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

The Hollyweed Sign and Its Predecessor

January 3, 2017 § 1 Comment

The Hollywood Sign on January 1, 2017/Courtesy LA Times

The Hollywood Sign on January 1, 2017/Courtesy LA Times

Because I was out of town on New Year’s Day, I missed seeing the Hollywood Sign transformed to read “Hollyweed.” Nevertheless, I heard about it from neighbors as soon as I woke up, and shortly afterwards from every imaginable news outlet . While I was surprised that the prankster got away with it, the prank itself wasn’t new, as I knew from making my documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign.”* On New Year’s Day, 1976, less than two years before the completion of the current Sign, a prankster named Daniel Finegood did exactly the same thing to the orignal Hollywood Sign. Here’s a photo:

Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific Collection

Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific Collection

At the time of the first prank, the Sign was a crumbling, unguarded relic that anyone willing to climb to could access. Today, the rebuilt Sign is fenced, alarmed and off-limits to visitors without official permits. (Disclosure: I have filmed there twice, both times with permission.) Because the Sign stands below a militarized emergency communications center, trespassers are subject to arrest–or so the City claims. That whoever who transformed the Sign was able to escape notice, let alone arrest, is proof that the Sign’s alarm system failed or went unheeded. One wonders whether terrorists have taken note.

The Hollyweed incident capped off a particularly frenetic holiday week, when thousands of tourists walking in the street (itself a crime) on the sidewalk-less part of Beachwood Drive endangered themselves and trapped residents in and out of their homes. Beyond the gridlock, there’s everything that comes with uncontrolled crowds: trash, public urination, defecation and sex, trespassing, illegal parking, drinking and drug use. The Hollyweed prank was the last straw–and also the event that exposed the lies and double-dealing of Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Councilman David Ryu, who have long promised to enforce the law in Hollywoodland. They haven’t and they don’t, and now it’s indisputable.

*”Under the Hollywood Sign” is available on DVD and as a digital download from http://www.hopeandersonproductions.com

On Being Interviewed (Again) About the Hollywood Sign

October 23, 2015 § 1 Comment

Lately my workdays have consisted of moving from writing project to writing project in monastic solitude. Although this suits me fine, others might compare it to self-imposed house arrest, despite my occasional escapes to the gym and grocery store. Yesterday would have been more of the usual, except that I spent the morning in front of the camera for an interview with two Miami-based French journalists for the TF1 program “50 Minutes Inside.”

Regular readers might recall my previous French TV interview, which took place at the Hollywood Sign in 2012. Not only was I overcome with vertigo but the rough terrain did something to my ankle that has never resolved itself. Even during the interview I realized it was the last time I would rappel down Mt. Lee to the letter H, and I was only slightly sorry about it. https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/going-back-to-the-hollywood-sign-this-time-as-an-interviewee/

Fortunately, this time the director was amenable to interviewing me at home, so after making myself presentable (sympathies to everyone who has to have camera-ready hair, makeup and clothes daily), I spent some time pretending to work at my computer before answering a lot of questions about the Hollywood Sign, its origins and its meaning.

As some have noticed, I’ve avoided writing about Hollywood Sign-related tourism issues for the past couple of years, but not because of email from readers hellbent on lighting the Sign at night. What did it was the howls of neighbors who disagreed with what I wrote, accusing me of trying to “speak for” them. (Note to those neighbors: write your own blog.) Nevertheless, I agreed to be interviewed because I wanted to show that the Hollywood Sign’s present status is a very recent, GPS-fueled phenomenon, and that whatever symbolism it possesses today appeared not only decades after its origins in 1923 but well after its reconstruction in 1978. I also wanted to explain the Sign’s beginnings as a billboard for Hollywoodland real estate, as well as its kinship to other municipal signs that, for lack of a mountain or evocative name, decorate water towers and hillsides across America, attracting no one.

No doubt all of this proved disappointing to Adrien Rappoport, my interviewer. “What do you feel when you see those letters?” he kept asking, as if I still might be capable of an epiphany about the Sign. Unfortunately, any charm I felt toward it when I moved here in 2005 faded long ago. Now that the Hollywood Sign is inextricably tied to noise, trash, bumper-to-bumper traffic and a complete lack of street parking on weekends, what I usually feel is annoyance. That emotion has its limits, so I moved on to the feelings of people who happily come here each day to pose for pictures. “I’m a star,” their expressions say, which explains the Hollywood Sign’s appeal: instead of making people feel small, it makes them feel big. Ultimately, the letters on Mt. Lee are a blank screen on which countless individual dreams are projected. As for the Sign’s meaning, it’s whatever people want it to be.

—————
My interview on “Cinquante Minutes Inside” will be broadcast in France in February. Information about online availability to come.

Two Hollywood Signs, Old and New

November 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Hollywood Sign As It Looked on August 7, 1978/Both Photos Courtesy Raiden Peterson

The Hollywood Sign As It Looked on August 7, 1978/Both Photos Courtesy Raiden Peterson

The New Hollywood Sign, Circa November 1978

The New Hollywood Sign, Circa November 1978


I’ve been immersed in a weeks-long repainting of my house’s interior, an ordeal I wouldn’t recommend if it weren’t necessary. Tomorrow the final phase begins: the repainting of the woodwork in my living room/office, so today I began the arduous process of clearing out all the cabinets. That’s when I found these two photos which were sent to me by Raiden Peterson, who I interviewed in 2007 my documentary Under the Hollywood Sign . (The documentary is available for sale on DVD at underthehollywoodsign.com and as a download for sale or rent from https://vimeo.com/ondemand/uths)

Raiden Peterson supervised the tear-down and reconstruction of the Hollywood Sign for Pacific Outdoor Electric, and documented his work throughout the process. The first photo was taken on August 7, 1978, the day before demolition began. The second was taken soon after the new Sign was completed on October 30, 1978. Thirty-six years later, many–perhaps the majority–of the visitors to the Hollywood Sign have no idea that the current Sign is not the original. These photos tell the story.

Waiting For Rain In a Bone-Dry Canyon

August 24, 2014 § 1 Comment

The "Wood," 8pm Friday, August 22, 2014/Hope Anderson Productions

The “Wood,” 8pm Friday, August 22, 2014/Hope Anderson Productions

August in Southern California is a very dry month, the prelude to an even hotter, drier September. Those of us who live in canyons live in dread of fires, which can start from a single match or cigarette–hence the NO SMOKING signs that tourists somehow ignore. In the fourth year of a great drought–the worst on record in California–we are waiting for the winter rains.

On Friday night, I looked north and to my surprise saw an unusual amount of cloud cover at the Hollywood Sign. It seemed to be a harbinger of better days to come, so I got my camera and took this photo.

A Great Way to See the Hollywood Sign: New Shuttle Vans Start Saturday, May 3rd, from the Greek Theater

April 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

Photo by Hope Anderson Productions

Photo by Hope Anderson Productions

In a promising development for tourists and Angelenos alike, the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department will begin running weekend vans to the Hollywood Sign from the Greek Theater this Saturday. The tour, which will take a scenic route through Griffith Park, costs $7 and includes admission to the Observatory. This is a trial that will last through July.

For further information:

Click to access rappress31487129_04162014.pdf

To purchase tickets online:

https://cnp.clickandpark.com/facility/?search%5Bfacility_id%5D=598

Silver Lake Reservoir: How An Unused Body of Water Could Become an Urban Oasis

February 17, 2014 § 1 Comment

Silver Lake Reservoir/Courtesy LA Times

Silver Lake Reservoir/Courtesy LA Times


It was with great interest that I read this article on proposed plans for Silver Lake Reservoir, which will soon be decommissioned as LA’s water supply is moved underground. There are proposals for a swimming area, a beach and an esplanade, any of which would be a boon for park-starved Angelenos.

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-silver-lake-reservoir-20140215,0,7579276.story?fb_action_ids=10202745736035154&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_ref=s%3DshowShareBarUI%3Ap%3Dfacebook-like&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582#axzz2tdSEHs33

New recreational facilities would make Silver Lake Reservoir a welcome destination for tourists as well. Perhaps the redesigned Reservoir would grow popular enough to siphon some of the Beachwood’s tourist traffic to an area that is far more accessible than Beachwood Canyon. I can dream, can’t I?

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