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THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN: the life and death of peg entwistle.


DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES.

SEPTEMBER 18, 1932.

AN OFFICER ANSWERED A CALL FROM A WOMEN WHO DIDN'T WANT TO GIVE HER NAME OVER THE PHONE. ALL SHE SAID WAS THAT SHE HAD BEEN HIKING NEAR THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN WHEN SHE STUMBLED UPON A WOMAN'S SHOES, JACKET, AND PURSE. STICKING OUT OF THE PURSE LOOKED TO BE A SUICIDE NOTE. AND LOOKING DOWN THE HILL, SHE THOUGHT SHE SAW A BODY.

Peg Entwistle, know today not as an actress but as a haunting figure, one who leaped to her death off the Hollywood sign some eighty years ago. Let's go back, shall we? She was born Millicent Lilian Entwistle, on the fifth of February 1908 in Port Talbot, Glamorgan, Wales, to English parents. Her father Robert Symes Entwistle was an actor, sparking some wanting to the stage to his daughter.

By 1913 Peg and her father were in New York City, where Robert S. Entwistle was cast in several stage productions. It should be noted that by this time, her mother had most likely passed, one can't be sure because of the lack of reporting and documents. Her father would also pass, in the winter of 1922, as the victim of a sudden hit-and-run motorist. Soon after, Peg and her two half-brothers were sent to their uncle, who was the manager of Broadway actor Walter Hampden.


In 1923, Harry Chandler, a businessman, paid $21,000 for a sign to be placed on the top of Mount Lee, a staggering price, the sign would read "Hollywoodland." It had nothing to do with the Hollywood we know of today, but to promote his new investment, a real estate development. Little did he know what would come on this.

One year after the sign was erected, Millicent Lilian "Peg" Entwistle, a young girl with a dream of the stage under her belt, had been accepted into the Henry Jewett School of Acting at the Boston Repertory Theater, one of the first professional theater schools in  America. She was living in Boston, going to school, when Walter Hampden gave her an uncredited walk-on part in the Broadway production of Hamlet. She carried the King's train and brought in the poison cup.

In 1925, alongside her mentor, Blanche Yurka, she was cast in The Wild Duck. A film that Bette Davis saw with her mother and was her inspiration to go into acting, saying, "I want to be exactly like Peg Entwistle." After The Wild Duck, she was recruited a year later by the New York Theater Guild, that June she was in the play The Man from Toronto, her first credited part on Broadway, it would run for twenty-eight shows.


Peg was the quintessential gay flapper, with her talent as well as beauty, and her short blonde hair. She was often cast as the good-hearted and attractive girl in comedies, though she wanted to do more challenging roles. She became a favorite of audiences and critics. Her longest-running and most remembered play were that of which ran for 232 shows, the 1927 hit, Tommy. In the same year, she married an actor, Robert Keith. The marriage wouldn't last. In May of 1929, she was granted a divorce, stating charges of cruelty, that her husband didn't tell her about a previous marriage or child from that marriage. That child was six-year-old, Brian Keith, who would later become an actor himself.

In 1929 she told a reporter:


I would rather play roles that carry conviction. Maybe it is because they are the easiest and yet the hardest things for me to do. To play any kind of an emotional scene I must work up to a certain pitch. If I reach this in my first word, the rest of the words and lines take care of themselves. But if I fail, I have to build up the balance of the speeches, and in doing this the whole characterization falls flat. I feel that I am cheating myself. I don't know whether other actresses get this same reaction or not, but it does worry me.

The last of her Broadway performances was in J. M. Barrie's Alice Sit-by-the-Fire. The show was canceled almost instantly upon its opening and the actors were given only a week's salary.

CINEMA AND THE GREAT DEPRESSION.


At the height of the Great Depression, Broadway was even feeling the strain. A new door opened within her career. It was 1932 and Peg Entwistle, the stage actress, landed her firstandonly film role. A psychological thriller based around the revenge of a bullied young woman. This career leap meant more secure and better-paid work.

After RKO Studios became interested, after seeing her in the sold-out play The Mad Hopes, co-starring Humphrey Bogart, they considered for the lead that went to Katharine Hepburn, in the film Bill of Divorcement. She then was cast in the film Thirteen Women. A film produced by David O. Selznick.

She plays that supporting part of "Hazel Cousins." She is a married woman who kills her husband and goes to prison. Before the final cut was made of the film, she had about sixteen minutes of screen time, but when the film was cut after it performance badly for test audiences, it was cut down to four. It should be noted that the film was most likely cut around her scenes because of the rise of the Hay's Code, rather than her acting. Because Peg portrayed a lesbian. “David O. Selznick decided to trim the fat,” write James Zeruk Jr in his 2014 book Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide. “Peg was simply an unfortunate employee positioned at the bottom of the totem pole.”

The premiere of the film was a month after death, on the fourteenth of October at a theater in New York City, to neither critical nor commercial success. It was panned by critics.



HER DEATH.

A long time ago, on that September day in 1932, a woman was hiking below the Hollywoodland sign. She walked upon a woman's shoe, purse, and jacket. She opened the purse, read the note that had been stuck out, and looked down below at what seemed to be a body. She told the police and left the items on the police station steps.

Soon a detective and two radio cat officers found the body in a ravine below the sign. Entwistle remained unidentified until her uncle identified her remains. She had told her uncle that she was going for a walk to the drugstore and then to visit some friends, then she disappeared. Her uncle had connected the description, the initials "P.E.," that had been on the note and print in the newspapers, and the two-day absence. "She was always fascinated by the sign," her uncle told the police.


The suicide note as published read:

I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.

It had seemed that she climbed the workman's ladder to the top of the "H" and jumped, though other accounts say that she was in the center of the "H".  The case of death was listed as "multiple fractures of the pelvis."

Unlike the newspaper headline above, Peg couldn't have killed herself over the bad reviews of the film, for the simple fact that it was released after her death. Nor was it because her "nudes" had been released, this was a fictional tale invented by Kenneth Anger for his book Hollywood Babylon. Her uncle told officers soon after that she was depressed and "suffering an intense mental anguish." And that she had recently been impulsive and upset by her ex-husband's remarriage.

Her death brought on wide and sensationalized publicity. Her funeral was held at the W.M. Struthers Mortuary, in Hollywood, on 20 September and her ashes were sent to Ohio, for burial next to her father.

One reason for her life not being forgotten was because of a series of reports in the forties, detailed haunting. With some people insisting that they've come across a young woman wearing older clothes, wandering about, with the smell of gardenias about the air, her favorite perfume. The ghost stories first appeared during the 1940s after the “H” from which Peg had thrown herself to her death unexpectedly collapsed. In the 1990s, a couple hiking reported a horrifying encounter with "disoriented, blonde women who quickly vanished."

But whatever made the starlet kill herself is still unknown today.



R.