CLOSE
Original image

The Woman Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign

Original image

Making it in Hollywood is a tough game. For every success story, there are a thousand failures. A vast majority of hopefuls understand the odds and still choose to go for it. But some have a tougher time dealing with the competition than others.

Wikimedia Commons

One such hopeful starlet was Millicent Lilian "Peg" Entwistle, who was born on February 5, 1908, and grew up in Wales and London. She and her family immigrated to the United States by the 1920s. Some time after her father was killed in a hit and run in New York, Peg's brothers migrated to California to seek their fortunes. But Peg had caught "the bug" and decided on a career as an actress.

The attractive platinum blonde quickly got roles in New York theater. She worked with several big names and rising stars, including Ethel Barrymore, and began to make her name as a stage actress. In fact, one of her performances may have inspired another young actress: “I want to be exactly like Peg Entwistle," Bette Davis reportedly said after witnessing Peg's performance in Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck.

At age 19, the blue-eyed hopeful married an older actor named Robert Keith. The marriage did not last long: Peg filed for divorce two years later, alleging cruelty as well as deception, since her husband had not told her he had previously been married and had a 6-year-old son. A few years after the divorce, Peg finally decided to go west. Like so many before and so many after, Peg hoped to be discovered and make it in the movies.

Heading West

Once on the west coast, Peg landed a role in a play called The Mad Hopes alongside a young Humphrey Bogart. Peg was then cast in a movie called Thirteen Women, starring Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne. The movie was a hokey, B-grade melodrama with a strange plot: "A group of former school friends start getting horoscopes from a fortune teller who is working under an evil influence."

Peg was extremely hopeful about her big screen performance. But when Thirteen Women came out, the critics wrote savage reviews. Worse yet, most of Peg's performance wound up on the cutting room floor. Interestingly, although Peg had only a minor role in the movie, she did receive some good reviews for her own performance. But she never saw them.

The End

After Thirteen Women had wrapped, Peg was unable to find other film work. She confided to her family that she was sad and upset about the lack of recognition she was getting from the studios. She was out of work, depressed, friendless and broke, without even the money to go back to New York and leave Hollywood behind. Instead, she used Hollywood to take her own life.

On September 16, 1932, Peg wrote her 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."

She put the note in her purse and told her family she was going to meet some friends at a local drugstore. Instead, Peg climbed up the craggy trail of Mount Lee until she reached the legendary "Hollywoodland" sign. (The "Hollywoodland" sign was changed to just "Hollywood" several years later, when "land" was taken off in 1949.) Peg used a workman's stepladder to climb the 50 feet to the letter H—and leapt to her death.

As with any suicide, questions remain, even to this day. Since her film wasn't scheduled to come out until the next month, one wonders why Peg chose this date to end it all. Yes, she may have endured an inordinately tough life, but any actor with a film in the can is usually a hopeful person. And how did that workman's ladder get there? Did it happen to just be there? (Peg, an average-sized woman, wouldn't have been able to carry it up the long, steep trail herself.) If the ladder hadn't been there, would she have reconsidered?

Peg's body was found on September 18 by a hiker. The actress had died from multiple fractures of the pelvis, and may actually have suffered for a fairly long time in agonizing pain before passing away (her death is listed as September 16, but that can’t be confirmed). She was only 24 at the time of her death.

If Peg had held off for just a couple of days, the future might have been much different. One day before her suicide, the Beverly Hills Playhouse had mailed Peg a letter offering her a part in a play; it arrived the day after her death. The part they offered Peg was a woman who commits suicide in the final act.

Original image
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images
arrow
History
The Day Notre Dame Students Pummeled the Ku Klux Klan
Original image
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

At first glance, there was nothing unusual about the men who stepped off the train in South Bend, Indiana on the morning of May 17, 1924. Dapper and mannered, they drifted from the station to the downtown area. Some headed for a nearby office that sported a red cross made out of light bulbs stationed in the window. Others roamed around looking for Island Park, the site of a planned social gathering.

A closer look at these visitors revealed one common trait: Many were carrying a folded white robe under their arm. Those who had arrived earlier were fully clothed in their uniform and hood, directing automobile traffic to the park.

The Ku Klux Klan had arrived in town.

Fresh off a controversial leadership election in Indianapolis, Indiana, there was no reason for Klansmen to have any apprehension about holding a morale booster in South Bend. Indiana was Klan territory, with an estimated one in three native born white men sworn members within state lines. Just a few months later, Klansman Ed Jackson would be elected governor.

It was only when Klansmen found themselves guided into alleys and surrounded by an irate gang of Catholic students from nearby Notre Dame University that they realized mobilizing in South Bend may have been a very bad idea.

The Klan wanted a rally. What they got was a full-scale riot.

Photo of KKK Indiana Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson
Indiana Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson
By IndyStar, Decemeber 12, 1922 issue, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Politically-endorsed prejudice was the order of the day in the early part of the 20th century, when the Klan—first created in 1866 to oppose Republican Reconstruction with violent racial enmity and then revived in 1915—expanded its tentacles to reach law enforcement and civil service. No longer targeting people of color exclusively, the KKK took issue with Catholics, the Jewish faith, and immigrants. An estimated 4 million Americans belonged to the Klan in the 1920s, all echoing the group’s philosophy that only white, God-fearing citizens were worthy of respect.

Under the guidance of Indiana's Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson, the group had attempted to shift public perception from the lynch mobs of the past to an orderly and articulate assembly. Rallies were held in KKK-friendly areas; propaganda material was becoming an effective weapon for their cause. Acceptance of the Klan’s ideology seeped into political office; Stephenson was a prominent Indiana politician.

To help continue that indoctrination, the Klan made plans for a parade in South Bend to be held on May 17, 1924. That it would be in close proximity to the Notre Dame campus was no mistake: At the time, 75 percent of the school's nearly 2000 students were Catholic, a religion the Klan found abhorrent. By pledging allegiance to the Vatican, their reasoning went, Catholics were acknowledging a foreign power. In the fall of 1923, they had persisted in setting crosses on fire near the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, a predominantly Catholic college, and were frequently chased off by angered football players. That December, the Klan set off firebombs in Dayton during Christmas break. While no one was seriously injured, the intent was to send a message—one they wanted to spread to Indiana.

In the weeks and months leading up to the parade, both students and faculty began to get a taste of that perspective. Copies of the Fiery Cross, the official Klan newspaper, circulated on campus; one Klansman showed up at an auditorium to broadcast that Catholics were not good Americans. He exited the stage when attendees began throwing potatoes at him.

If that public response was foreshadowing, the Klan either ignored or failed to heed the warning. Members began arriving the Friday evening prior to the rally and were met at the train station by irritated students, who scuffled with the early arrivals by ripping their robes. By Saturday morning, when more Klansmen arrived, hundreds of students were in town, a loosely organized anti-Klan task force.

Keystone Features/Getty Images

Klan members were used to breezing into towns without incident. Here, they were immediately confronted by young, ornery college kids proud of their Catholicism. Klansmen were led into alleys and tossed into walls; students who played for the school’s legendary football squad formed wedges, the offensive line-ups found on the field, and plowed into groups of Klan members like they were challenging for a state title.

The violence, swift and sudden, prompted the Klan to retreat to their headquarters in South Bend. The students followed, their blood pumping hot at the sight of the red cross lit in the office window. Below it stood a grocery store with barrels of fresh potatoes. The students lobbed them at the glass, smashing the bulbs inside.

The conflict had been uninterrupted by law enforcement, but not for lack of trying. Deputy Sheriff John Cully, himself a Klansman, tried to enlist the National Guard but was shot down by officials. Notre Dame president Matthew Walsh had already implored students not to go into town, but his words went unheeded.

Unencumbered by authority, the 100 or so students idling near the Klan’s office decided they wanted to seize the hideout. Dozens began running up the stairs but were greeted by a Klan member who produced a gun. Unarmed, the students backed off. Four seniors went back and came to an impromptu truce: The student body would disperse if the Klan agreed to hold their rally without weapons or their robes.

The agreement seemed to placate both sides until Stephenson finally arrived in town before the parade’s scheduled 6:30 p.m. start. Assessing the roughed-up Klansmen and their skittish behavior, he complained to the police, who posted officers on horseback around their assembly at Island Park.

But there would be no rally: A heavy downpour prompted Stephenson to call it off, although the potential for further violence likely weighed on his mind. Lingering students who still hadn’t returned to campus met departing Klansmen as they attempted to drive out of town, smashing windows and even tipping over one car.

By Sunday, things seemed to have settled down. Walsh cringed at newspaper reports of the incidents, fearing it would portray the students as thugs.

Unfortunately, neither side was done protesting. And when they met a second time, the robed men would be backed up by lawman Cully and a squad of 30 deputized Klansmen.

Denver News - The Library of Congress (American Memory Collection), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Students back on campus Monday had taken to hanging up seized Klan robes and hoods on their walls like trophies. It had been a rout, with the Klan barely putting up a fight.

Now, word was spreading through the halls that the Klan had captured or perhaps had even killed a Notre Dame student. Roughly 500 students jogged the two miles back into South Bend, eager for another confrontation.

When they arrived at the Klan’s headquarters, the light bulb cross had been rebuilt. It was an act of defiance, and the students moved forward. But the Klan was prepared: Many had been deputized, and uniformed officers joined the melee. Axe handles and bottles were brandished, and blood began to stain the street. It was a clash, with parties on both sides laid out.

When he got word of the conflict, Walsh rushed to the site and climbed on top of a cannon that was part of a monument. Shouting to be heard, he implored students to return to campus. His voice cut through the sounds of breaking glass, snapping the students out of their reverie. They returned to the school.

Absent any opposition, the Klan did the same. Stragglers from out of town returned home. With bombastic prose, writers for the Fiery Cross later recapped the event by accusing Notre Dame students of “beating women and children.” Later that summer, they declared they’d be returning to South Bend in greater number.

It never happened. Although the Klan maintained an aura of strength for several more years, the conviction of Stephenson for raping and murdering a woman in November 1925 extinguished one of their most enthusiastic leaders; the Depression dampened the ability of new recruits to pay dues. By 1930, the Klan was down to an estimated 45,000 members.

While Walsh never condoned the vigilante justice exacted that weekend, he never disciplined a single student for it.

Additional Sources:
Notre Dame vs. the Klan, by Todd Tucker (Loyola Press, 2004)
"Hearing the Silence: The University of Dayton, the Ku Klux Klan, and Catholic Universities and Colleges in the 1920s" [PDF], by William Vance Trollinger

Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
History
Why the Berlin Wall Rose and Fell
Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of history's most notorious barriers broke ground early in the morning on August 13, 1961, when East German construction workers, guarded by soldiers and police, began tearing up the Berlin streets.

As European history professor Konrad H. Jarausch explains in this video from Ted-Ed, the roots of the Berlin Wall can be found in the period of instability that followed World War II. When the Allies couldn't decide how to govern Germany, they decided to split up the country between the Federal Republic of Germany in the West and the German Democratic Republic in the East. Eventually, citizens (especially young professionals) began fleeing the GDR for the greater freedoms—and higher salaries—of the West. The wall helped stem the tide, and stabilized the East German economy, but came at great cost to the East's reputation. In the end, the wall lasted less than three decades, as citizen pressures against it mounted.

You can learn more about exactly why the wall went up, and how it came down, in the video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios