With her brief life that seems to prove that a small taste of success is worse than total failure, this young would-be starlet, née Lillian Millicent Entwistle, will forever be part of Hollywood lore.
Born in Port Talbot, Wales in 1908, Peg’s family soon moved to London. There, her mother died while Peg was still a teenager, and she and her father moved to New York City in the 1920’s. The father soon remarried and had two sons. Tragedy would strike again when her father was killed by a truck on Park Avenue.
The two young boys were sent to live with their Uncle Harold in Hollywood, but Peg, bitten by the acting bug, became part of the well-known Theater Guild, and stayed on in New York. She did get stage work, and actually appeared in eight consecutive productions, alongside such luminaries as Humphrey Bogart and Billie Burke. Unfortunately, every single one of the shows flopped.
In 1927, she married older actor Robert Keith, who neglected to tell her he was previously married and had a son Brian—later to be known as Uncle Bill Davis of TV’s Family Affair.
Not surprisingly, the marriage dissolved in 1930, as Peg got more Broadway work in productions that were not flops, even if they did not become giant hits. Still, by 1932, the Depression had taken its toll on legit theater, so Peg headed for Hollywood and movie work.
She stayed for a short time at the Hollywood Studio Club, but, to conserve funds, eventually moved in with good old Uncle Harold, in his modest home on Beachwood Drive, near the top of Beachwood Canyon. Many readers will note that this location is just down the hill from the famous Hollywood sign, that in those days was the “Hollywoodland” sign, advertising an ultimately unsuccessful real estate development started in 1923.
Peg was elated when she secured a deal from RKO Studios, that got her a part in Thirteen Women (1932). Sad to say, initial critical reaction (in previews) to the pic was negative, and RKO decided to re-cut it, leaving most of Peg’s screen time on the cutting room floor. Worse, the studio declined to pick up her option.
Now quite depressed, Peg tried to return to New York, but could not raise the train fare. After having dinner on September 18, 1932, wearing a borrowed dress, Peg told her uncle that she was walking over to the local drugstore. Instead, she climbed up the “H” of the sign and jumped head first to her death, leaving this note:
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. [signed] P.E.
It would take a story in the LA Times to bring Uncle Harold to the morgue, for the grim task of identifying the 24-year-old Peg. And, in one of those supreme ironies that seem to be a permanent part of Hollywood, at about this time, a letter would arrive at Harold’s house from the Beverly Hills Playhouse offering Peg the lead role in their next production: She was to play the part of a young woman who commits suicide.
This would not end the saga, however.
On the supernatural side, there have been numerous sightings, around the top of Beachwood Canyon of a young woman dressed in 1930’s attire. On the very natural side, Peg’s stepson Brian Keith, suffering from lung cancer, committed suicide in June, 1997. Keith took his own life two months after his daughter also killed herself.
Three generations of suicide, a posthumous job offer, and a Hollywood sign ghost. You couldn’t make this stuff up, which is why Tinseltown’s most compelling stories are always off-screen.