Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Suicide Girl Peg Entwistle & the Hollywood Sign - 75 Years in History Together

Peg Entwistle 1908-1932 RIP

"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."
--- Peg Entwistle's suicide note

Lillian Millicent Entwistle was not born in America, but she epitomizes the failure of the "American Dream." Ying and yang, I suppose. She was born in Port Talbot, Wales in 1908. Then, she spent her early years in London. After Lillian's mother died in 1926, she left England to pursue an acting career in New York City. Peg honed her acting skills at the renowned Theatre Guild. She worked on the stage constantly, however she appeared in a span of 8 consecutive Broadway shows, featured opposite such stars as Billie Burke and Humphrey Bogart.

Peg married a young actor named Robert Keith, but the marriage only lasted two years and they were divorced in 1930. Hollywood beckoned and Peg moved to the coast, in fact, moving in with her Uncle Harold at 2428 Beachwood Drive in Beachwood Canyon. Just down the hill from the famous "Hollywoodland" sign.

Her initial attempts in Hollywood were successful. She landed a contract with RKO and appeared in the film "Thirteen Women," playing the supporting role of "Hazel" alongside Myrna Loy, Ricardo Cortez and Irene Dunne. (This film is noted to be a seminal contributor to the horror genre.)

Unfortunately, most of Peg's screen time wound up on the cutting room floor. In the brutal Hollywood summer heat of 1932, her once promising career came to a standstill.

On the evening of September 18, 1932, Peg told Uncle Harold that she was going to walk up Beachwood to meet some friends at the local drug store. However, she climbed all the way up the hill (quite a hike from Beachwood Drive streetlevel) to the "Hollywoodland" sign. She climbed up the workman's ladder on the back of the letter "H." Then, she jumped off. Then, she died.

"I was hiking near the Hollywoodland sign today and near the bottom I found a woman's shoe and jacket. A little further on I noticed a purse. In it was a suicide note. I looked down the mountain and saw a body. I don't want any publicity in this matter, so I wrapped up the jacket, shoes and purse in a bundle and laid them on the steps of the Hollywood Police Station."
- Anonymous female caller to the Los Angeles Police Department

The LA Times published the note in hopes that she would be identified. She was dubbed "The Hollywood Sign Girl." Her Uncle Harold recognized the initials and identified her body in the morgue.

What was she so sorry about? A failed career in Hollywood? Leaving the Broadway stage? Her marriage and divorce? All of the above?

Her funeral was held at the now demolished W.M. Strothers Mortuary at 6240 Hollywood Boulevard. She was cremated at Hollywood Memorial Park (now called Hollywood Forever.) Her remains were shipped to Ohio for burial at Oak Hill Cemetery, Glendale, Ohio. She was buried with her father on January 5, 1933.

In a cruel twist of irony, a letter to Peg arrived the day after her death from the Beverly Hills Playhouse. She was offered the lead role in a play...about a woman driven to suicide.

(It's also worth noting that Peg's ex-husband, Robert Keith, had had a son, Brian, from a prior marriage. Peg's brief stepson Brian Keith grew up to become a famous actor, best known for his role as "Uncle Bill" on the hit TV show, "Family Affair." Brian Keith also committed suicide in 1997.)


The Hollywood sign was built in 1923 for a real estate development in Beachwood Canyon. The sign originally read "Hollywoodland." It cost $21,000 to build. The letters are 30 feet wide and 45 feet tall. Originally, 4000 light bulbs lighted up the letters. However, maintenance was discontinued in 1939. In 1949 the "Land" portion of the sign was removed. Over the years, the sign became terribly rundown. Finally, in 1978 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce restored it with the help of private donations.

For $28,000 each, the following people sponsored the letters:

H - Terrence Donnelly, Newspaper publisher

O - Giovanni Mazza, Italian movie producer

L - Les Kelley - Originator of the Kelley Blue Book

L - Gene Autrey - Pioneer television station KTLA

Y - Hugh Hefner - Creator of Playboy Enterprises

W - Andy Williams - Singer

O - Warner Brothers Records

O - Alice Cooper - In memory of Groucho Marx

D - Dennis Lidtke

In early 1999, an anonymous bidder on the Home Shopping Network paid $100,000 for sponsorship rights to the sign.

Perhaps one day, the "land" will return to the sign. Or the whole thing could just eventually crumble into the dirt? Perhaps intelligent apes will dig it up a million years from now?


james said...

most of what you say about Peg Entwistle is not correct. Please Google "the hollywood sign girl" and on page 2 of the search results you will see www.thehollywoodsigngirl.com

Though only have complete, this site is the largest, most comprehensive and truthful database of her life and career!

George Vreeland Hill said...

Her story is sad, but amazing.
If only she had waited.

George Vreeland Hill