Born on the 6th of February, 1908, in Port Albot, Wales, Peg Entwistle would come to symbolise everything dark about the chew you up and spit you out Hollywood of the 1930s. Her name and story symbolize the failed dreams of many hopefuls that rushed to Los Angeles in search of stardom.
Entwistle came to the United States with her father following her mother’s death in 1910. Her father was offered a position as a stage manager by Broadway producer, Charles Frohman. Her father tragically passed away in 1922 from injuries sustained in a hit-and-run accident and Entwistle was adopted by her uncle, actor Charles Entwistle.
Much like her uncle, Entwistle discovered a love for acting. She studied at Henry Jewett’s Respertory in Boston. While here, her performance as Hedvig in Henrik Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” was said to have inspired Bette Davis to become an actress.1 After her studies, she was recruited to join the New York Theater Guild where she worked steadily on broadway.
Despite her success in New York, Entwistle wanted more than to be on stage; she wanted to be on the big screen. Like many before her during the Golden Era, the bright lights of Hollywood lured her in.
She travelled to Hollywood in April of 1932 move into the Hollywood Studio Club, a rooming hotel for women. Later, she moved in with her Uncle Harold at Beachwood Canyon Drive in Hollywood to save money. She got various small parts here and there but she struggled to set herself apart from the plethora of other hopeful actresses and the sea of beautiful faces. When she finally scored a deal with the prestigious studio, RKO, she was over the moon. It was her big break, she had hoped, but she would soon come to find that she was going to be sadly mistaken.
She was cast in Thirteen Women, starring alongside Irene Dune and Myrna Loy. The film premiered on the 16th of September, 1932, and the critics ripped it to shreds. After such a negative response, the formal release was held back and the film was reedited. Entwistle’s screen time was cut down dramatically. Entwistle was distraught and fell into a deep depression. When the film was formally released in a couple of weeks, it was considered a flop. Entwistle, however, didn’t live to read the reviews, much less to see the film’s release.
Overcome with grief and feeling like a failure, on the night of September 12th, 1932, 24-year-old Entwistle told her uncle that she was going to walk up Beachwood Drive to meet several of her friends at a nearby drugstore. Instead, Entwistle trudged her was up the rocky slope of Mt. Lee to the Hollywoodland (as it was then called) sign. She neatly folded her coat and placed it with her handbag at the base of the sign. She climbed 50 feet up to the top of the letter “H” on a ladder that was left behind by workmen. She overlooked the city of Los Angeles and bid farewell to the city that had spurned her. Moments later, she threw herself off the sign head first, falling to her immediate death.
“I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long one ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.” her suicide note read.
The morning after her death, an anonymous woman called Los Angeles police and informed them: “I was hiking near the Hollywood sign today and near the bottom, I found a woman’s shoe and jacket.” She continued: “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.” She then hung up.2
Since Entwistle never signed her suicide note, police initially didn’t know who the deceased woman was. She was sent to the mortuary as a “Jane Doe.” They published the suicide note in several local newspapers in the hopes that somebody would recognise the writing and the initials. Her uncle was the one to identify her two days later. Entwistle was cremated and her ashes were buried in her father’s grave in the Ross family plot in Oak Hill Cemetery in Glendale, Ohio.
Following her death, there have been numerous reports of her ghost haunting the area around the Hollywood sign. The ghost stories first appeared in the 1940s after the same “H” from which Entwistle jumped mysteriously fell over, fuelling rumours that her ghost was haunting the landmark.
Megan Santos recalled jogging along Griffith Trails one night when she was overcome by a “weird feeling.” She felt shivers before seeing “this woman with blond hair and she seemed to be like…. walking on air.” In 1990, a young couple hiking the same trail said they were stopped dead in their tracks when a disoriented blonde woman dressed in 1930s style clothing vanished before their very eyes. Over the years, many park rangers have corroborated these paranormal claims, stating that they too have seen Entwistle’s ghost, particularly on foggy nights. According to legend, those who witness her ghost are overcome by the strong scent of gardenias jogger. It was said to be Entwistle’s favourite perfume.3
In a cruel twist of fate, just several days after Enwistle’s suicide, a letter from the Beverly Hills Playhouse was delivered to her uncle’s home offering her a part in their upcoming production. Ironically, they wanted to cast her as grief-stricken woman who is driven to suicide. Following her death, she achieved the fame that had eluded her in her life as the only person to ever commit suicide off the Hollywood sign. Even today, her name is a household name with most people knowing her story. Her unique and untimely death has practically overshadowed her impressive stage career.
- The Telegraph, 18 September, 2009 – “Peg Entwistle Commits Suicide”
- South Wales Echo, 15 February, 2004 – “Forgotten Story of Tragic Actress Now to be a Movie”
- Vanity Fair, 31 October, 2014 – “Is the Hollywood Sign Haunted?”