Peter the Hermit in Studio City, 1950s

April 23, 2013 § 3 Comments

Peter the Hermit with Thareen and Mimi/Courtesy Stewart Edward Allen

Peter the Hermit with Thareen and Mimi/Courtesy Stewart Edward Allen

From Stewart Edward Allen comes this photo of his two grandmothers with their friend Peter the Hermit. It’s the first color photo I’ve seen of Peter, and comes with this description:

I had two very eccentric grandmothers by the names of Thareen Auroraa and Mimi Reed.
They were terrific women who worked in Burlesque and “Showbiz” for many years.
They lived on Reklaw Drive from 1946 until their deaths in 2005.
They knew Peter the Hermit.
They loved him. They told stories of how we would come and visit them and sit in their home and say “This place has good vibrations.”
They said he would hang out. They would have something to eat with him. Knowing my grandmothers I am sure they had
a little drink or two too.

Peter certainly got around. Readers of this blog will know that he was widely photographed throughout his life in Los Angeles, and that his image turns up in all kinds of unexpected places. Coincidentally, just today I was shown another photo of Peter–an unusual cyanotype portrait done in the 20s by a well-known Hollywood photographer. I hope I’ll be permitted to show it in the future.

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.

Peter the Hermit, Hollywood Star

March 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Peter the Hermit (undated)/Courtesy Al Dickson

Al Dickson has kindly contributed this beautiful portrait of Peter the Hermit, whom he befriended as a child in Hollywood. He recalls:

I think that he had been in some sort of show business or theater in  the distant past. He had the booming voice of a Shakespearean actor….Peter could hitch-hike everywhere without worry. Fortunately,
our house at 2047 Cahuenga Blvd was on the way out of Hollywood, so it was easy
for him to stop by for a quick visit. Our house was displaced by the building of
the Hollywood freeway in 1947. So our visits stopped.

Peter the Hermit in Laurel Canyon, Part II: Media Coverage

December 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

"Canyon Forms Queer Adjunct to Hollywood," Oakland Tribune, 3/22/31

James Zeruk sent the article about Peter that I mentioned in my last post. Dated 1931, it describes his Laurel Canyon outpost as “the film capital’s own Greenwich Village.”

A trendsetter in every aspect, Peter not only made himself a brand (in the 1920’s!) but dropped out of society in an era when doing so was decidedly odd. But the times eventually caught up with him: when Peter died, in 1969, the hippie era was in full swing. It must have been gratifying to see the back-to-the-land movement, which he apparently pioneered during the Depression, in full flower.

Peter the Hermit’s Laurel Canyon Phase, 1933

December 19, 2010 § 2 Comments

 

 Tom Montgomery sent this wonderful 1933 photograph of Peter the Hermit with his mother and aunts posed on his donkey. From left to right are Anne (Hicks) Siberell, Elizabeth (Hicks) Granfield, Dorothy (Hicks) Constantine, Margaret (Hicks) Montgomery, and Peter.  

As I learned from a news article, the Hermit fled Hollywood for the much more bucolic Laurel Canyon because of construction noise in the late 1920s. He probably commuted to Hollywood Boulevard by streetcar (see “Hollywood Before the Movies, Part III: Mansions and Streetcars,” July 6) in order to ply the tourist trade during this period and, as evidenced by the photo above, found additional subjects in Laurel Canyon. Eventually he returned to Beachwood Canyon, a much more convenient commute to Hollywood Boulevard.

If anyone knows the dates of his residence in Laurel Canyon, please let me know.

Peter the Hermit, Sage of the Hollywood Dell

November 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Peter the Hermit in Life Magazine/Courtesy Peter Green

Peter Green has written a fascinating account of his 1963 encounter with his great-uncle Peter Howard, aka Peter the Hermit, that answers many questions about this famous local character. (http://peterhgreen.com/blog)  Then 85 years old, Peter the Hermit was living in a bungalow near the 101 freeway, in the Hollywood Dell. When not appearing in biblical movies or posing for pictures, he worked as a spiritualist, dispensing advice to a famous clientele. He explained: 

The actors and actresses all come to me for advice: Jane Russell, Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe. They come to me to learn of the higher spiritual world and to be healed.

His sideline was in keeping with the local tradition of alternative religions. Hollywood’s embrace of unconventional spiritual practices began with the Theosophical Society’s relocation to Beachwood Canyon in 1911. (For background, see my post from June 2, 2009, “Alternative Religions, from Theosophy to Scientology: A Hollywood Tradition.”) Actors such as John Barrymore and Charlie Chaplin soon took notice of the Krotona Colony, whose artistic, bookish members welcomed rather than shunned them as “movie people.” For denizens of the nascent film industry, the appeal of Theosophy probably stemmed both from its relative lack of dogma and its occult aspects.  Seances, a happy combination of mysticism and theatrics, quickly became a Silent Era fad, attracting practitioners who had no interest in Theosophy, or any other system of belief.

In counseling movie stars, reading auras and offering mystical platitudes, Peter continued a Hollywood tradition, but his canny entrepreneurialism was a break from the past. Unlike the Theosophists, who relied on wealthy benefactors, Peter the Hermit knew how to make a living from his spiritual talents. Though he resembled a Biblical prophet, his business model was distinctly modern, pointing to the present day. In contemporary Hollywood, agrarian utopias like the Krotona Colony are unknown, after all, but self-made spiritual advisors abound.

 

 

 

Peter the Hermit, Hollywood Entrepreneur

September 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

Peter the Hermit/Courtesy Richard Hatfield

Richard Hatfield sent me these pictures of a bronze bust he recently bought of Peter the Hermit. Like Jean Hawkins’ bookends, it appears to have been produced for the tourist trade in the late 1920s.

Not bad for a man who lived in a tent, hermit-style, in Beachwood Canyon. Peter turns out to have been a canny entrepreneur, supplementing his picture-posing income with a trove of memorabilia. In contrast to today’s imitators, he was unfettered by competition and faced no legal issues by profiting off his Biblical character.

 Still, his inventiveness and marketing savvy put them to shame.

Peter the Hermit, Memorialized in Bookends

August 20, 2010 § 1 Comment

 

All Photos Courtesy Jean Hawkins

 

From Jean Hawkins come pictures of these wonderful bronze bookends of Peter the Hermit with his greyhound. Found in a thrift store, the bookends were produced by Novel-Arts of Hollywood and copyrighted 1927. Inscribed “Peter the Picturesque, Beloved Hermit of Hollywood,” they are touching proof of Peter’s fame in Hollywood during the 1920’s and 30’s. 

 

What a great piece of local history! Thank you for sharing them, Jean.

Peter the Hermit Resurfaces in England

August 8, 2009 § 1 Comment

Peter the Hermit/Courtesy Suzanne Summers

Peter the Hermit/Courtesy Suzanne Summers

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, my entry on Peter the Hermit was read by an Englishwoman named Suzanne Summers, who came across a portrait of Peter and his greyhound at a car boot sale. She bought it without knowing anything about Peter or his odd profession because she loves greyhounds and recognized the picture’s artistic merits.

The photo is expertly composed and lit in a way that highlights Peter’s haunting, pale eyes. The photographer was Bruno of Hollywood, a prolific local portrait photographer. Ironically, it was Bruno who shot the infamous half-nude that Kenneth Anger claimed was of Peg Entwistle in his 1959 book,  Hollywood Babylon. It wasn’t until I asserted the model wasn’t Peg in my documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign” that anyone questioned the portrait’s veracity. (Though the model has platinum hair, as Peg did in her final year, her face, especially the nose, is completely different. Yet no one noticed, probably because they were focussed on her bare breasts.)

But the man in the portrait above is definitely Peter, who had no imitators. Though his world probably encompassed three miles–the distance between his tent in Beachwood Canyon and his workplace on Hollywood Boulevard–his portrait, framed and labeled “Peter the Hermit of Hollywood, Calif.,” has traveled across the Atlantic and back again, this time in digital form.

Peter the Hermit: The Original Hollywood Character

May 22, 2009 § 48 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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