The DougBlog
"Et sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!" —Baudelaire

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hooray for Hollywood, Part 2: The “Barber to the Stars”, my connection to royalty, and lots of famous dead people

Growing up, I often heard about one celebrity in our family: Harry Drucker, “Barber to the Stars”.

He was married to Millie Tischler, sister of my Great Grandpa Morris. They met in New York after emigrating from different parts of Eastern Europe and eventually moved to LA. He opened his barbershop in 1936 and became the preferred barber of many big stars of the day. Regular customers included Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, Orson Welles, Frank Sinatra, George Raft, and Bugsy Siegel. Ronald Reagan got his hair cut by Uncle Harry for 50 years—even after he was President. He was even the subject of an article in LIFE Magazine:

The members of the Rat Pack got their hair cut there, so they used it to film the opening scene of the original (1960) Ocean’s Eleven—and Uncle Harry is one of the extras. He was most famous for the “Invisible Haircut”, which kept your hair looking neat and clean without it being obvious that you just had it cut—a subtlety that was essential for actors while filming their movies:

Originally in Hollywood, the shop eventually moved to Beverly Hills, and in 1959 moved to Wilshire Boulevard. Uncle Harry died in 1998 and the shop became “Gornik and Drucker”. Although I never met Uncle Harry, I decided I would at least go for a haircut at this historic establishment:

Well...I got there to find that they had just recently moved! Gornik & Drucker is now located in the lobby of the chichi Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills. But this had clearly just happened, as I was able to peer in the windows:

So that was a little sad but at least I made it while the place was still more or less intact and get a sense of this establishment that holds so much history—both for Hollywood and for my family.

(If you want to read a bit more about Uncle Harry, you can click here to read his obituary from Variety or right-click/option+click here down download a PDF of the 1949 LIFE Magazine article about him.

Now, in case you don’t think being related to the Barber to the Stars confers enough glory on my family name, I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out the fact that—also thanks to Uncle Harry—I’m related to royalty! That’s right, Harry’s daughter Rosalind married produce mogul Mel Finerman, who was known as ”The Lettuce King of California:

But I digress...since I never got to meet Harry and Millie while they were living, I figured I would at least head over to Hillside Memorial Gardens for a “You’re-A-Little-Too-Late” family reunion. I started out by visiting Harry and Millie:

But as the most prominent Jewish cemetery in LA, Hillside is also the final resting place of many Jewish celebrities, so I trekked about to visit some of them as well. The most visible resident is Al Jolson:

Yes, that entire rotunda and the cascading waterfall is his grave. Al Jolson? Really? It’s kinda ridiculous. I’ve been to the tombs of Presidents and Kings that weren’t nearly as elaborate as this:

Under the rotunda is a mosaic of Moses that says, ”THE MAN RAISED UP HIGH” and ”THE SWEET SINGER OF ISRAEL”:

But wait...there’s more! At the top is a statue and his sarcophagus:

Even more than everything else about this ridiculously elaborate tomb, the sarcophagus did not sit well with me. I know I’m not the most observant Jew, but above ground burial is absolutely forbidden in Judaism—Jews must be buried in the soil so their body can return to the earth and their soul can be at peace. So I found it very disconcerting that at least half of this Jewish cemetery featured above ground internments. Like that of stooge Moe Howard:

“Uncle Miltie” Berle:

And Southern Jew Dinah Shore:

On the other hand, Shelley Winters opted for the more traditional burial:

Jack Benny had a pretty big tomb:

Some people left pennies on his grave. I’d like to believe that this is because of his running gag that he was so cheap rather than some kind of anti-Semitic slur:

Raspy Night Court bailiff Selma Diamond:

Animator of many (including Bugs Bunny and the Pink Panther) Friz Freleng:

Composer of “Popeye the Sailor Man”, Sammy Lerner:

Comedic actor, popular actress, and real-life couple Tom Poston and Suzanne Pleshette (well, Pleshette-Gallager-Poston):

Here’s where you may start to notice that many of the more traditional underground burials seem to have what looks like a little round hatch with a screw top. I never figured out exactly what this is. It kinda looks like a gas tank. Maybe it’s an air-hole, “just in case”? Or maybe it’s a little door so the ghosts can more easily go in and out at night? Well, in any’s old tyme entertainer Eddie Cantor:

Renowned Hollywood makeup artist Max Factor:

America’s “Toastmaster General” George Jessel:

Television king Aaron Spelling:

Dick Shawn, who played Lorenzo Saint-Dubois (“My friends call me LSD”) and Adolph Hitler in the The Producers:

Game Show entrepreneur Mark Goodson (as a marketer, I appreciate his consistent branding—even in death):

And in the “Who knew they were Jewish?!” department...Michael Landon (well I knew he was Jewish, but maybe you didn’t):

...Lorne Greene (whose real name was Chaim! Chaim Green! Doesn’t exactly gel well with his Cartwright persona...):

...Sorrell ”Boss Hogg” Booke:

...and, yes, it’s true, Nell Carter:

Finally, Hillside has one thing in common with New Montefiore Cemetery in Long Island (where some of my other family members reside)—subterranean bathrooms:

I find this almost as disturbing as the above ground burials. I don’t think any guest accommodations at a cemetery should be underground. Do I really need to pee at eye-level with the residents?



  • Very well presented. Good Job!!

    By Blogger daleferdinand, at 8:22 PM  

  • Hi Doug, great posting and many memories. I am Mel finerman's son and grandson to Harry Thanks Brian Finerman

    By Blogger Brian Finerman, at 2:24 PM  

  • Quite interesting how any Jew could be concerned with Jewish burial practices when they led lives that were so un-Orthodox. JINO. Jews In Name Only, that's Hollyweird.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:18 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home