Haunted Hollywood and the Ghosts of Old Hollywood, Part I
If you love spooky stories, and are ready for some super-special Halloween shivers, Hollywood is the place to be. Hollywood is one of the most haunted places in America, for good reason.
At once the most glamorous city and the most corrupt city in the world, Los Angeles can certainly boast of its fair share of shivery ghosts and hauntings.
The glamorous Hollywood of yesteryear was also the dark death of many beautiful women and many handsome and famous (or infamous) men; so come with me as we meet these beautiful ghosts and discover the tragedies that they carry with them.
The Legend of the Black Dahlia
One of the most shocking murders of young women in Los Angeles was the death of Elizabeth Short, dubbed, "The Black Dahlia" by the Hearst newspapers.
Elizabeth Short was born in Hyde Park, Boston, Mass. on July 29, 1924. Her parents were Cleo Short and Mrs. Phoebe Mae Sawyer Short; they lived in the wealthy Boston suburb of Bedford, Massachusetts, through Elizabeth's growing-up years. Mr. Short was a highly successful developer of miniature golf courses, until the stock market crash of 1929, when he lost practically everything. One day in 1930, Mr. Short vanished altogether, inexplicably leaving his car parked on a bridge. It was thought possible that he committed suicide. Elizabeth was only 6 years old at the time; very young to be so early introduced to tragedy.
Elizabeth suffered from asthma and bronchitis, so she first was sent to winter in Florida at the age of 16, getting waitress work as she could find it. She rediscovered her father at the age of 19; he was alive and well and in California.
Father and daughter moved to Los Angeles early in 1943; however, Elizabeth had a serious fight with her father and moved out on her own. She was a stunning beauty and yet another Hollywood hopeful waiting to be discovered, while earning a modest living as a waitress.
She died in one of the most grisly crimes of the century. Her torso was completely cut in half; her face was terribly mutilated by a knife, as well as her genital region. She was only 23 years of age.
The Hearst newspaper chain made a sensation of the lurid murder, hawking papers labeling Elizabeth as an adventuress (the implication being she was a prostitute or harlot). She was not pregnant, as those same newspapers reported--as a matter of fact, she was virginally intact. She never made a living as a call girl or prostitute, or anything close to that.
Her boyfriend, Mark Hansen, was the obvious suspect, though the case was never solved. Over 50 people had confessed to the murder at the time when it was most notorious.
The Black Dahlia now haunts the Biltmore, in Los Angeles. She roams the corridors and greets guests in an elevator, vanishing from sight on closer inspection. Many people have felt the chill of her passing as they exit the 6th floor corridor and enter the elevator.
Her beautiful face, so notorious in death, has been recognized floating lightly near the ceiling near the elevator of the 6th floor in the Biltmore. Why? Who knows. She was not known to visit the Biltmore in her life, though she may have been there on the night of her death. Her movements after 6 pm that night are completely unaccounted for.
The Mysterious Death of Superman
June 16, 1959 was the day the world mourned the death of Superman. It was the death of the first television superhero, and a whole nation of young viewers were astounded that the invincible Superman was mortal after all.
George Reeves was born George Basselo; his mother divorced early in her marriage and moved herself and her baby boy to Pasadena, California. As a young man, George was very buff and athletic. He won the Golden Gloves Boxing competition; his nose was broken in the process, so he retired from boxing to pursue an acting career. After trolling through many small parts on the silver screen, his career took off once he landed the television role of Superman, for the kiddies on Saturday morning. He became nationally famous within months of the launching of Superman on the TV. George was always gracious to fans; most of the men who knew him thought he was generally speaking, a great guy--a really decent person. And George was. He really tried to live up to his superhero image so as not to disappoint the young fans, even after he had become completely disaffected with the role.
George's downfall was women. He had a weakness for woman; he was a notorious womanizer, and all manner of actresses and the wives of prominent Hollywood directors and producers were not safe from his rugged masculine charms.
In the three months prior to his mysterious death, George had three nearly fatal car accidents. He was driven off the road by a speeding car on the highway; in another incident, the brake fluid was mysteriously drained from his car, and his brakes failed on a winding road in the Canyon. He was nearly crushed between two trucks when driving down the freeway. He also received death threats on the phone.
George reacted by contacting the LAPD. He accused Toni Mannix, the wife of Eddie Mannix, who was in charge of Loew's Theatres, Incorporated, and a one-time bigwig at MGM. Eddie Mannix was also under suspicion; Eddie had no qualms about using violent means to obtain his ends, and was termed "a thoroughly despicable man" by most who knew him.
You see, George had a long-standing secret affair with Mrs. Mannix, which ended with his engagement to Leonore Lemmon. Their honeymoon plans included trips to Spain and Australia. George was in no way despondent or sad on the night he lost his life.
On the contrary, he and Lenore entertained visitors in his Benedict Canyon home, serving them dinner, then watching TV until bedtime, around midnight. About 1pm, a knock on the door roused Lenore from sleep. The new visitors were good friends, Carol Von Ronkel and William Bliss. With some argument from George, Lenore let them in and poured them a drink. She said, "He's sulking, he might just go upstairs and shoot himself..."
It was then a shot rang out. Lenore and the startled guest rushed upstairs to George's room, where they found him stark and dead from a bullet in the head.
Though officially termed a suicide, it was well known that George would play with a theatrical property gun, which shot blanks, pointing it at his head and pulling the trigger when in a state of irritation with someone. It was a way to comically diffuse his ire.
The gun had a live bullet instead of blanks on this fatal evening.
Was George murdered? Many believe he was, for various reasons, and not the least of them is that his former home is one of the most haunted places in Hollywood.
The new tenants found that a single gunshot would echo inexplicably in the dark, stemming from George's bedroom. People would not stay in George's former home. One new owner could only stay there for one night. They reported disturbances, extreme disturbances in the master bedroom where George met his end. They heard screams and gunshots, and lights flashing off and on and off at night. However neat they left the room, it was a mess of ripped and torn bedding when they re-entered it, with the faint phantom residue of gunpowder hanging in the air.
George appeared to the neighbors in his Superman costume; one time, when his house was used as a television location, George appeared in his regalia to the TV crew, only to vanish instantly.
One of the most poignant tales to date of Haunted Hollywood is the sad, lonesome death of the beautiful and talented Peg Entwistle, and actress who had already made her mark on as a Broadway star.
Peg was born Lillian Millicent Entwhistle in London, England, in 1908. She was the child of theatrical parents, and learned her craft early and well. Her mother died young; her father moved the family to New York, working in the theater. He father also died tragically as he was struck by a truck while crossing Park Avenue. Peg starred in "Hamlet" on Broadway at the age of just 17.. On the death of her father, the orphaned Peg continued her successful New York acting career while her two brothers joined their uncle Harold in Los Angeles, California.
Peg met a fellow actor, Robert Keith, when they worked together on Broadway. The two fell in love and got married. Peg discovered after a while that Robert Keith had been married previously and was the father of a son, Brian Keith (the star of the TV show Family Affair). The marriage turned bad early on. There were rows over money, child support, bad debts. Robert could be violent when angry. Peg soon left, going back to her acting career, where she was very discouraged to learn that all her former glory had faded away, and now it was very difficult for her to find work, owing to the Great Depression. Formerly wealthy people were standing in bread lines, not ticket lines at the theater box office.
Peg went west, to her Uncle Harold's home in Los Angeles. She tried desperately for Hollywood roles, (after all, her Uncle's home was parked right underneath the Hollywood sign) going doggedly to every open audition; she only landed roles in small theater, along with Billie Burke. She eventually got a studio contract with RKO, and though Peg did some good work on her first film for them, most of her part was cut. RKO declined to renew the contract, so Peg was once again haunting the Hollywood cattle calls, hoping desperately for a part, which didn't materialize.
Fed up at last, one dark night in September of 1932, at the age of 24 years, Peg made the lonely climb up the hill, and climbing a ladder that was left there for maintenance purposes, managed to get up on top of the "H" in the Hollywood sign. Each of the letters in the sign was 50 feet high and 30 feet wide, making it visible for miles, though no one saw the lady leap.
Two days later police found Peg's sad, broken body on the bottom of Mount Lee, partly hidden by brush. A hiker had turned in Peg's hat, coat and purse, which had been left neatly at the bottom of the sign. There was a suicide note in the purse, apologizing for her exit from life.
One of the biggest tragedies of this story is that had Peg waited another few days, she would have received the letter offering her a starring role in the next Beverly Hills Playhouse production, which could easily have made her career afresh.
And so she walks...
Hikers and park rangers have seen Peg, dressed in her 1930s fashions, and vanishing when they come near...though leaving her lingering signature scent of gardenia behind. Park rangers have also investigated the alarms installed near the sign, which have gone off with no one near...and only the elusive scent of gardenias to signify Peg's ghostly presence.
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