n Sept. 16, 1932, a young actor climbed to the top of the Hollywood sign and jumped to her death. Her name was Peg Entwistle. She was 24 years old. She was born in Port Talbot, Wales, to a family of actors. She was raised in London, but not much else is known about her early days except that her mom died while Peg was still a child. In 1916, her dad moved her to New York, where he started working on the local theatre scene. But a few years later, bad luck followed them across the Atlantic and Peg's father was killed by a truck on Park Avenue.
Alone and scared, the young teenager threw herself into the world her parents loved. She made her acting debut in Hamlet when she was 17. After that, life took a welcome turn, and she performed in a series of successful stage shows. Audiences and critics responded well to her gentle good looks. She quickly became a Broadway star and was invited to join the New York Theatre Guild.
During a production of Ibsen's The Wild Duck, a young girl in the audience was inspired by Peg's performance to become an actor. The girl told her mom, "I want to be an actor…exactly like Peg Entwistle." That little girl grew up to be Bette Davis.
As the '20s drew to a close, the Great Depression hit, and the public could no longer afford expensive theatre tickets. While her plays bombed, Peg fell in love with and married a handsome loser named Robert Keith, who forgot to mention he had been married before, had a 6-year-old son, and owed thousands of dollars in child support. Peg filed for divorce but revealed her true character by using her earnings as an actor to pay off the money he owed.
It was time for a change. So in 1932, Peg did what most actors still do today: She headed west to pursue a career in the movies. She moved into her uncle's bungalow on Beachwood Drive, right in the shadow of the sign that would make her famous.
At first, Hollywood seemed like the right move. She landed the lead in a play called The Mad Hopes, which starred a newcomer named Humphrey Bogart. After the show closed, Bogart left to pursue work in New York, and Peg signed with RKO. Unfortunately, her first movie tanked, and the studio canceled her contract.
Peg was stunned. Her luck had changed again, from bad to worse. Desperate, she started answering ads for small roles that were beneath her, but no one would hire her. She was just another pretty face in a town full of beautiful women. In less than a year, the former Broadway star was so broke she couldn't even afford a train ticket home to New York.
So on a warm Friday night, Peg told her uncle she was going out to meet some friends at the local drug store. Instead, she walked up Beachwood to the foot of Mount Lee, where she scratched and clawed her way up to the Hollywood sign. Peg took off her coat, folded it neatly, and left it on the ground next to her purse and suicide note. Then she climbed up the workman's ladder behind the 45-foot-tall letter H and threw herself into the night. Her suicide note 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."
A few days later, a letter from the Beverly Hills Playhouse arrived at her uncle's home. It had been mailed the day before Peg jumped to her death. The playhouse asked her to star in its next production, which was about a young girl who commits suicide.