August 2, 2021

The tragedies and myths of the Hollywood sign: a suicide, the ghost of the letter H and the abandonment that almost sealed its end

Behind the glitter, lights and glamor of movie stars you can hide a darker facet. There are thousands of stories of entertainment figures who have that side, generally less known than the one that is always shown.

The same thing happens with the symbol that represents that world. The hollywood sign has a halo of mystery around him fueled by tragic anecdotes, in which a suicide, supernatural stories and an abandonment were mixed that was about to seal its end.

How was the beginning of Hollywood

The origin of the Hollywood neighborhood is related to what was the landing in California of a migratory stream that populated that area of the USA at the beginning of the last century. Founded in 1887, it was only incorporated as a municipality in 1903 and joined Los Angeles in 1910.

Parallel to the demographic explosion there was a circumstance that generated the germ of the show business incipient. According to the official site Hollywood Sign, In 1907 bad weather forced a small Chicago studio to move west to complete a shoot. When the production was successful, the producers settled there and, slowly, more companies were settling in the area. By 1912 there were already 15 independent film companies working in Hollywood.

The moment when workers assemble the Hollywoodland sign. (Photo: The Saga of th Sign)

The famous poster has an advertising origin. In 1923, the film industry already had a gear quite armed by the hand of the classic silent productions with films and shorts starring figures such as Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel. This generated important real estate ventures in the area. One of them was the development known as Hollywoodland.

To promote it, according to the official site of the poster, the editor of Los Angeles Times, Harry Chandler, one of the men of power who had invested in the project, paid $ 21,000 to set up a marquee with that legend. Advertising Hollywoodland It was located on Mount Lee in Griffith Park, west of the Glendaleles suburb: it consisted of 13.7-meter-high white block letters, affixed to telephone poles and illuminated by nearly 4,000 light bulbs.

Peg Entwistle, the actress who jumped from the Hollywood sign

The first tragedy that gave way to the mythology around the poster is related to the actress Peg Entwistle. According to the podcast You Must Remember This, from the journalist Karina Longworth, Bette Davis became fanatical with her after seeing her in a play in Boston. “Entwistle became young Bette’s idol, not just her inspiration to become an actress, but in a specific model on which the future teenage star was based, ”he commented.

In 1929, with a divorce in tow, Entwistle decided to turn her life around and moved from New York to Los Angeles. Like so many others who are looking for a dream, the young woman wanted to succeed in the mecca of cinema. By passing a test for the RKO study was able to work for the first time on a feature film called Thirteen Women. The problem with their participation was related to the censorship that existed at the time: due to what is known as “Code Hays” to which all productions were subjected, his performance did not appear on screen.

Peg Entwistle, the actress who launched herself from the Hollywood sign. (Photo: James Zeruk, Jr.)

The study, finally, did not finish signing the contract with Entwistle which was devastating for his growing depression. According to the book Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide: A Biography, by author James Zeruk Jr., on September 16, 1932, the actress told her uncle, with whom she lived, that she was going to the pharmacy. Instead he walked to the famous sign, climbed the ladder that was in the letter H and from the highest point he launched himself into the void. He was 24 years old.

Magazine Vanity Fair quotes from the note found on Peg Entwistle. “I am afraid, I am a coward. I’m sorry about everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved me a lot of pain. “

The mystery of the ghost of the letter “H”

The fate of Peg Entwistle was always a topic for analysis by Hollywood scholars. But, at the same time, the myth of his figure and, above all, the stories about the “Ghost of the H” They last from the moment the actress made the drastic decision. In different articles and documentaries there are testimonies of people who say they have seen a disoriented young blonde woman near the poster.

Instead of walking, it almost seemed to slide. I wasn’t floating it didn’t look like a ghost, but there was something very strange about her, and she looked very soft, “said a man named Devon Morgan, according to what the media cites History of Yesterday.

The poster was about to be demolished. (Photo: The Saga of th Sign)

In the docu-series Paranormal Witness there was another similar statement. A young man who had come to the poster with other friends, slipped and fell a few feet down the hill, very close to where Entwistle was found when she died. The accident did not happen to adults, but when he was reuniting with his group again, he saw someone else. “It was a woman with a dress similar to the one from the ’30s. She had heels and a veil on her face, ”she said.

The abandonment that almost sealed the end of the poster

But the supernatural is not only part of the legend. Hollywoodland marquee became just Hollywood after a long fight that came to the state. According to the publication The Saga of the Sign, edited by Mark McGroarty, between 1933 and 1949 there was a legal dispute between different parties after the lack of maintenance that was eating away at the structure of the cartel.

When the campaign began in the ’70s to recover the glamor of the poster. (Photo: The Saga of th Sign)

In 1947, the City Parks and Recreation Commission tried to tear down the signal, but residents in the Hollywoodland area protested. At that time, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce intervened. The president of the entity, John Kingsley, offered to finance the reconstruction of the “H”, which had collapsed. The condition he imposed was to shorten the poster and remove the last part: Land. In April 1949, finally, according to what he quotes The Saga of the Sign, I know completed the renovation.

From that moment on, the poster remained under the Hollywood identity, but its journey through the decades was not entirely easy. It had several transformations, was vandalized constantly and it deteriorated very markedly between the 1960s and early 1970s.

In 1978, by the hand of the tycoon of Playboy, Hugh Hefner, the signal was the object of the campaign “Let’s save the cartel”, with which he raised money to replace each of his letters with new ones so that they have the brilliance and splendor of his golden years.

Despite the mysterious story behind it, the poster continues to emanate that idea to which many aspire: “Hollywood is the place where magic is possible and where dreams can come true. “

.