Peg Entwistle Plunges to Her Death From Atop the Famous Hollywood Sign
Peg Entwistle was born Millicent Lilian Entwistle (many sources incorrectly have it as Lillian Millicent) on July 1, 1908 in Port Talbot, Wales. From an early age, Peg's life was filled with tragedy. After the death of her mother when Peg was a child, she and her Father moved to New York where her Father would marry again and have two sons named Robert and Milton.
Tragedy would strike again however, when Peg's Father was run over by a car on Park Avenue. After their father's death, Peg's brothers went to live with their Uncle Harold, but Peg stayed behind to pursue her acting career. After making her stage debut at the age of 17 with the Boston repertory company, Peg was soon working on Broadway in the prestigious Theater Guild productions.
In 1927, Peg married Robert Keith a man 10 years her senior, but would soon discover that he had been married before and had a six year old son whom he neglected to mention. Oops... just a slight oversight. Revealing her true inner character, Peg, in the process of divorcing Robert, helped him stay out of jail by paying the back alimony he owed his ex-wife.
In 1931, Peg continued her work on the stage in the production Getting Married co-starring Dorothy Gish and in 1932 she co-starred with Laurette Taylor in Alice-Sit-By-The-Fire. However, depression began to set in as she had a hard time finding work on the stage. Peg would eventually move to Hollywood in hopes of finding work in the movies. Upon her arrival in Los Angeles in April of 1932, Peg would move into the Hollywood Studio Club, a rooming hotel for women. She would later move in with her Uncle Harold at 2428 Beachwood Canyon Drive in Hollywood to save money.
Peg would eventually find some stage work with Billie Burke in The Mad Hopes, but sadly, the play closed after a brief run. In 1932, she was thrilled when RKO signed her for the role of Hazel in the murder mystery Thirteen Women starring Irene Dunne, but the film got such poor reviews from critics that the studio held back its general release so it could re-edit the film. Her studio options with RKO were eventually dropped, leaving her to battle depression once again.
Built in 1923, The famous Hollywood sign was the vision for a real estate development in Beachwood Canyon. The sign originally read "Hollywoodland" and cost $21,000 to construct. The letters, 30 feet wide and 45 feet tall were originally lighted by 4000 light bulbs. However, maintenance was discontinued in 1939 and in 1949 the "Land" portion of the sign was removed. Over the years, the sign would become terribly rundown. Finally, in 1978 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce restored it with the help of private donations.*
Peg Meets the Sign - On September 18, 1932, after a night of drinking and overwhelming depression, Peg told her Uncle Harold that she was going to walk up Beachwood Drive to meet some friends at the local drugstore. But instead, Peg would scratch and claw her way up the rocky slope of Mt. Lee to the base of the "Hollywoodland" sign. Once there, she removed her black and tan silk coat, folded it neatly and placed it alongside her stylish purse, which contained a suicide note, at the base of the 50 foot high electrician's ladder which led up the letter "H". The despondent actress would then climb up the ladder - losing one of her new shoes along the way - and, after peering out over the twinkling lights of the city that represented her hopes and dreams, perform a perfect swan dive into the ground. Peg was more than likely killed instantly. She was only 24 years old.
A few hours after receiving a call from someone who discovered her belongings, police found Peg's mangled body some 100 feet down the side of the ravine. To this day, Peg Entwistle remains the only documented case of suicide connected to jumping off the Hollywood sign.
Shortly after her death, a letter from Bliss-Hayden School of Acting (which would eventually be renamed the Beverly Hills Playhouse) arrived at her Uncle Harold's home addressed to Peg. The Beverly Hills Playhouse wanted her to star in their next production which, ironically, was about a young girl who commits suicide. Cue creepy organ music!
Here is the transcript of Peg Entwistle's suicide note:
"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."
The LA Times published the letter in hopes that she would be identified. She was dubbed "The Hollywood Sign Girl." Her Uncle Harold recognized the initials and identified Peg's body in the morgue.
Transcript of a call to the Los Angeles Police Department by an anonymous caller:
"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."
Peg's 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.
It's also worth noting that Peg's ex-husband, Robert Keith, had had a son, Brian, from a prior marriage. Peg's 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.
Suicide Was Not Her Final Act
In the years following Peg's suicide, hikers and park rangers in Griffith Park have reported some pretty strange happening in the vicinity of the Hollywood sign. Many have reported sightings of a woman dressed in 1930's era clothing who abruptly vanishes when approached. She has been described as a very attractive, blond woman, who seems very sad. Could this be Peg's ghost, still making her presence known? Could she also be linked to the pungent smell of gardenia perfume which has been known to overwhelm sight-seers in the park? Perhaps it is, as the gardenia scent was known to be Peg's trademark perfume.
In 1990, a North Hollywood man and his girlfriend were walking on a Beachwood Canyon trail near the Hollywood sign with their dog when the animal suddenly began to act very strange. Instead of running around on the trail and through the brush as he normally did, he began to whine and hang back near the couple. They had never seen him act that way before and could find no cause until they spotted a lady walking nearby. One thing they noticed about her was that she was wearing clothing from the 1930's. However, thinking that you could see anything in Hollywood, they didn't pay much attention.
The lady however, seemed to be walking in a daze. Thinking that perhaps she was drunk or on drugs, they started to steer clear of her when she suddenly just faded away before their eyes. At that time, they had no idea who Peg Entwistle was, nor that she had committed suicide nearby, or even that her ghost reportedly haunted the area. Imagine their surprise when they found out!
Another eyewitness to this haunting was a Griffith park ranger named John Arbogast. In an interview, he revealed his own encounters with the ghost of Peg Entwistle. He stated that she normally made her presence known very late at night, especially when it was foggy, and always in the vicinity of the Hollywood sign. He also claimed to have encountered the scent of gardenias in the area as well.
"I have smelled it several times," he said, "and always when any flowers around have been closed because of cold weather. I don't think I have ever smelled it in the summer time."
Arbogast's duties as a ranger often involved the Hollywood sign itself. He explained that in recent years, alarms systems have been installed near the sign to keep people away from it. There is always a danger of vandals... and of course, suicides who want to go out the same way that Peg did. The alarm systems incorporate the use of motion detectors and lights to keep intruders away.
Arbogast recalled a number of times when the alarm system stated that someone was close to the sign, even though a check by the ranger revealed no one was there. "There have been times when I have been at the sign," he said, "and the motion detectors say that someone is standing five feet away from me... only there's nobody there."
So, what could have made Peg Entwistle choose to end her life in such a dramatic and violent way? No one knows, but we have to wonder. The Hollywood slogan states that the sign exists as a symbol of hope, so that those who answer the siren call of Hollywood will know that anything in the city is possible. But did Peg glimpse that sign one evening, after spending the day going from one pointless casting call to another, and see it not as a symbol of hope, but one of despair? Did she feel that sign mocking her, laughing that so many others had made it in the movies... so why couldn't she?
Did the glowing lights of the sign remind her of why she had come to Hollywood, chasing the bright lights she would never catch up to? Or perhaps she just wanted to go out in a way that people would remember?
Update: Peg's burial site has remained unmarked until 2010 when, following a donation drive carried out on a Facebook page, an engraved granite marker was installed sometime around September 16, 2010, widely believed to be the 78th anniversary of her death. Hint, hint: we'd love some pics!
Update: We now have a photo of Peg Entwistle's new grave marker taken September 13, 2013. Thanks to Lisa Sinkko for the photo and an especially big thank you for running the successful campaign to get her grave marked. Nice job! Photo ©Kathy Sauer, Cincinnati OH.
More Interesting Stuff on Peg and the Hollywood Sign
Hollywood Sign Trivia:
*In a successful effort to restore the Hollywood sign to its original glory the following people sponsored the letters for $28,000 each:
H - Terrence Donnelly, Publisher Hollywood Independent Newspaper
O - Giovanni Mazza, Italian movie producer
L - Les Kelley - Originator of the Kelley Blue Book
L - Gene Autrey - With his 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
Update: Land near Hollywood sign up for sale
Here's an article dated Feb 14, 2007 about the Hollywood sign going up for sale.
A mountaintop property located near the Hollywood sign and once owned by Howard Hughes is up for sale.
A group of Chicago investors is putting the 138 acres of land just west of the "H" in the sign on the market Wednesday.
The asking price: $22 million.
The property offers a stunning 360-degree panorama of the Los Angeles Basin and the San Fernando Valley, says Fox River Financial Resources, which acquired the land in 2002 for $1,675,000.
"We weren't sure at first what we had," Fox River general partner Keith Dickson said Wednesday. "After looking at it, we kind of feel we got a Van Gogh at a garage sale."
Hughes once planned to build a love nest on the land for his then-paramour Ginger Rogers. Their relationship didn't last, and the property remained undeveloped and in the eccentric billionaire's trust for decades.
The land atop the 1,820-foot Cahuenga Peak consists of five legal lots and "the ridges on the top are nice and smooth," allowing for construction of homes, Dickson said.
The Hollywood sign is just below and east of the property.
Update: Sign Won't Be Sold - 4/27/10
The Hollywood sign - and the land around it- are safe. Enough money was raised to buy and preserve the famed site, which developers had been eyeing.
UPDATE: Head and Body Parts Found Near Hollywood Sign - January 2012
LOS ANGELES (AP) January 2012 — An investigation unfolding near the iconic Hollywood sign in Los Angeles is playing out like a gory movie script, as police worked to identity a man whose body was found in parts over the past two days — first a head on Tuesday, then two hands and two feet on Wednesday.
On Thursday, more than 100 police officers, some on horseback, were searching a Hollywood wilderness park along a winding hiking trail to see if they can find more body parts. Authorities said the head came from a man believed to be 40 to 60 years old. Police think all the body parts are from the same man but are trying to confirm that.
Dog walkers found a severed human head inside a plastic bag Tuesday after two of the dogs they were walking began toying with an object. When they shook the plastic bag, a human head fell out onto the ground, according to police Cmdr. Andrew Smith.
The first hand was found as dozens of officers and homicide investigators combed the brush, and a coroner's cadaver dog came upon it about 50 yards from where the head was discovered on Tuesday afternoon, the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/xWFSjT) reported.
The second hand and both feet were found nearby later Wednesday afternoon. No details were immediately available on the condition of the body parts.
|The Hollywood sign as it appeared in its early days|
|The Hollywood sign from space|
|Peg Entwistle last lived in this modest house with her Uncle Harold at 2428 Beachwood Drive, in Beachwood Canyon. The house sits very near the Hollywood Sign.|
|The Hollywood sign today as viewed from Griffith Observatory.|
|The Hollywood Studio Club, where Peg would take up residence in April of 1932 upon arriving in Hollywood.|
|The Hollywood Sign as Peg might have seen it from very near her house.|
External Peg Entwistle Links:
Here's a link to the trailer for AFTER I'M GONE, a short film about Peg. Stars Christina Huntington as Peg and is written and directed by Frank Gallegos.
Here's an interesting story of a trip up to the Hollywood Sign (at bottom of page).
Here's the Peg Entwistle page over at Wikipedia.
Here, you can read more about the Hollywood Studio Club, where Peg would live shortly while in L.A.
A Gravemarker for Peg Entwistle Facebook site - Now closed to new members but in Fall 2010 the site successfully raised money from donations and installed a grave marker where Peg's ashes are buried near her father.