Peg Entwistle’s suicide

HOLLYWOOD SUICIDES

Peg Entwistle, the suicide blonde of Hollywoodland

 

 

 

Today, September 16, is the 78th anniversary of the suicide of Peg Entwistle. In remembrance, here is a rerun of an article recently posted. Rest in peace Peg.

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger
Hollywoodland
 

On the evening of Sunday, September 18, 1932, a mysterious phone call was received at the Central Station of the Los Angeles Police Department:

 

“I was hiking near the Hollywoodland sign today,” said a feminine voice, “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, shoe and purse in a bundle and laid them on the steps of the Hollywood Police Station.”

 

The officer asked for the woman’s name but she hung up before he could get more information. He called the Hollywood station and the package was found as described, including the alleged suicide note which read: “I’m afraid I’m a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this thing a long time ago it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.”

 

 

 

 

 

Detectives made their way to the Hollywoodland sign, where they found the body of a woman, described as being about 25 years old, with blue eyes and blonde hair. She was reasonably well dressed. With no other identification except for the “P.E.” on the suicide note, her body was sent to the morgue where it remained unclaimed.

 

Meanwhile, the following morning, Harold Entwistle read in the papers about an unidentified woman, dubbed “The Hollywood Sign Girl” by the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, who had apparently jumped to her death from the top of the letter “H” in the fifty-foot-high “Hollywoodland” electric sign. Entwistle, an actor, lived at 2428 Beachwood Drive and could see the sign from his front porch. He was suspicious about his niece Millicent, who he had not seen since the previous Friday evening walking up Beachwood towards the Hollywood Hills. She said she was going to buy a book at the drug store and then visit with some friends.

 

Millicent, a struggling actress, was known professionally, and to her friends as Peg. It was Peg’s absence and the alleged suicide note that Entwistle regarded as significant — the report said it was signed with the initials “P.E.” After contacting authorities at the county morgue, Entwistle’s fears were confirmed when he identified the dead woman as his niece.

 

“Although she never confided her grief to me,” Entwistle told officers, “I was somehow aware that she was suffering intense mental anguish. She was only 24. It is a great shock to me that she gave up the fight as she did.”

 

Entwistle denied reports that a broken love affair had actuated his niece to take her life. Instead, it was determined that disappointments for a screen career, equal to the success she had enjoyed on stage, were attributed as the reason behind the spectacular suicide.

 

Millicent Lilian Entwistle was born in Port Talbot, Wales to English parents Robert and Emily Entwistle, on February 5, 1908 while her parents were visiting relatives. They returned to their West Kensington (outside London) home where she lived until age 8. Peg’s mother died in 1910 and four years later, Robert married Lauretta Ross, the sister of his brother Harold’s wife Jane.

 

In August 1913, Robert was brought to New York by famed Broadway producer Charles Frohman as his stage manager. After a few years, on March 20, 1916, Peg, along with her parents and aunt and uncle, arrived in New York on the SS Philadelphia. In 1918, Robert and Lauretta had a son Milton, and two years later Robert was born. In 1921, Lauretta died from meningitis and a year later, on November 2, 1922, Robert was struck down by a hit-and-run driver on Park Avenue. He lingered for weeks and died just before Christmas 1922. Now orphans, Peg and her brothers were taken in by her uncle Harold and aunt Jane.

 

A few years later Peg was living in Boston where she made her first appearance on the professional stage with the Henry Jewett Reparatory Company where she was taught to act by Blanche Yurka. In October 1925, Harold Entwistle’s employer, actor Walter Hampden, gave Peg an uncredited walk-on in his Broadway production of Hamlet with Ethel Barrymore. A young Bette Davis was inspired to act after seeing Peg perform in Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. Over the years Davis made several references to Entwistle, saying that she “wanted to be exactly like Peg Entwistle.”

 

 

 

 

After serving an apprenticeship with them for several seasons, she came to New York and was recruited by the prestigious New York Theatre Guild and obtained a small part in The Man from Toronto in June 1926. Afterward she was cast in an important role in The Home Towners, which George M. Cohan produced in August of that year. Over the next six years Peg performed in ten Broadways plays in such Theatre Guild productions as Tommy, which was her longest running play. Reviewers said that Peg was “attractive in the manner of a number of other fresh ingénues.”

 

Other plays followed including The Uninvited Guest, a revival of Sherlock Holmes with William Gillette and Getting Married. Some of her plays lasted no longer than a month or two; however she always received good reviews for her performances regardless of the quality of the production.

 

In April 1927, Peg married fellow actor, Robert Keith, who was the father of Brian Keith, best known for his role in the television sit-com, Family Affair. The Keith’s toured together in several Theatre Guild plays until their divorce in 1929.

 

Peg’s final Broadway play was in J.M. Barrie’s, Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire in March 1932. The production starred the popular actress, Laurette Taylor whose alcoholism caused her to miss several performances and forcing producers to end the play several weeks early.

 

In May, Peg was brought to Los Angeles to costar with Billie Burke and Humphrey Bogart in the Romney Brent play, The Mad Hopes at the Belasco Theatre. The play opened to rave reviews with standing-room-only audiences. One reviewer commented:

 

“…Belasco and Curran have staged the new play most effectively and have endowed this Romney Brent opus with every distinction of cast and direction. …costumes and settings are of delightful quality, and every detail makes the production one entirely fit for its translation to the New York stage. In the cast Peg Entwistle and Humphrey Bogart hold first place in supporting the star (Billie Burke) and both give fine, serious performances. Miss Entwistle as the earnest, young daughter (Geneva Hope) of a vague mother and presents a charming picture of youth…”

 

When the play closed, Peg was preparing to return to New York when she was offered a screen test at RKO. On June 13, 1932 she signed a contract to appear in Thirteen Women where she is billed ninth in the opening credits. The film starred Irene Dunne and Myrna Loy as a half-caste fortune teller’s assistant motivated by revenge against the bigoted schoolgirls who tormented her in school years earlier.

 

The film received poor reviews and negative comments from preview audiences. The Los Angeles Times said of the preview: “…its picturization is an utterly implausible tale of mediocre worth.” The premiere was delayed and the film was edited to reduce its running time, significantly cutting back Peg’s screen time. Once it premiered after Peg’s death, one reviewer called it “a dreadful mess of a picture with more defects, deficiencies and lapses than any offering since Chandu the Magician.”

 

 Peg Entwistle’s home at 2428 Beachwood Drive

(this is a private residence; please do not disturb the occupants)

 

 

 The sidewalk in front of Peg Entwistle’s home on Beachwood Drive where she took her last walk

 

 

RKO did not option Peg’s contract and she was broke and could not return to New York. She tried finding roles on both the local stage and at the film studios but nothing was available. On Friday evening, September 16, 1932, Peg told her uncle she was going to walk to the local drugstore and then visit friends. Instead, she walked up Beachwood past Hollywoodland and then hiked up the side of Mount Lee to the Hollywoodland sign. There she most likely wrote her suicide note, took off her coat and shoe, and climbed a maintenance ladder behind the letter H and, at some point, jumped to her death.

 

The coroner determined that death was due to internal bleeding caused by “multiple fractures to the pelvis.” Her Episcopal funeral service was conducted on September 20 at the W. M. Strother Mortuary at 6240 Hollywood Boulevard (demolished). Her body was cremated at Hollywood Cemetery and held in storage until December 29 when her ashes were sent to Oak Hill Cemetery in Glendale, Ohio for burial with her father on January 5, 1933. Her grave is unmarked.

 

 The burial card at Oak Hill Cemetery where Peg Entwistle’s ashes were interred. H Milton Ross was the father of Peg’s stepmother, Lauretta. (Photo courtesy of Scott Michaels)

 

 

Peg Entwistle was buried with her father at Oak Hill Cemetery in Glendale, Ohio. Their grave is unmarked. (Photo courtesy of Scott Michaels) 

 

 

Some sources claim that shortly after Peg’s death, she received a letter from the Beverly Hills Community Players, offering her a role in a play where her character commits suicide. Since this tale was related in Kenneth Anger’s “Hollywood Babylon II,” the veracity of it is questionable. Other false claims made by Anger are that Peg jumped from the last letter D because it was the thirteenth letter and she associated it with the film Thirteen Women. He also wrote that she was the first of other “disillusioned starlets” who followed her lead and committed suicide from the sign; this is not true. Peg Entwistle is the only confirmed suicide from that famous Hollywood landmark.

 

 

Click below to watch Peg Entwistle’s appearance in Thirteen Women (1932)

 

 

 

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21 Responses to “Peg Entwistle’s suicide”

  1. Lynn says:

    Allan, FABULOUS work, as always. Thank you so very much for the most detailed and complete information I have read about Peg’s life and her tragic suicide. The pictures and the video (!) were the icing on the cake. Thank you, too, for discounting Anger’s Hollywood Babylon b.s. about Peg and her life.
    _______________________
    Thanks Lynn.

  2. Louis Mata says:

    I am in awe of you, Allan. Most everyone knows of her leap, but this truly gives fine details.

    Also, the slap in the face to you-know-who is priceless!!!
    _____________________
    Hey Louis, thanks. Good seeing you Saturday night.

  3. Harry Martin says:

    Love all the details — thank you so much for such an interesting read

  4. Where did I read that she did not die instantly but lingered for several very painful days? Is that one of the many myths that are published in less-than-reputable books?
    _________________________
    Hey Steve, I never heard that one. If you find it, please let me know. In any event its not true.

  5. brian donnelly says:

    Thank you for this, once again you are brilliant in your style and substance.

  6. Frank Keith says:

    BRAVO!!! Great job Allan!!!

  7. Frank Keith says:

    How sad that this happened to someone with so much future potential. Thanks for sharing this great article, great job!!!

  8. Ginny M says:

    Great recounting of the tale. Hope to be visiting her soon, thanks to Mr. Michaels.

  9. Mike Steen says:

    Thanks for once again being willing to share your vast knowledge with the rest of us.

    Each of your offerings is another piece of the rock called Old Hollywood.

  10. Bill G says:

    Another wonderful post full of fascinating information. I love this blog!

  11. james says:

    Well, first, as Peg’s biographer, I want to thank you for your interest. However, there are many errors in your article. Too many to list.
    My book will soon be out and you will all literally drop your mouths when you see the REAL Peg.

    I was the co-researcher on Hope Anderson’s documentary, “Under the Hollywood Sign.” Peg’s brother Milton (Yes, he’s still alive!) and his daughter Lauretta have been very gracious to me and furnished me with hundreds of photos and letters and other documents never seen in public.

    On my own, I discovered many, many things about her career that will astound and amaze. For instance–RKO DID option her and she was on a term contract at the time of her death. Peg had the first 22 minutes of “Thirteen Women,” but the production notes are clear–the lesbian story line of Peg’s character Hazel was the reason for the audience revolt.

    Anyway, Peg’s brother and I have spent hundreds of hours talking and his stories about his sister will make you smile, laugh, and cry.

    For pics of me and Milton Entwistle at the Paramount Studios screening of “Under the Hollywood Sign,” feel free to visit my FaceBook page…I also have a few teaser pics of Peg as a little girl.

    One more thing, if I may…the borrowed dress is a myth. Effie Shannon was a good 60 pounds heavier than Peg in 1932….I have pics to prove it. Moreover, Effie, even if she had known Peg, which is doubtful, was not in Los Angeles then.

    Sorry to take so much time…Peg’s book is coming soon…amazing facts and many, many never seen photos are coming to once and for all tell the truth about Peg Entwistle.

    James Zeruk Jr
    _______________________________
    Hi James and thanks for your comments. Everything was based on information that is available. To be fair you should mention some errors (if there are so many) so I can correct them. I also tried to refute some errors that have been put out there by certain books. I look forward to your book and would love to do a Q&A when its released. Thanks again. — Allan

  12. João says:

    This is by far the most interesting and complete post that I’ve read about Peg Entwistle story. So I congratulate you. Ànd it’s the only one that shows me one crucial thing I’ve been searching for: the distance she walked on that night. From the view you took the photo I confirm what I thought: it was a long walk; she had to be very determined to do it; she had a lot of time to rethink and turn back if she wished. Another thing I was searching you also enlight me about here: there are no other cases of Hollywood actresses who did the same; I found lots of references about other supposedly suicide Hollywood actresses on several sites but not a single one gives a single name, so it must not be true.
    She is The Hollywood Sign Girl.
    Once more my congratulations. I’m going to come back here often.
    __________________________________
    Thank you João. There have been no other suicides from the Hollywood sign. Peg is the only one. Thanks again. — Allan

  13. TedPedersen says:

    There is a bio of Peg Entwistle on findadeath.com.

  14. Markku says:

    Great site!
    Peg´s story has been always very interesting !
    Markku, Finland

  15. Lisa Sinkko says:

    I just wanted to let you know that my foundation bought a headstone for Peg’s Grave and it was installed on the 78th Anniversary of her Leap off the “H” of the Hollywood Sign.
    _________________________
    I know that is fantastic. I hope to post of photo of it soon. Thanks for Peg.

  16. landman says:

    We thank your foundation Lisa Sinkko. What a nice gift!

  17. Chris says:

    i was just browsing then came across this site. i have already read 3 articles of yours and still wanting more.. I’m 24 and doesn’t know most of the artists here but the insights made me want to read more and learn the foundation of movie/hollywood industry. thanks for the interesting stories. looking forward to read more of your work.
    _____________________________________
    Thank you, I hope you continue to read. 🙂

  18. Anne says:

    Thanks for this blog! I’ve always been fascinated by Peg’s sad story, so much, that I made her a character in the Web Series I created, <strong< They Live Among Us Episode 4 begins with Peg Ted, a Griffith Park stranger, who has just rescued an ethereal young woman from the sign. He falls in love with her… only to discover that she is the ghost of Peg Entwistle: http://youtu.be/F6nk95dhWKo

  19. James says:

    Hi, Allen-

    Just a note for you and your readers that McFarland & Company will be releasing my Peg Entwistle biography this October. However, the publishers and Amazon and Barnes and Noble are taking pre-orders.

    Thanks!
    James

  20. Deon says:

    Hello Allen, great post actually the best one I’ve read on Peg Entwistle it’s so sad she wasn’t able to deal with the disappointments of fame. I been very interested in Peg’s tragic story since I read about it while searching on the history of The Hollywood Sign. Known as the
    Hollywood Sign Girl.

  21. Paul says:

    Why do all of the sites that talk about Ms Entwistle never say how it is that she jumped from the “H” on the hollywoodland sign if no one saw it happen?
    She is buried in the area I live and I have seen her grave site. I have even put pictures I took with my phone on the site.
    I did have her astrological chart based only on a solar chart but it is not there now

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