For ages my friend Norman and I have agreed that, although we live in one of the busiest and most interesting metropolitan areas of the country, we don't really get out much. We (and by "we," I especially mean "I") tend to stick to our Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena corridor comfort zone, and we both feel we're missing a lot of what L.A. has to offer. I'm a native Angeleno and thus have seen a few more pockets of the city than Norman has, due simply to having been here so long; Norman's a fairly recent transplant and at least has an excuse. Recently we decided it would both fun and good for us to plan regular outings to see some new sights, try some new restaurants, visit neighborhoods we don't know well, and so on. Yesterday was our first adventure. Norman planned the whole thing and kept it a surprise for me.
After lunch at an old favorite, the Hill Street Cafe, we drove to Forest Lawn, which is probably the biggest and most famous cemetery in L.A. but about which I know almost nothing. I'm sorry to say, I have visited it once before, under sad circumstances. Yesterday, though, we were both feeling pretty jolly and in fact received a stern look from a woman in a black veil when we got out of the car laughing. We hushed up and set off in search of . . . well, something. Norman had a map but he wouldn't tell me whose final resting place we were seeking. We found large, just-this-side-of-garish memorials for Bette Davis and Liberace; we also located Charles Laughton's surprisingly tasteful green marble vault. But it was inside a small alcove called the Columbarium of Radiant Dawn that we found what Norman had been keeping secret: Strother Martin's earthly remains.
You probably don't know who Strother Martin is, and that's a pity. He was a wonderful character actor, busiest during the 1960s and 70s, an intelligent, well-educated man who nonetheless found himself typecast playing what he referred to as "prairie scum." He played memorable roles in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke (in which he uttered the famous line, "What we got here is a failure to communicate"), The Wild Bunch and True Grit. He had the lead in a truly horrible yet hilarious horror film called The Brotherhood of Satan - the sight of him in an open dressing gown with a distended pregnant belly will be burned into my poor brain forever. Strother had this flat, nasal, whiny voice and a sort of gone-to-seed appearance perfectly suited to the roles he played; seeing his name in a movie's cast always gives me a little lift. It was incredibly thoughtful of Norman to seek out Strother Martin's memorial plaque for us to see.
After a cool drink and some time sitting in the shade, we took the Metro out to Western and Hollywood and walked for what seemed like ages to our next destination. Along the way I peppered Norman with questions: Were we going to another cemetery? Was what we were going to see death-related? Was it a place he'd visited before? He didn't say much, basically told me to keep my shirt on and keep walking. While we were waiting to cross a street I suddenly clapped my hands together and said, "Oooh, I have a guess!"
I asked him if we were going to see a mural of Strother Martin that someone had painted on the side of a building somewhere in L.A. I didn't know where this building was, but I'd seen some photos of the mural; it was painted long ago and I had no idea if it was even still around. Norman looked blank and then confused. He said he wished he'd known about the mural because it would be a great companion to our Forest Lawn discovery. We kept walking and walking. We turned down Fountain Avenue and walked some more. We crossed a little street called Kingsley and Norman stopped me. I looked at him and he put his hands on my shoulders and turned me around. And there, on the side of a video shop, was the Strother Martin mural.
"You fucking bitch!" Norman grumbled. I didn't mean to ruin the surprise! I had no idea the mural was even still around. After shooing a drunk out of the way, I took a few pictures and then went in for a closer look. It appears that poor Strother gets graffitied often, although it looks like someone tries to clean him up pretty regularly, too. Isn't that bizarre, a big mural of an actor most people have never heard of, right in the middle of a run-down mixed-use Hollywood neighborhood? It made my day. The walk back to the Metro seemed considerably shorter than the trek out to the mural. I need to come up with a plan for our next outing, and I suddenly feel as if the bar has been set very high indeed.