Pardon My Hearse: A Colorful Portrait of Where the Funeral and Entertainment Industries Met in Hollywood

BOOK: Pardon My Hearse: A Colorful Portrait of Where the Funeral and Entertainment Industries Met in Hollywood
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PARDON MY
HEARSE

A
COLORFUL
PORTRAIT OF
WHERE THE
FUNERAL
AND
ENTERTAINMENT
INDUSTRIES
MET IN
HOLLYWOOD

PARDON MY
HEARSE

A
COLORFUL
PORTRAIT OF
WHERE THE
FUNERAL
AND
ENTERTAINMENT
INDUSTRIES
MET IN
HOLLYWOOD

A
LLAN
A
BBOTT
&
G
REG
A
BBOTT

Pardon My Hearse
Copyright © 2015 by Allan Abbott and Greg Abbott. All rights reserved.

In memory of Kathy, the love of my life.
My deepest appreciation to Greg, whose expertise and countless hours of dedication made this book possible
.

Marilyn Monroe back cover image by Macfadden Publications.
All images copyright by the authors unless otherwise noted.

Published by Craven Street Books
An imprint of Linden Publishing
2006 South Mary Street, Fresno, California 93721
(559) 233-6633 / (800) 345-4447
CravenStreetBooks.com

Craven Street Books and Colophon are trademarks of
Linden Publishing, Inc.

ISBN 978-1-61035-248-2

135798642

Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file.

Contents

Foreword

Chapter 1: Humble Beginnings

Chapter 2: Our First Hearse

Chapter 3: Our Career Begins

Chapter 4: Life in the Fast Lane

Chapter 5: All in the Family

Chapter 6: Death Row

Chapter 7: Reluctant Hearse Driver

Chapter 8: Medical Examiner Misadventures

Chapter 9: Levity Rules

Chapter 10: Driving Myself Crazy

Chapter 11: Breaking New Ground

Chapter 12: What a Way to Go

Chapter 13: Man Does Not Live on Bread Alone

Chapter 14: Lessons on Freedom from Kathy’s Family

Chapter 15: Secrets of the Stars

Chapter 16: Marilyn Monroe

Chapter 17: Growing Needs in the Industry

Chapter 18: Behind the Scenes of the Rich and Famous

Chapter 19: Going into Overdrive

Chapter 20: Where Have All the Graveyards Gone?

Chapter 21: Another Day at the Office

Chapter 22: Flying into the Unknown

Chapter 23: New Beginnings

Chapter 24: The Sky’s the Limit

Chapter 25: Handling the Big One

Chapter 26: Dealing with the Unexpected

Chapter 27: Onward and Upward

Chapter 28: Embarrassing Moments

Chapter 29: Life Gets “Tegious”

Chapter 30: More Disasters Than an Irwin Allen Production

Chapter 31: Someone’s Gotta Do It

Chapter 32: Expanding Our Business

Chapter 33: Rental Carmageddon

Chapter 34: Not Your Typical Used-Car Salesman

Chapter 35: Digging in the Dirt

Chapter 36: Open to the Public

Chapter 37: Natalie Wood

Chapter 38: Curious Happenings

Chapter 39: The Devil’s in the Details

Chapter 40: Strange Traditions

Chapter 41: A Good Laugh in a Somber Profession

Chapter 42: Cremation and Consolidation

Chapter 43: New Ventures

Chapter 44: Lambs to the Slaughter

Chapter 45: A Family Affair

Chapter 46: Movies and TV Abound

Chapter 47: What Makes You the Expert?

Chapter 48: Downsizing

Chapter 49: Living in La La Land

Chapter 50: Lost Love

Chapter 51: Howard Hughes

Chapter 52: My Russian Fascination

Chapter 53: Some Memories Never Die

Chapter 54: Moving On

Chapter 55: Surviving Alaska

Chapter 56: Just Like Old Times

Chapter 57: Screwed by the Government

Chapter 58: An Odyssey to Remember

Index

Foreword

Enter the mysterious world few have known in this candid, true story of two young men’s lives in the funeral industry. Beginning in their late teens, Allan Abbott and Ronald Hast formed a lifelong friendship and business partnership as they hurtled through unusual challenges in an unlikely venture—the funeral and limousine business. You will be captivated by their inspiring, humorous, intriguing, graphic, and occasionally irreverent stories, spanning forty years of business in the Los Angeles area. These two young entrepreneurs took on the arduous challenge of breaking the monopoly held by three licensed limousine providers in Los Angeles, which opened the door for the numerous limousine services currently operating there today.

This book documents tragic and surreal disasters, including earthquakes, riots, and airline catastrophes. The book also demonstrates the vast differences between varied segments of our society in religious rites, the correlation of these practices and traditions, and how diverse cultures care for their dead.

Abbott personally transported some of Hollywood’s brightest stars, like Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sophia Loren, Connie Stevens (and her actor husband James Stacy), Robert Taylor, and Robert Vaughn. The book includes fascinating stories about overheard conversations, including one concerning actress Inger Stevens’s secret interracial marriage, which ended with that beautiful and talented Hollywood star’s tragic suicide.

Abbott & Hast Company provided funeral cars and overland transportation of human remains throughout California, Nevada, Oregon, and Arizona. The company provided support to over 100 funeral establishments in Southern California, where it assisted in conducting services for dozens of celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Ernie Kovacs, Jeffrey Hunter, Jack Benny, Jack Warner, Jimmy Durante, Mario Lanza, Karen Carpenter, Fernando Lamas, film director John Farrow, Los Angeles Chief of Police William H.
Parker, and the wife of former CIA director John McCone. Allan has been interviewed by magazines in Germany, Japan, and England, and has done on-camera interviews spread over the last forty-plus years regarding his participation in every aspect of Marilyn Monroe’s funeral.

The book will also take you behind the scenes to learn intimate details surrounding macabre newspaper headlines, such as two friends whose deaths became cold-case homicides that would take years to solve. It also delves into the strange circumstances surrounding the death one of America’s wealthiest and most well known businessmen, Howard Hughes. This uniquely vivid portrait of the mysterious funeral industry proves that in life as well as in death, truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

—Karen Reider, former editor of
Four Corners Magazine

1
Humble Beginnings

My mother’s plans to spend the holiday at home got bombed by my own sneak attack, four years before the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor. Her anticipated delivery date of December 7, 1937, had come and gone with nary a peep out of me until the 28
th
of the month, in a beautiful downtown Burbank maternity hospital. This procrastination on my part saved me from having to celebrate my birthday each year on the anniversary of December 7, 1941—“A date which will live in infamy.”

My parents, brother, and I lived humbly in a middle-class Los Angeles neighborhood. When World War II started I was only 2, but as it progressed I couldn’t help but hear about it continually and experience its effects on the population. The sights and sounds of the war were everywhere. For a young boy, it was an exciting time.

We practiced for blackouts by going into our windowless hallway with our gas masks and closing all the doors. We could see barrage balloons in the skies from our backyard, and almost any night you could go outside and see searchlights combing the sky. There was great speculation that LA may be a strategic target because of its many industries supplying war-related materials, including a great deal of aircraft manufacturing.

We would witness numerous types of aircraft in the sky. There would often be groups of single-engine fighter planes heading east that made an unforgettable sound. The P-38s, with their double hulls, were one of the first twin-engine fighters seen in the skies over LA. These aircraft carved out their own place in history when a small squadron of them intercepted and destroyed Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s aircraft during an inspection tour in the Solomon Islands.

The most surprising thing we ever saw in the sky was the Lockheed prototype of the famous flying wing propeller-driven aircraft, which was never produced in quantity because it needed a jet engine and jet technology was still in its infancy. However, it did serve as the inspiration for the B-2 stealth bomber five decades later.

Every kid in the neighborhood spent a great deal of time on scrap drives collecting prodigious amounts of anything made of metal, cotton, and newspapers. My dad even turned bacon grease in to the butcher each week because it was used in the production of explosives. Meanwhile, he used ration stamps for difficult-to-acquire items like sugar, meat, and coffee. Many things, such as leather goods or anything made of rubber, were in short supply or completely unavailable. Even some new expressions were born, like “kicking the tires” when you were about to purchase a used car, because all of the natural rubber went toward the war effort. Tires and other rubber products were produced using synthetics of substandard quality. You were lucky if your new shoes lasted two months.

My father had received $2,000 mustering-out pay when he returned at the end of World War I, which he used to buy the house in which I grew up. When the
Los Angeles Times
ran a photo during my elementary school years, in commemoration of the Great War’s end, my father submitted an image of himself. As he sat in his easy chair, with my brother and me on either side, he pointed his pipe to a famous
Times
front page headlined with the armistice signing. He won the contest.

BOOK: Pardon My Hearse: A Colorful Portrait of Where the Funeral and Entertainment Industries Met in Hollywood
3.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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