Category Archives: murder
Legendary Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen was a veritable institution in the movie industry, representing everyone from filmmakers to producers and composers. She orchestrated the Oscar campaign for Driving Miss Daisy, and was recently organizing Oscar pushes for Alice in Wonderland and for actor Michael Douglas, who reprised his role as Gordon Gekko in the sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. But in the early hours on Nov. 16, while driving home from the Hollywood premiere of the film Burlesque, Chasen’s Mercedes coupe was shot at five times and her body was found slumped over in her car. The murder has many in Hollywood scratching their heads and sparked a massive police hunt, with some sources claiming it was a planned hit. Adding to the mystery, the leading suspect in the murder reportedly committed suicide, according to The Daily Beast.
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Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.
Rapper Tupac was shot from a white Cadillac while stopped at an intersection on the Las Vegas Strip in Sept. 1996. Just six months later, fellow rapper Notorious B.I.G. was shot from a red Impala while stopped at an intersection in L.A. You can take your pick of the many theories as to who was behind the shootings. Did Notorious order a hit on Tupac and the Bloods retaliated against B.I.G.? Was their rival gang the Crips responsible for both murders—Biggie ordering the hit on Tupac, then reneging on the deal and getting shot for it? Were the rappers accidental victims of hits targeting their labels’ CEOs, who were both at the scene of the rappers’ murders? Did their labels’ CEOs actually order the hits themselves as a plan to boost the East Coast/ West Coast rivalry that was selling so many records? In 1999, detective Russell Poole, who suspected dirty cops to be behind the hit, resigned in protest and 13 years later, both murders remain unsolved.
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Elizabeth Short (The Black Dahlia)
It remains, to this day, one of the most gruesome and puzzling murders to ever hit Hollywood. Elizabeth Short was a 22-year-old aspiring actress with long, dark hair and piercing blue eyes, whose mutilated body was found in the Leimert Park district of Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 1947. Her corpse had been severed at the waist and drained of blood and her face was slashed from the corners of her mouth to her ears. The media sensationalized the already horrifying case, claiming at the time of her murder that Short was wearing a tight skirt and sheer blouse as opposed to the black tailored suit she was allegedly last seen wearing. And although it was reported that she received “The Black Dahlia” nickname from a drugstore, some say it was the media’s effort to paint a portrait of Short as a femme fatale. The crime was the basis for author James Ellroy’s 1987 book, The Black Dahlia, which was later adapted into a 2006 film of the same name, directed by Brian De Palma and starring Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson. But more than 60 years and many rumors later, Short’s death remains unsolved.
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Best known for his role as a Shaolin monk in the 1970s television series Kung-Fu, David Carradine became a successful character actor in Hollywood films, including memorable roles as a stumbling drunk in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and the scheming villain in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill franchise. But on June 4, 2009, Carradine was found dead in his hotel room in Bangkok, where he was shooting a movie. The actor’s body was found hanging in the closet with a rope tied to his neck, wrist, and genitals, in an apparent act of autoerotic asphyxiation. Following his death, two of Carradine’s ex-wives, Gail Jensen and Marina Anderson, stated that Carradine indeed had a self-bondage fetish and an overall penchant for “deviant sexual behavior.” Since then, Anderson has publicly claimed that she conducted her own investigation of Carradine’s death, ruling he was murdered.
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Born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, Wood became a successful child actor with her role in the 1947 film, Miracle on 34th Street, later transitioning to an ingénue opposite James Dean in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause. The part earned Wood an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress—as did her performances in Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass and West Side Story. But Wood was also known for her high-profile relationships with many men, from Elvis Presley to Dennis Hopper. On the evening of Nov. 28, 1981, she was in Catalina Island taking a break from filming the sci-fi film Brainstorm with her co-star, Christopher Walken, and her husband (for the second time), Robert Wagner, when she allegedly slipped and fell into the water while trying to secure a dinghy. According to Time, Wood’s autopsy revealed she drank “seven or eight” glasses of wine. A passenger on a boat nearby claimed she heard someone yelling cries of help that evening and heard another voice answer: “Take it easy. We’ll be over to get you.” In the wake of Wood’s death at the age of 43, her lawyer said, “It was not a homicide… not a suicide. It was an accident.”
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The inquest into the fatal stabbing of Hollywood bodyguard Johnny Stompanato was a major television event, with both his girlfriend actress Lana Turner and gangster Mickey Cohen testifying before 120 journalists filling the courtroom’s 160 seats. There was even an unidentified man shouting “Lies! All lies! This mother and daughter were both in love with Stompanato! Johnny was a gentleman!” as he was dragged from the courtroom. But as the story goes, Stompanato was anything but a gentleman as a bodyguard to Cohen, a rumored blackmailer, and an alleged abusive boyfriend to Turner. Though the star’s daughter Cheryl Crane was found guilty of justifiable homicide when she stabbed Stompanato with a kitchen knife at Turner’s house during a fight, rumors persisted that Turner had murdered Stompanato herself and passed off the crime to her daughter, who was 14 at the time.
With his hulking physique and square jaw, George Reeves was an ideal fit for the lead role in the 1950s television series, Adventures of Superman. However, after the series, Reeves had trouble finding work and was in dire financial straits due to his extravagant Hollywood lifestyle. According to the Los Angeles Police Department report, between approximately 1:30 and 2 a.m. on June 16, 1959, Reeves reportedly shot himself in the head in the upstairs bedroom of his Los Angeles home, while his fiancée, playwright Leonore Lemmon, and friends William Bliss, writer Robert Condon, and Carol Van Ronkel were partying downstairs. The houseguests allegedly heard a single gunshot and Bliss ran into the room to find Reeves’ lifeless body. Police reports at the time said that Reeves was depressed because he wasn’t earning roles, but his mother refused to believe Reeves was the type to kill himself. Other theories place the blame on Reeves’ relationship with married ex-showgirl Toni Mannix, wife of MGM general manager Eddie Mannix, as did the 2006 film Hollywoodland, which starred Ben Affleck as the late Superman star.
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Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee
Bruce Lee, a Hong Kong martial arts master, became a star after his performance as Kato alongside Van Williams in the TV series, The Green Hornet. He went on to star in many martial arts films and famously pummeled Chuck Norris in the legendary final scene of Way of the Dragon. However, on July 20, 1973, six days before the release of his latest movie, Enter the Dragon, Lee met with producer Raymond Chow to talk about a new project, Game of Death. The two then drove over to Lee’s colleague’s home, Taiwanese actress Betty Ting Pei. When Lee complained of a headache, Pei allegedly gave him an Equagesic—a combination of aspirin and a muscle relaxant. Lee reportedly decided to take a nap, but never woke up. The only substance found in the actor’s autopsy was Equagesic and it was later ruled that he died due to a hypersensitivity to the muscle relaxant in the drug. However, many conspiracy theorists claim that Lee was either murdered by the triads, he died from a Dim Mak (“death strike”) he received some time earlier, or his family was cursed. The final theory resurfaced when, on Mar. 31, 1993, his son Brandon Lee was accidentally shot to death while filming his character’s death scene in the film, The Crow.
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Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was one of the first movie stars and with that, he was also at the forefront of one of the first Hollywood scandals. The 350-pound silent-era comedian was accused of killing a young actress named Virginia Rappe. As the story goes, at a party at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco on Labor Day weekend 1920, Arbuckle ruptured Rappe’s bladder when he allegedly forced sex on her with a bottle, according to Time. Though he was never convicted—despite going through three trials—his image as a jovial, pie-throwing comedian was ruined, and his career never recovered.
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Bob Crane, the star of Hogan’s Heroes, had a hard time getting roles after his show was canceled. He did, however, go on to make an extensive collection of home movies of his sexual escapades with the technical help of his friend John Carpenter. Though there were plenty of people with reason to be angry at Crane—he didn’t always tell his partners they were being filmed—Carpenter’s video experience made him the prime suspect in Crane’s murder. On June 28, 1978, Crane was found bludgeoned to death with what was believed to be a tripod and a VCR cable had been tied around his neck. Nevertheless, police couldn’t collect enough evidence and Carpenter wasn’t charged until 14 years after the murder. He was acquitted and four years later, he died of a heart attack.
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No witnesses, no suspects: Jack Nance, the star of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, left investigators with a very cold case. He died of a subdural hematoma caused by blunt-force trauma on December 30, 1996. Before he was found dead at his home, Nance told friends that two young Hispanic men had punched him in the eye outside a Winchell’s Doughnuts at 5 a.m. after he’d allegedly told them to change their baggy clothes, get haircuts, and get jobs. But the owner of the Winchell’s didn’t recall the fight and Nance gave no other information about his attackers. In fact, with a blood alcohol level of .24 at the time of his death, some suggest Nance got drunk, hit his head, and made up the story. “I mouthed off and I got what I deserved,” the late actor reportedly said after his alleged attack, according to Premiere.
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William Desmond Taylor
The murder of silent-film director William Desmond Taylor—who was found shot in the back in his home on February 2, 1922—involved a Hollywood-worthy cast of characters. Some suspected comedian Mabel Normand’s cocaine dealers since Taylor was allegedly protective of Normand and trying to separate her from her pushers. Normand’s lover, director Mack Sennett, was also believed to have possibly murdered Taylor out of jealousy over the comedian’s possible infatuation with the director. Another suspect was Taylor’s former valet, a shady character from Ohio who faked an English accent, embezzled money, and enlisted and deserted the Army three times under three different names. Young actress Mary Miles Minter was also a possible guilty party—her motive? Unrequited love. Despite the plethora of colorful suspects and a confession from one of Taylor’s actresses three decades later, no arrests were ever made.
Read more about William Desmond Taylor:
- John Sowden House, Alleged ‘Black Dahlia’ Murder Home, Hits Market for $4.89 Million (athomesense.com)
- New Probe in Black Dahlia Cold Case (huffingtonpost.com)
- The Black Dahlia Haunting Gets Distro (dreadcentral.com)
- Cold Case Canine! How Buster The Wonder Dog Is Helping Solve The Black Dahlia Murder Mystery (eyeoncelebs.com)
- Black Dahlia case may be solved by death-sniffing dog (upi.com)
Who doesn’t want to know whether a certain celebrity was a murder, a suicide, an accident, or just another tragedy? These are our visual heros, and (some of us) we follow their every theatrical move, daydreaming-fantacising-about being like them…about living their lives. What we don’t see, however- thanks to careful Hollywood media management, is that most of them are actually miserable. If you peel away all of the Hollywood hub-bub, the truth is reveiled, and that truth is that they are exactly like you and I, just a whole lot more represeed and fragile. They are born, they live and they die, and sometimes the death is just like their lives- unnatural. Hollywood has a long history of tragedy, and most often it is the most creative and most brilliant members of that community that suffer the most.
Things seem to be changing in modern Hollywood, as far as lifestyle, public interaction, and the health and sanity of the actors and actresses. They aren’t held prisoner by the film studios the way that they used to be (like in the Golden Age of Cinema, late 20’s., 30’s, and so on). Au Contraire, in recent years, more celebrities are dying from accidental overdoses, which occured at social events, or where the product of a “party animal” lifestyle, than any other kind of death. Suicides, murders, accidents…all are far less frequent than they used to be. These days, a celebrity can come right out and talk to his fans, or to a reporter about what is going on in their lives, so when they die, psycologically, it isn’t as big of a media ordeal (Kurt Cobaine, Brandon Lee…these are just examples of questionable deaths that were DROPPED by investigators after a minimal length of time). Still, when a celebrity is murdered, or commits suicide, it’s big news. Still, celebrities die in Hollywood. Some have killed themselves, other celebrities have been murdered, some extremely violently. This is a brief listing of the muders, suicides, and “questionable” Hollywood celebrity deaths that I feel are the most shocking or mind boggling. Some of these are unsolved, some are “questionable” or “unbelievable”, some are simply just bizarre…but all are echos of Hollywood.
Freddie Prinze, the father of Freddie Prinze Jr., got his start at a standup comedian. He had been born Frederick Karl Pruetzel but changed his last name to Prinze because he decided he was going to become the prince of comedy (he originally wanted to be king, but Alan King already had the name). He was the first comedian to asked to have a sit-down chat with Johnny Carson on his first Tonight Show appearance. Being asked for a sit-down chat by Carson was considered the Holy Grail of honors by comedians. He is best known for his role as Chico in the hit television series Chico and the Man.
Prinze suffered from depression and a drug addiction. January 28, 1977, after talking to his estranged wife on the telephone, he shot himself in the head with a semi-automatic pistol. There are some who believe this was an accident due to Prinze’s penchant for playing Russian roulette to freak out his friends. But his death was ruled a suicide. He was only 22 years old.
Lupe Velez was one of the first Mexican actresses to achieve success in Hollywood. She first rose to prominence in silent films including her first starring role opposite Douglas Fairbanks in The Gaucho. She worked with legendary directors such as Cecil B. Demille and D.W. Griffith. Her characters were usually feisty and sensual earning her the vaguely racist nicknames “The Mexican Spitfire” and “The Hot Pepper.” She went on to have famous affairs with Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Erich Maria Remarque, and Errol Flynn.
In the mid-1940s she became pregnant with Harald Maresch’s child, but he refused to marry her. This is the reason she gave for taking her own life with 80 Seconal pills. Her note read:
To Harald: May God forgive you and forgive me, too; but I prefer to take my life away and our baby’s, before I bring him with shame, or killin’ [sic] him. Lupe.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding Velez’s death. People note that she was something of an iconoclast and likely wouldn’t have killed herself over the illegitimacy of her baby. The reason for her suicide is often attributed to her own impulsive behavior and a suspected undiagnosed case of bipolar disorder by those who do not believe her suicide note.
There is also controversy about how she was found. One account claims she was found on her bed, completely composed, and surrounded by flowers exactly as she had planned it. The other account is that she was found with her head in the toilet, likely because of of a bad reaction to the Seconal pills causing her to head to the toilet to vomit. These accounts maintain that she drowned in the toilet.
Dana Plato is known mostly for her role as Kimberly on Diff’rent Strokes and for her troubled life. Dana Plato began working in the industry from a very early age, and by the time she got to Diff’rent Strokes at age 14 was already abusing alcohol and hard drugs. She was dismissed from Diff’rent Strokes in 1984 for an unplanned pregnancy. After Diff’rent Strokes, Plato hit hard times. She got breast implants and posed in playboy and could only find work in B-movies. Then she couldn’t even get those and wound up working in a dry cleaners and robbed a video store at gun point. After that she began working in softcore porn.
A day before her death she went on the Howard Stern Show and talked about how she was clean and working to come back. The next day she OD’d on painkillers in her and her fiance’s RV, parked outside her fiance’s mother’s house. That was in 1999. In May 2010, her son committed suicide as well.
Anton Furst was an Academy Award winning production designer who designed the sets forFull Metal Jacket in which he created a convincing Vietnam in England and Tim Burton’sBatman for which he earned his Oscar.
He killed himself by jumping from the eighth floor of a parking structure in Los Angeles in 1991. He was 47 years old.
George Sanders was known for his brilliant mind, his wit, and his booming voice. The voice was the reason he was often cast in villainous roles such as Shere Khan in The Jungle Bookand Addison DeWitt in All About Eve. He also guested as a villain on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and as Mr. Freeze in the Batman TV series.
Sanders married Zsa Zsa Gabor and then later married her older sister Magda. In his later years, his health deteriorated which depressed and frustrated him and drove him to drink. What destroyed him even more was the deterioration of his mental faculties which was the source of his greatest pride and joy. He was prone to fits of rage and delirium as his wits left him and we began wandering. It was in this stage of his life, at a hotel in Barcelona and taking a drug called Nembutal that he decided to take his life. He was found dead, 10 miles away from his hotel. It was ruled a suicide after authorities found his suicide note which has to be one of the most fascinating suicide notes of all time.
Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.
Charles Boyer’s surprising legacy is as the inspiration of Pepe le Pew. The french actor was known as a great on-screen Lothario. Even with his short stature, pre-mature balding, and paunch he became a sex symbol, wooing the greatest leading ladies of the day. Except off-screen he wasn’t like that at all. He was bookish and shy. He married his wife in 1934 and stayed faithful for 44 years until his wife died.
Boyer had a son, Michael, with his wife who committed suicide at age 21 (1965) by playing Russian roulette after separating from his girlfriend.
Then in 1978, his wife, Pat Paterson, passed away due to cancer. Two days later Boyer took his own life with an overdose of Seconal.
Andrew Koenig, son of actor Walter Koenig, is best known for his role of “Boner” on Growing Pains. He didn’t act much after leaving Growing Pains, but he did get very involved with human right activism. His activism mostly focused on the oppression of the Burmese people which involved visiting refugee camps in Thailand and protesting the Chinese government. The latter of which led to an arrest during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In February 2010, Koenig went to Canada to watch the Olympics. On February 14th, his family reported him missing. His body was later found hanging from a tree in a densely wooded area of Vancouver’s Stanley Park. The family confirmed that Koenig had been depressed and took his own life.
Spalding Gray is an American icon. He was a writer and actor, known mostly for his minimalist autobiographical monologues, the most famous of which is probably Swimming to Cambodia which started its life as a play and was then turned into a movie. He was known for being neurotic, funny, and moving. His monologues were considered searingly self-exposed and brave.
Gray struggled with depression and bipolar disorder for his entire life. Then in 2001, he suffered a car accident that immobilized his left leg and injured his brain. He began suffering deeper bouts of depression, likely because of the injuries. Then in 2004 he went missing. When his body was later found in the East River, it was concluded that he had jumped off the Staten Island Ferry.
Margaret Sullavan was born with a muscular disorder that prevented her from walking. As a child she overcame this and became a tomboy to the disapproval of her parents. She also had a hearing defect called otosclerosis which was the cause of her unique, throaty voice. She was known for her rebellious spirit and chose her scripts carefully. She only made 16 films, four of them opposite Jimmy Stewart who was head-over-heels for her.
Sullavan’s first marriage was to Henry Fonda, but it was her third husband, Leland Hayward that touched her the most. They divorced when Sullavan found he was cheating on her with Nancy “Slim” Keith. Their three children stayed with their mother, but over time, the lavish gifts from their father convinced them to stay with him full time prompting Sullavan to have a nervous breakdown.
From then on Sullavan became increasingly depressed, unable to sleep until she took her own life by overdosing on barbiturates in 1960. Her daughter Bridget took her own life through suicide nine months later and her son Bill committed suicide in 2008.
Richard Jeni was a famous stand-up comedian who was known for his stand-up specials (one of which is credited with creating the phrase “Thank you, Captain Obvious) and his appearances in The Mask and The Aristocrats. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest comedians of all time.
In 2007, Jeni shot himself in the face and was rushed to the hospital where he died. Jeni had recently been diagnosed with “severe clinical depression, coupled with fits of psychotic paranoia” and his girlfriend reported hearing him talking to himself a week earlier saying “just squeeze the trigger.” His girlfriend was in the apartment at the time of the shots. They had just discussed his next career move when she went to the kitchen to cook breakfast at his request, when she heard gunshots.
Jonathan Brandis was a 90s teen idol thanks to his starring role in the TV show SeaQuest. But he had actually been working since he was five years old. In fact, audiences already knew him from The NeverEnding Story II, It, and Ladybugs. At the peak of his popularity Brandis received as many as 4,000 fan letters a week and needed three studio guards to escort him through the mob of female fans onto the SeaQuest set.
In November 2003 Brandis hanged himself. He was rushed to the hospital and died the next day. Friends speculated that Brandis was depressed about his career, but no one really knows why he took his own life.
Peg Entwistle, the suicide blonde of Hollywoodland
Today, September 16, is the 78th anniversary of the suicide of Peg Entwistle. In remembrance, here is a rerun of an article recently posted. Rest in peace Peg.
By Allan R. Ellenberger, Hollywoodland
On the evening of Sunday, September 18, 1932, a mysterious phone call was received at the Central Station of the Los Angeles Police Department:
“I was hiking near the Hollywoodland sign today,” said a feminine voice, “and near the bottom I found a woman’s shoe and jacket. A little further on I noticed a purse. In it was a suicide note. I looked down the mountain and saw a body. I don’t want any publicity in this matter, so I wrapped up the jacket, shoe and purse in a bundle and laid them on the steps of the Hollywood Police Station.”
The officer asked for the woman’s name but she hung up before he could get more information. He called the Hollywood station and the package was found as described, including the alleged suicide note which read: “I’m afraid I’m a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this thing a long time ago it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.”
Detectives made their way to the Hollywoodland sign, where they found the body of a woman, described as being about 25 years old, with blue eyes and blonde hair. She was reasonably well dressed. With no other identification except for the “P.E.” on the suicide note, her body was sent to the morgue where it remained unclaimed.
Meanwhile, the following morning, Harold Entwistle read in the papers about an unidentified woman, dubbed “The Hollywood Sign Girl” by the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, who had apparently jumped to her death from the top of the letter “H” in the fifty-foot-high “Hollywoodland” electric sign. Entwistle, an actor, lived at 2428 Beachwood Drive and could see the sign from his front porch. He was suspicious about his niece Millicent, who he had not seen since the previous Friday evening walking up Beachwood towards the Hollywood Hills. She said she was going to buy a book at the drug store and then visit with some friends.
Millicent, a struggling actress, was known professionally, and to her friends as Peg. It was Peg’s absence and the alleged suicide note that Entwistle regarded as significant — the report said it was signed with the initials “P.E.” After contacting authorities at the county morgue, Entwistle’s fears were confirmed when he identified the dead woman as his niece.
“Although she never confided her grief to me,” Entwistle told officers, “I was somehow aware that she was suffering intense mental anguish. She was only 24. It is a great shock to me that she gave up the fight as she did.”
Entwistle denied reports that a broken love affair had actuated his niece to take her life. Instead, it was determined that disappointments for a screen career, equal to the success she had enjoyed on stage, were attributed as the reason behind the spectacular suicide.
Millicent Lilian Entwistle was born in Port Talbot, Wales to English parents Robert and Emily Entwistle, on February 5, 1908 while her parents were visiting relatives. They returned to their West Kensington (outside London) home where she lived until age 8. Peg’s mother died in 1910 and four years later, Robert married Lauretta Ross, the sister of his brother Harold’s wife Jane.
In August 1913, Robert was brought to New York by famed Broadway producer Charles Frohman as his stage manager. After a few years, on March 20, 1916, Peg, along with her parents and aunt and uncle, arrived in New York on the SS Philadelphia. In 1918, Robert and Lauretta had a son Milton, and two years later Robert was born. In 1921, Lauretta died from meningitis and a year later, on November 2, 1922, Robert was struck down by a hit-and-run driver on Park Avenue. He lingered for weeks and died just before Christmas 1922. Now orphans, Peg and her brothers were taken in by her uncle Harold and aunt Jane.
A few years later Peg was living in Boston where she made her first appearance on the professional stage with the Henry Jewett Reparatory Company where she was taught to act by Blanche Yurka. In October 1925, Harold Entwistle’s employer, actor Walter Hampden, gave Peg an uncredited walk-on in his Broadway production of Hamlet with Ethel Barrymore. A young Bette Davis was inspired to act after seeing Peg perform in Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. Over the years Davis made several references to Entwistle, saying that she “wanted to be exactly like Peg Entwistle.”
After serving an apprenticeship with them for several seasons, she came to New York and was recruited by the prestigious New York Theatre Guild and obtained a small part in The Man from Toronto in June 1926. Afterward she was cast in an important role in The Home Towners, which George M. Cohanproduced in August of that year. Over the next six years Peg performed in ten Broadways plays in such Theatre Guild productions as Tommy, which was her longest running play. Reviewers said that Peg was “attractive in the manner of a number of other fresh ingénues.”
Other plays followed including The Uninvited Guest, a revival of Sherlock Holmes with William Gilletteand Getting Married. Some of her plays lasted no longer than a month or two; however she always received good reviews for her performances regardless of the quality of the production.
In April 1927, Peg married fellow actor, Robert Keith, who was the father of Brian Keith, best known for his role in the television sit-com, Family Affair. The Keith’s toured together in several Theatre Guild plays until their divorce in 1929.
Peg’s final Broadway play was in J.M. Barrie’s, Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire in March 1932. The production starred the popular actress, Laurette Taylor whose alcoholism caused her to miss several performances and forcing producers to end the play several weeks early.
In May, Peg was brought to Los Angeles to costar with Billie Burke and Humphrey Bogart in theRomney Brent play, The Mad Hopes at the Belasco Theatre. The play opened to rave reviews with standing-room-only audiences. One reviewer commented:
“…Belasco and Curran have staged the new play most effectively and have endowed this Romney Brent opus with every distinction of cast and direction. …costumes and settings are of delightful quality, and every detail makes the production one entirely fit for its translation to the New York stage. In the cast Peg Entwistle and Humphrey Bogart hold first place in supporting the star (Billie Burke) and both give fine, serious performances. Miss Entwistle as the earnest, young daughter (Geneva Hope) of a vague mother and presents a charming picture of youth…”
When the play closed, Peg was preparing to return to New York when she was offered a screen test at RKO. On June 13, 1932 she signed a contract to appear in Thirteen Women where she is billed ninth in the opening credits. The film starred Irene Dunne and Myrna Loy as a half-caste fortune teller’s assistant motivated by revenge against the bigoted schoolgirls who tormented her in school years earlier.
The film received poor reviews and negative comments from preview audiences. The Los Angeles Timessaid of the preview: “…its picturization is an utterly implausible tale of mediocre worth.” The premiere was delayed and the film was edited to reduce its running time, significantly cutting back Peg’s screen time. Once it premiered after Peg’s death, one reviewer called it “a dreadful mess of a picture with more defects, deficiencies and lapses than any offering since Chandu the Magician.
Peg Entwistle’s home at 2428 Beachwood Drive
(this is a private residence; please do not disturb the occupants)
The sidewalk in front of Peg Entwistle’s home on Beachwood Drive where she took her last walk
RKO did not option Peg’s contract and she was broke and could not return to New York. She tried finding roles on both the local stage and at the film studios but nothing was available. On Friday evening, September 16, 1932, Peg told her uncle she was going to walk to the local drugstore and then visit friends. Instead, she walked up Beachwood past Hollywoodland and then hiked up the side of Mount Lee to the Hollywoodland sign. There she most likely wrote her suicide note, took off her coat and shoe, and climbed a maintenance ladder behind the letter H and, at some point, jumped to her death.
The coroner determined that death was due to internal bleeding caused by “multiple fractures to the pelvis.” Her Episcopal funeral service was conducted on September 20 at the W. M. Strother Mortuaryat 6240 Hollywood Boulevard (demolished). Her body was cremated at Hollywood Cemetery and held in storage until December 29 when her ashes were sent to Oak Hill Cemetery in Glendale, Ohio for burial with her father on January 5, 1933. Her grave is unmarked.
The burial card at Oak Hill Cemetery where Peg Entwistle’s ashes were interred. H Milton Ross was the father of Peg’s stepmother, Lauretta. (Photo courtesy of Scott Michaels)
Peg Entwistle was buried with her father at Oak Hill Cemetery in Glendale, Ohio. Their grave is unmarked. (Photo courtesy of Scott Michaels)
Some sources claim that shortly after Peg’s death, she received a letter from the Beverly Hills Community Players, offering her a role in a play where her character commits suicide. Since this tale was related in Kenneth Anger’s “Hollywood Babylon II,” the veracity of it is questionable. Other false claims made by Anger are that Peg jumped from the last letter D because it was the thirteenth letter and she associated it with the film Thirteen Women. He also wrote that she was the first of other “disillusioned starlets” who followed her lead and committed suicide from the sign; this is not true. Peg Entwistle is the only confirmed suicide from that famous Hollywood landmark.
Click below to watch Peg Entwistle’s appearance in Thirteen Women (1932)
Peg Entwistle’s death is particularly shocking and tragic because it is more memorable and notable than her film career. Entwistle was born in the UK in 1908 and dreamed of the bright lights of Hollywood. She had a successful Broadway career before moving out west where she only had one film credit to her name. She played a small supporting role in a movie calledThirteen Women.
When the film received bad reviews and her role was greatly reduced she decided to take her own life and did so in a dramatic fashion. She climbed to the top of the “H” in the famed Hollywood sign and jumped off. Her suicide note is also famed as it states:
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.
She was only 24.
In this context it’s easy to see the tragedy of Tony Scott’s death as a continuation of a long line of bewildering suicides among both great and small in Hollywood. Perhaps all this says something about the cost of creativity or the depravity of the entertainment industry, but mostly it just makes me sad.
Lou Tellegen, the rise and fall of a matinee idol
By Allan R. Ellenberger
A matinee idol for almost two decades, a romantic actor whose chief pride was his unswerving faith in himself as “the perfect lover,” both on and off the stage and screen, Lou Tellegen is probably best remembered as the untried and unheard of youth chosen by Sarah Bernhardt as her leading man on her last two American tours. He was also known for his marriage to Geraldine Farrar, a union which ended in a bitter divorce. Tellegen became one of the theatre’s legendary figures.
His career was tumultuous throughout most of his life. Born in the south of Holland on November 26, 1883, the son of Bernard and Maria Von Dammeler, Tellegen was christened Isidor Bernard Von Dammeler. He made his stage debut at the age of 5 under the guidance of his mother, who was a dancer of great beauty.
Ten years later, motivated partly by the desire to travel which never left him and partly by a family quarrel, young Tellegen ran away from home. His journeys took him through many countries and eventually to jail in Moscow. Upon his release he returned home to find that his father, a supposedly rich man, had died and disinherited him.
He travelled to Paris, where he found whatever job he could. At different times he was a baker’s apprentice, a trapeze artist, a pugilist and a hack driver. At one point he became acquainted with the sculptor, August Rodin, who induced him to become a model because of his Grecian features and his Hellenic physique. During his stay at Rodin’s studio in Meudon, near Paris, he posed for “Eternal Springtime,” the original which is now in the Metropolitan Museum. It was during this time that he married his first wife, Countess Jeanne de Broncken.
He soon began a series of travels which took him to Egypt and Africa and finally to South America. Upon his return to Paris he was taken in the Sarah Bernhardt troupe just as it was leaving for the United States in 1910. Bernhardt was pleased by the handsome youth and took the trouble to give him acting lessons. He learned his roles on the boat which brought the troupe to America.
His first appearance was in Chicago as Raymond, opposite Bernhardt in Madame X. The second night after the play opened his name was placed in lights beside that of the star, and from that moment on, his future was assured. Later he starred in Sister Beatrice, Sapho, Camille, Jean Marie and other plays. At the time she was nearly 70 years old and he was not yet 30.
His first New York appearance was not with Bernhardt, but as the leading man in Maria Rosa withDorothy Donnelly. He became an overnight matinee idol and was flooded with “mash” notes and besieged by interviewers.
After his last tour with Bernhardt, Tellegen made the decision to stay in the United States. He appeared in scores of plays and was most popular during the late teens and the early Twenties and was quick to make the most of it. It was also expected that motion pictures would knock on his door. Nearly all of the last fifteen years of his life were divided between Hollywood and New York.
Geraldine Farrar and Lou Tellegen
On February 9, 1916, Tellegen married Geraldine Farrar, the Metropolitan prima dona. In August 1921, after they had lived apart for some time, Tellegen entered a suit for separation in Westchester County. Farrar retaliated by suing for divorce in New York county. A decree was granted to her two years later.
He was the leading man, and co-author with Willard Mack, of Blind Youth, a play produced in New York in 1918. His second venture, and a far less auspicious one, was a book of reminiscences, “Women Have Been Kind,” published in 1931. The book named names and places and raised a storm of condemnation.
Close friends said that besides waning fame, and illness, which had made it impossible for him to carry out several of the infrequent engagements offered to him during the last few years, had completely broken his spirit. In his last years he had found little work on stage or the screen. In 1928, when his name was becoming less prominent, he was forced into bankruptcy. That same year his third wife, Nina Romanodivorced him and obtained custody of their child, Rex, who at the time was four years of age.
On Christmas Day, 1929, while he was in the try-out of Escapade in Atlantic City, he fell asleep in his hotel room with a lighted cigarette in his mouth and was severely burned. He was in a hospital nearly three months while the play, its titled changed to Gala Night, went to New York and opened without him. It closed before he could rejoin the cast.
In 1930, at Asbury Park, Tellegen married Eve Cassanova. A year later the actor underwent a facelift in the hope of regaining his screen popularity. A few months afterward, his ex-wife obtained a default judgment for more than $12,000 against him claiming that he had failed to pay $100 weekly for the support of their son. Tellegen did not answer her suit.
Several months before his death it appeared that he might stage a comeback on the screen with the filmCaravan (1934), but an illness of six weeks in the hospital lost him the part. Tellegen’s last stage appearance was in a minor part in The Lady Refuses in New York in 1933. His final screen role was inTogether We Live (1935). When he walked on the set, a newer actor inquired: “Who is the new character actor?”
“Why, that’s Lou Tellegen, once the husband of Geraldine Farrar,” another replied.
Tellegen soon became obsessed that he was losing him mind. He brooded over that. His friends said he had been morose and downcast. Within the previous year he had undergone three major operations. His physician said Tellegen never knew that he had incurable cancer.
Tellegen had become friends with Mrs. Jack Cudahy, the widow of the meat packing heir whose mansion at 1844 N. Vine Street, was just south of Franklin. Tellegen was broke and Mrs. Cudahy allowed him to use one of her rooms. While he was ill, Tellegen expressed his last wish to Mrs. Cudahy. “He told me,” she later said, “that if he should die, he wanted his body cremated and the ashes scattered over the sea that in its restlessness was like his own troubled life.”
On October 29, 1934, Tellegen arose and seemed depressed according to Cudahy’s maid. “He refused his breakfast,” the maid said. Worried, Mrs. Cudahy went to his room to ask if he was ill. She received no response. Then she heard a movement in the bathroom, and asked if he was there. A weak voice replied in the affirmative. She summoned her butler and together they forced open the door. Tellegen collapsed at their feet. “He’s hurt, call a doctor,” Mrs. Cudahy cried.
The butler dashed across the street to a clinic, and brought a doctor, however Tellegen was unable to speak, breathing his last. Mrs. Cudahy added that she had been unable to get any word from him. He died in her arms on the floor of his room.
The police determined that Tellegen had stood before a mirror in his bathroom, shaved and powdered his face, then stabbed himself in the chest seven times with a pair of scissors, the ordinary kind found in sewing cabinets. A final plunge found his heart, and life ebbed slowing from his wounds. How he managed to repeatedly stab himself while in such a weakened condition, and bear the pain of thrust after thrust, mystified police. The autopsy disclosed that two of those stabs penetrated the heart.
Though Tellegen died in comparative poverty, several of his friends guaranteed that he would be given a burial to befit his position in the theatrical world. Mrs. Cudahy assured that Tellegen would receive a suitable burial. Norman Kerry and Willard Mack, also close friends, gave assurances that his last wishes would be carried out.
In New York, when Geraldine Farrar was told of her ex-husband’s death, she told reporters: “Why should that interest me?” she snapped. “It doesn’t interest me in the least.”
Eve Casanova, his current wife and from whom friends say he was never divorced, referred them to “a cousin in Los Angeles” when she was wired regarding disposition of the body. Notwithstanding, when the “cousin” could not be located, no further word was heard from her.
Meanwhile, Tellegen’s body lay forgotten in the county morgue although friends still promised that a proper burial would be provided. No definite date was set for the funeral as they awaited word from his wife, in the belief she might express some wish as to the disposal of the body.
Finally, word arrived from Leonia, New Jersey from Casanova saying she was “horribly, horribly shocked” by her husband’s death. “I will not go to Los Angeles for the funeral,” she said, “however, you see, I am supposed to start rehearsals for a play. A-Hunting We Will Go, and I know Lou would want me to stay here and stick it out.”
She said that in his last letter to her, Tellegen wrote: “I am doomed, for my illness is affecting my mind.” The actress said that he was suffering from cancer, which he thought was only a tumor and that if he had known the truth he would have ended his life sooner. While his death came as a shock, she said that she was “not surprised.”
It was felt that an unintentionally misconstrued remark may have been the indirect cause of Tellegen’s suicide. A few months earlier, Tellegen was invited to a small party. While he was out of the room for a moment once of the men said:
“He is just a ‘has-been.’ He should realize his position and try to make his career over as a character actor. Some of the best character players in the movies are men who, when they realized they were no longer handsome, made the best of it. And the best is a fine character actor.”
One of the women, who had heard only the first part of the statement and that incorrectly, rushed to tell Tellegen that he had been called a “ham actor.” Tellegen flushed and responded: “I guess that’s right. I am just a ham actor.” Months later, seriously ill and delirious in a hospital, Tellegen insisted he was a “ham actor” and a “failure.”
Mrs. Cudahy received permission from his widow to continue with plans for the funeral to be held at theEdwards Brothers Chapel, 1000 Venice Boulevard (razed). One of the mourners was Countess Danneskjold, known on the screen as Nina Romano, the third of Tellegen’s four wives and mother of his son. Entering the chapel on the arm of her husband, the Countess listened as Rev. Arthur Wurtell, of St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church, read the funeral eulogy. They left without waiting to view the body.
First to arrive at the chapel was Mrs. Jack Cudahy. Other friends of Tellegen’s later years who attended the funeral service were Norman Kerry, Julian Eltinge and George Calliga; Clifford Gray, composer;Harry Weber, agent, and Michael Cudahy, son of Mrs. Cudahy. These six acted as pallbearers. Willard Mack, who himself would die of a heart attack only three weeks later, visited the chapel earlier in the day, as did several others from the Hollywood film community.
The service was simple but impressive. Ivan Edwards, the chapel soloist, sang “In the Garden” and “Lead Kindly Light.” Rev. Wurtell read the eulogy and offered a brief prayer. The chapel organ played softly as the small group of mourners filed by the flower-banked bier.
Tellegen’s body was cremated, and his ashes were strewn over the Pacific Ocean.
The Bob Crane Case – Crime Library on truTV.com
Was George Reeves, “Superman”, death a suicide or murder? – Crime Library on truTV.com
Hollywood Crimes : Thelma Todd : Investigation Discovery
The Black Dahlia Web Site: The Murder
- Suicide, a bone of contention? (adityaviyer.com)
- Ghosts of Hollywood, Tragic Suicides, Death, Macabre, Paranormal (livescifi.tv)