Peg Entwistle is a name most have forgotten. But her story lives on in Hollywood unhappy endings. The actress famously remembered by her cute little accident which involved her walking over a subway grate causing her dress to fly up, once said: “Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.”
Charles Bukowski’s favorite writer, John Fante, shares a similar sentiment to Marilyn Monroe: “Hollywood is a bad place. It kills writers. They die young and violently.”
These words of Fante sound almost prophetic, for such was the death of Peg Entwistle, a young actress born in the small town of Port Talbot, Wales, who jumped from the Hollywood sign to her death.
It was 1923 when Harry Chandler, a tireless businessman, paid a staggering $21,000 for a sign to be erected on top of Mount Lee that read “Hollywoodland.” The sign was to promote his new investment — an up and coming real estate development.
Little did he and his partners know that their sign would become one of America’s most iconic landmarks at the center of a multi-billion dollar industry.
One year after the sign was erected, a young girl by the name of Millicent Lilian “Peg” Entwistle was accepted into the Henry Jewett School of Acting at the Boston Repertory Theater, one of America’s first professional theater schools.
As an infant, Peg had lived in West Kensington, London, with her father Robert Symes Entwistle. Family archives indicate that her mother was declared unfit to care for her daughter, although no details are recorded. After acting for several years in London, Robert Entwistle made the decision to try his luck in America.
Peg was around five-years-old when they sailed into New York, in 1912 or 1913. Her father soon found work in the theaters of Broadway and Peg, too, fell in love with acting from a young age.
One sad day in December 1922, Robert S. Entwistle was killed by a hit and run driver. Peg was taken into the care of her uncle, actor and theater manager Walter Hampden, who cast her in her first brief walk-on part in a Broadway production of Hamlet. It is likely that he was instrumental in securing his niece a place with the Henry Jewitt Players. She was now set on a course to pursue her dream: To appear on the Silver Screen.
All students at the acting school were assigned a mentor. Entwistle was tutored by the famous Blanche Yurka, a Broadway star who acted in 37 movies. In 1925, she was cast alongside Yurka in The Wild Duck. Her natural talent shone through as reportedly it was Entwistle’s performance as Hedvig that inspired Bette Davis to tread the boards.
The following year, aged 18, young actress joined the New York Theater Guild and became a favorite of audiences and critics. A new direction opened in her career in 1932. It was the height of the Great Depression and even Broadway was feeling the pinch. Not only was this an opportunity for Entwistle to follow her dream, it also represented a door to more secure and better paid work in those uncertain times.
Peg Entwistle landed the part of Hazel Clay Cousins in Thirteen Women, her first–and only–movie. It was a psychological thriller based on the foretelling of doom and the revenge of a bullied young woman.
The movie had its premiere on October 15, 1932. It was slated by critics.
But Peg Entwistle never read the reviews. One month before it’s premiere, she made a tragic decision. It seems that, for reasons we will never know, she was a tortured soul who could see no way forward. Her suicide note 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.”
Reportedly heavily intoxicated, Peg climbed the 50-foot tall sign. She stood on the edge of the letter “H,” said goodbye to Hollywood, and launched herself off headfirst. According to the authorities involved in the investigation following her death, she would have died immediately from the impact.
Her suicide was the last performance she had to offer to Hollywood. The body and the suicide note were stumbled upon by a hiker on September 18, 1932.
Ironically, it was her death the made her world-famous. Since that day there have been stories about a ghost haunting the Hollywood sign. Some say that it belongs to Peg Entwistle and that, even in her death, she refuses to leave Hollywood.
People report seeing an elusive blonde woman wearing 1930s style clothes in the park around the sign, a blonde who vanishes as mysteriously as she appeared. The stories vary in length and details, but all claim that the spirit appears to be sad and brooding. What made this starlet kill herself is a mystery to this day.