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.

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