May 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
April 23, 2013 § 5 Comments
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.
August 13, 2012 § 5 Comments
Last Saturday I had another such experience in meeting Peter Green, a St. Louis-based writer and architect whose great-uncle was Peter Howard, a.k.a. Peter the Hermit. (More on PTH can be found by searching under his name on this blog.) Although Peter Green met Peter the Hermit only once–an experience he recounts in a response to one of my pieces–he remembered the location of his great-uncle’s last home. The rented rooms where the Hermit lived his impoverished final years were in a house that still stands at 2151 Ivar Avenue, in the Hollywood Dell.
One thing I had missed about Peter the Hermit–until Peter Green began imitating his accent–was that, though a Chicago native, he was born in County Limerick, Ireland. His decision to imitate a Biblical character no doubt owed much to an Irish Catholic religiosity which, according to Peter the Hermit’s obituary, dominated his later years. As his landlady, a Mrs. Pippins, recalled, “All he did, all day long, was talk religion, pray and read the Bible aloud to himself.”
Peter the Hermit died a few months before his 91st birthday, having outlived the Silents and Talkies that provided much of his income during his early decades in Hollywood, as well as his 50-year impersonator’s gig. If there was an upside to his no longer being able to ply the Hollywood tourist trade, it was that Peter’s last years took place in the late 1960’s, a particularly seedy time on Hollywood Boulevard. The summer after his death brought the Tate-LaBianca murders, the murders of two UCLA students in a Black Panther power struggle, and a growing atmosphere of fear and distrust across Los Angeles. By then, one imagines, Peter the Hermit was wandering the boulevards of a far better place.
March 15, 2011 § Leave a comment
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.
December 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
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.
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.
November 9, 2010 § Leave a comment
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.
September 1, 2010 § 1 Comment
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.
August 20, 2010 § 1 Comment
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.
August 8, 2009 § 1 Comment
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.