Hollywood -- Peg Entwistle from Wales, who saw herself as a failed actress, jumped off the letter “H” of the Hollywood sign in September 1932.
Her stage name was Mary Brown, and Irish American songwriter Dory Langan Previn immortalized her in the song "Mary Cecilia Brown and the Hollywood Sign.”
Some of the lyrics include:
“Give me your poor/Your tired, your pimps/Your carhops, your cowboys/Your midgets, your chimps/Give me your freaks.
“Give me your flunkies/Your starlets, your whores/Give me your junkies.”
Not much has changed in Hollywood since Mary Brown’s time it seems. The main drag is not so much the boulevard of broken dreams as the seedy second coming of 42nd Street in New York before Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg cleaned the place up.
Ringed around Hollywood are the fabulous mansions of the rich and famous. The dream factory continues every hour of every day.
There is an irresistible yet tawdry glamour to the place. A fellow tour member explained how she and her daughters had glimpsed the actor Dennis Quaid on Santa Monica beach the day before. Her excitement was so vivid it was like she had met the Pope himself.
Hollywood ain’t beanbag, and for every overnight success and discovery there are thousands who head back home, dreams shattered or worse, like poor Peg from Wales who ended it all.
Glamorizing death seems part of the experience. The tour guides show where Janis Joplin, River Phoenix, John Belushi and Whitney Houston all died, so despair and hopelessness is not only confined to those who don’t make it.
And the beat goes on. During our visit a line of young people and some not so young snaked outside a local hotel, desperate to audition for the latest “I’ve got talent, look at me” show, whatever its name.
The eager faces and pent up desire made clear that the Hollywood magic factory is as alive as ever.
Some 99.9 percent will never make it of course. Hollywood is the ultimate Darwinian weed-out with only the strongest surviving.
Among those who don’t are the hustlers, the young men dressed as Batman, Spiderman (one perched on top of a garbage can all day) and a myriad other characters looking to turn a buck for a photo.
I was drawn to one Uncle Sam character, at least in his late fifties. His job was to tell me about the Hollywood sign, shimmering in the distance perched on the nearby hillside. For $5 I got the history and he probably got a meal.
Peg Entwistle on that long ago day told friends she was going for a walk before climbing a workman’s ladder and jumping off the 45 foot tall Hollywood land sign as it was then.
She left a note that read:
"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 none of those things, of course, just another star-struck 24-year-old who did not make it.
Every day hundreds of wannabes just like her flock to Hollywood. The sign on Mount Lee will continue to shimmer in the sun for them too. The dream never dies.