Peter the Hermit: The Original Hollywood Character

May 22, 2009 § 40 Comments

One of the great pleasures of making documentaries is interviewing someone who not only remembers great swaths of the past but is able to provide some perspective on them. Such a interviewee was Milt Entwistle, Peg’s brother, who at 90 vividly recalled his bucolic childhood in Beachwood Canyon as well as its Depression Era privations.

I had heard of Peter the Hermit, a Beachwood resident who during the 20’s and 30’s made his living impersonating a Biblical character on Hollywood Boulevard, where he posed for photographs with tourists. He was a legend. But Milt actually knew him and  was able to report that Peter didn’t like kids. He also described the Hermit’s workday attire: long gray beard, staff and white robes, as well as his omnipresent collie dog. What this getup had to do with Hollywood is unclear, but to my mind proves Peter was the first to ply the tourist trade in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

IMG_0325

Jack Sparrow, Hollywood & Highland. Photo by Hope Anderson Productions.

Last fall, while I was waiting at Hollywood and Highland for my son and his girlfriend to meet me at a screening, I struck up a conversation with the Jack Sparrow imitator, who can be seen stalking up and down the Boulevard seven days a week. After watching Jack give balloon animals to several kids whose mothers didn’t bother to tip, I felt compelled to give him some money. I also felt compelled to tell him about Peter the Hermit. “He was the original  guy in costume in front of the Chinese,” I said. Not surprisingly,  Jack Sparrow hadn’t heard of his patron saint, though he listened politely to the story before asking me for a job. 

The main reason Peter the Hermit didn’t make it into the documentary is that  I couldn’t find a single photo of  him, despite long searches on the Internet and through library collections. Even James Zeruk, Peg’s tireless researcher, couldn’t find one. A lack of photographic evidence is always a dealbreaker in documentaries, but in Peter’s case it was also hugely ironic. How could a man who posed with thousands of tourists leave behind not a single photo of himself? I imagined countless Midwestern attics hiding albums of long-ago trips to Hollywood, complete with photos of Peter, under blankets of dust. But it didn’t help me.

Then today, out of the blue, James sent me this: 

peter the hermit

peter the hermit

This photo of Peter (and two very well-dressed, unidentified men) comes from Jeanne Ringland. She found it in the collection of her grandfather, Fred Allen Edgeworth,  who worked as a still photographer for D.W. Griffiths and Mack Sennett and lived in Hollywood during the 20’s and early 30’s. 

It’s always a pleasure to find an undiscovered piece of Hollywood history. Thank you, Jeanne and James. And thank you, Milt, for telling me about Peter the Hermit.

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§ 40 Responses to Peter the Hermit: The Original Hollywood Character

  • john steppling says:

    I grew up in Hollywood, as did my father, who graduated from the first graduating class of hollywood high school (i graduated in 69). Anyway, i remember peter, and saw him often when i was a boy wandering the blvd. He spoke to me once, when i was entering an health food store, one of the first, on the blvd. He told me i was doing the right thing and smiled. He after that would always wave a hello to me. Funny, I handt thought of him in many years. Nice article.

    • Thanks for writing–I had no idea Peter was around so recently. I wonder when he passed away?

    • Robert wurth says:

      I knew Peter the hermit in 1956. He lived in a shack he built on my Dads property at 11700 1/2 Ventura Blvd studio city. Each morming he went scabbing behind grocery stores for his food and really lived as a hermit.

      Robert Wurth bjwurth@aol.com

      • Peter Green says:

        Robert, It’s heartening to confirm from your eyewitness account that Uncle Peter really was there. Looking back after meeting him all those years ago, and even recently finding the very row house where he lived, it seems like a dream or a fleeting image from a CinemaScope movie. To relive my memorable meeting with him, you can visit my blog post at http://peterhgreen.com/blog/?p=239 Peter

  • suzanne summers says:

    After doing some research after buying an old photograph at a car boot sale recently – I came across your blog- and I am sure that your Peter the Hermit is the same as mine. The frame is rather delapidated but the photo sound.

    Could you please return an e mail address so I can contact you, if you are interested in the photo. It is by Bruno of Hollywood and hand signed on the back of the oak frame “Peter the Hermit” of “Hollywood” – California – : it really is a stunning black and white foto and the dog is a greyhound.

    By the way I am in England, so it would interest me to know that how come a foto of Peter the Hermit made it’s way across the atlantic!!

    Looking forward to hearing from you.
    Kind regards
    Suzanne

    • How fascinating that this photograph turned up in England! I know from your description that the picture is of Peter the Hermit. Not only does the description match, but the Bruno of Hollywood imprint makes sense too. Bruno (not to be confused with Bruno Bernard, who was known as Bernard of Hollywood and was famous for his pictures of Marilyn Monroe) was a prolific local photographer. You can e-mail me at http://www.hopeandersonproductions.com

  • Blair White says:

    I grew up in the Hollywood Hills off of Cahuenga Blvd. I saw Peter many times either walking up Cahuenga toward the hills or down toward Hollywood Blvd. The time would have been 1950 – 1955. Iwas ten to sixteen years old.
    He did like kids and would talk to us at any time. He was older than the photo you have, was somewhat stooped and used a cane. He was always dressed in white and wore sandals. No dog, but often had a donkey or burro.
    Cahuenga Blvd is maybe a couple of miles from Beachwood Canyon. I never saw Peter walking anywhere but up and down Cahuenga, which would have hinted that he lived above the Hollywood Bowl or on the other side near the Hollywood Dam (now Lake Hollywood). I hiked those hills and often came on matted grass and where a fire had been built.
    He often left us with a saying of some sort, I think to give us kids some insight to what was important in life. I can’t remember any of them, but I suspect they are still in my head somewhere.

  • Aaron Taylor says:

    It might interest you to know that in 1921 Ralph Barton drew a caricature for Vanity Fair which depicts a number of Hollwood personalities, among which it appears, is Peter the Hermit. You can see it at the Wikipedia article on Barton–Peter is the first figure on the left.

  • Annie says:

    I am an intern at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles and we actually do have some pictures of him in our archives. In fact, a few moments ago I was researching negatives of him to enter into our database, and I stumbled onto your blog. It would probably interest you to know that because he was such a local celebrity, he was actually one of the featured “stars” in a 1927 women’s personality pageant hosted in Hollywood.

  • Lila Niles says:

    It is all so interesting as my father, George Morrison, painted 2 pastels portratis of Peter the Hermit when I was very small (around 1935). I have the larger one in my home. It is a fabulous portrait of Peter. The other hung in the Hollywood Men’s shop on Hollywood Blvd for years. It was of Peter standing on a hill with his Greyhound. I don’t know where that is. I wiash I did.
    I spoke with him around 1960 at Hollywood & Highland near then Lee’s Drugs. He remembered sitting for the portraits and asked where they were. I told him. He passed away not long after.

    Lila

  • Bob Hovden says:

    My Mother lived on Wunderland in Laurel Canyon in the 1920S and oftern played around the Hollywood sign, she told me of a “Hermit” that was a sometime actor that lived in a cave by the sign the kids would visit. from her description sounds like Peter. Ill show her some of these pics and ask her.

    • Yes, that was definitely Peter the Hermit. According to a newspaper interview, he moved to Laurel Canyon because construction on Hollywood Blvd. had made his life unbearable. Nevertheless, he returned to Hollywood after a year or two to pursue his livelihood.

      Thanks for writing!

  • Bob Hovden says:

    Talked to my Mother, That was the guy she said his name was Peter, she puts it at 1929 remembers a dog, and said he had a fig tree, which interested the kids.

  • Michael McDaniel says:

    In 1951 I was 6 years old and lived near Mullholland Dr. in the hills between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. Peter the Hermit was my friend. I used to hang out with him in his hard scrabble garden and corral where he kept his mule. He loved that mule and would give me rides on him as he walked him thru the hills. I always thought he was special and that I was too because Peter liked me and considered me his friend. I read that “he didn’t like kids”. From my experience I would say NOT TRUE!

    Michael McDaniel

  • Jean Hawkins says:

    I recently found two bronze bookends of The Hermit at a local thrift store. The label on it says “Peter the Picturesque, Beloved Hermit of Hollywood”. They were produced by Novel-Arts of Hollywood, Copyright 1927. I would send pictures but I can’t figure out how to include them in this message. If you are interested, please reply back.

    Thank you,
    Jean

  • Richard Hatfield says:

    Hi, I too have recently found a bronze of the “Hermit” exactly as described in your 8/18/10 message except I doubt that mine is a bookend, not heavy enough but it depicts him as a smiling, bearded, casually dressed happy type person. It looks like a desk piece. I can send you a picture if you are interested. Thanks for the information, it was very interesting. Richard

    • Jean Hawkins says:

      Hi Richard,

      sure, I would love to see a picture of your bronzed piece of THE HERMIT. My bookends are marked on the front bottom “THE HERMIT” and also have a paper label identifying him as the Hollywood Hermit along with the maker, etc. You can email me at jbower8849@aol.com.

      Thank you,
      Jean

  • Peter Green says:

    In August of 1963, before returning to my final year of graduate school—in a last fling of summer and a final procrastination of my architectural thesis project—I bought a circle ticket for an extended bus tour, with stops to visit friends in El Paso, Tucson and Carlsbad Caverns, ultimately reaching Los Angeles. There I met up with Bonnie, a friend of my sister’s, who kindly acted as my chauffeur, guide and companion on my Southern California tours. She showed me the Riverside Inn—an historic hotel with its many picturesque architectural features added over the past century—the La Brea tar pits and the L. A. Zoo, among other marvels. On one sunny August day I decided to look up my great Uncle Peter Howard, my namesake and one of my grandmother’s twin brothers. Their other brother Jerry had long been deceased, but Peter, having chosen a nomadic, outdoor existence, had apparently benefited from a healthier life style.
    A family legend, he had migrated from Chicago to California—a mecca for him to seek, if not fortune, a bit of fame, and the state’s noted tolerance of unconventional people. Characteristically, he was featured in the November 21, 1938 issue of Life magazine in an article entitled, “Cuckooland: Screwy California May be the Future Athens of America.” There in stark black and white, on a page headlined, “California’s Deep Desire for Population Filled the Land with Odd & Eccentric Folk,” stands Great Uncle Peter. He is shown bestriding a hillside pasture, braced by a rugged walking stick in his left hand and a trusty greyhound at his right, clad only in a dark, monkish robe and hiking boots, his white mane and beard flowing in the wind, looking mystically skyward,
    beyond earthly concerns. The caption reads, “Peter the Hermit, formerly Peter Howard of Chicago, is one of the many hermits who live in wooden shacks in the hills around Hollywood. Peter likes to be close to nature. His only companions are a burro, a herd of goats and a dozen greyhounds.” I had briefed Bonnie on our eccentric family, and her eager anticipation matched mine, as we entered the city of Hollywood and began to look for Peter’s house…

    If you would like the whole story, please send me an e-mail address. I appreciate seeing the studio photo from England. If I ever work up an act about my great Uncle Peter, I’ll need a proper model for the hair and beard. Thanks for your research.

    • Michael McDaniel says:

      Dear Peter Green,

      You have no idea how many people I have told throughout my life that Peter the Hermit was my friend.

      I would really like you to send me the “whole story”.

      Thanks,
      Michael

  • Peter Green says:

    Michael, I’ve sent it to Hope Anderson, author of this blog, since she had a way to give me her e-mail address, and I’ll figure out how to release on the web soon.
    Thanks for your continued interest. He was a character, all right. I feel lucky to have met him.

  • [...] Hope Anderson's blog on Peter the Hermit [...]

  • Peter Green says:

    The “whole story” is now available at http://www.peterhgreen.com/blog. I hope you enjoy it! Peter

  • [...] blogged her first picture of Peter the Hermit in the spring of 2009, and this past weekend shared yet another relayed vintage snap (pictured) of one of [...]

  • Alfred Dickson says:

    As a boy growing up on Cahuenga Blvd a few blocks north of Hollywood Blvd, we saw Peter the Hermit many times. He often stopped by our house for a drink of water and to sing with us at an old pump organ my mother played. He was always dressed in his spotless white outfit that smelled of eucaliptus. We visited his home one day and met his pet donkey. I have a 8″ by 11″ black and white photo of him in good condition. I’d be happy to send it along to another admirer.

  • Peter Green says:

    He had a powerful singing voice, and would dance around the floor demonstrating it. You can see my description of our meeting at the link with the “whole story” referenced above.

  • Alfred Dickson says:

    Please send me your mailing address so I can mail you my photo of Peter. Thanks.

  • ringa says:

    i HAVE QUITE A FEW PICS OF PETER THE HERMET. They are from the 1930’s. In one he is riding a donkey,in several others he is posing with my aunt and some other children. They are from our family album.

  • Peter Green says:

    It’s amazing that my Great Uncle Peter still lives on in the memory of so many. For my post about the time I traveled to Hollywood to meet him, see: http://peterhgreen.com/blog/?m=201011

    Peter

  • Paul Neugass says:

    I grew up in Hollywood in the early 60s and saw Peter the Hermit, an icon, walking around downtown Hollywood. I didn’t know his name, yet, and his image was like a magnet to me.

    The very first time I was walking on Hollywood Boulevard by Johnny Weismuller’s Hollywood Health Foods store. Peter was talking outside with Tarzan, the ‘real’ Tarzan. I’d never seen a man such as Peter the Hermit, dressed in white cotton, thick staff and full white beard. With his strong appearance he appeared to represent some kind of a classical Truth from other centuries, a Truth I may have been searching for. I was suitably gob smacked; I’d never seen his kind of man before.
    Or since!

    I saw him again and again as I drove down ‘the boulevard’ never speaking with him. One sunny day I seized the opportunity and offered him a lift to where ever he was going. I found out he lived on a hill not far above the Vedanta Society Temple in H’wood. I was driving an older white pick up truck with running boards that day. Peter shook my hand, thanked me for the lift, smiling with blazing blue eyes shining like a sun through my open window. I felt warm. I remember the grip; the wizened and wrinkled hand imprinted mine; it felt like a hand from a different time and place. He stood on the running board as I slowly drove up the hill to his small bungalow. He offered me tea and fruit. He asked me with a deep commanding voice if I see auras and gave a clearer explanation of the phenomena than I’d heard before. Then Peter offered to show me his aura. I looked at him as astutely as I could manage, I was only 17, and watched transfixed as he appeared to grow in size and stature, somehow puffing himself up psychically. He was really quite serious and riveting standing in front of his white wall Peter’s sparkling blue eyes blazing into my scull and I could almost smell ozone.

    I couldn’t see his aura. I’m sure it was brilliant. A few minutes later he gave me grapes and cherries and I left.

    The fruit was delicious and the flavour and ambrosia of that day are still with me!

  • Peter Green says:

    Paul, Your observations are consistent with mine. If you haven’t already done so, you can read them at http://peterhgreen.com/blog/?m=201011 . Thanks for chiming in on this fascinating subject!

  • Just three days ago, my husband and I were reminiscing about Peter the Hermit. We both grew up in Studio City, and I attended Carpenter Avenue School near the junction of Ventura Blvd.and Laurel Canyon.

    Peter was a familiar sight, traversing steep mountain paths above the school and sporting his white robes, white beard and long staff. I must say, I wondered how he managed to keep his clothes so clean living up there. I still do.

    I think Peter may have lived near Errol Flynn’s house then–at least that’s the part of the mountain where we saw him. As I understood it, he had his own little shelter up there and no one bothered him about it. That wouldn’t happen now!

    Peter provided a most unusual vision for us as young children –especially in the early morning when the sun shone directly on the mountain and highlighted his figure. He seemed quite biblical.

    To those of us who were children in Studio City in the late 1940s, Peter stood out as a larger-than-life figure in a place where there were many larger-than-life figures. I didn’t really notice the other ones (well, there was the frequent sight of Gene Autrey driving his sparkly gold Cadillac convertible with the huge, curly steer horns on the front), but I certainly do remember Peter.

  • Wow! I am so glad to have found this blog! My spiritual and painting teacher, Herman Rednick, his work in on fireintheheart.net, used to live in Hollywood in the 40’s and knew Peter the Hermit. I used to hear all about him. At some point, Herman gave me the portrait he did of Peter. It is amazingly precious. Today, while going thru my grandfather, Winthrop Gage’s old photos from when he used to work on movie sets in the ’40s, there was a photo of a white haired man with a greyhound. It wasn’t labeled but it looked familiar. So, I googled Peter the Hermit and found lots of photos. It was him! Interesting… amazing circles we all travel in.

  • Peter Green says:

    Maria,He was my great uncle–my maternal grandmother’s brother. I onlt met him once, but it was unforgettable. You can read about. it at my blog http://peterhgreen.com/blog/?m=201011 . Glad to hear from you!

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