|Hollywoodland||Sep 18 2010|
Your big debut, like a dream come true.
The famous Hollywood sign hovers over Los Angeles like a heat mirage, its white lettering visible all the way from the west side on a clear day. And like a mirage, it seems closer than it really is. Success can be that way too—tantalizingly near, yet never within reach. Maybe that’s what Peg Entwistle was thinking when she climbed a workman’s ladder to the top of the letter H in the big sign, and cast herself into oblivion.
Entwistle, who you see above in an early publicity shot, was desperate to be a movie star. She’d acted on stage in New York and done well, but the bright lights of Hollywood beckoned. She plied the L.A. party circuit, met a few big shots, and scored a one-picture deal with the prestigious studio RKO. They cast her in Thirteen Women with Irene Dunn and Myrna Loy, who were both stars. The movie premiered September 16, 1932, and the critics yawned. Two nights later a heartbroken Entwistle scaled the big sign—which back then read Hollywoodland after the hillside subdivision it had been erected to promote.
The H was fifty feet tall and Entwistle wasn’t fooling around. She dove headfirst into the ravine below, the impact killing her instantly. She lay there for two days until cops finally got an anonymous tip about a body in the brush. Entwistle was designated Jane Doe at the morgue, but had left behind a suicide note signed with her initials. So the police went to the press for help. Entwistle’s uncle read the resulting story, saw the initials, and realized his niece Peg might be the body in question. She’d been missing for two days. He contacted the police and was brought in to identify the body.
Entwistle’s suicide note was short and to the point: “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.” Her funeral was held in Hollywood, and her body was cremated, but she would never be forgotten. She remains a symbol of broken dreams, and a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of show business. That was today, in 1932.