The Bookworm Sez: Lots to glean from 'Pardon My Hearse'

The Bookworm Sez: Lots to glean from ‘Pardon My Hearse’

The job you were hired to do and the job you do today sure are different.

The Old You, in fact, would only barely recognize the way things are done in the modern workplace: you’ve welcomed revolving competition, new technology, and alternate methods as they’ve arrived. For Allan Abbott & Gregory Abbott, that’s especially true but in their new book, “Pardon My Hearse” (c.2015, Craven Street Books, $16.95, 280 pages), they offer snapshots of the ways we’ve departed.

As a young member of The Greatest Generation, Allan Abbott grew up working. He “spent a great deal of time on scrap drives” during World War II, became a paperboy at age eleven, and started a business with a fellow classmate when the two of them were still in high school. That business never took off, but something clicked when the boys bought their first pre-owned hearse.

The “morbid-looking 1941 Packard” was purchased for use as a cheap camper but Abbott made money by selling rides and crystals found on camping trips. Later, when the Packard was sold, the partners bought two newer hearses and began delivering floral arrangements to funeral homes. It wasn’t long before someone asked them to pick up a body and, though they were “flying by the seats of (their) pants” and were barely out of their teens, the request led to a lifelong career.

Initially squeamish, Abbott and his partner were also open to learning. In a time when legalities were relaxed and privacy laws nonexistent, they observed autopsies, shadowed medical examiners on cases, and received help from other funeral directors who were happy to support them. One of their earlier responsibilities was filing Death Certificate paperwork, which they transported aboard motorcycles, and when other opportunities appeared, the two men seized them and were soon the go-to guys for Everything Funeral, including caskets, deliveries, removals, and modified hearses.

Hollywood A-Listers began to seek them out for limo rentals. Some of those same A-Listers became clients in death, though Abbott and his business partner served any Los Angeles citizen in need of funeral services. They did it every day, round the clock, for fifty years, even when the funeral guys needed funerals for their own.

If, as they say, stories are how we learn best, there’s a lot to learn inside “Pardon My Hearse.” Indeed, this book is like eavesdropping at a funeral director’s convention, with each tale outrageously outdoing the last.

That can be fun to read, but there are also several anecdotes that are unsettling. Authors Allan Abbott & Gregory Abbott dish on celebrity deaths that stick in the elder Abbott’s memory, as well as unusual funerals for everyday people — but they likewise share stories that raised my eyebrows, including tales of trespassing and collecting dead-celeb artifacts at odd times. That’s interesting stuff, yes, but also very wince-worthy.

And yet, this peek inside the funeral industry of yore is good for the names and facts that will intrigue Hollywood watchers and industry folks alike. Just beware, before you start it, that “Pardon My Hearse” is a little different …

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at bookwormsez@yahoo.com.

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