October 5, 2014 § Leave a comment
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.
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:
April 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
The documentary that inspired this blog is now available as a download, either for purchase ($18) or rent ($5). Under the Hollywood Sign explores the history and present-day life of Beachwood Canyon in historical pictures, new footage and interviews. Here’s the link:
To purchase a DVD, please go to: http://www.underthehollywoodsign.com
December 3, 2013 § Leave a comment
On my recent trip to England I spent a weekend in Margate, a lovely old seaside resort on the southeast coast. (I was invited there by the playwright Heath Woodward, whose musical about Peg Entwistle “Goodnight September” was in rehearsals, one of which I attended and greatly enjoyed.) Margate is famous for several reasons, the most important of them having to do with art. The great landscape painter J. M. W. Turner painted in Margate throughout his life, producing about 100 canvases there. Many of them are seascapes whose dramatic clouds I thought were exaggerated until I saw them for myself and realized that Turner took no liberties.
Then there’s the T.S. Eliot connection. Readers of “The Wasteland” will remember the passage in Part III: On Margate Sands/I can connect/Nothing with nothing. Perhaps the most moving expression of alienation in modern poetry, it was written in Margate when Eliot was recovering from a nervous breakdown in 1921. While staying at the stylish Albermarle Hotel in Margate’s Cliftonville district, Eliot worked on his masterpiece at the Nayland Rock Shelter, a three-sided glass pavilion on the Promenade. But the Margate Sands were already famous: while other English resorts have pebbled shorelines, Margate’s beaches boast the kind of golden sand associated with Italy and Spain.
The Albermarle is long gone, but the Walpole Bay Hotel, where I stayed, is a worthy successor. A graceful Victorian-era landmark just off the Promenade, the Walpole Bay features cream teas, Sunday lunches and a museum of Victorian and Edwardian artifacts collected by its charming owner, Jane Bishop.
There’s also a gallery of artwork drawn on the hotel’s linen, a tradition begun when a guest started sketching on his napkin in the dining room. One of the contributors to the Napery is the Turner Prize-nominated conceptual artist, recent CBE and all-around badass Tracey Emin, a Margate native who stays at the hotel during her visits, but most aren’t as famous, or even necessarily visual artists. I found the collection fascinating, and when Jane presented me with a napkin at the end of my stay I knew exactly what I would do. The result is pictured above: the view of the Hollywood Sign from my upstairs window, painted with acrylics.
October 29, 2013 § 3 Comments
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.
September 27, 2013 § Leave a comment
August 28, 2013 § 3 Comments
That’s the title of my new eBook, which is available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon, among other eBook publishers. Two of the essays appeared here in somewhat different form. Two longer pieces–a comparison of the film and the book on which it is based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and an exploration of Japanese influences in the film–have never been published before. Here’s a link:
March 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
From late 2006 until early 2009, I conducted interviews and shot footage for “Under the Hollywood Sign,” my documentary on the history and culture of Beachwood Canyon. Some of that footage showed the Hollywood Sign, whose history I traced from its beginnings as a billboard in 1923 to its rebuilding in 1978 and beyond. I also filmed, with the permission of the Hollywood Sign Trust, at the Sign itself. During the 2 1/2 years I worked on this project, I worried that my neighbors would object to the attention my work might bring to the area. But no one ever did–until last Tuesday night’s meeting of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Association.
As the meeting ended, a woman approached me and said, “Hope, I’ve heard your video encourages people to climb to the Sign.” “That’s absolutely untrue,” I said, explaining that while I had documented people climbing to the Sign, I was a bystander who had nothing to do with their decision. (On one occasion, I showed up at a legal spot to shoot b-roll and was amazed to see three people at the base of the Sign, and a couple on their way up.) But what I was thinking was, if I had made a documentary about Afghanistan, would she accuse me of promoting warfare? And shouldn’t she have watched it before insinuating this?
I might have pointed out that “Under the Hollywood Sign,” which to date has not been broadcast, has been seen mostly by people who live in the neighborhood, and that it clearly states that climbing to the Sign is illegal. While additional viewers have seen my YouTube channel, my clips show up alongside many other people’s videos of the Hollywood Sign, including some that promote climbing to it.
Nevertheless, it’s true that in the 5 years I’ve lived in Hollywoodland, tourist traffic has increased noticeably. My opinion–shared by many–is that the ubiquity of GPS and the recent advent of small, open tour vans are the main causes. Previously, tourists without cars would take the Starlines trolley bus as far as Beachwood Village. Now they can take a van up the residential streets near the Sign where they stop for pictures–and create gridlock.
On Saturday, I recounted the incident to Jim Hollander, a Beachwood resident and journalist. He said, “”That happens to reporters all the time. They write about someone or something small and unknown, and then suddenly it’s a big deal, and people feel as though they have been put at a loss. These people must think documentaries are the devil’s work!” Coincidentally, that very day the Times ran an article about the problems of tourist traffic. Because it focuses on Beachwood Canyon, I’m hoping the Times will share in the blame. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-0305-tourbus-noise-20110305,0,6673141.story
June 13, 2010 § Leave a comment
The Big Paraders stopped at the Belden Stairs on their way to the Hollywood Sign this evening; I was there to greet them. It was fun to talk about the origins of the neighborhood as well as recent developments concerning the Hollywood Sign.
Organizer Dan Koeppel did a great job of planning the route; that and the cool weather resulted in a much fresher Parade than last July’s, which took place during a heat wave. Congratulations to Dan and all who participated!
June 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
Dan Koeppel’s amazing LA walkabout enters its second year this weekend. Saturday’s tour begins at downtown at Angels Flight and goes through Echo Park and Silverlake. Sunday’s walk begins at the Music Box Stairs in Silverlake and continues west through Los Feliz and Beachwood Canyon, ending at the Hollywood Sign.
As I did last year, I’ll be giving a brief talk at the Belden Stairs (Beachwood Drive at Woodshire.) This should take place around 6:30pm Sunday. For more information, go to www.bigparadela.com
See you there!