Saturday, February 26, 2022

Peg Entwistle


Peg Entwistle is not exactly a household name.  Not everyone on this site is.  But hers is such a sad story, one you've probably heard bits and pieces of.  So how did it all begin?

Millicent Lilian Entwistle was born in Port Talbot, United Kingdom, on February 5, 1908.  Her father, Robert Entwistle, was an actor on the London stage.  This much we know for sure, though much of her early life remains a mystery.

Regarding Entwistle's mother, it is often reported that she died young, but this does not appear to be the case.  Upon Robert's passing in 1922 (more on this later), his will read as follows.

"Millicent Lilian Entwistle is the daughter of my first wife whom I divorced and the custody of my said daughter was awarded to me.  I do not desire my said daughter to be at any time in the custody or control of her said mother."

After the couple divorced, Robert took Millicent to America.  The timing of this is another point of debate among Entwistle historians.  While official records indicate that the two traveled to America in 1916 aboard the S.S. Philadelphia, others indicate that Robert was starring on the Broadway stage as early as 1913.  This blogger believes the latter date to be true.  Robert's run on Broadway would be short-lived however, as he was killed in a hit-and-run accident on Park Avenue and 72nd Street in December 1922.  He was buried in Ohio, for reasons unknown to this blogger.

Following Robert's death, Entwistle and her two half-brothers were taken in by their uncle, who managed the careers of many Broadway actors.  Having shown an interest in acting herself, Entwistle later moved to Boston and joined Henry Jewett's Repertory, a noted ensemble of up-and-coming stock company performers.  Through these connections, she landed her first Broadway role in 1925, a new production of Hamlet headlined by Ethyl Barrymore.  Although her role was uncredited, it would lead to greater things.

In 1926, Entwistle joined the New York Theatre Guild and would spend the next six years sharing the stage with such notables as William Gillette and Robert Cummings. Her longest hit was the 1927 play Tommy, which ran for 232 performances.  Her final stage role was in the 1932 play Alice Sit-by-the-Fire, a production that was canceled following one co-star's alcoholism.

When the production wrapped, Entwistle picked up and moved to Hollywood.  As the country was still mired in the Great Depression, the need for entertainment was greater than ever.  Her first stage role out west was in a Los Angeles production of The Mad Hopes, starring Billie Burke, aka Glenda, the Good Witch.  A theatre critic for the Los Angeles Examiner gave the play glowing reviews, noting Entwistle's performance as a highlight of the production. 

After the play closed, Entwistle landed her first and only credited film role in 1932's Thirteen Women (above), based on the 1930 Tiffany Thayer novel.  A supporting role, Entwistle appeared as Hazel Cousins in what has often been described as one of the earliest female ensemble films.  Here's the theatrical trailer as well as a clip of Entwistle's performance

As the film's release grew near, Entwistle was growing increasingly despondent.  Early reviews were overwhelmingly negative, and she didn't like the direction her career was taking or her perceived lack of success. 

On September 18, a woman walking near the famous Hollywoodland sign found a woman's shoe, purse and jacket.  The purse contained what appeared to be a suicide note, so the woman contacted authorities.  A search was conducted, and a woman's body, as yet unidentified, was discovered in a ravine.  Entwistle's uncle later confirmed his niece's identity.

Following an investigation, police surmised that Entwistle hiked to the southern slope of Mount Lee and the Hollywoodland sign.  There she climbed a workman's ladder to the top of the "H," from which she jumped to her doom.  The official cause of death was listed as "multiple fractures of the pelvis."

A staged re-creation.

This leaves us with the biggest and most intriguing mystery of Entwistle's short life.  Why did she do it?  This is another subject of debate among her fans, but the suicide note offers no definitive explanation.  It simply read:

"I am afraid I am a coward.  I am sorry for everything.  If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain.  P.E."

Thirteen Women opened one month later, on September 16, 1932.  It was neither a critical nor financial success.  In the original print, Entwistle appeared on screen for 14 minutes.  Later cuts of the film would reduce her screen time to a mere four minutes.

Peg Entwistle was cremated.  Her ashes were buried with her father at Oak Hill Cemetery in Glendale, Ohio.

Location: Section #12, Lot #27, Grave #10

Rest in peace.


  • A number of biographies have been written on Entwistle.  Check out these on Amazon:

    Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide: A Biography
    , by James Zeruk, Jr. (2013)
    Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign, by Hope Anderson (2013)
    Peg Entwistle, by Liudmyla Der (2022)

  • In 1927, Entwistle married actor Robert Keith, though the couple would divorce two years later.  During that time, Entwistle was stepmother to young Brian Keith, who would himself become an actor, most famously starring on the 1960s sit-com Family Affair.

  • In 1972, singer Dory Previn released her ode to Entwistle, Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign.  It's really, really weird.  Give it a listen on YouTube.

  • Entwistle was portrayed by actress Laura Liguori in the 2017 short film Hollywood Girl: The Peg Entwistle Story.  You can watch the film in its entirety on YouTube.

  • In 2014, approximately 100 fans commemorated the anniversary of Entwistle's passing with an outdoor screening of Thirteen Women in Hollywood.  Proceeds from the event went to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, donated in Entwistle's name.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Uncle Jesse


Denver Dell Pyle was born in Bethune, Colorado on May 11, 1920.  Not surprisingly, he was born on a farm, but from an early age, he'd set his sights on the big city and a career in show business.

After high school, Pyle briefly attended Colorado State University, but Hollywood was beckoning.  He moved to Los Angeles in 1940 and went to work as a drummer in a band. 

All that changed however, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and America entered World War 2.  Like many of his generation, Pyle joined the military, enlisting in the United States Navy.  He was discharged in 1943, after being wounded at the Battle of Guadalcanal.

After the war, Pyle returned to Hollywood and began his acting career.  His first role, albeit uncredited, was in the 1947 film noir The Guilt of James Ames.  From there, he became a reliable character actor of the 1950s, appearing on many popular programs of the day, including The Lone Ranger, The Roy Rogers Show and The Adventures of Superman.

In 1960, Pyle assumed one of the many signature roles of his career, that of Briscoe Darling on The Andy Griffith Show (right), patriarch of a musical family act. From there, he starred on The Doris Day Show, appearing as the title character's father, Buck Webb.  He later had a co-starring role on The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, playing the character Mad Jack. 

Grizzly Adams was canceled in 1978, allowing Pyle to audition for a new series being filmed on location in Georgia.  The Dukes of Hazzard (below), produced by Gy Waldron, was an adaptation of his earlier box-office project Moonrunners, which focused on a family of Georgia moonshiners.  While the film had grit and was intended for older audiences, the new series would have family appeal, as many of Pyle's earlier roles had as well.   

The Dukes of Hazzard was an overnight success for CBS, making household names of its young stars.  It ran for seven seasons and produced a variety of spin-offs, including an animated series for Saturday mornings, simply titled The Dukes.  Pyle provided the voice for his animated counterpart and served as narrator as well.

When the series was canceled in 1985, Pyle continued acting on television, making guest appearances on such series as The Love BoatDallas, and Murder, She Wrote.  He even reprised his Briscoe Darling role, in the 1986 made-for-TV movie, Return to Mayberry.

In 1997, Pyle returned to fictitious Hazzard County for one last spin as Uncle Jesse.  The made-for-TV movie The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion!, would be his final role.  Fans of the series noticed his frail appearance in the film, as he was now battling lung cancer.  It ultimately took his life on Christmas Day, 1997.

Denver Pyle was buried in his wife's family plot at Forreston Cemetery in Forreston, Texas.  His grave is unmarked.  It's a small cemetery, so just look for the Johnston stone.  You can't miss it.

Rest in peace, Uncle Jesse.

  • Denver Pyle was originally cast as Matt Dillon on the legendary series Gunsmoke.  At the eleventh hour however, producers auditioned actor James Arness, who was given the role instead.  Pyle was unceremoniously shown the door.  Yet another reason why I hate Gunsmoke.

  • After completing his run on The Andy Griffith Show, Pyle began investing in oil, buying older wells thought to be nearly dry.  By 1981, new technologies allowed the remaining oil to be recovered more economically, turning Pyle into a millionaire overnight.  While he no longer needed to act, he continued doing so anyway, stating "I look at it this way.  Acting provides the cash flow I need for oil speculation, and besides that, I like acting. It's fun."

  • Pyle was the younger brother of war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who was killed in Japan during World War 2. His other brother Willis was an animator at Walt Disney Studios.

  • Pyle was a man of great charity.  In 1988, he founded Uncle Jesse's Fishing Tournament in Lamar County, Texas.  It is still held every year, raising money for local children's charities.  He also appeared in this PSA for the National Kidney Foundation.

  • During filming of The Left Handed Gun in 1958, Pyle became best friends with co-star James Best.  The two would later famously appear together on The Dukes of Hazzard, albeit on opposite sides of the law.  The friendship endured for forty years, until Pyle's passing in 1997.

  • Denver Pyle and Sorrell Booke were the only two cast members to appear in all 147 episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Sam The Butcher


Allan John Melvin was born in Kansas City, Missouri on February 18, 1923.  During his formative years, Melvin lived with his grandparents in New York City.  There he attended Columbia University, getting his first taste of acting as a theatre student.

Like many of his generation, Melvin served his country during World War 2, enlisting in the Navy after graduation. When the war was over, he returned to New York and began his career at NBC Radio, working in the sound effects department.  He also married his sweetheart Amalia Sestero, with whom he'd spend the next 64 years.

By the 1950s, Melvin's career had really taken off.  He'd appeared on Broadway in a production of Stalag 17, won Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts radio show, and created his own nightclub act. Then in 1955, he was cast in the first of several iconic television roles, that of Corporal Steve Henshaw on The Phil Silvers Show (aka Sergeant Bilko).  The series ran for four seasons, and Melvin enjoyed very minute of it.

"I think the camaraderie of all those guys made it such a pleasant way to work.  They were so relaxed."

After the series ended, Melvin signed up for another tour of duty as Staff Sergeant Charlie Hacker on Gomer Pyle, USMC.  For four seasons, he served as rival and chief antagonist to series regular Sergeant Carter.  Prior to this, he had made several appearances on The Andy Griffith Show in a variety of different roles.  At the same time, Melvin was beginning a very prolific voice-over career, in both animation and live-action shows (see Trivia below).

In the 1970s, Melvin was working consecutively on some of the most popular series of the decade.  He had a recurring role as Sam Franklin (aka Sam the Butcher) on The Brady Bunch (above), boyfriend of housekeeper Alice Nelson.  He was also appearing as Barney Hefner, Archie Bunker's best friend, on All in the Family as well as its spin-off series, Archie Bunker's Place.  Additionally, he made several appearances as a diner patron on Alice, while doing a lot of commercial work as well (see Trivia below).  By the mid-1980s, he was working exclusively in animation, until he retired in 1994.

By the early 200s, Melvin's health was in decline.  Diagnosed with cancer, he ultimately died on January 17, 2008.  He was 84 years old. 

Allan Melvin was interred at Pierce Brothers Memorial Village in Los Angeles.

Rest in peace.

  • Amalia eventually passed in December 2020, having reached the 100-year mark.

  • Despite having a rather lengthy resume in Hollywood, Melvin only ever appeared in one film, 1968's With Six You Get Eggroll.

  • For more than thirty years, Melvin was an in-demand voice actor on a number of popular television series.  Most prominently, he was the voice of Magilla Gorilla (right), Drooper on The Banana Splits Show, and Bluto on Popeye.

  • Melvin did a lot of commercial work during the 1970s and was a recurring pitchman for Liquid Plumbr.  Yes, I spelled that correctly.  Here are a few of those spots (1973, 1978, 1981)

  • Pin-up model Bettie Page is buried right next to the Melvins, but this blogger can find no connection between them.  She also died in 2008.  Their grave is also within walking distance of Archie Bunker himself, Carroll O'Connor.  Brady Bunch co-star Florence Henderson is also nearby.