It’s one thing to read a book like “Hollywood Babylon” in the privacy of your own home and pore over the details of some dishy Hollywood tragedy, but to see it up close and in person and realize the human devastation, that’s another thing altogether. I was looking forward to seeing this as much as I was dreading it. I won’t lie; it was disturbing. And fascinating. Dearly Departed Tours just pulled off something really unusual. Combining exploitation and respect.
On April 23rd, Scott Michaels, founder of Dearly Departed Tours and Artifact Museum moved the business from its former location on Sunset Boulevard into a larger space across from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in order to accommodate his most recent acquisition, the Jayne Mansfield Death Car.
Now, under one roof, you can see the infamous death car, Mae West’s dentures, and Rock Hudson’s deathbed. Although Jayne Mansfield was only a passenger for a little over an hour, the image of the 1966 Buick Electra — peeled back like a sardine can in the infamous June 1967 accident — has become an instantly recognizable, impossible to forget (no matter how hard you try) image.
The old sign from the (prophetically-named, now closed) Tragedy in U.S. History Museum claimed that one could “Learn the Truth” about the car. It’s an old carny trick really — there’s very little to learn. The Mansfield decapitation urban legend is disproven by some cleverly arranged photographs, along with the documents of the Buick’s ownership history. Michaels explains: “Jayne died of a cranial avulsion — basically, she was scalped. People saw her wig on the dashboard and went for it.”
Michaels owns the weirdness of his world by instantly putting you at ease with his friendly, open demeanor, coupled with respect for the display artifacts themselves. “I don’t have millions of dollars to save a building, but I can scramble over a fence and grab a few bricks. It’s my way of preserving Hollywood history.”
The Dearly Departed Tours and Artifact Museum includes hundreds of bizarre pieces such as the door to the hotel room where Divine died in 1988. “I can practically reassemble Sharon Tate’s fireplace,” Michaels claims. “I don’t ‘get’ stamp or coin collecting. This is my thing. People who understand this type of history really get it. People who don’t, really really don’t.”
The museum is the perfect add-on to the already well-established and locally loved Dearly Departed Tours. Now in their thirteenth year, DDT’s Tragical History Tour of Deaths and Scandals has been voted Best in LA more than once by both the LA Weekly and Los Angeles Magazine.
Dearly Departed Tours and Artifact Museum is open daily at 5901 Santa Monica Blvd. across the street from Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Street Parking Only. (323) 466-3696. There is a separate admission charge.