The Ghost of the Hollywood Sign

Hollywoodland sign and Peg Entwistle
Talented, but more famous in death: Peg Entwistle. Image via Stephen Wagner

As a promising actress, Peg Entwistle gained only moderate fame, but her ghost has become the stuff of Hollywood legend.

On the night of September 18, 1932, actress Peg Entwistle made her way up the steep slope of Mount Lee in Los Angeles to the site of the famous Hollywood sign (back then it spelled out "Hollywoodland"). She took off her coat and neatly folded it, put down her purse, and climbed up the maintenance ladder on the back of the 50-foot-high letter H.

She stood atop it for a moment, looking over the lights of the glamorous city below, then leaped to her death.

Peg probably died instantly, and her body was found the next day by a hiker. But that's not the last Peg Entwistle has been seen — not alive anyway. Her ghost has been sighted many times in the vicinity of famous Hollywood landmark, still wandering slowly in her melancholy.

A Promising Actress

Born in 1908 in Port Talbot, Wales, U.K., Millicent Lilian Entwistle, nicknamed Peg, saw more than her share of tragedy. She was just a child when her mother died unexpectedly, after which she moved with her father to New York City. A few years later, he was struck down by a hit-and-run car on Park Avenue and killed.

In her late teens, Peg began to pursue an acting career on the stage and was talented enough to win roles with the Boston Repertory company and on Broadway in the renowned Theater Guild productions.

(Bette Davis said that Peg Entwistle was her inspiration to pursue acting.) At age 19, she married actor Robert Keith, only to discover that he had been married previously and had a six-year-old son. They divorced.

Peg was able to find stage work in productions featuring such stars as Dorothy Gish and Laurette Taylor but was already battling the demons of depression.

Nevertheless, she set her sights on Hollywood and moved to Los Angles in 1932 in hopes of landing roles in motion pictures. At first, she found work again on the stage, but then it seemed her destiny had really changed when RKO signed her to appear in the film Thirteen Women, starring Irene Dunne. When previews of the film received poor reviews, the studio re-edited it, and much of Peg's part was left on the editing floor. RKO subsequently dropped the options on her contract.

And on the night of September 18, 1932, after a bout of heavy drinking fueled by her depression and despair, 24-year-old Peg Entwistle told her uncle (with whom she was living) that she was going to meet some friends at a local drug store. Instead, she made her way to the Hollywood sign to meet her fate.

Peg's Ghost

Sometimes, sad lives that end in tragic deaths later manifest as ghosts that haunt the locations where they once enjoyed life... or where they died. In the case of Peg Entwistle, her spirit apparently still roams the hill around the sign that symbolized her dream.

Here are some of the documented sightings of Peg's ghost:

  • The Hollywood sign stands atop Mount Lee in Griffith Park, just west of the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale. Over the years, park rangers and have reported seeing a pretty blonde woman dressed in 1930s clothing wandering the park's paths. She is described as looking sad, and when she is approached, she vanishes.
  • As a couple was walking their dog along the Beachwood Canyon trail of the park, their dog began to behave strangely, whimpering and cowering behind them. Suddenly, a woman in out-of-date clothing appeared on the trail in front of them, appearing dazed or confused. She vanished before their eyes.
  • John Arbogast, a park ranger, claims to have seen Peg's ghost on several occasions. He says she most often appears late at night when conditions are foggy, and she is often accompanied by the strong scent of gardenias, said to be Peg's favorite fragrance.
  • Devin Morgan, a resident of Beachwood Canyon, also can verify the gardenia connection. One afternoon she was taking an exercise hike up the trail near the sign. As she made her way around one of the switchbacks, she noticed the figure of a woman on another part of the trail.

    "She looked very strange to me," Morgan said. "She had a very etheric quality. Instead of walking, she seemed to almost glide. She wasn't floating... she didn't look like she was a ghost, but there was something very, very strange about her, and very soft looking." Morgan attempted to catch up with this woman, but she had vanished, and the only thing in her place was the intense scent of gardenias.
  • Most recently, four friends encountered the ghost, a story that was featured on Syfy's Paranormal Witness. The friends — Tina, Alain, Brian, and Al — after a game at Dodger Stadium, decided to go touch the famous Hollywood sign. Although the area is off-limits to trespassers, they jumped the fence and headed up.

    On their way back down, Brian slipped and fell part way down the hill. As he began to make his way back toward the others, he saw someone on the path walking toward him. "It was a woman, wearing a dress similar to the style of the 1930s," according to the Syfy story. "She wore heels and a veil over her face. She walked effortlessly up the hill. Her footsteps made no sound." It was only later that they read about the story of Peg Entwistle.

There are two odd, synchronistic postscripts to this story:

  • Pat Entwistle's short-time husband, Robert Keith, was the father of actor Brian Keith (Nevada Smith and Family Affair) — he was the six-year-old son mentioned. In 1997, Brian Keith also committed suicide, ten weeks after his daughter committed suicide.
  • Very soon after Peg Entwistle's death, a letter arrived at her house from the Hollywood Playhouse, offering her a part in a play. The role was of a woman who commits suicide.