Peg Entwistle was the first actress to leap off of the Hollywood sign! Western villain Lee Van Cleef slew two film creatures! Copycats of Orson Welles caused a major tragedy in Ecuador! These are three fascinating factoids from the Hollywood files, with the absorbing details as follows:
Peg Entwistle, the first actress to commit suicide by jumping from the famed Hollywood sign, actually enjoyed a measure of success belied by her act of desperation. Born in Wales in 1908, she came to America at age 14 after her beloved mother passed away.
By 1931, she had appeared in eight Broadway plays including one with Humphrey Bogart. While all of them failed, she was at least working regularly, and even was signed to a movie contract by RKO. Her first and only Tinseltown film was 1932's Thirteen Women, in which her character (Hazel Cousins) is telepathically forced to murder her husband and stand trial for the homicide by Myrna Loy (portraying a psychic, half-caste villainess named Ursula Georgi).
Living with her uncle in the shadow of what was then the Hollywoodland sign, she opted to off herself on Sept. 16, 1932. She mounted a workman's ladder behind the H and leaped to her death from it. In a double irony, a letter reportedly arrived the next morning from the Beverly Hills Playhouse offering Entwistle the lead role of a woman who is driven to take her own life... perhaps auditioning for the part gave her the idea for suicide.
-- Ruehl Fact: "Ursula" is Latin for "female bear."
While identified primarily as a western villain (such as in 1966's The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly), Lee Van Cleef was the man who dispatched the creature at the end of a pair of sci-fi flicks. In 1953's The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, he portrayed an army sharpshooter who blasted a radioactive projectile into the menacing rhedosaurus. And, in 1956's It Conquered The World, he was a scientist who used an acetylene torch to burn up the Venusian he had brought to earth, dying himself in the process.
-- Ruehl Fact: In 1954's "High Noon," Van Cleef was one member of the quartet out to gun down Gary Cooper, but never uttered a single word that was audible!
While Orson Welles' controversial 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds brought him instant renown, it had the opposite effect on a pair of enterprising Ecuadoran radio producers who presented a Spanish-language version of the tale on Radio Quito in 1948. Panic-stricken listeners fled into the streets, and, upon learning that it was a fabrication, stormed the building housing the radio station, setting it afire. Tragically, 20 employees inside died, some leaping to their deaths to escape the flames, with another 15 seriously injured!
-- Ruehl Fact: In the original 1898 novel, the Martians actually ingested human blood, an element not included in George Pal's superb 1953 film version!
Video report on Peg Entwistle's suicide