Peggy Shannon at Hollywood Forever

HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

.

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

On Broadway, she was a Ziegfeld Follies girl and successful ingénue, enough so to have Hollywood take notice.  Once considered the successor to Clara Bow, the titian-haired Peggy Shannon, a pretty actress whose appearances in major roles gave her the potential for stardom, ended her life in heartbreaking loneliness.

.

Peggy Shannon was born Winona Sammon on January 10, 1910 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. As a child, her interest in music led her to study the piano and violin. She hoped to be a teacher until Madge Evans came to Pine Bluff on a tour promoting her line of hats. “I was only about 10 and knew then I wanted to be in show business,” Peggy recalled.

.

In 1924, her mother Nancy took her and her sister Carole to visit their aunt in New York, who happened to live in the same building as Goldie Glough, the secretary of Florenz Ziegfeld, who was preparing a new Follies show. Goldie told Will Page, a press agent for Ziegfeld, about Peggy’s beauty and he had her pose for publicity pictures with Ziegfeld.

.

“It was just a stunt, but I didn’t know it then,” Peggy later recalled. “They took me to Ziegfeld’s New Amsterdam offices and photographed me, curls, silk gingham dress and all, with Mr. Wayburn and Mr. Ziegfeld. The next day newspapers carried the story form Ziegfeld’s office that he had signed an Arkansas newcomer. They said I could be in the chorus for a while, more to justify their story than became they wanted me.”

.

She appeared in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1924, along with Will Rogers, Lupino Lane and Mary Nolan (also buried at Hollywood Forever). After one season, Earl Carroll hired her for his Vanities of 1925. She kept busy during this time, modeling during the day, then after appearing in the Vanities she joined the floor shows at Texas Guinan’s.

.

In 1926 Peggy married actor Alan Davis. The following year Earl Carroll put her in the ingénue lead in What Anne Brought Home opposite William Hanly and Mayo Methot. For the next three years she appeared in comedic roles for William Brady, a noted producer who planned to make her a star.

.

That would all change when B.P. Schulberg, the head of production at Paramount saw her in Napi on Broadway and signed her to a contract. It was during this time that Paramount was recruiting many Broadway actors for film, including Sylvia Sidney, Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins.

.

.

Within four days of her arrival in Hollywood, Clara Bow had her second nervous breakdown. Peggy was summoned into Schulberg’s office and was told she would replace Bow in her next picture, The Secret Call (1931) opposite Richard Arlen. “The interview was very brief,” Peggy said of her meeting with Schulberg. “He sent me away telling me I had many things to do as production started the next morning.”

.

She read the script and was impressed by it and somewhat staggered by the realization that the role was the most important in the film, and the longest. That meant learning hundreds of speeches. But she discovered that films were different from the stage. “I didn’t have to learn the entire role at one time,” she said. “I could study it every night and keep ahead of production.”

.

Peggy admitted that the assignment frightened her. “Frankly, I was scared,” she said. “I expected to be taken out of the cast any minute. I couldn’t believe that such a wonderful break had come to me. I kept thinking, ‘That’s some other girl with the same name. It really can’t be me. And if it is me, I’d better keep my enthusiasm under control.’”

.

Paramount’s advertisement for The Secret Call called Peggy “The new Clara Bow,” “The successor of the ‘It’ girl,” “Greatest find of the year” and “Clara Bow’s redheaded rival.” The film did well at the box-office however the reviews were lukewarm. The New York Times reported that Peggy would “be remembered as the young lady who succeeded Clara Bow, when that actress became indisposed. Miss Shannon is attractive, but The Secret Call does not present many situations calling for much more than a gentle stroll through its various scenes.”

.

Peggy made four more films for Paramount and a few independent films, including False Faces (1932) in which she had some good scenes with Lowell Sherman. Leaving Paramount, she signed a contract with Fox in February 1932 and appeared as a nightclub singer in The Painted Woman (1932), opposite Spencer Tracy. She was billed as Tracy’s first romantic lead. The New York Sun reported that Peggy was “improving” but Fox executives disagreed and dropped her option.

.

.

She worked as an independent in such films as Girl Missing (1933), directed by Robert Florey and Turn Back the Clock (1933) with Lee Tracy. Peggy’s career was beginning to lag and second rate films followed such as Fury of the Jungle (1933), The Back Page (1934) and The Fighting Lady (1935).

.

In late 1934, Peggy decided to return to Broadway in Page Miss Glory with newcomer, James Stewart. “James Stewart and Peggy Shannon are amusing as one of the bums and his fiancée,” wrote the New York Evening Post.

.

Then it was back to Hollywood and Universal where Lowell Sherman directed her in the lavish production of Night Life of the Gods (1935). Next it was off to Warner Brothers in the Perry Mason who-done-it, The Case of the Lucky Legs (1935). Still not happy, Peggy returned once again to the stage to do The Light Behind the Shadow. Unfortunately Peggy was replaced early in production, reportedly due to a tooth infection but rumors were that it was due to her drinking, a habit she was quickly developing.

.

After another failure on Broadway, Peggy reported to Republic for a film with Marian Marsh. Then it was Girls on Probation (1938) for Warner Brothers. The film co-starred Ronald Reagan and was notable as Susan Hayward’s first film.

.

In mid-1938, Peggy and a female companion were involved in a car accident with another driver receiving lacerations on her nose and cuts on her legs. It was rumored that alcohol was involved. Friends in the business tried to help giving her small roles but in some cases her drinking would get in the way. One of her last films was Café Hostess (1940) for Columbia.

.

In 1940, Peggy decided to end her fourteen year marriage to Alan Davis. She declared that he struck her on one occasion at the home of actress Wynne Gibson, who testified for her friend that he struck her “over something very inconsequential.” She added that because of her husband’s disinclination to work she had to support him as well as herself during their marriage. “He was just lazy—he played all the time,” she told the judge.

.

Several months later, in October 1940, Peggy married cameraman, Albert “Al” Roberts in Mexico. They set up housekeeping at 4318 Irvine Street in North Hollywood, along with their German Sheppard, Spec. By now, Peggy was forgotten by the studios and seldom received offers, causing her to drink even more.

.

.

In early May 1941, Roberts and his friend Elmer Fryer left for a few days on a fishing trip. When they returned on Sunday, May 11, Roberts found Peggy slumped dead across the kitchen table with her head on her arms; she was barefoot and clad in a sun suit. A cigarette, burned to the tip of her fingers, was in her right hand. Three glasses and a soft-drink bottle found in the sink were turned over to the Coroner to check for traces of poison. Peggy Shannon was 31. She was laid to rest at Hollywood Cemetery a few days later without much fanfare.

.

.

Roberts was devastated by Peggy’s death. He was afraid that someone might think he had something to do with her death. In a conversation with Detective William Burris, Roberts said, “Bill, you’ve got something on your mind. You don’t suspect me of Peggy’s death do you?” Burris assured him that was not the case and he was merely awaiting the report of the autopsy.

.

“Well, Bill,” Roberts told him, “if you have anything on your mind, get it off, because you won’t see me again.” Burris asked what he meant and Roberts told him that he was going to commit suicide. “I told him not to be like that,” Burris said, “that he had had one too many.”

.

Three weeks after Peggy’s death, in the early morning hours of Memorial Day, May 30, 1941, Roberts took Spec to visit Peggy’s grave at Hollywood Cemetery. Afterward he returned to his home on Irvine Street and wrote three notes: one to ‘those concerned’ and two to his sister Phoebe, who lived in Glendale.

.

At about dawn he called his sister and said he was going to kill himself. “Al, don’t do it,” she screamed into the phone. Suddenly she heard a shot and then, the barking of the dog. When police reached the house, Roberts was dead. A rifle was found near the body. In one hand he still grasped the telephone receiver. His body rested on the same chair where he had found Peggy’s body; like her, his head had fallen forward on the table. Two empty liquor bottles and two soft drink bottles were on the table. Nearby Spec lay whimpering.

.

This home, at 4318 Irvine Street in Valley Village (formerly North Hollywood), is where

actress Peggy Shannon died and her husband, Albert Roberts committed suicide.

(PLEASE NOTE: This is private property. Please DO NOT disturb the residents)

.

In his note Roberts wrote:

.

“It happens that I am very much in love with my wife, Peggy Shannon. In this spot she passed away. So in reverence to her you will find me in the same spot. No one will ever understand, as it should be. Why don’t you all try a little bit harder—it wouldn’t hurt, I can truthfully say for both of us. Adios amigos. Al Roberts.”

.

In a note to his sister, he expressed bitterness against those who he said, had feigned fondness for his wife during her lifetime. Although he doesn’t name them, it sounds like he could be referring to family members:

.

“To Phoebe. If you have to ship the stuff to China do it. They can never prove what I have done with it. Spec and I went out to the cemetery around 1 a.m. They talk so much about her flowers for Memorial Day. Well, they have never been near the grave. Mrs. Ross and I put on fresh flowers as much as we could, but them dirty leeches, they wouldn’t take her a pansy but they would take her clothes and say they love her more than life. But you stress that, honey. You know how Peg supported them. Any denials just ask them to prove how they lived all these years. Al.”

.

In a second note to his sister, Roberts expressed concern for his dog, Spec.

.

“You take Spec,” he wrote, “and ship him to Johnny. If you don’t I will never forgive you. I promised him that. All five have said they could not be bothered with him. I know Johnny and he will be great pals. Peggy has said so time and again. So, please, take him, ‘our child’ and send him on. He certainly is entitled to that. With love Al. P.S. Hey, bury me in my gray suit. Al.”

.

The following day, the coroner released the results from Peggy’s autopsy. Her death was apparently caused by a combination of low vitality, run-down condition and a heart attack. “A chemical analysis has not yet been completed by the Coroner,” a police representative said, “but examination so far shows no traces of poison or any bruises or marks.”

.

Ironically, Albert Roberts’s body was not laid next to Peggy’s, but was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale. Whether it was the decision of his family or Peggy’s to not have them be together, is not known.

.

A few weeks after Peggy’s death, her mother hired  private detectives and attorneys to investigate deeper into her daughter’s death. Nothing apparently came of their search.

.

.

Peggy Shannon’s grave at Hollywood Forever is near the southern border of Section 5 in plot 31, grave 4. Her pink tombstone is inscribed “That Red-Headed Girl, Peggy Shannon.” Her mother and sister are buried nearby.

_______________________________________

 …

Please follow and like us:
error

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

6 Responses to “Peggy Shannon at Hollywood Forever”

  1. Barbara says:

    Hello,

    Did you receive the email I sent you a few days ago? Since it appears you have an interest in classic movies I thought you might be interested in my movie site and collection of rare films for sale.

    If there is something you are looking for but do not find, I would love to hear from you and see what I can do to take care of you.

    Thank you for having a look at my collection and I wish you a happy movie watching experience.

    Barbara
    ReelOldFilms.com
    22 Alvin Dr
    Pineville, LA 71360

  2. I visit her often, whenever I can. Thanks, Allan!

  3. jacktf says:

    It’s a heartbreaking story but thank you, Allan, for telling it.

  4. Anne says:

    Such a heartbreaking story that is so well described by Allan . The most significant thread throughout this tragedy is the element of love, especially concerning the husband Mr. Roberts . RIP PEGGY SHANNON!!!!

  5. Johnna says:

    She was considered for the part of Belle Watling in “Gone With the Wind.” A book I have about Susan Myrick, who was the technical consultant for the movie, Myrick mentions tests that were being made in early 1939 for various supporting roles, and includes Peggy Shannon in that group. She referred to Peggy Shannon as a “gorgeous creature with the loveliest eyes and shoulders in the world.” Later that month, Myrick wrote about coaching Peggy Shannon for Belle Watling, but added “she is the prettiest thing I ever saw–but not lush nor lusty enough for Belle as I see it.”

  6. d.w. says:

    thanks for another awesome Hollywood Story!

Leave a Reply