There's nothing remarkable about the grave of Hollywood comedy writer Clyde Bruckman, who was buried in Santa Ana's Fairhaven Memorial Park and Mortuary. Far from the ornate angel statues and historic Civil War monuments in the adjacent county-run cemetery, Bruckman's plot is marked by a flat, faded stone that sits crooked in the ground and belies the story of a Hollywood legend.
Clyde Adolph Bruckman was born in 1894 and committed suicide in Santa Monica on January 4, 1955, ending a career that saw significant contributions to the early days of comedy films; rumor has it he was a highly sought-after gag man.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) credits him with penning 110 titles going back to the silent era that included short films and feature lengths from the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello and W.C. Fields. But the weightiest title in his portfolio is the 1926 Civil War comedy The General starring Buster Keaton, who along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd was one of tinseltown's first superstars.
Like Chaplin, Keaton wrote, filmed and acted in his movies–including The General–but according to IMDB, Keaton had some assistance with his masterpiece. In addition to crediting Bruckman with writing the film, he also shares director glory. Sadly, despite an impressive body of work, Bruckman's demons won out. According to a January 5, 1955 Los Angeles Times article, he borrowed a .45 caliber pistol from Keaton, saying he needed it for a hunting trip.
At 4:15 p.m. on Jan 4, Bruckman parked near the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and 20th St. in Santa Monica, entered the bathroom of a nearby restaurant, and shot himself in the head. The veteran writer typed a suicide letter to the "Gentlemen of the Santa Monica Police Department," asking them to deliver his corpse to the Los Angeles County Medical Association for experimental purposes.
"I have no money to pay for a funeral," his note read.
A document maintained in the archives of the Los Angeles Department of Coroner obtained by the Weekly shows Bruckman's wife Gladys signed for the release of his body, which was autopsied at Moeller, Murphy & Moeller Mortuary. According to the document, Bruckman had $8.89 on him at the time of his death.
Long after his death, Bruckman's story continued to float around Hollywood circles. In 1993 the X-Files aired an episode titled "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," featuring Peter Boyle as the titular character.
In 1999 Hollywood remade his 1925 screenplay Seven Chances, as the Bachelor, a romantic comedy starring Chris O'Donnell and Renèe Zellweger (the horror!)
Grave hunters take note, locating Bruckman's grave near the chain link fence on Fairhaven's southern edge is always a challenge. There's nothing to distinguish it from the countless rows of other nondescript stones. A steady stream of traffic speeds by on nearby Santa Clara Avenue, oblivious to the legend a few feet under their tires.
As such ol' Bruck probably doesn't get many visitors outside of the occasional cinephile or weirdo (cough). Doubtless, a typical day consists of the same: The constant hum of traffic and squirrels bounding across the lawns above his coffin, nibbling on daisies.