Netflix’s Hollywood: The Real Story Behind Peg Entwistle (AKA The ‘Hollywood Sign Girl’)
Netflix' latest show 'Hollywood' is yet another prestige project from the house of Ryan Murphy. Much like his previous repertoire, this one also deals with a very real setting. While Murphy and co-creator Ian Brennan have taken creative liberties in presenting an alternate version of 1940s Hollywood, there are multiple elements in the show which borrow from real stories that make up urban legend.
In the miniseries, a group of young filmmakers try their luck at making it in Hollywood. When Archie Coleman (played by Jeremy Pope) sells a script to the fictitious Ace Studios, he is met with some resistance. Award-winning actor Darren Criss plays director Raymond Ainsley, who suggests that a core character in his script should be changed to a Black actress, which would allow his girlfriend Camille to be part of the project instead.
What many don’t know is how 'Hollywood' has used the real-life story of Millicent Lillian 'Peg' Entwistle a Welsh-born English stage and screen actress for its entertainment factor. Coleman’s script invokes the story that struggling actress Camille jumps off the famous Hollywood sign (erstwhile Hollywoodland sign). In reality, this is inspired by the life of Peg, who too met her fate the same way, and the sign has been considered haunted since then by many.
Ms Entwistle’s biography by James Zeruk, Jr. tells her story in detail. Originally British, Peg moved to the United States from Britain after her parents divorced when she was a baby. She was originally named Millicent but decided to rename herself Peg after the play ‘Peg O' My Heart.’ Meanwhile, her father became a store-owner in New York.
Peg had big dreams of becoming an actress which were halted when her father was killed in an accident. In 1923, she and her half-siblings had to move to Los Angeles with their aunt and uncle. After training for the stage in LA, she moved to New York to pursue her dream of working on Broadway. She met her husband of two years, Robert Keith while performing on stage as well. They would divorce citing domestic cruelty. Initially, Peg had worked in many of her uncle's stageplays in Boston. She also starred opposite Humphrey Bogart in a play called The Mad Hopes for which reviews (especially those for her performance) were immensely favourable. The Los Angeles Examiner praised her charming and authentic portrayal.
Peg was signed for a film called Thirteen Women under RKO Pictures. However, her role was significantly shortened due to the adult themes in the film, especially her plot which had homosexual undertones. This was supposedly in violation of the ‘Hays Code’ which was the certified guideline for content in Hollywood films at the time. Since the young actress had left a lot of theatre work to do the film, she was soon blacklisted from that community. Legend has it that her tumultuous relationship with her ex-husband may also have played a part in her being ostracized from the theatre. The nature of Thirteen Women also preceded the cancellation of her contract with RKO.
Disillusioned by her misfortune, Peg decided to take her life in September 1932. Her body and a suicide note were found by a hiker two days later. The hiker also found some personal belongings including a purse, shoe and jacket. Peg's uncle claimed that the actress had told him that she would be going out to the drugstore. In her note, she apologised and called herself a coward. The irony of Peg’s life is that it is claimed in her biography that her uncle received a letter from RKO offering her another role soon after her death, and the release of Thirteen Women, both of which coincided. She is buried next to her father in a cemetery in Ohio.
Even in the years after her death, many hikers have reported supernatural sightings and strange occurrences in and around the Hollywood sign. Some of them have spoken extensively of them sighting a woman in old-fashioned clothes and hair. She is notoriously known as 'the ghost of the Hollywood sign.'
In the Netflix show, Camille is also shown as a young hopeful who gets cut from a film and is completely broken at the setback. In her disappointment, she jumps off the sign even as her boyfriend watches from below. Murphy has stated that Peg’s legend had a profound effect on him growing up and he calls it the ultimate cautionary tale… how the brutality of the competitive film industry can completely break people’s spirits. In fact, he remembers her story being a reminder to him when he was trying to make it in the industry as well. Funnily enough, Murphy recalls going on a tour of the Hollywood sign in the ‘80s and being shown the point from where Peg jumped. It is clear why Peg’s life would play such a great role in Netflix’s latest offering. It is a notorious incident which makes for great storytelling.
In another irony, the original ‘Hollywoodland’ sign, which was erected initially to promote real estate investment in the area came up the same year as Peg moving to LA - 1923. While the haunted part of the story seems unlikely, Peg did take her life because she believed that she had failed. To know more about Peg's story, catch Hollywood on Netflix.