Peg Entwistle

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Peg Entwistle
Pegentwistle.jpg
Born Millicent Lilian Entwistle
(1908-02-05)5 February 1908
Port Talbot, Glamorgan, Wales, United Kingdom
Died c. 16 September 1932(1932-09-16) (aged 24)[1]
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Suicide
Resting place
Oak Hill Cemetery
Nationality British
Occupation Actress
Years active 1925–1932
Spouse(s) Robert Keith (m. 1927; div. 1929)

Millicent Lilian "Peg" Entwistle (5 February 1908 – c. 16 September 1932) was a Welsh-born English stage and screen actress. Entwistle began her stage career in 1925, appearing in several Broadway productions. She appeared in only one film, Thirteen Women, which was released after her death.

Entwistle gained notoriety after she jumped to her death from the "H" on the Hollywoodland sign in September 1932 at the age of 24.

Early life[edit]

Born Millicent Lilian Entwistle in Port Talbot, Glamorgan, Wales, to English parents, Robert Symes and Emily Entwistle (née Stevenson), she spent her early life in West Kensington, London.[2] It is often reported that her mother Emily died when she was very young, but there is no documented evidence supporting this. There is, however, a Last Will and Testament dated 15 December 1922, in the Entwistle family archives, in which Robert Entwistle specifically stated that "Millicent Lilian Entwistle is the daughter of my first wife whom I divorced and the custody of my said daughter was awarded to me. I do not desire my said daughter to be at any time in the custody or control of her said mother."[3]

Peg Entwistle reportedly emigrated to America via Liverpool aboard the SS Philadelphia and settled in New York City.[4] However, documents and photographs made available by the Entwistle family for a biography show that Entwistle and her father were in Cincinnati, Ohio and New York City, in early spring 1913. This information is also backed up in the Internet Broadway Database, and The New York Times, where Robert S. Entwistle is listed in the cast of several plays in 1913.

In December 1922, Robert Entwistle died, the victim of a hit-and-run accident on Park Avenue and 72nd Street in New York City.[5] Peg and her two younger half-brothers were taken in by their uncle, who had come with them to New York and was the manager of Broadway actor Walter Hampden.

Broadway[edit]

By 1925, Entwistle was living in Boston as a student of Henry Jewett's Repertory (now called the Huntington Theatre) and was one of the Henry Jewett Players, who were gaining national attention. Walter Hampden gave Entwistle an uncredited walk-on part in his Broadway production of Hamlet which starred Ethel Barrymore.[6] She carried the King's train and brought in the poison-cup.[7]

Peg Entwistle in The Wild Duck, circa 1925

Entwistle later played the role of "Hedvig" in Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck. After seeing the play, Bette Davis told her mother, "...I want to be exactly like Peg Entwistle."[8] Some years later Broadway director Blanche Yurka sent a note to Davis asking if she would like to play Hedvig and she sent word back that ever since she had seen Entwistle in The Wild Duck, she knew she would someday play Hedvig. Through the years Davis said Entwistle was her inspiration to take up acting.[8]

By 1926 Entwistle had been recruited by the New York Theatre Guild and her first credited Broadway performance was in June of that year, as "Martha" in The Man from Toronto, which opened at the Selywn Theatre and ran for 28 performances.[9] Entwistle performed in ten Broadway plays as a member of the Theatre Guild between 1926 and 1932, working with noted actors such as George M. Cohan, William Gillette, Robert Cummings, Dorothy Gish, Hugh Sinclair, Henry Travers and Laurette Taylor. Her longest-running play was the 1927 hit Tommy in which she starred with Sidney Toler, which ran for 232 performances and became the play for which she was most remembered.[10]

In April 1927 Entwistle married actor Robert Keith at the chapel of the New York City Clerk's office.[11] She was granted a divorce in May 1929. Along with charges of cruelty, she claimed her husband did not tell her he had been married before and was the father of a six-year-old boy, Brian Keith (who later became an actor).[10][12]

The play The Uninvited Guest closed after only seven performances in September 1927; however, New York Times critic J. Brooks Atkinson wrote, "...Peg Entwistle gave a performance considerably better than the play warranted."[13]

She went on tour with the Theatre Guild between Broadway productions. Changing characters every week, Entwistle garnered some publicity, such as an article in the Sunday edition of the New York Times in 1927[7] and another in the Oakland Tribune two years later.[14]

Aside from a part in the suspense drama Sherlock Holmes and the Strange Case of Miss Faulkner and her desire to play more-challenging roles, Entwistle was often cast as a comedienne, most often the attractive, good-hearted ingénue. In 1929 she told a reporter:

"I would rather play roles that carry conviction. Maybe it is because they are the easiest and yet the hardest things for me to do. To play any kind of an emotional scene I must work up to a certain pitch. If I reach this in my first word, the rest of the words and lines take care of themselves. But if I fail, I have to build up the balance of the speeches, and in doing this the whole characterisation falls flat. I feel that I am cheating myself. I don't know whether other actresses get this same reaction or not, but it does worry me."[14]

In early 1932 Entwistle made her last Broadway appearance, in J. M. Barrie's Alice Sit-by-the-Fire,[15] which also starred Laurette Taylor, whose alcoholism led to two missed evening performances and refunds to ticket-holders.[16][17] The show was cancelled and in the aftermath Entwistle and the other players were given only a week's salary, rather than a percentage of the box office gross which had been agreed upon before the show opened.[18]

Hollywood[edit]

By May 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, Entwistle was in Los Angeles with a role in the Romney Brent play The Mad Hopes starring Billie Burke,[19] which ran from 23 May to 4 June at the Belasco Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Theatre critic Flo Lawrence commented:

"...Belasco and Curran have staged the new play most effectively and have endowed this Romney Brent opus with every distinction of cast and direction. (producer) Bela Blau ... has developed the comedy to its highest points. Costumes and settings are of delightful quality, and every detail makes the production one entirely fit for its translation to the New York stage. In the cast Peg Entwistle and Humphrey Bogart hold first place in supporting the star (Billie Burke) and both give fine, serious performances. Miss Entwistle as the earnest, young daughter (Geneva Hope) of a vague mother and presents a charming picture of youth..."[20]

After The Mad Hopes closed, Entwistle found her first and only credited film role for Radio Pictures (later RKO). Thirteen Women stars Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne in a pre-Hays code, high-budget thriller produced by David O. Selznick and drawn from the novel by Tiffany Thayer. Entwistle played a small supporting role as Hazel Cousins.[21] It premiered on 14 October 1932, a month after her death, at the Roxy Theatre in New York City and was released in Los Angeles on 11 November to neither critical nor commercial success. By the time it was re-released in 1935, 14 minutes had been cut from the film's original 73 minute running length. In 2008 Variety magazine cited Thirteen Women as one of the earliest "female ensemble" films.[22]

Death[edit]

On September 18, 1932, an anonymous woman telephoned the Los Angeles police and said that while hiking she had found a woman's shoe, purse and jacket below the Hollywoodland sign (now known as the Hollywood Sign). The woman said she looked in the purse and found a suicide note. She then said she looked down the mountain and saw a body. According to a police transcript of the call, the woman said she "wrapped a jacket, shoes and purse in a bundle and laid them on the steps of the Hollywood Police Station." The anonymous woman refused to identify herself.[23]

A detective and two radio car officers found the body of a moderately well-dressed, blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman in a ravine below the sign. Entwistle remained unidentified until her uncle (at whose Beachwood Canyon home she had been living) connected her two-day absence with the description and initials "P.E." on a suicide note which had been found in the purse and published by the newspapers.[24] He said that on Friday, September 16th she had told him she was going for a walk to a drugstore and see some friends. The police surmised that instead she made her way to the nearby southern slope of Mount Lee to the foot of the Hollywoodland sign, climbed a workman's ladder to the top of the "H" and jumped.[24] The cause of death was listed by the coroner as "multiple fractures of the pelvis."[25][26]

The suicide note as published read:

"I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E."[27]

Entwistle's death brought wide and often sensationalized publicity. Her funeral was held at the WM Strathers Mortuary in Hollywood on 20 September.[28][29] Her body was cremated and the ashes were later sent to Glendale, Ohio, for burial next to her father in Oak Hill Cemetery, where they were interred on 5 January 1933.[30]

In 2014, roughly one hundred people marked the anniversary of Entwistle's death by gathering in the parking lot of Beachwood Market in Hollywood to watch Thirteen Women on an outdoor screen. Proceeds from a raffle and from food and beverages sold at the screening were donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Entwistle's name.[31]

In popular culture[edit]

A musical based on the life of Peg Entwistle debuted in the UK in October 2014. The musical called "Goodnight September" received positive reviews and audience feedback from its premier performances. The original musical was produced by Crazyhouse Theatre Productions and is a dramatisation of the final few weeks of her life.

Further reading[edit]

  • Zeruk, James Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide: A Biography (McFarland & Company, Inc. 25 October 2013, ISBN 978-0-7864-7313-7)

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ 16 September was surmised by police and is widely believed to be the date of her death. The body was found on 18 September.
  2. ^ Official Port Talbot Registrar's Births Certificate 5 February 1908
  3. ^ Robert S. Entwistle Last Will and Testament provided by Milton Entwistle for Peg Entwistle biography published by Mcfarland Publishers, Inc. 2013.
  4. ^ List or Manifest of Alien Passengers of S.S. Philadelphia. 11 March 1916.
  5. ^ "ACTOR DIES; STRUCK BY AUTO THAT FLED; Robert S. Entwistle, Former Stage Manager for Charles Frohman, Dead in Hospital. INJURED ON ELECTION DAY Chauffeur, Who Sped Away After Looking at His Victim, Never Found.". The New York Times. 20 December 1922. 
  6. ^ Hamlet at the Internet Broadway Database
  7. ^ a b "And Who Is Peg Entwistle?". New York Times. 20 February 1927. 
  8. ^ a b Chandler, Charlotte (2006). The Girl Who Walked Home Alone: Bette Davis, a Personal Biography. Simon and Schuster. p. 38. ISBN 0-7432-6208-5. 
  9. ^ "The Play by J. Brooks Atkinson: Smart Comedy in June". New York Times. 28 June 1926. 
  10. ^ a b "Girl Ends Life After Failure In Hollywood", Syracuse Herald, 20 September 1932, p. 5
  11. ^ NYC Marriage license No. 12687. 18 April 1927.
  12. ^ "Pulled Hair - Stage Star Gets Divorce After Tale of Fight With Husband", The Pittsburgh Press, 3 May 1929, p. 47
  13. ^ "'Uninvited Guest' Falters". New York Times. 28 September 1927. 
  14. ^ a b "English Actress With Guild". Oakland Tribune. 5 May 1929. 
  15. ^ Atkinson, J. Brooks (8 March 1932). "A Night of Barrie ... Alice Sit-by-the-Fire". New York Times. 
  16. ^ "Two Barrie Revivals Suddenly Canceled". New York Times. 15 May 1932. 
  17. ^ "Laurette Taylor Absent". New York Times. 6 April 1932. 
  18. ^ Courtney, Marguerite (1968). Laurette. Atheneum. p. 342. 
  19. ^ Yeaman, Elizabeth, 4 May 1932; 7 June 1932, Hollywood Citizen-News
  20. ^ Lawrence, Florence, 24 May 1932, Los Angeles Examiner
  21. ^ Thirteen Women, RKO Pictures, 1932. In the film, a very short scene shows Hazel Cousins (played by Entwistle) murdering her husband with a knife. In Thayer's novel, the Hazel Cousins character is a lesbian who becomes heartbroken and starves herself to death in a sanitarium.
  22. ^ Basinger, Jeanine, "Few female ensemble films", Variety, 16 June 2008, retrieved 18 September 2010
  23. ^ "Young Actress Ends Life In Hollywood". The Lewiston Daily Sun. 20 September 1932. p. 11. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  24. ^ a b "Suicide Laid To Film Jinx". Los Angeles Times. 20 September 1932. pp. A1. 
  25. ^ County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health/Vital Statistics--Standard Certificate of Death #10501, sections 24-25; Filed 20 September 1932
  26. ^ "Suicide Laid To Film Jinx". Oregonian. 20 September 1932. pp. A1. 
  27. ^ "Young Actress Ends Life In Hollywood". The Lewiston Daily Sun. 20 September 1932. p. 1. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  28. ^ Ensley, Jim (4 December 1993). "Hollywood Has Share of Tragedy". Calhoun Times. p. 9. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  29. ^ "Peg Entwistle Is Laid To Rest". Schenectady Gazette. 21 September 1932. p. 7. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  30. ^ Zeruk, James, Jr. (2013). Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide: A Biography. McFarland. p. 187. ISBN 0-786-47313-4. 
  31. ^ Lelyveld, Nita (17 September 2014). "A Hollywood tragedy, a neighborhood remembrance". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 September 2014. 

External links[edit]