< Back to results

Our Crack Tongue & Groove

pegent.jpg Falling down cultural rabbit holes

Wading among the cultural flotsam of times past can lead to some very strange and interesting new discoveries.

While browsing around YouTube the other day I was annoyed to note the continuing proliferation of clips devoted to absolute bunkum: people claiming school shootings had been staged in order to reign in gun control; how the government is using chemicals to turn people gay; etc. Such arrant nonsense caused one of my periodic meltdowns and a real desire for someone to pull the Internet’s plug out. But over the course of the following days I plunged deep into some genuinely interesting stuff the Internet makes it easy for us to discover.

On the night of my meltdown I pacified myself with Karina Longworth’s podcast ‘You Must Remember This’, which concerns itself with the secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century. The episode I listened to was all about Mia Farrow in the 1960s. It detailed her relationship with Frank Sinatra, her sojourn to India with the Beatles, and her marriage to the composer André Previn. What particularly piqued my interest was how Previn’s former wife, singer/songwriter Dory Previn, really laid into Farrow. (Dory had originally introduced Farrow to André and felt betrayed.)

I was vaguely aware of Dory Previn but over the following weeks I immersed myself in her 1970s stuff and found I’d discovered a new favourite. Her work is pitched somewhere between Randy Newman and Joni Mitchell and can be uncomfortably frank (she skewers Farrow in a song called ‘Beware of Young Girls’).

A track of hers I particularly had on repeat play was ‘Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign’. A sad tale about a young actor who kills herself by leaping from the top of the Hollywood sign I learned, through more Internet digging, that Mary C. Brown was actually based on a real person: Peg Entwistle (pictured).

A British actor, Entwistle appeared in several Broadway productions in the 1920s including Ibsen’s ‘The Wild Duck’, which a young Bette Davis would see and remark: “I want to be exactly like Peg Entwistle”. Entwistle tried her luck in Hollywood but despaired after only landing one role and in 1932 she tragically jumped to her death from the Hollywood sign.

The one film she did appear in was ‘Thirteen Women’, a largely forgotten curio that comes over like a proto-slasher horror film. It was based on a novel by Tiffany Thayer, who, the Internet tells me, was actually a bloke who wrote critically panned romance novels (Dorothy Parker: “He is beyond question a writer of power; and his power lies in his ability to make sex so thoroughly, graphically and aggressively unattractive that one is fairly shaken to ponder how little one has been missing”).

Thayer also founded the Fortean Society in 1931 – which would insist on the reality of flying saucers and a flat Earth – which, I guess, shows that people were interested in nonsense long before the Internet was even a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye.