Grave Spotlight

In a way, cemeteries are like libraries. They contain the final resting places of thousands of people, each with their own separate and unique story. Some of these people are famous, and their stories are well known. Most are not, but that doesn't make their life any less interesting or their stories any less worthy of being told and remembered.

Periodically, we'll spotlight a different Los Angeles-area grave. Every person has a story, and we will use this space to tell their story, through their final resting place.

After your tour of the virtual cemetery, don't forget to visit the official store (or the brand new downtown location) on your way out and pick up a souvenir or two. Thanks!

Carole Landis

(Jan. 1, 1919 - July 5, 1948)

March 25, 2010 -- A young teen-ager from a tiny town in the Midwest comes to Hollywood with dreams of becoming an actress. With her talent and striking good looks, she finally gets her big break. But, after a few short years of stardom, she's eventually dropped by her studio, slips back into supporting roles, and her personal life is falling apart. At 29, she's found dead in her home, an apparent victim of suicide.

The story of Carole Landis is one of Hollywood's true tragedies.

Landis was born Frances Lillian Mary Ridste in town of Fairchild, in central Wisconsin. Landis dropped out of high school and married her 19-year-old neighbor, Irving Wheeler, but the marriage was quickly annulled because Landis was only 15. Landis and Wheeler re-married, and the couple moved to California. Landis worked as a hula dancer in a nightclub in San Francisco, and also sang with a dance band. In 1936, she dyed her hair blonde, moved to Hollywood and changed her name, in honor of her favorite actress, Carole Lombard.

Landis signed a contract with Warner Bros., and made her film debut as an extra in "A Star is Born" (1937). She appeared in nearly 30 films during the next two years in mostly small or uncredited roles, including "A Day at the Races" (1937), "Broadway Melody of 1938" (1937), "Varsity Show" (1937) and "The Adventurous Blonde" (1937).

Landis' big break came when director Hal Roach cast her with Victor Mature in "One Million B.C." (1940). Landis next appeared in "Turnabout" (1940), co-starring with Adolphe Menjou and Mary Astor; "Mystery Sea Raider" (1940); "Road Show" (1941), again co-starring with Menjou; "Topper Returns" (1941), with Joan Blondell, Roland Young and Billie Burke; "Moon Over Miami" (1941), with Don Ameche, Betty Grable and Robert Cummings; "Dance Hall" (1941), with Cesar Romero; "I Wake Up Screaming" (1941), with Grable and Mature; "A Gentleman at Heart" (1942), with Romero and Milton Berle; "My Gal Sal" (1942), with Mature and Rita Hayworth; "It Happened in Flatbush" (1942), with Lloyd Nolan; and "Secret Command" (1943), with Pat O'Brien and Chester Morris. Landis was equally successful in comedies, dramas and musicals and, unlike some actresses whose voices were dubbed by someone else for the musical numbers, Landis also did her own singing.

Landis toured extensively with the USO during World War II, helping to sell War Bonds and entertaining the troops, in the United States, Europe, North Africa and the South Pacific. Landis traveled more than 100,000 miles during the war, and reportedly spent more time entertaining the troops than any other actress. She wrote about her experiences in a best-selling book titled, "Four Jills in a Jeep," and also starred in the film version of the book in 1944, playing herself, along with Kay Francis, Martha Raye, Mitzi Mayfair, Jimmy Dorsey, Phil Silvers, Betty Grable, Alice Faye and George Jessel.

In 1945, Landis married Broadway producer W. Horace Schmidlapp -- her fourth husband, but her fifth marriage. In March 1948, she initiated divorce proceedings against Schmidlapp, but the divorce was not final at the time of her death. In the late 1940s, Landis had slipped back to playing supporting roles in smaller films. She was eventually dropped by 20th Century-Fox studio, and was involved in a well-publicized affair with actor Rex Harrison, who was married at the time to actress Lilli Palmer.

When Harrison told Landis that he wasn't going to get a divorce and he had decided to end the relationship, and with her career slumping, Landis, 29, committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills in her home in Pacific Palisades on July 5, 1948. That's the official story, anyway. Some members of Landis' family believe that Landis was murdered, and that Harrison might have been involved. He was the last person to see her alive, and he discovered her body the next morning.

On the Carole Landis - Hollywood Legend blog, Landis' great-niece Tammy Powell writes, "My beautiful Aunt Carole died in 1948 when she was 29. The official story is that she committed suicide because her boyfriend Rex Harrison would not marry her. I want you to know that my family has never believed that it was a suicide. We are 100 percent convinced that Rex Harrison is in some way responsible for her death and may have even murdered her."

After Landis' death, the Los Angeles Times published photographs of a police detective crouched next to her body, which was found on the floor of her bathroom.

Hundreds of people attended Landis' funeral service at the Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn in Glendale -- including Rex Harrison and his wife. Her pallbearers included Cesar Romero and Pat O'Brien. Landis' family wanted her to have a Catholic burial, but the church refused because they thought her death was a suicide. The epitaph on Landis' grave marker, which was written by her sister Dorothy, reads, "To our beloved Carole whose love, graciousness and kindness touched us all -- who will always be with us in the beauties of this earth until we meet again."

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