Movies Under the Stars, Surrounded by Tombs On Saturday nights during the summer in Los Angeles, film fans flock to see classic movies at a most unusual venue: surrounded by crypts at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It's part picnic, part lounge and a unique celebration of good cinema.
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Movies Under the Stars, Surrounded by Tombs

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Movies Under the Stars, Surrounded by Tombs

Movies Under the Stars, Surrounded by Tombs

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In Los Angeles, one of the places to be on Saturday nights is the cemetery. Specifically it's the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, final resting place of many movie greats, going back to Valentino.

As NPR's Ina Jaffe found out, the celebrity graveyard invites fans of classic films to watch them below and above the stars.

INA JAFFE reporting:

It's about 6:30 in the evening. The gates of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery will not open for another hour and there are already hundreds of people waiting in line on a gritty section of Santa Monica Boulevard. Tommy and Valerie Krause sit on beach chairs, a game of dominos on top of their picnic camper, something to pass the time before the screening of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

Mr. TOMMY KRAUSE (Los Angeles resident): We got here at 5:45 and we were wondering if that was too late or too early and by our position it seems like it was too late.

Ms. VALERIE KRAUSE (Los Angeles resident): It seems like every year you have to get here earlier and earlier.

JAFFE: Inside the cemetery gates, it's so green and so peaceful you can't believe you're in Los Angeles.

Mr. JOHN WYATT (Cinespia): This is Hattie McDaniel's grave, the first African American to win an Oscar.

JAFFE: John Wyatt's organization, called Cinespia, has been showing movies here for five years. As he cruises the grounds in a golf cart, it's clear he's come to know the place by heart.

Mr. WYATT: This is Mel Blanc's grave. Mel Blanc, who did all the voices for the Looney Tunes.

JAFFE: It says That's All Folks.

Mr. WYATT: That's his epitaph.

JAFFE: Wyatt is 32 years old, fell in love with old movies in high school and really wanted to find a way to share them with younger people.

Mr. WYATT: And I found maybe if there was an environment that was less stuffy, with drinking some cocktails, having some picnic dinner, having some music, some DJs, it might be a great way to present these.

JAFFE: Showing the Hollywood classics at this cemetery doesn't seem ghoulish to Wyatt. It seems right.

Mr. WYATT: I feel that this cemetery is so connected to Hollywood's past. There's so many historical figures buried here. And I feel like people coming here to see these films and be entertained by these films becomes almost a celebration of Hollywood film. It's very lively and very much amongst the living that these events take place.

JAFFE: When you see some of the tombs, you remember why many of the people buried here were referred to as Hollywood royalty. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. is interred in a white marble sarcophagus in a small pavilion. In front of it, swans and ducks glide on a reflecting pool. Behind it is a huge lawn where as many as 2,700 people eat, drink and party before the movie starts.

Mr. TONY MELLON SUNG(ph) (Los Angeles resident): Picnics have to be fabulous.

JAFFE: Says Tony Mellon Sung, who was here with a bunch of friends, including Ishmael al-Sharif(ph).

Mr. ISMAEL AL-SHARIF (Los Angeles resident): We have chicken with pasta, we have bean dip, chicken wings, brie, cheese with crackers, what else- we have dessert.

Unidentified Man #1: Brownies.

Mr. AL-SHARIF: Brownies.

Unidentified Man #2: Brownies.

Mr. AL-SHARIF: Brownies, so.

JAFFE: No one's appetite was diminished by the surroundings. Mark Zecca felt they were almost doing a good deed by being here.

Mr. MARK ZECCA (Los Angeles resident): I think the dead need company. They're very lonely here. And it's nice that we all come celebrate with them and watch a good movie together.

JAFFE: The movie begins when it gets dark. And this place wasn't designed for nighttime parties, so it gets really, really dark.

(Soundbite of Psycho)

JAFFE: The blank white wall of the large mausoleum makes a perfect screen for Tony Perkins and Janet Leigh.

(Soundbite of Psycho)

Mr. TONY PERKINS (Actor): (as Norman Bates) Well, if-if you want anything just tap on the wall. I'll be in the office.

Ms. JANET LEIGH (Actress): (As Marion Crane) Thank you, Mr. Bates.

Mr. PERKINS: Norman Bates.

JAFFE: Just that name sends a collective shudder through the crowd. A lot of the people who come here are regulars. Maybe some will be back here soon for that quintessential LA movie, Chinatown.

(Soundbite of Chinatown)

It stars Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and the late, great John Houston. He's buried here, too.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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