August 20, 2016

The Fall of Peg Entwistle

Peg Entwistile's name is little known today and she's remembered more for her tragic death than what she accomplished during her short life but her life gave a glance at the dirty underbelly of Hollywood and fame.  

Born Millicent Lilian Entwistle in Wales in 1908 but always known fondly as "Peg", she was brought up in London before immigrating to Ohio and New York City via Liverpool by 1913.  She did appear to have some dissension in her early life; some reports say her mother died while Peg was still fairly young but a Last Will and Testament written by her father in 1922 states that he divorced Peg's mother, was granted custody of the then still minor Peg and wishes that should anything happen to him, under no circumstance should Peg be returned to her mother.  Perhaps more common today but a father being granted custody of his minor child, and a daughter, in the 1920s was very unusual.  My guess would be that perhaps Emily Entwistle was ill.

Peg's father Robert was listed in the cast of several plays in 1913, helping to spark an interest in the theater in his young daughter. In 1922 tragedy struck for Peg when her father was killed in a hit and run accident in New York City.  She and her two younger half brothers were taken in by an uncle who managed actors.

Over the next five years Peg would act in a variety of stage plays, one even seen by the young Bette Davis, who would later remark that seeing Peg Entwistle on stage had inspired her to become an actress.  Peg became a member of the New York Theater Guild and would rack up an impressive ten separate play performances as a member between 1926 and 1932, with one play - - Tommy (1927) running for an incredible 232 performances.  She acted with many notables of the day - - George M. Cohen, Robert Cummings, Dorothy Gish, and Laurette Taylor, to name just a few.  Peg seemed assured of a solid and respectable career.

She married fellow actor Robert Keith in 1927 but the marriage would last barely two years with Peg requesting a divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty, claiming that Keith had neglected to inform her that he had been married previously and had a six year old son.

Peg hit the road over the next few years, touring with her company, and made her last Broadway performance in 1932.  Unfortunately for her, she ended up in Los Angeles.

By May of 1932, Peg had hopes for the ironically named play The Mad Hopes but it would close after little more than a week.  It was at this time that she would land her one and only credited film role, Radio Picture's Thirteen Women, starring Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne.  While the film would later be appreciated as one of the first, if not the first, female ensemble films, when it was released in October of 1932 it was neither a critical nor commercial success.

It's unknown exactly when Peg felt she was out of options with her career or her number was up but on Friday, September 16, 1932, she left the home she shared with her uncle stating that she was going on a walk to see some friends.   Two days later a woman's shoe, purse and jacket were discovered below the Hollywoodland sign; a suicide note was discovered inside the purse.   Peg's body was discovered later that day, although she remained unidentified until her uncle made the connection between the moderately well dressed woman, the suicide note with the initials P.E. and Peg's failure to return home.  Why he wasn't actively looking for her after she didn't return on Friday is a mystery.
The story released to the media was that the blonde haired blue eyed actress had made her way to the southern slope of Mount Lee to the foot of the Hollywoodland sign, climbed a workman's ladder and jumped from the "H."  Her suicide note, as published in the local papers, 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."

Was Peg referring to her own pain?  Or was she insinuating she caused others pain?  It was never known.

The coroner determined that she had died due to multiple fractures of the pelvis, which would indicate that she had jumped feet first and landed feet, or lower body, first.  It must have been agonizing.

Peg's death revealed a reality that Hollywood did not want America to see.  She was quickly forgotten in the industry, helped out by Paul Bern's death earlier that month, and even the Hollywoodland sign would undergo a change in the 1940s, distancing itself from its sad history., dropping the "land" and making the sign a more palatable nine letters versus the unlucky thirteen.

In October of 2015 Peg's name would again be in the media as it was reported that Peg's apparition was sighted at the Hollywood sign.  Is it possible that she continues to remain in the city that crushed her dreams?

What really happened to Peg Entwistle?  Why didn't she return to New York and back to her respected stage career?  Could this twenty-four year old have already been burnt out?  Was she that ashamed that she didn't make it in L.A.?   Was it possible that she suffered with something more serious, something along the lines of an undiagnosed mental disorder that led to her suicide?  Something that maybe her mother could also have suffered with, which had led to the divorce and loss of custody?  It will never be known.

A sad footnote to the story of Peg Entwistle is that the six year old son of her husband was Brian Keith, who would go on to become an actor himself.  While he would conquer stage, television and movies, his greatest success would be as the lovable and dependable Uncle Bill on the classic 1960s television show Family Affair in which he portrayed a bachelor raising his brother's orphaned children.  What  nod to Peg Entwistle.  In all, Keith's career would span a formidable four decades.  On  June 24, 1997, after suffering from declining health and finances, Brian Keith died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  Two months prior, his youngest daughter Daisy had committed suicide.   Actress Maureen O'Hara firmly believed that Keith would not have committed suicide due to his Catholic beliefs.  She visited with him shortly before his death and found him in good spirits.  She knew he had a large gun collection that he was diligent about cleaning and believed that he had accidentally shot himself while cleaning a gun.


  1. This song Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign was inspired by Peg

    1. Interesting tidbit I did not know, Roberta. Thank you for sharing!