's main chapel. The garden has a statue of "Our Lady of Hope" (a minor pun, for a major comic), as well as a wall featuring bronze replicas of photos of Bob, plus, of course, the crypts where Bob Hope (and his wife Dolores) is actually buried. Above the graves is a coral-colored shell that some say strongly resembles the Hollywood Bowl.

[ These two photos are courtesy of Bob Marlowe ]

Like all of the historic California Missions, the San Fernando Mission charges a small admission fee to cover upkeep of the 200-year-old Spanish landmark (about $5). A stone path leads from the mission's main chapel to the new Bob Hope garden. ( To clarify, there is no admission fee for the cemetery next door to the Mission, but Bob's grave is now inside the Mission walls, so you have to pay to get into the Mission to visit it. )

Now, let's go to the cemetery itself...

The first star at San Fernando Mission Cemetery is Ritchie Valens (1941-1959), the young Latino singer who gave the world such songs as "La Bamba." and "Come On, Let's Go" before dying tragically (at age 17) in a plane crash with Buddy Holly. His life story was told in the 1987 movie, "La Bamba," where he was portrayed by actor Lou Diamond Phillips.

To find Ritchie Valens, drive through the entrance on Stranwood Avenue. There will be a small office building on your right side. Drive straight ahead, past this office building. On your left side will be Section C, "San Juan Capistrano," featuring a large white statue of Jesus as "The Sacred Heart" near the center of the lawn.

You will see a single cypress tree (a tall, slender, tapered evergreen) on your right side just past the flower shop. Ritchie Valens is buried on the lawn to your left (Section C). Park at the curb here near the cypress tree, between painted curb numbers 235 & 247. His grave is just three rows in from this curb, and two spaces to the left of the 247 curb number. His marker reads "Valenzuela." (his real name) across the top, and contains his photo and the titles of two of his songs.

(Click on the small marker photos to see enlarged versions.)

In this same Section C is character actor William Frawley (1887-1966), who is best remembered for his role as Fred Mertz in the classic 50's  sitcom "I Love Lucy."

He also played 'Bub' on the TV series "My Three Sons," and appeared in a variety of movies including "Going My Way" and "Miracle on 34th Street."

From Ritchie Valens' grave, get back in your car, carefully make a u-turn, and drive back towards the entrance. Follow the curb of the same Section C around the curve to the curb number 64. You will see a tree nearby, two rows up on the lawn. William Frawley's grave is three rows up from this tree (five rows up from the curb,) and about four spaces to the right of the tree.

Now, see that large white statue of Jesus (the Sacred Heart) near the center of this same section (C) of the lawn. Walk over to it, then walk around to the left side of the statue (the statue's right hand). Now walk away from the left side of the statue (to the northwest). Go nine rows away from the statue and then five spaces to your right.

There, you'll find the grave of character actor Ed Begley (1901-1970), the father of Ed Begley Jr. ("St. Elsewhere") and featured numerous films & TV shows. He won an Oscar for his performance as Boss Finley (opposite Paul Newman) in 1962's "Sweet Bird of Youth," and was memorable in his role as Juror #10 in 1957's "Twelve Angry Men." (Another way to find Begley's grave is to go to curb number 395 and then walk 14 rows in (towards the statue.)

(Click here to see an interactive map of the park.)

Now, it's time to move to the next section, D ("Mission Dolores"), which is located just past (northeast of) Section C. Go back to the first road you were on when you entered, and drive ahead to where you see the outside mausoleums on your right side. The grave of actor William Bendix (1906-1964) is on the lawn to your left, across the road from the mausoleums. Park near curb number 247. Walk in (northwest) about 13 or 14 rows, to a huge tree, and you will find his grave just three spaces to the left of the tree.

A great comic actor, William Bendix may be best remembered for his role as Chester A. Riley, first in radio's long-running "The Life of Riley," then in a movie of the same name, then in the 50's television series. But he also starred in a number of other films, both comedies and dramas, including "Life Boat," "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," (with Bing Crosby) & the hilarious "Kill the Umpire." He was nominated for his supporting role in 1942's "Wake Island." And he played Babe Ruth in 1948's "The Babe Ruth Story" (which, coincidentally, also starred William Frawley who is buried nearby.)

In the same section D (but on the other/north side) is veteran character actor Walter Brennan (1894-1974), who starred in over 150 films, but is perhaps best remembered for his role as 'Grandpa Amos McCoy' in the popular TV sitcom "The Real McCoys." (which ran from 1957 to 1963.) Mr. Brennan seemed to have been born old, usually playing a cranky-but-loveable sidekick much older than his actual age. (For instance, in "Meet John Doe," he played the grizzled hobo friend of Gary Cooper, but he was actually only seven years older than Cooper at the time.) He started making films when he was just 37. He won three Academy Awards - all for Best Supporting Actor. His more memorable movie roles include those in "Rio Bravo," "Sgt. York," "The Westerner," "Kentucky" and "Come And Get It."

To find his grave, park near curb marker 445 (on the north side of Section D, across the road from Section B) and walk just two rows in from the curb. His lawn marker is bronze, with images of Mary & Jesus on each side.

(Click here to see an interactive map of the park.)

In this same section D, you will notice a large white statue of the Virgin Mary ("The Immaculate Heart") near the center of this lawn. Go to the statue and stand on its left hand side (the right side if you are facing its front.) Now from the middle of the left side of the statue, just walk four rows away from the statue (to the southeast). Here, you'll discover the simple marker of actor, comedian and TV personality George Gobel (1919-1991).

Known as "Lonesome George," he was usually the second banana (when he wasn't doing his droll, self-deprecating stand-up act), and never a megastar in his own right. He did host his own TV show ("The George Gobel Show") from 1954-1960. But I remember him best for an hilarious comment he once made on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show." Johnny had brought out several major stars before finally introducing poor George. Gobel came out, looked at the stars, and announced: "Do you ever get the feeling that life is a tuxedo and you're a pair of brown shoes?"

(Click here to see an interactive map of the park.)

Right across the road, in Section B, you'll find the grave of one of the few adult stars of the old "Our Gang" / "Little Rascals." shorts. If you're a fan of the series, you'll know her as 'Miss Crabtree', the pretty young schoolteacher who tried to teach the Rascals - when they weren't playing hooky.

Her real name was June Marlowe (1903-1984). (Her married name was June Sprigg, and that is how it appears on her marker.)

She made at least six movies with the 'Little Rascals," including such titles as "School's Out" and "Teacher's Pet," most of them back in 1930-1932, in the early days before 'Spanky' & 'Alfalfa' joined the gang, when 'Jackie' (Cooper), 'Stymie', 'Farina', 'Wheezer' and 'Chubby' were the names on the credits. She had worked in silent movies before getting mixed up with the Rascals, and she ended her acting career in 1932, at age 29, when she married Rodney Sprigg.

(When they made a modern movie version of the series in 1994, the role of 'Miss Crabtree' was played by actress Daryl Hannah.)

To find her grave, walk (north) across the street from Walter Brennan - near road marker #842, then walk seven rows in from the curb.

UPDATE 2014:  Ms. Marlowe has been moved to the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels,
in downtown Los Angeles (where actor Gregory Peck is also interred).  Her new crypt is located to
the left of a stained glass window picturing Jesus seated and dressed in red robes.

Next, we go on to discover the graves of "The Rifleman,"
Chuck Connors, Jerry Colonna and others...


[Click here to go to page two, to continue the tour.]

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