Friday, July 13, 2012

The Haunted Hollywood Sign

This famous Hollywood landmark perched atop Mount Lee overlooking the Hollywood Hills was initially built in 1923 at the cost of $21,000. It was placed at this location to advertise a real estate development in Beachwood Canyon. 

Each original letter stood 50 feet high and 30 feet wide. The sign was illuminated by thousands of light bulbs. It was made out of wood and originally read “Hollywoodland.” The sign was meant to be temporary.

In 1939 maintenance on the sign was discontinued. In 1944 the original developers gave 455 acres to Los Angeles—this parcel included the sign. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce rebuilt the sign but did not replace the light bulbs or the last four letters because “Hollywood” was now synonymous with the movie industry. 
Sign in 1970s.

The sign was once again left to deteriorate until the late 1970s when a group of concerned citizens held a fundraiser. The original wooden sign was demolished, and a new structure with steel letters replaced it. *

The Hollywood sign is considered haunted because of one specific ghost that has been seen many times.

Millicent Lillian (Peg) Entwistle was born in Port Talbot, Wales in 1908 to English parents. At an early age, her mother died; her father moved her and her two brothers to New York. Peg had one goal--to become an actress. 

Tragically, her father was run over by a car and killed. Her two brothers went to live with their Uncle Harold in California. But Peg stayed in New York to pursue acting. 

At 17 she got her first job with a Boston repertory company. She then acted on Broadway and toured around the country. She became known as a comedienne.

In 1927 she married Rolland Keith Richey, a man who was ten years her senior. Shortly after their marriage, she was surprised to find that Robert Keith—her husband's stage name—had a six-year-old son from a previous marriage.** 

To Peg’s credit when she was in the process of divorcing Robert, she paid the back alimony he owed to his ex-wife which kept him out of jail.

In 1932 she was offered a part in the production The Mad Hopes” in Los Angeles. She received rave reviews; in fact, she received more attention than Billie Burke and Humphrey Bogart who starred in this play. 

Peg settled in Los Angeles. Finding only sporadic work, she eventually moved into her Uncle Harold’s bungalow in Beachwood Canyon for financial reasons.

Peg was overjoyed when RKO offered her the role of Hazel in the film “Thirteen Women” starring Irene Dunne. But the movie opened to poor reviews and when it was re-edited Peg’s part mostly landed on the cutting room floor. 

Upset by the critics’ reviews, Peg went into a depression. Shortly after this, RKO informed her that they were not going to renew her contract, which threw her into an even deeper depression.

In September of 1932 after a night of drinking, she told her uncle that she was meeting friends at a local drug store. Instead, she walked toward Mount Lee. She placed her coat and purse at the base of the letter “H” at the Hollywood sign and then climbed a maintenance ladder and jumped. She was only 24 years old.

Two days later a hiker discovered her coat and purse and then spotted her body. Wanting to remain anonymous he left her jacket and bag plus a suicide note he found on the steps of the local Hollywood police station. He left his own letter to tell them where her body was located. Peg’s suicide 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.”

To discover her identity, the local police published a description of Peg and the contents of the note she left in the local papers and requested radio stations describe her and read the note on-air. Peg’s uncle came forward to claim her body.***

Many witnesses have seen Peg’s ghost in the vicinity of the Hollywood sign. Park Rangers and hikers over the years have reported seeing a young attractive blonde haired women wearing 1930s style clothing in Griffith Park. 

All these witnesses note that this ghost appears to be very sad. They often state when they approach her, she just disappears.

One evening as a couple was walking their dog along the Beachwood Canyon trail they noticed their dog was acting strangely. Instead of romping around on the path and in the brush like he usually did he began to whine and hang back by them. A woman wearing old-fashioned clothing appeared in front of them. 

This did not disturb the couple, because they were used to encountering weird dress in Hollywood. But they did take note the women appeared very dazed. Concerned she might be drunk, or on drugs, they turned to leave, but as they did so, they were shocked to see her just vanish. 

This couple had not heard about Peg’s ghost before this encounter.

One Park Ranger, John Arbogast, has seen Peg’s ghost several times. He states she appears late at night especially when it is foggy. 

Arbogast has reported that he often smells the scent of gardenias**** when she is around. He finds this odd because he always notices this scent in cold weather months never during the summer. 

Arbogast also describes how the motion sensor alarms that are in place at the sign,  ironically to prevent more suicides, go off when no one is around. He even states these sensors have indicated that someone is only five feet away from him—when he is the only one near the sign.

* Private donors paid $28,000 for each steel letter.

** Robert Keith’s son who was briefly Peg’s stepson started acting at the age of 3. He was to become a very famous actor. 

Brian Keith known for his good looks and husky voice starred in many films—The Rare Breed and Nevada Smith to name just two. He also had a successful television show—Family Affair

His family has something tragic in common with his former stepmom. He committed suicide in 1997 just ten weeks after his 27-year-old daughter, Daisy committed suicide.

*** A tragic postscript to Peg’s suicide is that shortly after her death a letter from the Hollywood Playhouse arrived at her uncle's home. It offered her a substantial role in which she would have played a woman that commits suicide.

**** Gardenias were known to be Peg’s signature scent.  


Karhere said...

What a sad story. If only that letter had gotten to her sooner. The connection with Brian Keith surprised me. He was one of my favorites. I loved Family Affair. I even named my first son Brian Keith.

Virginia Lamkin said...

I also liked Brian Keith.

Most haunting unfortunately have a tragedy connected to them.

Unknown said...

I can personally attest to the Hollywood sign being haunted.. or something. Many years ago, before the cameras and park police were patroling the sign, I used to ride up there on my horse several times a week. The last time I went up, my horse spooked at something I could not see. He would not go further and after several minutes of balking, turning around and trying to run back to the stable, and even rearing up in the air. This was totally unlike him. He was acting like there was definitely "something" there he did not like, absolutely refusing to go further. I was a very experienced rider, and can tell you that day, whatever or whoever was "there", it was terrorizing my horse!

Virginia Lamkin said...

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

samara said...

I live in Neath/Port talbot where Peg was born,thanks for sharing this interesting ghost story.samaraxx