Revisiting Peg Entwistle’s Life and Death: Myth vs. Reality in Netflix’s “Hollywood”

May 21, 2020 § 2 Comments

Peg Entwistle in 1932/Courtesy Bruce Torrence

Filming “Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk

Jeremy Pope, Darren Criss and Laura Harrier in “Hollywood”

Soon after Netflix released the new Ryan Murphy-Ian Brennan miniseries “Hollywood,” I heard from Chris Yogerst, a University of Wisconsin film professor who has corresponded with me off and on since 2010, that Peg Entwistle’s story was a major theme. Naturally, I got right on it.

Since releasing my short film “Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk,” my documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign” in 2009 and my book of essays (Peg Entwistle and The Hollywood Sign) in 2013, a number of Peg-related projects have been announced, such as this one ://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/the-newly-announced-peg-entwistle-biopic/ , but “Hollywood” is the first major one to be completed. It’s also the most imaginative, using Peg’s story not as a grim cautionary tale but the departure point for a wildly revisionist Hollywood history.

At the outset of “Hollywood,” a script about Peg is greenlit by the Paramount-like Ace Studios. The screenwriter, Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope) is predictably male but also black, and his struggle to make it in Hollywood gives him empathy for Peg’s tragic story. Fortunately for Archie, his champions at Ace Studios are self-professed outsiders: the director Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss), though passing for white, is half-Filipino, and the acting head of production Avis Amberg (Patti Lupone) is a former silent film star whose acting career was cut short by her apparent Jewishness.

Though the Peg Entwistle project begins as a straightforward biopic featuring a blonde, white starlet, Avis agrees to cast Claire Wood (Samira Weaving), a Dorothy Dandridge-like actress whose screen test blows away the competition, in the lead. Thus Peg becomes Meg, and the film changes from a tragedy to a triumph of interracial romance and career redemption. If that weren’t enough, a major subplot involves Archie’s romance with the young Rock Hudson, and the couple soon smash racial and sexual barriers by walking the red carpet hand-in-hand at the Oscars. When Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec) becomes the first Asian to win an Academy Award, every studio-era wrong is righted, and it’s only 1948.

In short,”Hollywood” is a fantasia of racial and sexual justice. Though it’s based in fact–Rock Hudson, his manager Henry Willson (Jim Parsons) and the gas station/prostitution ring all existed–the series becomes increasingly fantastical as it careens toward a universal happy ending. This revisionism actually works for Peg Entwistle’s story, which–stripped of her Depression Era suicide–becomes a tale of ¬†movie stardom and true love.

Unfortunately, Ryan and Brennan can’t let go of the biggest myth about Peg: that the Hollywood Sign symbolized Hollywood The Industry. In fact, it didn’t even symbolize Hollywood The Place. As I’ve said many times, the Hollywoodland Sign (which is how it appeared even when “Hollywood,” is set) was a billboard for the neighborhood where it stood. What it symbolized was real estate, nothing more. If Peg Entwistle hadn’t been living in Beachwood Canyon in 1932, she would have chosen another spot from which to jump–or might not have jumped at all.

As for Peg’s drinking beforehand, it didn’t happen, not only because there were no legal alcohol or bars during the Depression but because no inebriate could have climbed Mt. Lee, let alone the ladder to the top of the H. In “Meg” this fiction does, however, give Rock Hudson something to do: in the role of bartender, he not only serves Meg a drink but tells her how to get to the Sign. The directions, it should be noted, are¬†accurate.

For Peg Entwistle’s actual story, as well as photos and artifacts, here are links to my film, documentaries and book:

DVDs

eBooks

Among the Dead at Hollywood Forever

November 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

Hollywood Forever Cemetery 11/11/14/All photos Hope Anderson Productions

Hollywood Forever Cemetery 11/11/14/All photos Hope Anderson Productions

Last week I had a visitor from England–Heath Woodward, who I met three years ago because he was writing a musical about Peg Entwistle. Last year I visited Heath’s hometown of Margate, where I saw an early showcase of “Goodnight September” (which recently had its first performances there); this year it was his turn to visit Los Angeles. Because Heath’s previous visit was short and lacking in both a car and a guide, I was determined to show him more of the city, and I think I succeeded. In addition to Hollywood and Beverly Hills, I took him on a tour of downtown that included the Broadway theaters as well as the Belasco, where Peg Entwistle had great success starring in “The Mad Hopes” in 1932.
Johnny Ramone

Johnny Ramone

Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel

Mickey Rooney's Headstone at the Mausoleum

Mickey Rooney’s Headstone at the Mausoleum

Last Tuesday we went to Hollywood Forever, my favorite cemetery. It was an appropriately overcast day, and as we wandered through the Garden of Legends I realized that–with the exception of a screening of “Chinatown” and a Johnny Marr concert, both held at night–I hadn’t been there in twelve years. (Last time I was showing it to a friend from Hawaii; he said it was his favorite place in LA because he couldn’t hear the sound of traffic.) Although it was late afternoon when Heath and I arrived, we managed to see some of the highlights–the Fairbanks, Tyrone Power, Jr., and DeMille memorials–but not the Valentino crypt, as the mausoleum is being worked on and was locked. But its outside wall featured a new addition–a stone for Mickey Rooney, who died earlier this year. Nearby stood Johnny Ramone’s statue and Hattie McDaniel’s pink oblong stone. One headstone caught our eye simply because it was unlike any memorial we’d ever seen–a sculpture of a man lashed with steel cable to a jagged rock. Staring at the inscription, we were startled to realize that it was Tony Scott’s grave.
Heath Woodward at Tony Scott's grave

Heath Woodward at Tony Scott’s grave

By then it was getting dark, so my efforts to pay respects to John Huston, whose excellent autobiography An Open Book I’m reading, had to be postponed. Along the way we had picked up a couple of fellow travelers–a woman and her live wire four-year-old son. The little boy grabbed my sleeve, showed me his blankie and attached himself to our self-guided tour, saying “We need more people!” Unlike us, he didn’t mean dead ones.

The Fairbanks Memorial, burial place of Douglas Sr. and Jr.

The Fairbanks Memorial, burial place of Douglas Sr. and Jr.

Toto's Memorial Statue

Toto’s Memorial Statue

The Newly Announced Peg Entwistle Biopic

October 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

Still from "Peg Entwistle's Last Walk"/Copyright 2007 and 2014, Hope Anderson Productions

Still from “Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk”/Copyright 2007 and 2014, Hope Anderson Productions

I was in New York a couple of weeks ago when two friends emailed within an hour of each other to tell me that a feature film on the actress Peg Entwistle had been announced in the trades. Tony Kaye (“American History X”) is slated to write and direct the film, and producer Arthur Sarkissian promises the result will be “in the vein of…Vertigo and…Seven.” http://deadline.com/2014/09/actress-death-hollywood-sign-movie-jumped-off-h-peg-entwistle-836778/

When I started researching Peg Entwistle’s life for my documentary Under the Hollywood Sign in 2006, the accurate public record of her life was tiny, consisting of three or four photos, her nationality at birth (English) and her suicide from the Hollywoodland Sign in 1932. The amount of erroneous information, however, was enormous. It included her career (she was not a wannabe starlet but a successful and accomplished Broadway actress); her background (she was brought up not in England but as a naturalized American in New York and Hollywood); her motivations for suicide (which were not as much professional as existential). Among the falsehoods was the assumption that Peg’s choice of the Hollywoodland Sign was a message to the film industry. It’s a great bit of symbolism, except that the Sign was nothing more than a billboard for the Hollywoodland tract at the time. Because I knew the history of the Sign and live along the route she took, it was obvious that Peg chose the Sign for two simple reasons: it was high enough to do the job and in 1932 so isolated that no one was likely to stop her. As I progressed in my research, the misinformation kept coming. Even the date on her death certificate was wrong–it appears as September 18th, the date her body was discovered. But because Peg went to the Sign on the evening of September 16th and could not have survived her fall for long, the date of her death was clearly September 16th.

Many of the lies about Peg came straight from Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon , whose chapter on her tragic end was accepted as fact until I set about correcting it. I identified the book’s half-nude portrait of Peg as a fake, which should have been obvious since the only feature the model shared with Peg was her platinum blond bob, a ubiquitous hairstyle in Hollywood at the time. Yet everyone, including her family, had taken Anger’s word for it.

As a way of telling Peg’s story, I made a short feature film about her fateful climb to the Sign called Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk, incorporating the footage into my documentary Under the Hollywood Sign. After I put the short on YouTube in 2007, it caught the attention of tens of thousands of viewers, including James Zeruk, Jr., who was researching her life for a book. James helped me to find Peg’s family, who generously made available a trove of playbills, photographs and documents about her life. Most importantly, I was able to interview Peg’s half-brother, Milt Entwistle, then 92 and the only living person with direct memory of her.

Under the Hollywood Signwas released in 2009. Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk remained on YouTube until this year, when I pulled it off to release it on DVD and Vimeo, along with her biography, as Peg Entwistle: The Life and Death of An Actress. http://hopeandersonproductions.com/?page_id=3361

Last year I published an ebook consisting of Entwistle family photos, the script of the biographical documentary and the production diary of Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk. http://www.amazon.com/Peg-Entwistle-The-Hollywood-Sign-ebook/dp/B00FSOGCV4
Zeruk’s book Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide was also published last year.

Biopics can’t be entirely invented, and I can’t imagine whose work Tony Kaye will draw on for his script if not mine and James Zeruk’s. Because alternative secondary sources don’t exist and many of the primary sources can only be found in the Entwistle family’s archive, I await Kaye’s film, assuming it gets made, with considerable interest.

“Peg Entwistle: The Life and Death of An Actress,” Now Available for Sale or Rent on Vimeo

July 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

My new release consists of two short films: a biographical documentary featuring interviews with Peg Entwistle’s surviving family, as well as previously unpublished photos and artifacts; and a silent black-and-white feature about her fateful walk to the Hollywood Sign in 1932. It’s available as a download for the first time; $4 to rent; $9 to buy.

Here’s the trailer:

For more about Peg Entwistle, my ebook Peg Entwistle and The Hollywood Sign is available at Amazon and other ebook sellers:
http://www.amazon.com/Entwistle-Hollywood-Sign-Hope-Anderson-ebook/dp/B00FSOGCV4/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1405712489&sr=1-2&keywords=peg+entwistle

Now Available on DVD: “Peg Entwistle: The Life and Death of An Actress”

December 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

DVD Cover Design Copyright Hope Anderson Productions, 2013

DVD Cover Design Copyright Hope Anderson Productions, 2013

photo 2
My two short documentaries on Peg Entwistle are available on a new DVD for $12. The first,”Peg Entwistle: A Life,” is a biography featuring interviews with family members, as well as previously unpublished photos and artifacts. The second, “Last Walk,” is a black-and-white short feature about her fateful walk to the Hollywoodland Sign in 1932. You can order it at http://hopeandersonproductions.com/?page_id=3361 or rent it at http://vimeo.com/ondemand/17445/100467934

For more about Peg Entwistle, see my ebook Peg Entwistle and The Hollywood Sign http://www.amazon.com/Entwistle-Hollywood-Sign-Hope-Anderson-ebook/dp/B00FSOGCV4/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1405712489&sr=1-2&keywords=peg+entwistle

Just Published: My eBook, “Peg Entwistle and The Hollywood Sign”

October 29, 2013 § 3 Comments

Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign/Hope Anderson Productions

Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign/Hope Anderson Productions

My new eBook contains previously unpublished writing about the actress’s life and death, as well as essays that have appeared on this blog. It also features photos and film stills from my short film, “Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk,” one of which appears on the cover.

Peg Entwistle and The Hollywood Sign is available from Amazon, Barnes and Nobel and other eBook sellers for $9.99.

http://www.amazon.com/Peg-Entwistle-The-Hollywood-Sign-ebook/dp/B00FSOGCV4
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/peg-entwistle-and-the-hollywood-sign-by-hope-anderson?keyword=peg+entwistle+and+the+hollywood+sign+by+hope+anderson&store=ebook

Peg Entwistle’s Childhood Home in London

October 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Peg Entwistle's House 10/11/13/Hope Anderson Productions

Peg Entwistle’s House 10/12/13/Hope Anderson Productions


Yesterday I visited the house in Barons Court where the actress Peg Entwistle lived from soon after her birth in 1908 until she immigrated to the United States with her father at the age of six. The house, # 53, is at right. Many thanks to Heath Woodward, whose forthcoming play “Goodnight September” tells Peg’s story, for taking me there.

Winter Rains–and Peace–Descend on Hollywoodland

December 2, 2012 § 1 Comment

Clouds Obscure the Hollywood Sign, 4pm 12/2/12/Hope Anderson Productions

Clouds Obscure the Hollywood Sign, 4pm 12/2/12/Hope Anderson Productions

Four days of intermittent rain have brought clouds and mist to Beachwood Canyon, which in turn have completely shrouded the Hollywood Sign. In the above photo, the Sign should stand to the right of the turreted house, as it does in any number of photos on this blog. But it’s not there–and if you didn’t know where to look, you’d never guess its location.

Given the arid local climate, the Sign’s disappearance is a rare occurrence, and I can remember only a handful of days during my seven years here when I couldn’t see it from my house. Ironically, on the first of them I was trying to show the Sign to Kelly Brand, the actress I cast as Peg Entwistle in my short film “Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk.” Although we were probably only 100 feet below the Sign at one point, we couldn’t see it at all.

But today the Sign’s invisibility was a gift. Normally Sundays bring nonstop tourist traffic up Beachwood Drive, and a Grand Prix-like roar that doesn’t stop until sundown. But all day long, traffic was light; with nothing to see, no one came.

Deliver Us From Lollygagging: The Glacial Pace of Tourist Traffic on Beachwood Drive

August 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Beachwood Drive at Glen Alder, with Speed Limit Posted/8-19-12/Hope Anderson Productions

An exponential rise in visitors to the Hollywood Sign has brought not only picture-taking throngs in the middle of traffic but the daily phenomenon of cars traveling well below the posted speed limit on Beachwood Drive. On the mile-long stretch between Franklin Avenue and the Hollywoodland Gates, the posted speed limit is 30. Yet the average tourist–status verified by out-of-state plates, rental car stickers and a penchant for running stop signs and not using turn signals–takes it upon himself to drive at a leisurely 20 mph, the better to take in the view.

While this might not sound like a serious problem, it is huge for those of us who live in the Canyon and have schedules to keep. Once we get stuck behind crawling tourist traffic, we are trapped for a mile. Drivers are completely unable to pass north of Graciosa, where Beachwood Drive is a narrow, two-lane ribbon. South of Graciosa, where the road is considerably wider, passing is possible but fraught with hazard. Sudden stops and swerves are common tourist driving tactics, as is road rage: How dare you pass us! seems to be the general attitude, as if no one should have anything better to do than chug up and down Beachwood Drive at 2/3 the legal speed. (I’m neglecting the fact that some tourists go even slower than 20 mph. 15 mph is common.)

The mile-long stretch between Franklin Avenue and the Gates has no stop lights and only two stop signs. At the posted speed of 30 mph, it took me 1 1/2 minutes to drive it at 6:45pm today. Yet it often takes five times as long, an inexcusable length of time for such a short distance. Getting stuck behind tourist traffic on Beachwood Drive is getting more common–and more frustrating–every day.

If you’re reading this and contemplating a visit to the Hollywood Sign, please drive at the posted speed. If you need to take a photo, please pull over, signalling first, and let the driver behind you pass. I’m thanking you in advance, not just for myself but for everyone concerned.

Beachwood Canyon in the 1940 Census, Part IV: Familiar Names and Addresses

June 7, 2012 § 2 Comments

The 1940 Census is numbered sequentially only to a point; it jumps from street to street on any given page, making the search for specific names and addresses time-consuming and difficult. Fortunately, I’ve been able to locate some of the notable Beachwooders who appear in my documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign.”

First among them is Charles Entwistle. After the actress Peg Entwistle’s suicide off the Sign in 1932, her adoptive parents–her paternal Uncle Charles and his wife Jane–remained in their house, which still stands, at 2428 N. Beachwood Drive. In 1940, Charles was 75; Jane was 55. Both were retired from their acting careers, listing no occupation or income on the Census. The other resident of the house was their younger nephew Robert Entwistle. At 21, he was working as a bookkeeper in a bank and earning $898 annually, $14,758 in today’s terms. His older brother Milt was not listed; at 23 he had left the household, possibly for the Navy, in which he served during WWII.

The Entwistle Family, line 12/All photos courtesy http://www.the1940census.com

A half-mile southwest of the Entwistles lived the Theosophists Henry Hotchenor, aged 58, and his wife Marie, aged 69, at 6139 Temple Hill Drive. Marie Russak Hotchenor, the architect of Moorcrest, also designed their Moorish-Spanish stucco house, which stands directly across the street from Moorcrest. Interestingly, Henry listed his occupation as “manager of own real estate,” while Marie claimed no occupation.

The Hotchenors, line 60

Finally Albert Kothe, caretaker of the Hollywood Sign and Wolf’s Lair, appears at the address where he lived from the mid-1920s until about 1960, when his dwelling was torn down: 3200 N. Beachwood Drive. His home, a foreman’s cabin dating from the days when Hollywoodland’s stone masons lived in tents on the property (1923-1925)–was located at the northern edge of Beachwood Drive, where the dirt road to Sunset Ranch begins. The certainty of his address should lay to rest the enduring myth that Kothe “lived in a shack behind the Hollywood Sign.” In the Census, Kothe listed his occupation as laborer for a private employer; he earned $800 a year ($13,148 today).

Albert Kothe, line 76

Background information about the Entwistles, Hotechenors and Mr. Kothe can be found in previous posts.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Peg Entwistle category at Under the Hollywood Sign.