Peg Entwistle (Dead Blondes Episode 1) / by Karina Longworth

Peg Entwistle, c. 1932, Collection of Bruce Torrence

Peg Entwistle, c. 1932, Collection of Bruce Torrence

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This season we’re going to explore the stories of eleven blonde actresses who died unusual, untimely or otherwise notable deaths -- deaths which, in various ways, have outshined these actress’ lives. Today we’ll explain why we’re doing this, and will tell the story of Peg Entwistle -- idol of Bette Davis, successful stage star turned movie aspirant, and one of the first Hollywood blondes who became more famous in death than in life.

Peg Entwistle, Everett Collection/REX

Peg Entwistle, Everett Collection/REX

Hollywoodland Sign, c. 1920s, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Hollywoodland Sign, c. 1920s, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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Show notes: 

The key source for this episode was the book Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide by James Zeruk Jr., an excellently written and well-researched fleshing out of Entwistle’s life story in contrast to and in conversation with her legend.

As part of the book I’m writing about Howard Hughes and the women in his life, I came across RKO’s memos about Katharine Hepburn’s casting in Bill of Divorcement -- and Selznick’s order that Cukor screen test Peg Entwistle -- at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. For the same project, I’ve done a great deal of research on the texture of early Hollywood (the city, and then the film colony), much of which hasn’t ended up in my book draft, but some of which I’ve used in this episode. Some recommended sources include The Story of Hollywood: An Illustrated History by Gregory P. Williams; The Parade’s Gone by Kevin Brownlow; Lois Weber in Early Hollywood by Shelley Stamp; Material Dreams: Southern California through the 1920s by Kevin Starr; and Go West Young Women: The Rise of Early Hollywood by Hilary Hallet.

Here is a music video for Dory Previn’s song inspired by Peg, “Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign,” which features an actress (who looks nothing like Peg) acting out Peg’s approach to the sign:

This is the image in Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon labeled “Peg Entwistle”:

This episode contains selections from the album Industry, by Unheard Music Concepts. Used in accordance with Creative Commons: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

Credits:

This episode was edited by Sam Dingman, and produced by Karina Longworth with the assistance of Lindsey D. Schoenholtz. Our logo was designed by Teddy Blanks