We arrived in Los Angeles for the stamp show my mother had to work, but I was more motivated to escape the snowy, cold Pennsylvania winter. We arrived a couple days early to explore the region, including numerous cemeteries and tourist locations. Along the cemeteries on the list of places to visit was Westwood Memorial Park located in the Westwood region of Los Angeles.
The entrance to the cemetery is hidden by the buildings that surround it and it took us two attempts to locate the entrance on Glendon Avenue. Entering through the gates of the cemetery, I was surprised at the number of people wandering the grounds. Amid the hectic city outside, the grounds seemed so peaceful and out of place. Stepping out of the vehicle, I was amazed that the traffic that flowed just a short distance away could not be heard.
The official name of the cemetery, which covers two and a half acres, is Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park. The cemetery was first used in the late 1800s and was established as Sunset Cemetery in 1905. In 1926 the name was officially changed to Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. In 1952, the first of the cemetery’s ten mausoleums was built on the grounds and in 1961 the chapel, located on the southern edge of the cemetery was erected. Note: While the change of names in the early years of the cemetery is recorded on their website, I’m not sure when the name changed to the present one occurred.
The one grave which brings thousands of visitors to this sacred piece of ground rests in a mausoleum on the northeastern side of the cemetery – Marilyn Monroe. Her stone is stained with the kisses and touches of those who have visited it over the years, and though I paused at it, hers was actually low on the graves to visit while at this cemetery. I was surprised at the number of people who drove in, walked over to her grave and immediately left while we wandered the grounds.
I continued past her resting place to a spot near the entrance to the cemetery. There, just a short distance from the edge of the road, was the grave of comedian, movie and television star Don Knotts. I called over to my mother and motioned for her to join me.
“You found him?” mom asked as she walked over and stood looking at the stone.
“You know the characters?” I asked. I had to admit I did not know most of them.
“That’s Barney Fife,” mom announced at the character in the center. “And the one in the right corner looks like him. The one on the top is The Reluctant Astronaut, but I don’t remember the character’s name.”
I would later discover the characters on the plaque are mainly from his early films. In the center is Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show, probably his best-known character. Starting in the upper right-hand corner and going counter clockwise are Roy Fleming from The Reluctant Astronaut, The Denver Kid from Hot Lead, Cold Feet, Henry Limpit from The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Luther Heggs from The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, and finally a picture of himself.
Born Jesse Donald Knotts in Morgantown, West Virginia on July 21, 1924, Don developed his abilities as a ventriloquist and comedian at a young age. He left home for New York City to become a comedian, but returned home after failing to find success.
Upon his return home Knotts attended West Virginia University, but after finishing his freshman year, he joined the U.S. Army, toured the Pacific Islands as a part of the G.I. variety show called Stars and Gripes. Upon returning home, in 1947 he married his college sweetheart, Kathryn Metz. Knotts graduated in 1948 and turned his attention once again to New York City, where he had success in numerous small parts.
In 1955, Knotts debuted on Broadway in the hit comedy No Time For Sergeants, the first time he would find himself acting with Andy Griffith. Knotts began appearing on NBC’s The Steve Allen Show and when the show relocated to Hollywood, he moved with it.
In 1958, Knotts reprised his role in the film version of No Time for Sergeants with Griffith. He would act along with Griffith in The Andy Griffith Show from 1960 to 1965, portraying Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife. Over the five seasons on the show, Knotts won three Emmy Awards for outstanding performance in a supporting role. In later guest appearances, Knotts would earn two more Emmys.
1964 marked the end of Don and Kathryn’s marriage and the beginning of his film career. His first leading role was in 1964’s The Incredible Mr. Limpet. He followed it with The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Reluctant Astronaut, and The Shakiest Gun in the West. From 1970 to 1975, he appeared in numerous made-for-television movies and shows, but in 1975 he appeared alongside Tim Conway in Disney’s The Apple Dumpling Gang. He and Conway would team-up for a number of Disney films, including The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, and Gus. The duo would make their final appearance in the 1980 film Private Eyes.
Knotts returned to television in Three’s Company, which aired from 1979 to 1984, as the landlord Ralph Furley. It was during this time he met he second wife, Loralee Cuchna. The two would marry in 1974 and divorced in 1983.
Knotts revived the character Barney Fife in 1986’s Return to Mayberry. Two years later he rejoined Andy Griffith in the courtroom drama series, Matlock as Matlock’s neighbor Les Calhoun. After the show ended in 1992, Knotts mostly did voice roles in various movies and television shows, while continuing to appear on stage. In 1998 he returned briefly to the big screen as the mysterious TV repairman who ushers two teenagers back into the world of the 1950s television in Pleasantville.
Don married for the third and final time in 2002. He married Frances Yarborough and the two remained together until his death. He was eighty-one years old when he passed on February 24, 2006.
With people walking around the cemetery, searching for the stones of the Hollywood crowd, we did not want to linger too long at any one grave. We finished paying our respects and began to search for the other notable burials I desired to pay my respects to who rest in this sacred piece of ground.