Childhood & Early Years
Peg Entwistle was born as Millicent Lilian Entwistle on 5 February 1908 in her maternal grandparents’ house in Port Talbot, Wales. Her parents, Robert Symes Entwistle and Emily Entwistle née Stevenson, were visiting Emily’s parents when she was born.
Soon after her birth, as the mother and the child was well enough to travel, the family returned to their home in West Kensington, London. Here, Peg was brought up in a theatrical environment.
Robert earned his living doing small roles in London. Simultaneously, he also designed sets, earning enough to keep his wife and child in comfort. Peg was her parents’ only child. Later she had two half brothers, Robert and Milton, born out of her father’s second marriage to Lauretta Ross.
In 1910, Peg lost her mother. According to many biographers Emily died in the same year. But documental proofs show that her parents had a divorce and her father won her sole custody. Thereafter, he brought her up with the help of his sisters, Rosina and Lilian.
A great influence on Peg’s life during this period was her uncle, Charles Harold Entwistle, who was also in the show business. She was very fond of her Uncle Charlie and called him ‘Mister E’. He later had a great influence on her aspiration to become an actress.
In 1911, Peg was first exposed to the stage, when both her father and uncle were chosen to perform before King George V and Queen Mary on the occasion of his coronation. Sitting in a pushchair, she watched them taking part in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ from the wing.
After the coronation, Charles moved to the USA while Robert remained in London, raising little peg, earning his livelihood by taking acting jobs in and around London. When he did not have any acting job, he served in his father’s stationery shop, where he learned to make gift boxes.
In 1913, Charles returned to England with his American wife Jane nee Ross, offering Robert job in Charles Frohman’s production at the Broadway. Accepting the offer, Robert traveled to the USA with his daughter and by September they were in New York, where she picked up a new nickname, Babs.
On July 29, 1914, her father married Lauretta Ross, younger sister of her aunt Jane. Peg watched the ceremony from the pew, taking an immediate liking to her stepmother. While her parents were on honeymoon, she lived with the Ross family, later moving with them to New York.
In 1916, Peg returned to England with her parents for a family reunion, reaching London on January 30, staying there for one and half months. Uncle Charles and Aunt Jane had also accompanied them.
At the family reunion dinner, held on February 26, 1916 at an Italian style restaurant just outside London, family members were asked to sign their names on the souvenir menu provided by the management. Eight year old Peg also wrote her name, signing it as Babs.
Soon after the family dinner, Peg, her father, stepmother, Uncle Charles and Aunt Jane set sail for the USA aboard ‘Philadelphia’, reaching New York on March 19. Since the records of her previous journeys were lost, many biographers erroneously believe it to be her first trip to the USA.
By early 1917, nine year old had decided that she would follow her father’s footstep and become an actor. Sometime during this period, the family moved to West 88 Street, which made the aspiring actress very happy. She now began to cajole her parents into taking her to the plays.
From the age of nine, she also began to coax her father into handing over his scripts, which she would memorize and then recite before gatherings. While she enjoyed being a star she also cherished being a director, handing out roles to others.
In 1918, at the age of ten, Peg was enrolled at the St. Agnes Academy, a parish school for girls. Also in the same year, she joined American Junior Red Cross, where she was given light duties like fund raising and sorting gift packages for European war refugees.
Towards the end of 1918, her father retired from stage and opened a stationery shop in Manhattan, where he started making custom gift boxes, an art he had learned while working in his father’s shop. However, Peg continued to be interested in theatre because it was her world.
By 1919, with the end of the First World War, Peg was no longer required to serve in Junior Red Cross. She now concentrated on the thing she loved most. When she was not studying or attending school, she was watching theatres.
Possibly in 1920, Robert moved his family to Upper East Side, close to the Central Park. In the same year, twelve year old Peg made her debut on stage, playing Peter Pan in a school production. Thereafter, she began to concentrate more on her acting career.
She now started spending long hours in front of the mirror, mimicking well-known actors, whom she had met through her uncle. Concurrently, she also began to follow them in magazines.
On April 2, 1921, her stepmother, Lauretta, died of meningitis. Just a year later, on November 2, 1922, Robert was struck down by a running vehicle and died forty-seven days later from the injury, making Peg and her two half brothers orphan.
After their father’s death, their responsibility was taken up by Uncle Charles, who at that time was working as manager to Walter Hampden Dougherty. For a while, they lived in Ohio before moving to Los Angeles. While Peg’s brothers went with their uncle, she decided to remain in the east.
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As Charles moved to Los Angeles, Peg Entwistle returned to New York to study briefly at an acting school. In 1924, she entered Henry Jewett's Repertory in Boston, where she received instructions from well-known director and actress, Blanche Yurka, taking part in every play by Henrik Ibsen while with her.
In 1925, she got her first break when Walter Hampden, her uncle’s employer, gave her a non-speaking part in ‘Hamlet’. It was a walk-on part, requiring her to carry the King’s train and bring the poison-cup. Although brief, it attracted the attention of the scouts from New York Theatre Guild.
By 1926, Peg Entwistle was recruited by the prestigious New York Theatre Guild. On graduating from their program, she made her first credited debut at Broadway, playing ‘Martha’ in ‘The Man from Toronto’. It opened at the Selywn Theatre in June and ran for twenty-eight performances.
The year 1927 began with ‘Tommy’, her longest running Broadway show. Her next play, ‘The Uninvited Guest’ was not that successful and closed in September 1927 after seven performances only. However, her performance in the play was highly appreciated by critics like J. Brooks Atkinson of New York Times.
Until 1932, Peg appeared in eight more Broadway shows, acting in supporting roles with well-known actors. In-between, she went on tour with New York Theatre Guild, getting acclaim for every role she played.
In 1932, she appeared as Amy Grey in her last Broadway show, ‘Alice Sit-By-The-Fire’. Opening on March 7, 1932, it closed down in April only after thirty-two shows because the star actress, Laurette Taylor, started missing dates due her alcoholic problems.
Soon after ‘Alice Sit-By-The-Fire’ closed down, Peg traveled to Los Angeles, where her Uncle Charles was living. Here, she was selected to perform opposite Billie Burke and Humphrey Bogart in ‘The Mad Hopes’, a tryout production by Los Angeles by producers Edward DeBlasio and Homer Curran.
'The Mad Hopes' ran from May 23, 1932 to June 4, 1932 at the Belasco Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Appearing as Geneva Hope, she gave an extraordinary performance and was noticed for her role.
Three days after ‘The Mad Hopes’ closed down, as she was preparing to return to New York, she got a call from RKO Pictures. They asked her if she was willing to do screen test for what turned out to be her last work, a psychological thriller film called ‘Thirteen Woman’.
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In ‘Thirteen Woman’, she appeared as Hazel Clay Cousins. Unfortunately, because of financial difficulties, it suffered a huge cut, reducing Peg’s role to a bare minimum. Neither was her contract renewed. She spent her last days waiting for calls that never came.
Personal Life & Legacy
On April 18, 1927, Peg Entwistle married stage and film actor Robert Keith. The marriage lasted for two years and she was granted a divorce in May 1929 on the charges of cruelty and deception. He told her neither about his previous marriages nor about his six year old son.
After ‘Thirteen Women’, Peg suffered tremendous mental anguish. Because of the Great Depression, money was tight and Peg did not have enough cash to return to New York, where she could have secured some stage job. She remained in her uncle’s home in Los Angeles, and had neither money nor job.
On September 16, 1932 evening, she left home telling her uncle that she was going to meet some of her friends at the drug store. Nobody saw her after that.
On September 18, 1932, a hiker found her body in the ravine below Mount Lee in the Hollywood hills, just below the Hollywoodland sign. She also found her shoes, jacket and her purse, which she handed over to the police.
The purse contained a suicide note saying "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. P.E.” Later, her uncle identified her body from her clothing.
The police surmised that she never met her friends, but went straight to the famous Hollywoodland sign and leapt from there, dying from multiple fractures of the pelvis. Her funeral was held in Hollywood on 20 September 1932. Later, her ashes were taken to Ohio to be buried with her father.
For many years, her grave remained unmarked. But later, her fans started a Facebook campaign and on September 16, 2010, her burial site was provided with an engraved granite marker.