Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Peg Entwistle: The Hollywood Sign Girl

Several days ago, I finally had a chance to watch Thirteen Women, which had been on my DVR for a few days. It was a very interesting little Pre-Code film starring the always lovely Irene Dunne and a vampy pre-Thin Man Myrna Loy. Dunne plays a former sorority girl, who along with 11 of her fellow sorority sisters, is being menaced by a girl they kicked out for being half Indian.

As usual, I looked up the movie on IMDb and noticed that one of the thirteen women was Peg Entwistle. Never heard of her? I hadn’t either until last summer, when I stumbled upon on a page about some of the most mysterious and tragic deaths in Hollywood. One of the reasons many film fans have never heard of Peg Entwistle is because Thirteen Women was the first and last film she made.

Born in Wales on February 5, 1908, Millicent Lillian Entwistle (later known as Peg) was the daughter of Robert and Emily Entwistle. In 1912, she moved to America with her uncle and her father, who subsequently remarried after the death of his wife in 1910. However, by 1922 both Peg’s father and stepmother were dead so she and her two brothers were adopted by their aunt and uncle.

After showing an interest in acting, she was enrolled in Henry Jewett’s Repertory School in 1925. Under the direction of her acting teacher Blanche Yurka, Entwistle gained attention in the role of Hedvig in Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. The story goes that during one of Entwistle’s performances as Hedvig, a young woman who was the same age as Entwistle told her mother “I want to be exactly like Peg Entwistle”. It was this performance that inspired this young woman, known as Bette Davis today, to pursue acting.

After her success at Jewett’s Repertory School, Entwistle gained even more attention by becoming the youngest actress ever to be recruited by the New York Theatre Guild. She was usually placed in major supporting roles and garnered many outstanding reviews, even for plays that were not well received. In 1932, she found herself in Los Angeles doing a few performances when she got a call from RKO Pictures. After a successful screen test, she was chosen to play the part of Hazel Cousins in David O. Selznick’s Thirteen women. In its first test screenings, the film received poor reviews from the critics and Entwistle’s role was cut down quite a bit.

On the night of September 16, 1932, Entwistle climbed up the hill where the Hollywood sign (Hollywoodland at the time ) is. After placing her belongings, including a suicide note, at the base of the sign, she climbed a ladder to the top of the H and jumped to her death. She was only 24 years old. It was not until September 18 that her body was discovered by a hiker. When the police arrived on the scene, it was obvious what had occurred. In Entwistle’s purse, they found the suicide note that said “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." The exact details as to why she committed suicide and many other aspects of her death are still a mystery. Not long after her death, her final film appearance in Thirteen premiered in a few theaters. The film contains several suicides. There are also reports that a few days after her body was discovered, a letter arrived for her offering her the lead in a new play. The character was to commit suicide at the end of the play.

Unfortunately for Peg Entwistle, all of her work prior to coming to Hollywood has been forgotten. All she is remembered for today is her infamous death. If you would like to learn more about Peg Entwistle check out The Hollywood Sign Girl. It’s a really great site devoted to her and the man who created is currently writing a book about her. Most of the information I found about Peg was from his website and her IMDb page.


Raquelle said...

I've heard this story. I didn't realize Thirteen Women was Peg Entwhistle's only film. It's so sad she's only remembered for her suicide...

On another note... I saw Thirteen Women long time ago and liked how evil Myrna Loy was in it. :-)

Great post!

Lolita said...

Great post! It is interesting to read about Hollywood personas, stars or supporting actors - a lot of them have really sad life stories.

Kate Gabrielle said...

What a sad story. It's a shame that they didn't tape live plays back then; it would be so great to see her in the role that inspired Bette Davis, wouldn't it?

Genevieve said...

Raquelle: Yeah, I thought she had made more movies as well. Very sad indeed.

Myrna is super evil in Thirteen Women. I couldn't believe it was her! I'd never seen her as a vamp.

Lolita: Thanks! The lives of movie stars are very interesting to learn about. Some of them led such troubled and tragic lives. Fascinating stuff.

Kate: What a bummer! It would be really awesome to see her performance especially since its hard to tell if she was a great actress based on her small part in Thirteen Women.

Lauren said...

Oh yeah I've heard about this! Good post! I liked reading more information about her! I never knew what she was in.

Genevieve said...

Thanks, Lauren. I really enjoy learning more about her as well. Such an interesting story!

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