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The History of the Hollywood Sign Involves Suicide, Vandalism, and Hugh Hefner



The Hollywood sign is an American landmark that’s come to symbolize glamour and the larger-than-life entertainment business. While it was erected in 1923, it’s seen many changes over the years, including a facelift championed by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. 

While the sign symbolizes hope for many, it’s also seen its share of tragedy over the years, including a suicide from an up-and-coming starlet.

The history of the Hollywood sign

The original sign, built by the Crescent Sign Company, sat high in the hills and read “Hollywoodland.” Around 1922, real estate developers commissioned the company to assemble the structure to help advertise their new development.

The 13 wooden letters were 30 feet wide and 50 feet high and featured 4,000 lightbulbs to help illuminate the sign until it became too expensive. According to the Sherman Library, the entire project cost $23,000 and soon became the main attraction of the entertainment world.  

By the end of the ’40s, the sign looked a bit worse for wear. High winds and vandals took their toll on the beloved property and left it looking shabby and unkempt. 


The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the LA Parks Department worked together to repair the sign. However, the agreement came with one stipulation: to remove the “land” part from Hollywoodland and reflect the Hollywood district, not the real estate development.

Major restoration thanks to Hugh Hefner

By the end of the ’70s, the once prominent fixture of Hollywood, always welcoming tourists and newcomers, was again in a dilapidated state. A storm knocked down one of the O’s and split another one. To restore the sign to its former glory, Playboy editor-in-chief, Hugh Hefner took it upon himself to drum up publicity for the project and seek out donors.

Hefner, combined with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, found nine donors to each contribute $27,778. They ranged from businessmen, actors, singers, and Hefner himself. The new sign was made of steel letters with steel supports and secured by a concrete foundation. 

Since the 1978 restoration, the sign has had minor repairs and paint touch-ups, but nothing like the overhaul it needed in the ’70s.

However, with the cultural icon approaching its 100th birthday, CBS News reported that The Hollywood Sign Trust, the nonprofit that maintains the sign, was working on a restoration ahead of the milestone. This included clearing debris along the base of the letters and repainting it to achieve a pristine look.

A tragic ending

While the Hollywood sign is a symbol of hope for many who visit LA, it’s also seen its share of tragedy, with Peg Entwistle’s death by suicide topping the list.


Entwistle was a successful Broadway stage actor during the 1920s. However, after losing work due to the Great Depression, she packed up and headed for California.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only Broadway star that made the move. By the ’30s, silent films gave way to “talkies,” motion pictures synchronized with sound. This meant Broadway actors had a leg up on silent film stars because of their stage presence and elocution. It also meant there was more competition, and Entwistle struggled to find work. 

She finally nabbed a supporting role in Thirteen Women, but it ended up being her only one. According to BuzzFeed, in September 1932, Entwistle climbed to the top of the “H” on the Hollywood sign and jumped. A hiker found her shoe, jacket, and purse, which contained a suicide note. 

Entwistle’s suicide is now synonymous with the Hollywood sign, but it’s her ghost that makes her infamous. Since her death, there are numerous reports of Entwistle haunting the mountain. True or not, Entwistle found the fame she was looking for, even if it was under tragic circumstances.

How to get help: In the U.S., call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 or 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.


Source: Cheat Sheet

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