This week's horrific story beneath the Hollywood Sign of decapitation, murder, and bloody execution is the latest layer of reality that appears when you look too closely at glamor mixed with the degradation of society. As far as I know dismembered body parts and a head in grocery bag are new to the Silver Screen Dream, but glitz has never been immune to bloody gore.
A picture might be worth a thousand words, but one word looms over Tinseltown that's worth a thousand pictures -- the iconic Hollywood sign.
Known round the world as America's symbol of glamour, hope, fame and fortune, the HOLLYWOOD sign started out as an endorsement for a subdivision of homes called Hollywoodland. Meant to last only a few years the sign stood powerfully on its perch long after the builders went bust and the bulldozers stopped. The 13 50x30-foot white letters soldiered on to woo their way into the bloodstream of the city's pulse. Four thousand lights were added during the depression flashing its hopeful Holly -- Wood -- Land to the dull depression-weary spectators below.
By1949 the last four letters that spelled out LAND were removed, and the sign was spiffed up. But termites get hungry quickly. It wasn't until 1978 when a committee largely led by Hugh Hefner, adopted the sign, helping to make it the permanent steel structure you see today.
Huge sheets and plenty of black paint have altered the sign to fit the prankster's whims. HOLLYWEED when marijuana laws were changed, HOLYWOOD when the Pope visited, and JOLLYGOOD when an airline began nonstop service to London.
Tragically, some dreamers are so stubborn for movie success they close the door to the joy in everyday living. When fame isn't realized drugs, booze, addiction and depression can fill the void left by a lifetime of single-minded ambition. The lucky ones leave only the ghosts of their squashed ambitions even as the next bus teeming with young hopefuls arrives.
Each year thousands of actors head to Hollywood with that instinctual dream of a big break. Some find the road to success too rocky to bear, more run out of patience, while others just run out of steam. Most find their way to happiness in another career -- but for some their failed dream consumes their lives; their end is never stellar.
In 1932 the fame-starved actress Peg Entwistle lived near the sign with her uncle. One September night she left home alone telling him she was going to the drugstore. But in reality persistent Peg found herself making the dusty, difficult hike up to the sign. She climbed a workman's ladder to the top of the "H." Under the watchful gaze of the Hollywood's winking, twinkling lights below, Peg dove into the grim reaper's arms. Just like this week, another anonymous hiker/dogwalker found her body and Peg Entwistle's final pathetic note:
"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."
The autographed photograph below of Miss Entwislte is the only surviving example known to the world. I stumbled across it at auction. There were no existing examples of her signature. Still, bidding got fierce and I took the pricey plunge. Luckily for my peace-of-mind, not long after my purchase another example of Entwistle's signature surfaced. Happily it was an exact match.
It's hard to imagine such a frail, delicate woman meeting such a brutal end. It's prudent to have more than one dream.