The film at the center of Netflix’s new series Hollywood starts out as the story of a young actress who kills herself by jumping off the “H” in the Hollywoodland sign (the sign originally had “land” at the end). The story is based on a real-life incident. Here’s what to know about Millicent Lillian “Peg” Entwistle jumping to her death off the Hollywood sign.
Warning: The first and second headers are free of spoilers, but the third header has a few spoilers for Hollywood. Don’t read that header if you don’t want to be spoiled.
Peg Entwistle Endured Tragedy at a Young Age
Born February 1908 in Glanmorgan, Wales, Millicent “Peg” Entwistle was the daughter of actor Robert Entwistle and Emily Stevenson Entwistle. But her parents divorced at some point in her childhood, according to the book Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide: A Biography by James Zeruk Jr.
Her father remarried in 1913, to Lauretta Ross, his brother Charles’ wife Jane’s sister, and the family moved to New York City, where Robert worked as an actor. Lauretta and Peg were quite close for eight years — Peg even put Lauretta’s name in the area for “Mother’s Maiden Name” on her marriage license instead of Stevenson’s. But Lauretta died of bacterial meningitis in April 1921 when Peg was just 13 years old. Then Peg’s father died 18 months later in a hit-and-run accident, and Peg and her two younger half-brothers, Milton and Robert Jr., were taken in by their uncle Charles Harold Entwistle and his wife Jane.
Charles and Jane moved the family to Hollywood in 1923, but Peg stayed on the East Coast and eventually starred in some Broadway productions. Her longest-running role was in the play Tommy that ran for 232 performances, according to the Lewiston Daily Sun.
In 1927, the same year she was in Tommy, Entwistle married actor Robert Keith, but the two divorced two years later in part because he had kept his secret son from her. Incidentally, then-6-year-old Brian Keith later became an actor, playing the father in the original version of The Parent Trap starring Haley Mills.
In the early 1930s, Entwistle moved to Los Angeles and in 1932, she was cast in her one and only film role in the psychological thriller Thirteen Women starring Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne. Entwistle had a small role as a woman who murders her husband.
In Hollywood, the screenwriter of the film about Entwistle purports that she killed herself after learning her role was cut from the film, but in reality, Entwistle was not cut from the film.
On September 18, 1932, Entwistle’s body was found at the base of the Hollywoodland sign by a hiker. There was a note in her purse that 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.,” according to the Daily Sun.
The hiker who found her was an unidentified woman who called the Hollywood police station and said, “I was hiking on Hollywood mountain and near the Hollywoodland sign I found a woman’s shoe, jacket, and purse. In the purse, I found a suicide note. I looked down the mountain and saw a body. I don’t want any publicity in this, so I wrapped up the purse, shoe, and jacket and laid the bundle on the steps of the Hollywood police station.”
Peg had left the home of her Uncle Charles two days prior to “rendezvous with a friend” and he hadn’t seen her since.
Thirteen Women was released a month after her death.
The Hollywood Version
On the Netflix show, because they want to cast Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) as Peg but Washington is African-American, they change the name of the film to Meg and rework the character. Her reason for ending her life becomes that she was cut entirely from the film and her boyfriend is at the bottom of the Hollywoodland sign to talk her down, which he eventually does.
On the show, Meg goes on to win several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. But it was an entirely fictional film. There hasn’t been a screen adaptation done of Entwistle’s life.
But in 2014, on the anniversary of Entwistle’s death, an outdoor screening of Thirteen Women was held in Hollywood with the proceeds of the event going to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention in Entwistle’s name, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Hollywood season one is available now on Netflix.