Peg Entwistle’s Powers of Persuasion

May 19, 2009 § 1 Comment

Peg Entwistle c. 1928

Peg Entwistle c. 1928

My decision to film a re-enactment of Peg Entwistle’s 1932 climb to the Hollywoodland Sign–from which she committed suicide–initially was the result of a lack of biographical information and photographs of the young actress, who was only 24 when she died. I didn’t like re-enactments in documentaries and still don’t, but I was driven to do this. Filming the 5-minute sequence took 5 nights and weeks of planning, not to mention an actress, costumes, a wig, props, lighting, a 16 mm camera, black-and-white film stock, a truck and 5 extra crew members. And let’s not get started on the cost, which was significant. Or the stress. But through it all, I felt Peg’s presence, as if she really wanted her story told on film.

“Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk” was a little silent film with titles long before I  incorporated the footage into my documentary, “Under the Hollywood Sign.” Its initial version attracted an enthusiastic audience on YouTube (I’ve since taken it down) and was seen by a researcher, James Zeruk, who in turn led me to Peg’s family. They kindly opened a treasure trove of photos and documents to me, so in the end I had no lack of biographical material. But “Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk” has taken on a life of its own; recently, I’ve made a new version and entered it in film festivals.

It’s hard to live near the Hollywood Sign without thinking about Peg. Nearly 77 years after her tragic, premature death, she is as much a part of the neighborhood as any living resident, casting a long shadow over the canyon where she lived. Long misunderstood because of her death, she was no failure. A rising young star who inspired Bette Davis to become an actress, Peg worked steadily on the stage, where she earned only glowing reviews. Her brief career faltered because of family tragedy, a disastrous marriage and the Great Depression, but her talent foretold a great future.

I’d like to think Peg would approve of what I’ve done. One of my interviewees, a woman with psychic gifts, has had vivid dreams about her, and reports she is happy. 
Lately I’ve been hiking  to the Sign on the steep road that runs up Mt. Lee. It’s good exercise and gives me time to reflect, not only on Peg’s story but my own.
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