People do one of three things when they meet a female mortician: take a step back, begin asking questions or flee.
“In what other line of work do you tell someone what you do and get such violent reactions?” said Shannon Conlon.
Shannon and her brother, Jeff, run One-Run Entertainment, a documentary television and film company based in Los Angeles. Their latest show is about females in the funeral industry and will discuss what motivates women to join the profession and how they maintain zesty social lives.
“For the last ten years the industry has primarily been dominated by women,” said Shannon, “but the perception has not caught on. Everyone still thinks it’s some crazy old man.”
In 1971, 95 percent of students entering mortuary schools were male, and the majority of them were sons of funeral home directors, according to statistics from the American Board of Funeral Service Education. Now, nearly 60 percent of enrollees are female. Last semester, at Cypress College of Mortuary Science, in Los Angeles, three-quarters of the students were women and not one was from a traditional funeral family.
Cypress is the only mortuary school in Southern California, which makes it prime pickings for One-Run’s show. Ideally, the show will feature a woman who has just graduated mortuary school, a woman who has just gotten her first funeral job and a woman who has been working in the business for some time. The flier calling for applicants, which was sent by the California Funeral Directors Association to funeral homes across the state, says the show is looking for “fun, outgoing women with a zest for life, that just so happen to work in the business of death.”
The day after the notice went out, One-Run received calls from about 70 women, said Shannon. Some were extroverts and some were shy. Some called just to thank them for doing the show in the first place. “The women we come across are not Goths and they are not weird,” said Shannon. “They are normal, fun young woman.”
“Like the girl next door,” added Jeff.
And what draws women to the profession?
Some are profoundly affected by the recent death of a loved one and some are curious about mortality. Other women, after having attended poorly handled funerals, are bent on doing better themselves. “They all love what they do,” said Shannon. “I never talked to anyone who was in any way disgruntled, or even ho-hum about it.”
The show will not be a contest-oriented reality TV show, nor will it mirror either the popular HBO death industry drama, “Six Feet Under”, which documents a fictional family-run funeral home in Los Angeles or A & E’s “Family Plots”, which chronicles an actual family-run San Diego mortuary. One-Run’s show, the Conlon’s point out, addresses the fact that the family-run, male-dominated model is no longer the standard.
Shannon and Jeff grew up in Seattle. Two weeks after graduating high school, Shannon packed her car and drove to Los Angeles to become an actress. She attended film school and has been in the city ever since. Jeff, who played football at Arizona State, followed. “I’ve been in entertainment my whole life and he is just Mr. Entrepreneur,” said Shannon.
They are hoping for a nine-episode season and have already contracted with a large production company known for horror flicks to sell their show to networks. As early as next year, female morticians could be on TV.
Other One-Run projects focus on Wall Street women and pole dancers.
“We take shows about strong women with preconceived notions that we’re trying to shatter,” said Shannon.