In the second episode of Hollywood, viewers are introduced to an ambitious young film director named Raymond Ainsey (played wonderfully by Darren Criss). Like most characters in the show, Raymond has big dreams, but knows he’s got to take what he can get—which is why he has no qualms when he finds the opportunity to direct the script for a movie called Peg.
While many characters and scenarios in Hollywood come from a unique combination of fiction and reality, the story featured in the in-series script for Peg is an entirely factual one. Based on the sad story of a British actress named Peg Entwistle, the in-world movie Peg is all about the actress famous for jumping to her death from the ‘Hollywoodland’ sign in Los Angeles in 1932.
Again, it can be hard to separate truth from fiction in a show that rides the line so much between the two. But while Hollywood takes liberties with many other real-life figures (including actor Rock Hudson and agent Henry Willson), the story featured in the script written by Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope) is entirely factual.
As the series continues, the movie based around Entwistle within Hollywood changes a bit—Peg becomes Meg—but the story at its core remains true-to-life. And there’s a good bit to that story.
Who was Peg Entwistle?
Peg Entwistle was a Wales-born actress who made her way to Boston, and, eventually, New York to act on stages. While in New York, she starred in numerous broadway productions, and earned rave reviews for her work. She appeared in plays between 1926 and early 1932, even playing Amy March in a 1931 production of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
Her last Broadway role, Alice-Sit-By-The-Fire, opened in March of 1932, and was largely a doomed production. One of her co-stars, the silent film actress Laurette Taylor, suffered from severe alcoholism and missed performances, leading ticket buyers to get refunds, and for the show to eventually be canceled after only a few weeks. In the aftermath, the actors (including Entwistle) only received a week’s salary for their work, despite being promised a percentage of the profits.
Entwistle had apparently been simultaneously living her life in Los Angeles while still appearing in Broadway productions, because her eventual obituary (after her eventual September 1932 death) said that she came to L.A. more than a year prior. Her dream, of course, was to eventually become a movie star. She remained involved with the theater scene in L.A., and actually got a key role in a play by Romney Brent called The Mad Hopes, which received good reviews. One, from Florence Lawrence in the Los Angeles Examiner, said that Entwistle’s portrayal “[presented] a charming picture of youth.“
Entwistle’s film ambition sadly only ever led to one credited role in the David O. Selznick-produced movie Thirteen Women. The movie was an exciting thriller, called one of the first notable female-led ensemble films in history nearly 80 years later by Variety. Unfortunately, nearly all of Entwistle’s supporting role wound up cut from the movie.
How did Peg Entwistle die?
Just like Hollywood says, Peg Entwistle climbed a workman’s ladder to the top of the ‘H’ in the ‘Hollywoodland’ sign, and jumped to her death. It’s said that when she was not offered any more roles after Thirteen Women, she spiraled into a deep depression and was drinking heavily. One night, her heavy drinking and depression apparently led her to the top of the H, where she jumped nearly 100 feet.
A woman hiking near the Hollywoodland sign later said she found an abandoned shoe, jacket, and purse; she looked into the purse, and found Entwistle’s suicide note. The woman then looked down, saw her body, and reported it to the police.
Her note reportedly 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.”
Entwistle had been living with her uncle, who was the one to identify her deceased body. Entwistle’s last contact with her uncle was telling him that she was going to “rendezvous with a friend,” at a drug store, though Police suspect that she instead re-routed her walk toward the Hollywoodland sign.
Entwistle was only 24 at the time of her death.
A 2014 event honored the anniversary of Entwistle’s death.
September 14, 2014 marked the 102nd anniversary of Entwistle’s death, and according to the Los Angeles Times, nearly 100 people gathered for a large screen screening of Thirteen Women in the parking lot of L.A.’s Beechwood Market.
Rather than be a solemn event, though, the gathering had a brighter tone. Refreshments were available and some attendees brought booze; local businesses donated prizes for raffles. The proceeds from the event, organized by those same local business owners, were donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Entwistle’s name.
“The motivation is really to celebrate her life, who she was,” Jeffrey von Meyer, one of the event organizers, said. “She was more than just a girl who jumped off an H.”
While far-fetched, some believe her ghost haunts the sign to this day.
Around the time of the Great Depression, maintenance of the Hollywoodland sign became irregular; at one point, the same ‘H’ that Entwistle jumped from eventually toppled over. While this might be logically attributable to a combination of lack of maintenance and wind, Vanity Fair notes that this moment was just the first of many moments where people have suggested that Entwistle’s spirit could be haunting the iconic sign that was originally meant to attract potential homebuyers.
Throughout the years, people have claimed to see “the ghost of the Hollywood sign,” particularly on foggy nights, which usually includes the smell of gardenias. A park ranger named John Arbogast claims he’s seen Entwistle’s ghost on numerous occasions.
According to VF, one young couple hiking the Griffith Park area (where the sign resides) in 1990 were stopped in their tracks when they saw a confused-looking young woman dressed in 1930s clothing—only for her to vanish before their very eyes. The couple later said they’d never knew anything of Entwistle’s life or suicide.
Even in popular culture, the story has been mythologized. In one example, a Ghostbusters comic storyline (yes, based on the Bill Murray/Dan Aykroyd films) featured ghost characters clearly modeled after Entwistle’s story.