We must… educate the people in sterility. We might have a little pageant in its honour….
—Black Mischief (108)
In 1947 MGM wanted to make a movie of Brideshead Revisited; its author Evelyn Waugh had no interest but played along and got an expenses-paid trip for himself and his second wife to Los Angeles. He brought his violent prejudice against the U.S. with him (Stannard 186) and quickly figured out the movie would never be made: "The trick was to keep the Americans on the wrong foot while he imbibed Hollywood's extraordinary atmosphere" (Stannard 189). The focus of his amazement was Forest Lawn Memorial Park, the cemetery in Glendale that managed to offend his aesthetic and religious sensibilities at one go.
In a magazine article about Forest Lawn published later that year Waugh begins amusingly by viewing Los Angeles as an archaeologist of 2947 decrypting his findings — e.g., "the idol Oscar — sexless image of infertility," "a temple designed in the shape of a Derby hat" (Essays 331-2). It becomes clear, however, that Waugh feels Forest Lawn is only a symbol of all he found amiss in Southern California and America. Sadly, the writing that resulted is not his freshest. As Edmund Wilson wrote of The Loved One, the padded-out fictional version of the Forest Lawn article, "[It] suffers a little, for an American, from being full of familiar American jokes which Evelyn Waugh has just discovered" (304).
Thus, Waugh's description in the article of the "flimsy multitude of architectural styles" comes a decade or so behind similar descriptions in Dodsworth and The Day of the Locust. At points this material descends to the downright rubbishy, his complaints, for instance, about "the pathological sloth of the hotel servants," and about sun-seeking retirees who "warm their old bodies and believe themselves alive, opening their scaly eyes two or three times a day to browse on salads and fruits" (Essays 335).
In the article, Waugh is on firmer ground on the topic of religious expression as evidenced by the design of Forest Law and yet still manages to be wrongheaded. After noting the purposeful absence of deciduous trees, Waugh quotes from the Art Guide of Forest Lawn With Interpretations to the effect, "The cemeteries of the world cry out man's utter hopelessness in the face of death… Here [in contrast] sorrow sees no ghastly monuments, but only life and hope," to which he snorts in reply, "The Christian visitor might here remark that by far the commonest feature of other grave-yards is still the Cross, a symbol in which previous generations have found more Life and Hope than in the most elaborately watered evergreen shrub" (Essays 332). Here Waugh considerably underestimates the importance of the tree in Christian semiology. As Simon Schama has written, "Why should Christianity have denied itself the irresistible analogy between the vegetable cycle and the theology of sacrifice and immortality? Had it been adamantly ascetic, Christianity would have been unique among the religions of the world in its rejection of arboreal symbolism" (218).