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Friday April 19th 2019

Death Becomes Her | 1992

Death Becomes Her filming location: Greystone Park And Mansion, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles
Death Becomes Her location: the funeral home where Ernest works: Greystone Park And Mansion, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles

Robert Zemeckis’s FX-heavy, pleasingly dark comedy begins with fading star Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) appearing in a less-than-ecstatically received musical version of Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird Of Youth (Songbird!) on Broadway.

Supposedly at New York’s ‘Fairbanks Theatre’, the hilariously dreadful musical number was filmed in the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 West 8th Street, Midtown Los Angeles.

Death Becomes Her filming location: Wilshire Ebell Theatre, West 8th Street, Midtown, Los Angeles
Death Becomes Her location: Madeline Ashton stars in Songbird! on 'Broadway': Wilshire Ebell Theatre, West 8th Street, Midtown, Los Angeles

The theatre is one part of the Ebell Of Los Angeles, a women’s club which regularly provides locations for LA-based productions, including The Addams Family, Oscar-winner The Artist, Air Force One, Catch Me If You Can, Old School, Cruel Intentions, Darkman,The General’s Daughter, Ghost, Very Bad Things and The Wedding Planner. Coincidentally, it even turns up again as a hospital in two offbeat SFX fantasies both adapted by Eric Roth, Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button..

One audience member who is entranced by Madeline is mousy surgeon Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis) who, after assuring his fiancé Helen (Goldie Hawn) that she has nothing to fear, promptly marries the glamorous actress.

Years later, Helen is eaten up with seething resentment, while Ernest and Madeline have settled into a financially comfy but grim married life in Beverly Hills.

Despite that prominently featured sign, their luxurious mansion is 1125 Oak Grove Avenue, San Marino, east of Pasadena. The leafy suburb isn’t the Hills, but it’s not exactly the wrong side of the tracks either.

Ernest’s stultifying job is now as a mortician, making dead bodies appear to glow with good health, at the ‘Forest Lawn Mortuary’. Regular location spotters will instantly recognize this as the Greystone Park & Mansion, 905 Loma Vista Drive – which really is in Beverly Hills.

The extensive formal grounds – though not the mansion itself – are open to the public, free of charge, and are also TV and movie favourites.

The mansion has appeared in Ghostbusters, as the 'New York' penthouse of the Green Goblin in all three of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films, was the interior of the ‘Pasadena’' mansion in The Big Lebowski, a hospital in Star Trek Into Darkness, Swan's mansion in Brian de Palma’s Phantom Of The Paradise, Abigail's (Diane Kruger) home in National Treasure: Book of Secrets as well as Jack Nicholson’s 'Massachusetts' home in The Witches of Eastwick and the mansion of Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. Its other screen appearances include All Of Me, The Disorderly Orderly, Indecent Proposal and There Will Be Blood. .

Greystone once before became a funeral home. It was ‘Whispering Glades’ in Tony Richardson’s 1965 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novel The Loved One.

When Madeline and Ernest are invited to the launch party for Helen’s book, Forever Young, they arrive at the Cocoanut Grove entrance of the old Ambassador Hotel, a classic midtown hotel with an enviable history.

The Ambassador never quite recovered from being the site of the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 and creased business as a hotel in 1989. It lived on as a frequent movie location until in 2006 it was, unbelievably, demolished. It stood at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard.

Madeline is mortified to discover that the formerly frumpy Helen has morphed into a svelte siren and goes into a frantic meltdown in her car on Sunset Boulevard, in front of that famous gate to posh Bel-Air.

In desperation, she turns to the enigmatic Lisle Von Rhuman (Isabella Rossellini), who offers a mysterious but enormously pricey anti-ageing treatment.

Disappointingly, Von Rhuman’s extravagant Gothic-Deco castle at ‘1091 Rue de Fleur’ is nothing more than the movie Art Director’s invention.

Death Becomes Her filming location: Saint James' Episcopal Church, Wilshire Boulevard, Midtown Los Angeles
Death Becomes Her location: the memorial service for Ernest Menville: Saint James' Episcopal Church, Wilshire Boulevard, Midtown Los Angeles

The elixir works like a dream but, in the best tradition of moral tales, the gift of eternal youth comes with a dark side, as both Madeline and Helen discover.

The epilogue sees the two of them attending a memorial for Ernest, who seems to have gone on to a shorter though more fulfilling life after refusing to take the magic potion.

The service is held in Saint James' Episcopal Church, 3903 Wilshire Boulevard, Midtown LA, but the exterior shots demanded that precarious flight of steps.

So the church entrance is that of Mount St Mary's College, 12001 Chalon Road, Bel Air – famous as the ‘Institute for the Very, Very Nervous’ in Mel Brooks' 1977 Hitchcock pastiche High Anxiety.