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.