I hopped on board of the cozy, air conditioned van that was scheduled to zip us around Los Angeles. But we weren't on a Starline Bus to see where the stars lived. We were going to see where Marilyn Monroe died, where the Manson murders took place and other sites where stars and civilians met their tragic end. I was on the Dearly Departed Tour.
Scott Michaels is the founder of the Dearly Departed Tour, and his enthusiasm was infectious. So wrapped up he is in the history of Hollywood, that he repeatedly derailed the basic stops to show us where the stars lived, died and behaved badly. Our tour runneth over by a half an hour, giving us more than our money's worth. He gets a twinkle in his eye when talking about death. He spoke fast and excitedly when showing us the houses that had been razed when Howard Hughes took that ill-fated flight through West Los Angeles. The film version shows Leonardo DiCaprio smashing through mansions, sparking fires and tearing up lawns with his airplane.
He was wistful when pointing out the soon-to-be razed Ambassador Hotel, where Robert Kennedy was shot. He was quiet and reverential when showing us homes where Manson murders took place. He didn't even want to waste a bathroom break on us, and took us to the public restroom in a Beverly Hills park where singer George Michael was busted for soliciting sex.
But his fascination was a little intense when it came to a nondescript auto body shop in Hollywood. Apparently, it was where James Dean got his motorcycle or convertible worked on. Our tour guide drove by expecting the building to be standing, and when he saw a shamble of crumbled brick, he pulled over and staggered out into the parking lot. He looked lost. We followed behind him as we always did. He turned to us and continued with his James Dean story, urging us to pick up a brick and keep it as a souvenir . He did so, and solemnly. I looked at my date and thought, "Dude, I don't want to take home a brick. It's...a brick." But one by one, we all lifted a brick from the rubble while he watched. I tossed mine out later, as I am sure the others did too.
But I can't knock him for it. Sure, he held a brick like it was baby Jesus, but it was that same enthusiasm and childlike wonder that made the Dearly Departed tour top notch. It's a must-do.
Elizabeth Short (A.K.A. The Black Dahlia) before her death