Twice a week an unmarked, bronze-colored van pulls into L.A.’s Westwood Memorial Park. Its mission: to deliver half a dozen long-stemmed roses to Marilyn Monroe’s crypt. They are a token of love from her second husband, Joe DiMaggio. Soon after the star’s death, DiMaggio asked Parisian Florists to bedeck his ex-wife’s grave with her favorite flowers—red roses. Since then DiMaggio, now 67, has paid out thousands for the bouquets that now cost $3 per blossom. The store has not missed a cemetery run.
Louis Alhanati, proprietor of Parisian Florists, handles other graveyard orders from bereaved stars. On the anniversary of his death (Nov. 15), Tyrone Power’s widow, Linda Christian, has a cross of white carnations placed on her late husband’s grave. And until she recently decided the cost was too steep, Elizabeth Taylor ordered one red rose delivered three times a week to the plot of her father, Francis Taylor. She now sends flowers once a year. Over the years Alhanati has also supplied flowers for the likes of Charles Laughton, Lucille Ball, Katharine Hepburn and Janet Gaynor. “The relationship with our customers is confidential,” he insists, “like a doctor’s.”
Last year Alhanati hired Jim Pierce, 28, as one of three deliverymen and made him in part responsible for the Monroe graveyard run. During the seven-and-a-half-mile drive from the shop to the cemetery, Pierce keeps the van’s air conditioner pointed at the flowers to keep them from wilting. Once there, he removes the old blooms, throws them into a nearby trash barrel disguised as a tree stump, and rinses out the urn. On a recent visit, Pierce put a few flowers that were still fresh on Natalie Wood’s grave, just 20 paces away. It would have been Wood’s 44th birthday.
Pierce, a native of Oklahoma City, moved to Hollywood in 1975. Since he signed up with Alhanati, he has personally delivered flowers to the homes of Barbra Streisand, Peter Falk and Farrah Fawcett. “But most of the time,” Pierce frankly admits, “I don’t meet them. I just see their hired help.”
Some 10,000 still flock to Monroe’s gravesite every year. But as far as Alhanati knows, DiMaggio has made only one short visit in 20 years. Although Pierce has seen reruns of the actress’s films, he insists he is not a Monroe cultist. Still, while he hoses out the urn at the pink marble crypt, he confesses that sometimes he communes with the late sex goddess. “I’m not the only one,” says Pierce. “I always see people talking to her. They leave cards all the time. I just throw them out.”