By John R. Beyer
It’s October, and what could that possibly mean? A month of 31 long days that lead closer and closer to the darkness of winter? Fewer shopping days before Christmas? Or that great yearly ghoulish holiday known as Halloween?
Yep, Halloween. The time for decorating with monstrous fun, going out to large costume parties, trick-or-treating for the little ones (or high school students who don’t know how old they are) in groups large and small.
Well, not this year.
With the haunting of COVID-19, things are a bit different in 2020. OK, a lot different. No large gatherings for costume parties, trick-or-treating with much smaller groups traipsing along sidewalks, and everyone wearing masks.
Ah, masks — the perfect day is Halloween, where wearing a mask is essential for any credible costume.
But this column isn’t about masks. It’s about haunted places to go during the month of October, leading up to the granddaddy scariest day of the year.
I’ve been asked more than once if I believe in ghosts. Well, what is the definition of a ghost?
Per Merriam-Webster, my go-to dictionary, “A disembodied soul especially: the soul of a dead person believed to be an inhabitant of the unseen world or to appear to the living in bodily likeness.”
That wouldn’t be Casper, would it not?
So I’m not sure that I believe or disbelieve in ghosts. I’ve seen, or thought I saw, things that I can’t really explain. On a bet, when I was a teenager, I spent the night sleeping in a cemetery in the city of Corona. It was supposed to be haunted by a specter by the name of Mona. I never saw an apparition, and only learned one thing from that experience: Teenage boys are stupid.
But, being a researcher, I do have some gadgets that are quite prevalent on those ghost hunting shows, like “Ghost Hunters,” “Extreme Paranormal,” “Haunted Encounters” and “I’m Frightened Just To Be Here” (OK, I made that last one up).
And those gadgets the professionals use would be: A digital voice recorder (so there is proof of you screaming hysterically when encountering a “ghost”); an EMF sensor (no idea, but it sounds cool); Ghost Box (in case you catch a ghost, I guess); camera with night vision (duh); an infrared thermometer (have to check the ghost’s temperature now due to COVID-19); and a box of pampers (just in case you encounter a real ghost).
Now that I was prepared to do some serious ghost hunting — ghost locating, actually, since I’m not much into hunting — I had to find the first place.
Ah, with all the mention of TV, why not start in Hollywood? And what better place than the Hollywood Sign?
The Hollywood Sign was not intended to be an advertisement for the film industry. Actually, it was an idea to advertise a housing development in the hills above the Hollywood district of Los Angeles — an area less expensive than the homes located closer to the studios.
As the brochure stated, “Hollywoodland, a superb environment without excessive cost on the Hollywood side of the hills.”
The sign went up in 1923 thanks to home builder Harry Chandler, who contracted with the Crescent Sign Company. The original sign read, “Hollywoodland,” and each letter was 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide. They had to use mules to haul up the steel support beams.
Wow. Mules. How quaint.
Chandler believed the sign would be up for only about a year and a half, but after 97 years, it’s still there — just without the last four letters, which were removed in the 1940s.
Hollywood had become a household name by the late 1920s. And what better tool to use to remind all cinema fanatics of the flash and dash of movie town than a huge sign? It is by far, one of the most iconic visual advertisements of the film industry anywhere on earth, not just Los Angeles.
Millions of people see it in person, commercials, documentaries, TV series and films yearly. It is one of the most photographed places in the United States, and you can hike to it.
But is it haunted? Supposed to be, and it’s truly a tragic story.
A beautiful young English actress by the name of Millicent Lilian “Peg” Entwistle, immigrated to America to find work in New York City. At first, there were some minor roles in the theatre, but directors soon realized how talented this Peg Entwistle truly was.
In fact, a very young Bette Davis, saw Entwistle perform in the 1925 play, “The Wild Duck,” and told her mother that someday she would be as good as the 17-year-old Entwistle. For the rest of her life, Davis often mentioned that it was watching Entwistle that made her yearn for the acting career that made her so famous.
Entwistle stayed in New York, working Broadway until 1932. In the midst of the Great Depression, theatres were closing down due to lack of audiences, so she moved to Hollywood the same year and picked up some roles in theatres here and there.
As with many actors of the day, she was discovered by Radio Pictures (RKO) and soon had a studio contract in hand.
Her first, and sadly, only film credit was a supporting role as Hazel Cousins, in David O. Selznick’s film, “Thirteen Women.”
But most of Entwistle’s parts wound up on the editing floor. She was devastated. On top of that, the studio cancelled her contract.
At the tender age of 24 she believed her dreams were gone. On Sept. 16, 1932, Peg Entwistle decided there was nothing left to live for. She climbed the hills above Hollywoodland, made her way up a ladder to the top of the sign’s “H,” and jumped to her death.
So, on this 88th anniversary of that tragic day, I decided to see if this young actress still haunted the hillside, as so many people have sworn she does.
Ghoulish, perhaps, but if I didn’t see her ghost, the least I could do was say a prayer for a young girl who gave up too early.
Getting to the Hollywood sign isn’t that difficult. There are numerous hikes, some moderate and some not so moderate. I chose an easier route, since the smoke from the Bobcat Fire was still suffocating the basin. I drove through the neighborhood of Hollywoodland — yes, there actually is such a neighborhood, with modestly priced homes for the likes of Saudi princesses.
I drove along a winding, narrow road up into the hills behind Hollywoodland. A sign stated the road was only for locals. Being a native California. I believed that made me a local.
After parking, I located an access route to one of the main trails, which was surprisingly crowded with people, all huffing, puffing and sweating. I, on the other hand, felt great. An air-conditioned drive can do that for a person.
The view was spectacular, except for all the haze from the fires.
And when I looked at the large white sign on the hillside, it made me sad to think a young woman was so distraught that she felt the only option left was to leap off a letter.
I didn’t bother telling the others around me about the history of the sign. They were laughing and pleasantly carrying on behind their masks.
No reason to spoil their day with the sorrowful story of Peg Entwistle.
There is still another twist to Entwistle’s death, by the way. The day after she committed suicide, a letter was delivered at her residence with an offer for an upcoming film. She was to play a young woman driven to suicide.
Contact John R. Beyer at email@example.com.