The Tragic Story of the "Ghost of the Hollywood Sign"

Evie M.

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photo courtesy of Rarenewspapers.com

At the young age of twenty-four, on the night of September 18th, 1932, Peg Entwistle told her uncle she’d be going to the drug store to buy a book and then for a walk with friends. Instead, she found herself at the base of the Hollywood sign, left her jacket and purse behind, climbed a maintenance ladder to the top of the famed “H,” and leaped off.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1qSm85_0YnYEs9O00 Wikimedia commons 

The History 

A Troubled Past 

Peg Entwistle, born in Wales in 1905 as Millicent Lilian Entwistle, along with so many other hopefuls, came to Hollywood chasing dreams of becoming a star.

A lot of Peg’s past is fuzzy. There’s not much to be said about her beyond the sensationalized press on her death. Even the only full biography on Ms. Entwistle (Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide by James Zeruk Jr.) doesn’t mention much of her mother, who is often mistakenly said to have died. All it says is that when Peg was two, her parents divorced and that in 1912 she emigrated to America with her father, and they settled in New York.

Her father, an actor and stage manager remarried and had two sons with his new wife. In 1921 Peg’s stepmother died, and a year later, her father was killed after a car hit him on Park Avenue and E. 72nd street. Peg and her two half brothers moved in with their uncle.

Hollywood dreams 

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0660LB_0YnYEs9O00© Photo by: Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection A New York Theatre Guild production at the Figueroa Theatre. Peg is on the let. 

Despite the struggles in Peg’s life, she started her acting career at seventeen. 1925 was a good year for the up and comer, who’d booked roles in several Broadway shows. A young Bette Davis can even be quoted saying she wanted to be “an actress just like Peg” after watching her perform in The Wild Duck.

When she married actor Robert Lee Keith in 1927, their wedding announcement in the New York Times listed several of her credits, including a bit part in Hamlet with Walter Hampden. A year later, The New York Theater Guild invited the new couple to join the New York Theater Guild, a very high honor.

It seemed as if Peg was on her way to the life she always wanted, but then came the landslide of misfortune. In Peg’s biography, Zeruk writes that Robert’s alcoholism and violent behavior revealed themselves as time went on.

In 1929, Peg and Robert divorced, leaving her reputation in Broadway circles tarnished. By 1931, the depression was in full force, and the theater wasn’t exempt from the disaster, so she moved to West Los Angeles to stay with another uncle, hoping to start working in film. Yet, with so many talented young women hoping for the same shot at Hollywood stardom, though Peg performed on stage, she found herself struggling to secure jobs, which didn’t help soothe the depression she suffered from.

Still, even with the odds against her, Peg managed to land her first big role in her only film. By 1932, Peg wrapped shooting on the thriller Thirteen Women, but her part was cut down to fifteen seconds to keep things “wholesome” (she played a lesbian in the film). With the negative attention on Peg, she and several other actresses were cut from their RKO contracts.

The movie premiered a month after her death and received poor reviews.

Death 

Peg’s uncle was the one to identify “Jane Doe” in the newspaper two days after her disappearance told police, “she was always fascinated by the Hollywood sign.”

Her death made headlines — newspapers painting a picture of “The Hollywoodland Sign Girl” ( the nickname given by the editor of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner) — a failed actress who threw herself off the “H” in despair. 1965’s Hollywood Babylon went so far as to claim she was devastated she had to pose nude for money and that she killed herself due to bad reviews (the naked photo in the book isn’t even her.)

We’ll never know the true reason why Peg, who was said in her biography to be “impulsive and moody,” committed suicide.

We know that on September 16, 1932, Peg left her uncle’s home, and he never saw her alive again.

Her uncle identified her in the newspaper two days later after reading about an unknown woman who’d jumped to her death from the Hollywood sign. On September 18, 1932, a hiker found one shoe, her coat, and the purse containing her suicide note:

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

Her uncle confessed to the police she was dealing with “intense mental anguish” leading to the suicide and was also upset about her ex-husband’s new wife. The coroners concluded the cause of death was “multiple fractures to the pelvis.”

A funeral was held four days later. They buried her cremated remains with her father in Oakdale Cemetery (Glendale, Ohio).

Yet, according to legend and many witnesses, Peg hasn’t moved on.

Her uncle confessed to the police she was dealing with “intense mental anguish” leading to the suicide and was also upset about her ex-husband’s new wife. The coroners concluded the cause of death was “multiple fractures to the pelvis.” 

A funeral was held four days later. They buried her cremated remains with her father in Oakdale Cemetery (Glendale, Ohio). 

Yet, according to legend and many witnesses, Peg hasn’t moved on. 

The Hauntings

After Ms. Entwistle’s death, it didn’t take long for ghost sightings to be reported. Rumors of the “Ghost of the Hollywood Sign” started swirling in the 1940s. After maintenance on the “Hollywoodland” real estate went under due to the depression, the giant “H” fell over. Considering Peg jumped to her death from the top, it was said her spirit made it fall.

Over the decades, many people have insisted on seeing a young, beautiful woman in 1930s clothing who appears disoriented and sad before disappearing in a rush when approached. Here are a few of the more popular sightings:

  • A witness named Megan Santos remembers jogging along Griffith Park trail when a “weird feeling struck her.” She claims she shivered before noticing “this woman with blond hair and she seemed to be like…. walking on air.”
  • In 1990, a couple walking along the same Griffith Park Trail saw a “disoriented blonde woman in 1930’s clothing vanish before their eyes.”
  • A couple walking their dog along the Beachwood Canyon trail near the Hollywood sign reported their dog began crying and hiding behind them. A young woman in “out-of-date” clothing then materialized on the path, looking lost before she faded into the air.
  • Many park rangers also confirm seeing Peg’s ghost. Park ranger John Arbogast says he’s seen her several times. According to John, she appears most often during late, foggy nights, along with the strong scent of gardenias, Peg’s favorite scent.
  • Beachwood Canyon’s local Devon Morgan also mentioned gardenias after her run-in with Ms. Entwistle’s spirit. The witness recalls taking a hike up the Beachwood Canyon Trail. She noticed a woman on another part of the path who looked “very strange to her”:

“She had a very etheric quality. Instead of walking, she seemed to almost glide. She wasn’t floating… she didn’t look like she was a ghost, but there was something very, very strange about her, and very soft looking.”

When the witness came close to the woman, she disappeared, leaving behind the strong smell of gardenias.

  • One recent ghost sighting even made it on the Syfy Channel show Paranormal Witness. After a Dodger’s game, four friends decided they wanted to hop the fence and touch the Hollywood sign. Once they came back down, one of the friends slipped and slid down the hill to the trail. While trying to return to his group, he noticed someone heading toward him:

“It was a woman, wearing a dress similar to the style of the 1930s. She wore heels and a veil over her face. She walked effortlessly up the hill. Her footsteps made no sound.”

They claimed to have no idea who Peg Entwistle was until reading about her later.

A Happy Ending?

While Peg’s story is a tragedy, it seems decades after her death, she’s finally receiving the attention she deserves. In 2014, approximately 100 people on the anniversary of her death gathered to watch Thirteen Women in Hollywood’s Beachwood Market’s parking lot. The event donated the money from a raffle and refreshments to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Peg’s name.

Other nods to Entwistle include:

  • Hollywood Girl: The Peg Entwistle Story (2017), an award-winning short about the last day of Peg’s life.
  • “Peg est mon nom” (2015) — French songwriter Benoit Clerc wrote a song about Peg standing on top of the giant “H,” wondering if others will mourn her after she jumps.
  • Lana Del Rey’s song “Lust for Life” is about a couple who dance on top of the “H.”
  • Good Night September (2014), a musical depicting the last few weeks of Peg’s life, was written in her honor.
  • Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood mini-series (2020) is centered around a (fictional) film titled Peg about her life and suicide.

Also, it’s reported that a few years ago, Tony Kaye and Arthur Sarkissian (American History X and Rush Hour) released plans for a movie about Peg.

It is also said, though not proven, a day after Peg died, she received a letter offering her the starring role in a play about a woman who commits suicide.

At least the beautiful would-be star will be remembered.

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