The title track of Lana Del Rey’s latest album, Lust For Life paints an eerie picture, one of Lana dancing until death atop the H of the Hollywood sign, that old real estate advertisement, now a ubiquitous shining signifier of an entire industry and culture — and the dark disillusionment that clings to it like shadow. However, Lust For Life is not a haunting album, but a haunted one, made equally vibrant from appearances by both the living, and the dead.
Eighty-four years before Lana appeared atop that sign, however, a young actress did her own macabre dance on the famed sign and dove fifty feet below that H gruesomely ending her life. Her name was Peg Entwistle. She was 24-years-old. She was loved.
Of course, her story is now tapped to become a movie. Born Millicent Lilian, performance quickly caught her eye. When she was twelve years old, Millicent saw Laurette Taylor in Peg O’ My Heart at the Cort Theater, Valentine’s Day 1921, and decided to adopt the titular character’s name. She’d then climb the ranks of Broadway, talented and liked, as Peg Entwistle. But she’d only hold the moniker for about a decade.
After beginning a successful stage career, Peg ventured west toward the Golden Age of Hollywood. She broke a theater contract for the screen, signing with Radio Pictures, or simply RKO as it was soon to be known, a nearly traitorous move for some in the stage scene. Heck, the talkies only began a couple years ago — wasn’t this just some pan-flash out in the Wild West? When RKO rather quickly dropped her from the contract, Peg felt foolish, and now cut off from both sides of the acting coin. Would they want her in New York? Did she have a place in Los Angeles? How small that must have made her feel. How hopeless.
Peg had also just exited a wildly toxic relationship, one that started all champagne and blush. Robert Keith was an established stage actor as well, and the two fell for each other like a gold rush. Their first date was to see Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and within a week they were wed. But Robert’s dark showed itself quick as night, he hadn’t told her he’d been married before, with a six-year-old boy to show for it. His name was David and he’d later play Uncle Bill on Family Affair. Like Peg, he too would commit suicide. He shot himself in the head, ten weeks after his daughter Daisy did the same.