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 like us.
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 England.

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.

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