What happened to George Tobias, by Bob Siler
It was in the wee hours of February 26, 1980. The ringing of the phone awakened Warren McGill, an employee in the Service Department at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park. It was the cemetery mortician who worked the graveyard shift and he needed someone to make a pick up at Cedars Sinai Hospital. Warren was on his way. He dropped his car off at Mt. Sinai and picked up a 1977 Ford station wagon that was used to transport bodies from the hospital to the cemetery and headed out into the dark February night.
Warren made his pick up, strapped George Tobias onto a gurney and was on his way back to Mt.. Sinai when he had a minor traffic accident at the corner of Sierra Bonita and Sunset Blvd, in Hollywood. When Warren got out of the car to exchange insurance information with the other driver, he left the keys in the ignition. This was something that all of us in the Service Department did. Whenever one of us would drive one of the cars around the cemetery, when we got out, we left the keys in the ignition. It was a habit. But, it was a habit that would be broken after this night’s events.
While Warren was talking to the other driver, two men jumped into the station wagon and took off, unaware that they had a back seat passenger, Mr. Tobias. They had driven only a few blocks when they discovered that they were not alone. The car came to a screeching stop at the corner of Sierra Bonita and Franklin avenues where the thieves abandoned it. They ran screaming east on Franklin. Warren and his George finally made it back to Mt. Sinai.
When we showed up for work that morning, we had no idea about Warren’s late night adventure. An employee meeting was held and everyone was informed as to what had happened, and who the directory was, and that the cemetery would soon be over run by the press. We were not to talk to anyone. There was a chance that Tobias’s family would sue the cemetery and they didn’t want anymore trouble.
The National Enquirer showed up and wanted to interview Warren. Warren told them that if he talked to them or if they used his name he would be fired. To the Enquirer’s credit, they didn’t use his name.
A memorial service for Tobias was held later that day. He was always one of my favorite character actors and I asked my boss if I could be apart of the service. He slapped me on parking detail, which meant that I showed the guests where to park. It was a hot afternoon as I sat in the little booth outside Tanach Chapel. About an hour before the service was to start, a limo pulls into the parking area and the chauffeur walks up to the chapel doors, but when he find them locked he made his way to my little heat infested booth and asked when the doors would be unlocked. In about 45 minutes, I replied. Could they opened sooner, he questioned. I picked up the service phone and called the boss and asked him the same question. Sorry, he said, they would have to wait. I passed that onto the chauffeur, which did not make him a happy camper.
I’ll never forget what he said to me – “One does not make Mr. George Jessel wait in the back of a car”. He then stormed back to the limo. I told my boss what he had said. His response was that Jessel could wait just like everyone else. No one entered the chapel before the family.
It wasn’t long before the cars started arriving. Richard Boone and John Dehner were the only big names besides Jessel, that attended the service. A couple of character actors whose names I didn’t know, were there, and a lot of fans. But, I guess there were more World War II vets than anyone else. One gentleman told me that it was well known among servicemen that if they were in Los Angeles they were more than welcome to stay at George’s ranch instead of spending money on a hotel. Everything was on George, who couldn’t do enough for the men fighting for this country. Over then years George may have been forgotten by the industry, by the public, and by his fellowBewitched cast members (I didn’t see any of them at the service), but he wasn’t forgotten by the veterans, and many of them showed up to say good bye.
Jessel said the eulogy, and it seemed to go on forever. He talked about the Roosevelt’s and the Kennedy’s and this and that and every now and then he mentioned George Tobias’s name. I thought Jessel was drunk. We all thought he was drunk. When the service was finished and everyone had made their exit, my boss apologized to George’s brother, who was George’s only known relative and was there with his wife. His brother said that at first he was angry, very angry. But the more he thought about it the more it seemed to be a fitting end for George and that he could hear George laughing about his last adventure.
His brother could also laugh about it and see the humor in what had happened the night before. It could have been the plot to one of those B films made by Warner’s in the 1930s in which one of the character actors might have been George Tobias.
Great story Bob. Thank you so much for sharing it with us – Scott