The Sunset Strip — where the Normandie Village Apartments
once stood near the upper left part of the photo
By Allan R. Ellenberger
I love the challenge when a reader requests information about an old landmark or some obscure Hollywood institution. That happened the other day when Patricia asked about an old apartment complex she lived in as a child called The Normandie Village:
“Hi, I am trying to find out about a complex of Hollywood bungalows from the late 40′s early 50′s called Normandy or Nomandie Village. I believe it was on, or near Sunset Blvd. It cannot have been expensive because we lived there when my family was very broke. There was a fire, probably in 1953 or 1954? I was only 4 or 5, but I remember it, and that a neighbor and I ended up in a photo in the Los Angeles Times. I doubt that the complex survived at all, but I would love to see any old photos, and just to know the street address it was at!” — Patricia
Well, when she mentioned the Nomandie Village, I knew exactly what she was referring to – a jumble of peaked-roof French Provincial apartments that at one time drove up its chimneys and shingles from the cascading hillside on the Sunset Strip. I couldn’t find any real photographs of the Normandie, which stood at 8474 Sunset Boulevard, but discovered that a fire did occur there in 1955. And there along with the story, just as she said, was a photo of two little girls – and one of them was named Patricia.
Built in the 1920s, the Normandie Village competed with the Garden of Allah, farther east on the strip, for Hollywood-type history. In the apartments clustered amid vine-covered pathways that made the Normandie Village resemble medieval suburbia of Marseilles or Toulon, great stars of silent movies and the new “talkies” lived, partied and nervously waited out “between pictures” idleness.
There are many stories that circulated about the Normandie but no one can know for sure if some of them are true. One story claims that actor John Barrymore sent an architect to Europe to study French Provincial architecture and that he designed the Normandie Village’s high-peaked buildings as replicas of what he saw on his tour.
Over the years, the Normandie was home to many film stars. Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, did his last writing at the Village. Richard Dix, an aspiring young actor, checked in there about 1924 when he arrived from New York to seek employment in films.
Myrna Loy and Billie Dove, two of the Hollywood’s film queens, lived there. Jimmy Stewart once recalled in a Saturday Evening Post story how he and Henry Fonda lived at the Normandie Village in their early Hollywood days.
Not only was the Village the scene of some Babylonian bashes, but nearby, according to unofficial history, Charlie Chaplin had a private “key club” for close friends.
The fire that Patricia referred to coincidentally occurred in the early morning hours of January 4, 1955 – 56 years ago tomorrow! A cigarette burning in the upholstery of a garaged car was blamed for the fire that destroyed the garage, ten parked cars and 24 of the 55-units of the Sunset Strip apartment building. The fire ravaged the rear half of the Normandie, but all the tenants, including about 25 children, escaped the fires without injury.
Of those 25 children, were Heather Harzley and Patricia Ann Deberck. Like the other children who had escaped, they clutched their most prized belongings. Someone asked Patricia Ann where she lived. “We lived in Apartment 21,” she said somberly, “but it isn’t there anymore.” The following photo appeared in the Los Angeles Times, just as Patricia remembered.
The Normandie Village was inhabited for another seven years until it was sold in 1962 to make way for a proposed 22-story hotel to be called the Hollywood Thunderbird. However, the hotel never happened and the Normandie stood vacant for another eight years until it was finally razed for the Sunset Americana, a residential hotel which was built in 1973. I haven’t had a chance to check out the sight currently, but a trip to Google Maps once again shows a vacant lot at the address (8474 Sunset Blvd.).
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
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’sThe 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)
Before she changed her name and rose to fame as an actress in the 1930s and ’40s, Myrna Williams was a shy dance student at Venice High School who posed for the art teacher’s lawn sculpture. (Christina House / For The Times / April 10, 2010)
A group of alumni and students unveil a bronze, and vandalism-resistant, re-creation of the famed lawn sculpture of alumna Myrna Loy before she rose to fame as a leading actress of the ’30s and ’40s.
By Tony Barboza
Los Angeles Times
April 11, 2010
Venice High School welcomed back some Old Hollywood royalty Saturday as hundreds gathered for the unveiling of a new statue of alumna and movie star Myrna Loy.
The bronze work is a re-creation of the beloved concrete sculpture of Loy that graced the front lawn of Venice High for more than seven decades but suffered years of corrosion and vandalism.
Students and alumni crowded around the veiled statue at noon Saturday as a contingent of the marching band and cheerleaders kicked off the celebration. Among the speakers was actor and Venice High graduate Beau Bridges, who as a boy appeared with Loy in the 1949 film “The Red Pony.”
Tobacco firms paid huge amounts for endorsements from the stars of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”.
September 25, 2008
Industry documents released following anti-smoking lawsuits reveal the extent of the relationship between tobacco and movie studios.
One firm paid more than $3m in today’s money in one year to stars.
Researchers writing in the Tobacco Control journal said “classic” films of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s still helped promote smoking today.
Virtually all of the biggest names of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s were involved in paid cigarette promotion, according to the University of California at San Francisco researchers.
They obtained endorsement contracts signed at the times to help them calculate just how much money was involved.
According to the research, stars prepared to endorse tobacco included Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Joan Crawford, John Wayne, Bette Davis and Betty Grable. (click on ‘Continue Reading’ for more)
Venice High grads work for landmark statue’s return
Actress Myrna Loy is little known by today’s students, but others want to return history to the campus.
By Sandy Banks
Los Angeles Times, April 5, 2008
Movie star Myrna Loy has passed from legend to relic status on the Venice High campus.
For 80 years, a statue she posed for as a Venice student was a landmark on the aging campus. But most Venice students have never seen it; it’s been hidden in a storage shed since today’s seniors were freshman. READ MORE…