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"She was the cautionary tale." The tragic true story behind Ryan Murphy's series Hollywood.

In Ryan Murphy’s latest series, Hollywood, Tinseltown is re-envisioned in a brand new light.

The limited series, which premiered on Netflix last week, follows a group of aspiring actors and filmmakers in post-World War II Hollywood as they try to make it in the movie business.

Unlike the reality of the Golden Age of cinema, however, Murphy’s series provides an alternate reality. A reality where the racist, homophobic, sexist Hollywood of the 1940s evolves into something better.

Watch the trailer for Netflix’s miniseries Hollywood below. Post continues after video.

Although the series involves lots of fictional elements, much of the series is actually based on real-life figures in Hollywood.

“I wanted to do something where I gave some, if not all of these people a happy ending,” Murphy, who also brought us Glee, Scream Queens and American Horror Story, told Time.

“How do I make a commentary on the power of Hollywood to change hearts and minds? I decided to put together a fictional alternate-universe Hollywood and then populated it with some real people, and other fictional characters loosely based on real people.”

The true story of Peg Entwistle

One of the many stories touched on within Hollywood is the infamous story of British-born actress Peg Entwistle, who later became known as the ‘Hollywood Sign Girl’.

In the Netflix series, writer Archie Coleman (played by Jeremy Pope) bases his screenplay on the actress’ real-life story.

Peg Entwistle was born Millicent Lilian Entwistle on February 5, 1908, in Wales.

It’s unclear what happened to Peg’s mother, however, it’s known that Peg was raised solely by her father Robert from the age of two years old.

In 1912, Peg and her father moved to the United States, where they settled in New York.

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In the years that followed, Robert remarried and had two sons with his new wife.

In 1921, Robert’s second wife passed away and just one year later, Robert died after being struck by a car, leading Peg to be taken in by her uncle Harold at just 14 years old.

From the age of 17, Peg began pursuing a career in stage, appearing in a number of Broadway productions.

At the time, actress Bette Davis was quoted as saying that she wanted to be “exactly like” Peg.

In 1927, she married actor Robert Keith, who starred in Guys & Dolls. But after Peg learned that Robert secretly had a six-year-old son with another woman, the couple divorced in 1929.

Following her divorce, Peg moved to Hollywood. Like so many before her, the British-born actress was hoping to make it in the film industry. But amid the Great Depression, Peg struggled to land roles, only appearing in thriller Thirteen Women. 

On September 16, 1932, a month before Thirteen Women would be released, Peg told her uncle, who she was living with in Los Angeles, that she was going to the pharmacy.

Instead, she hiked to the Hollywood [then Hollywoodland] sign, climbed the ladder behind the letter ‘H’, and jumped.

A photo of the Hollywoodland sign, taken in the days after Peg Entwistle's death. Image: Getty.
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The next day, Peg, just 24 years old, was found dead by a hiker.

When Thirteen Women premiered just weeks after her death, Peg only appeared in the film for 15 seconds as the movie was heavily edited.

It was also reported that Peg's uncle received a letter from a production company shortly after her death, offering her a new film role.

Speaking to OprahMag, Murphy shared that he included Peg's story in Hollywood, as he has always seen her story as a cautionary tale of how Hollywood can crush a star's spirit.

"She was always the cautionary tale," he said.

"When I moved out to LA, in the late '80s, one of the first places I went was up to the top of the Hollywood sign," he added.

"I was very interested in [Peg Entwistle] at a time where I was also trying. The idea that Hollywood can chew you up and spit you out and not really be fair – I've never really ventured far from that idea. So I really just related to her struggle and her sadness."

The true story of Ernie West

Ernie West (played by Dylan McDermott), another character in Hollywood, is also based on a real-life story from Tinseltown.

In the Netflix series, Ernie runs a petrol station named the Golden Tip, which doubles as a secret brothel. Throughout the series, Ernie recruits a number of good-looking Hollywood outcasts to work for him.

Image: Netflix.
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It's believed that Ernie was likely based on Scott Bowers, who ran a petrol station brothel on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1940s.

As homosexuality was largely forced underground at the time, Bowers helped arranged sexual encounters for some of Hollywood's biggest names.

In his memoir, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, Bowers shared that he had arranged encounters for Cary Grant, and set up Katherine Hepburn with over 150 women.

"Frankly, I knew Hollywood like no one else knew it," Bowers wrote.

Despite assisting Hollywood stars, Bowers had little interest in the entertainment industry itself, and had no ambitions to become involved in the industry.

Hollywood is available to watch on Netflix now.

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Feature Image: Netflix.


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