Greg Smith Interview
(Grave Line Tours: No Dying Business)
It is "the best tour in Los Angeles" claims US magazine and LA Weekly. It
is "the" tour in Los Angeles. It is Greg Smith's Grave Line Tours. For $30,
Grave Line Tours ushers you around Hollywood for a look at the "death styles
of the rich and famous." The tour lasts 2 and a half hours, and we almost forgot
the best part, you get to see the sights in one of two 1969 reconditioned hearses
Grave Line Tours has available.
We talked with Grave Line Tours owner Greg Smith about his unusual service.
Q. How do you get away with parking in front of some of the
homes you include on your tour, without being cited for creating a disturbance,
or creating a nuisance?
A. Well, here's the deal. It's public domain first of all. Anybody can drive
on the streets and point out whatever they want, which some of the competitive
tours do and not very accurately either. We're governed by the Public Utilities
Commission. They are the people we have to get our official permit from. We
pay them $500 a year for this privilege, plus a percentage of our gross, not
net, but gross. The city is well paid for our efforts. And, all the police
Everybody in town likes us. They know it's just a joke. It's received a very
warm welcome for such a cold subject too. Can you imagine? We don't go on the
people's property, we just drive by. It's my contention that why would you
buy a celebrity home and not expect it to turn up on a tour? Granted, you might
not have expected a hearse driving by; I would imagine that a celebrity having
lived there would bump up the value of the place. The only problem we have
is with the guy who lives in Robert Wagner's and Natalie Wood's old house.
RJ doesn't live there anymore. Robert sold the house right after Natalie's
death. The guy who lives there now is an absolute jerk. I've never had a problem
with him but some of the other sightseeing counselors, the drivers, have told
me that he comes out and chases and yells, and screams things like Don't ever
stop here again. If he harasses us much more, I'm gonna file a complaint against
him. You can't harass us. We don't harass him. A lot of people think it's in
bad taste. How are they gonna outlaw hearses in Beverly Hills, they wouldn't
be able to have funerals. I thought that we might have a lawsuit or two by
now. And of course the minute I get served the papers, I'm going right to the
Associated Press with a copy of it. That would be the best thing that could
happen. Even bad publicity is good.
Q. Are you surprised at the success of Grave Line Tours? Don't
you think it's strange that no one else thought of this before you?
A. I don't know if I'm surprised or not at it. What happened is in 19851 moved
from Kansas to Los Angeles. I was working for the California Special Olympics.
It was while I was working there that I got to thinking hey, I wonder where
Marilyn Monroe died? I wonder where Robert Mitchum was busted for pot? I wonder
where Alfalfa was shot? I started asking the obvious, where did Marilyn Monroe
die, to people, and nobody knew. And, I thought that was kind of odd. But,
then again, when you live in Kansas Citft nobody wants to go to the Truman
Library. It's like there. Big deal. So, I assumed that people here were rather
blasé about the whole celebrity death bit. Anyway, I finally found the
address where Marilyn Monroe died, and I went over there and looked at it.
It gave me the chills to think that Marilyn would drive in that driveway.
Then I wondered hey, I wonder where Curly lived? And more importantly where
is he buried? I'd like to take flowers to his grave. He was always my hero.
He was a very difficult one to find. I got a copy of his death certificate
which is how 11 got a lot of inside information. You know, death certificates
are also public domain. I didn't know Grave Line would be such high volume,
but I knew it would be popular. Through a series of coincidences I got a job
working for Buddy Hackett, and his wife at their home. So I'm working in Beverly
Hills at I the Hackett's house. Every 3 or 4 minutes these movie star home
vans would be driving by. Everybody was craning their necks and snapping away,
hoping to get a glimpse of Buddy walking out and picking up his paper. Incidentally,
you haven't lived until you've seen Buddy Hackett walking around in his jockey
shorts. It's not a pretty sight.
So, I knew it would be popular. I can't wait to start the next project. It's
going to totally eclipse Grave Line. It's not anything remotely connected with
it. It's a syndicated radio show. Somebody at some point had something similar
to Grave Line Tours, but nobody could remember the name of it. Nobody could
tell me anything about it. They thought someone had done some kind of a macabre
tour. Well, fortunately, I didn't listen to my father's advice and I copyrighted
the name Grave Line Tour. My corporation name is Titanic Enterprises, which
was funny until they found the Titanic. I thought it would be kind of fun to
get investors and ask them to invest in Titanic Enterprises. As it turned out,
I only needed my Dad to invest, and he put up the money. Also, since imitation
is the sincerest form of flattery, and I'm really glad that I copyrighted the
name because I've already been ripped off in New York and Washington, D.C.
You've probably heard about Scandals of D.C. There's also a tour in New York
City that's also in a hearse, a pink hearse I'm told. I forget the name of
it. The guy tells everybody he's my cousin, which he is not. I can guarantee.
People, who live in England, tell me there's actually a Grave Line Tours in
Q. Your mother thought you were "weird." What do you think
she'd say about your success today?
A. That's a true story. Nobody believes me. My mom was dying of cancer. My
brother had died nine months before that in a car accident in Tulsa. He died
Feb. 25, 1984. My mother died November 25,1984. We had live-in nurses that
were taking care of her. They woke me up at 6 a.m. and said your mother is
going to die. You better come downstairs and say good-bye. She didn't die that
morning like we thought. She called us in one by one that afternoon and said
to my little sister Leslie, 'Oh, you're my baby. You've brought me so much
joy and happiness. Thank-you." She called my other sister in, Georgia, and
said, 'You've blessed me with grandchildren. You're my first daughter. I love
you so much. Goodbye.' She calls me in, and remember there's nurses standing
around, and the priests, and the family, and our friends, neighbors, about
fifteen people in the room, she calls me over and says, 'Greg,' and I lean
down to get closer to her, and I said, 'Yes, mother.' And she goes, 'You're
weird. You're very weird.' Everybody started laughing. She'd be very proud
of me now.
Q. Can you franchise Grave Line Tours? There's only one Hollywood
and you're there. So, in order to grow, you'd have to charge more money or
conduct more tours every day, right?
A. Yeah, you're right. The only place we could do 'em is L.A., New York and
London. I'm making a good living now on it. Actually, we're going to be bringing
out printed information and a video pretty soon. So, when that happens, I'
probably raise the price even more. I'd like to get away from doing tours altogether,
and just let people drive their own trough. It's really a hassle to drive around.
It's really stressful. We'll see what happens on that one.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved