Episode Three: Let’s Do Lunch

In Episode Three, Beth gets the chance of a life time when Alex arranges for her to audition for an A-list power broker, and Ted, a lonely park ranger, comes to the aid of an ethereal young woman on top of the Hollywood sign.

With Justin Baker, Jessica Nicole Webb, Erik Kowalski, Allen Marsh, Marcia French, David Stanford and Kendra Munger.

Original score by Brent Heflin McHenry.

“A Story Forever” courtesy Mike Peralta.

To learn more about the legend of Peg Enstwistle, click here.

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Six Degrees of Separation

“I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names. I find it extremely comforting that we’re so close. I also find it like Chinese water torture, that we’re so close because you have to find the right six people to make the right connection… I am bound, you are bound, to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people.” – John Guare

Ouisa’s musings from John Guare’s extraordinary play, Six Degrees of Separation, perfectly articulate the journey that has been – and continues to be – the creation of They Live Among Us. There has been an odd synchronicity surrounding the project; glorious at times, at others, unsettling, as if unseen forces were at work.

I experienced two such incidents this week. In one, I was given the opportunity to bring to closure a traumatic incident from my past,
through the chance encounter of an old acquaintance.

I consider this a gift. A chance to heal. Bit by bit, one step at a time.

In the other incident, I sat dumbstruck as worlds collided within my pages.

I had written Episodes 4 – 6, and was executing a rewrite as I moved on towards 7 – 9. Episode 4 opens where 3 leaves off, with Peg and Ted in the Hollywood Hills. Peg was recounting the events leading up to her suicide: I was with… the worst sort of people. It was a party. They were… there were things done that night, terrible things. I remember I ran into the night. They chased after me, calling. I ran up to the sign… it was so very high, I thought if I could just climb up there, if I could just escape…

One of my rituals is to jog Lake Hollywood, then hike up the hills under Wolf’s Lair, eventually coming out onto Mulholland Drive at Castillo del Lago. Both structures are among my favorite in the City of Angels; the latter was once owned by doomed star Rudolph Valentino.

I wondered if it was possible for the party to have been there that night. I wondered who owned Castillo del Lago at that time; if, indeed the residents were the worst sort of people.

I decided to research the property. I skimmed through real estate listings and acquisition records. Then I stumbled across an article that almost brought me to my knees.

In 1932, the same year that poor Peg took her infamous swan dive into oblivion, Castillo del Lago was vacant. The residents of the nearby community of Beachwood Canyon would traverse the hills to the abode, using it as an impromptu community center. Countless parties were held there; some family affairs, others of a decidedly more debauched nature.

In the center of the article were the reminiscings of an old man, who was a boy during those parties. His sister attended many a midnight soiree at Castillo del Lago; he remembered being jealous of her adventures there, and how he dreamed of one day owning the estate.

His name was Milt. Milt Entwistle. Peg’s younger brother.

And so, the journey continues…

A Wrinkle in Time

When engineer Michele Besso passed away, his beloved friend Albert Einstein wrote a letter to Besso’s family. In it, Einstein shared his eloquent thoughts on death; that there was no division between past and future, and that life, death and after-life were of a singular existence: “…for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.”

Einstein’s conceptualized vision of space-time was that it was like fabric; a fabric which ¬†could be manipulated or folded in order to travel between past, present and future.

When I spread a quilt on the ground, it is not always perfectly smooth. A breeze may stir it as it descends, resulting in a wrinkle.

I believe that is what I witnessed Monday night. A wrinkle in time.

We had shot an all-nighter Sunday into Monday. I left the facility at around 8:45; I ate breakfast, and stretched out at 10:30 to catch a few hours of sleep. By 1 p.m., I was wide awake and prepping for Monday night’s setups.

A few hours later, it was nightfall, and there we were, camped under the shadow of the Hollywood sign, preparing to shoot the sequence from Episode 3, in which Ted falls in love with a beautiful young woman on the brink of suicide… only to discover that she is the ghost of Peg Entwistle.

The hills have changed since Peg’s last stand. Hollywoodland has been abbreviated to Hollywood; the sign is no longer accessible to the public, due to the long list of copycat suicides by young women addicted to the celebrity of Peg’s tragic exit from this world. Housing additions have sprung up; modern McMansions dot the hills and canyons alongside the behemoth structures of Tinseltown royalty gone by.

A full moon shone in the sky. It was time for the shoot to begin.

I watched, silent, as Peg stood atop the letter “H”. The moon was behind her; it cast an unearthly halo around her figure. Her eyes stared out into the night… I turned to see what she was looking at, and all I could see was blackness… and suddenly, the fabric of space-time had folded. We were there. The lights from the houses disappeared; the landscape dissolved into a black abyss. A marine layer had rolled in; a light fog enveloped us, muting light and sound. I looked back at Peg… she had taken a deep breath and closed her eyes. She trembled… I knew her next movement might well be her last. Her foot moved slightly, as if she were to take a step forward…

…and then, the lone cry of a coyote wafted up from the canyon below. It was joined by another, then another… and soon, came more cries from the adjacent canyons, until the entire region was filled with keening wails… the natural world’s prayer for the dead.

I wondered if Peg heard them that night.

Peg hesitated, and as she did, a man appeared. Ted – on his nightly park patrol. The beam of his flashlight shone on Peg’s carefully folded coat at the foot of the sign. He glanced up – and saw Peg. Shocked, he scrambled around the sign and scaled its back…

There Peg stood, on the very edge of the “H”. She teetered on its precipice. One false move from Ted, and she would plunge into darkness again. And so, he kept his distance. He soothed her with his voice; he was soft, almost paternal. Peg seemed more than just frightened, she seemed truly lost. The wrinkle was passed through again, and there they were, the lights of this modern Hollywoodland. I’m certain that they confused Peg, but in her shocked state, she seemed unable to articulate this.

I watched as Ted talked her down; how she seemed to trust him implicitly, and how, in helping Peg, Ted became the man that he always wanted to be. Strong. Heroic.

I followed the two of them down Mulholland. They were quiet; they shared that comfortable silence known only between lovers. I could tell that Ted had already fallen under Peg’s spell; his life would be irrevocably changed by this encounter. I watched as he struggled with what to do next. I knew that he could not leave this delicate beauty out there alone – and yet, she was a stranger to him. Ted took the next step: an introduction. “My name’s Ted,” he said. “Ted Harper…” as he held out his hand. Peg grasped his. “I’m Peg,” she replied. “Peg Entwistle.”

Shock washed over Ted’s face. Was she an illusion? Or was she real?

Ghosts and the Darkness

The supernaturals of They Live Among Us are not limited to fallen angels and demons; spirits are also caught in an eternal struggle here. Peg, the tragic muse, doomed to commit her final act over and over again atop the Hollywood sign. Sam, a spirit so obsessed with the Black Dahlia murder that he refuses to journey into the light.

I wonder what it is like for them, to be caught between two worlds. I am certain that Sam knows that he is dead; he remains behind by choice, going over the case page by page, every night, every day, sometimes in his old office, sometimes at his old hangout, the Paradise Bar. For now, he is invisible to all, a mere annoyance to Jimmy as Sam moves his favorite whiskey bottles around, but soon, events will unfold that will propel him into materialization. Soon, Sam will have contact with humans once again.

Peg’s existence is another story, for I am not certain she knows that she is dead. I think that she clings fervently to the hope that this is all a dream, a terrible, dark dream. I wonder what will happen to her, if she discovers the truth – that she is a suicide.

I wonder if Ted will tell her… or, in an act of love, attempt to shield her from the truth. I wonder why, for Ted, she is real. How she is able to materialize for him. How he can see her. Touch her. Comfort her. He eases her pain, and perhaps she does his. I watch as Ted listens to her speak; for him, Peg doth teach the torches to burn bright. Compassion and understanding wash over his face… it is as if he has waited his entire life for this moment. Two lonely souls meet… but can this love story end well? How does one love a ghost?

Night Shifts

The story of Peg Entwistle is a Tinseltown tragedy.

Peg was born in the U.K.; her mother died when she was young, and at the age of eight she found herself accompanying her father to America.

Through family connections, Peg found herself thrust into the life of theatre at an early age. By the time she had grown into adulthood, she was earning critical praise for her work on the boards. Some biographies have her traveling back to England to work; others keep her here. Whatever the facts are, what I do know is this – that by May of 1932, at the age of 24, Peg was living in Los Angeles, and, while she was still receiving acclaim for her work on the stage, she could not get a job in film to save her life.

Literally.

For on the night of September 16, 1932, Peg left her friends, walked to the Hollywoodland sign, climbed the workmen’s ladder to the top of the letter “H,” and deliberately plummeted off the sign into the canyon below. Her body was found two days later. Nearby was a carefully folded coat and purse.

It’s sad to me that so few people today know of Peg’s tragic cautionary tale. She began a precedent for young, failed actresses seeking a way out of their degradation and pain.

I knew that she had to be part of my story.

In the world of “They Live Among Us,” Peg, as a suicide, is forced to live the final moments of her life over and over again, each night since her death. I imagine her up there, in the dark, in the cold, so alone. Perhaps people are hiking Mulholland, as they often do. Perhaps she calls to them; perhaps she reaches out for help – only to be passed by again and again, for they do not see her.

Enter Ted, a Griffith Park ranger, who patrols the night. Ted, like so many who work night shifts, spends his life in solitude. I’ve described him as “terminally shy” – and, I believe that he is. I think that the world for Ted, like Peg, has been a somewhat cruel place. I imagine Ted in his truck, night after night, reading the works of Shakespeare, great poets and other food for the soul – for Ted is, at heart, a romantic.

And so we have a shift in Peg’s torment, and Ted’s isolation on one particular night. Ted, on patrol, hears the sound of a someone crying. He looks up – and sees a beautiful woman, atop the Hollywood sign. He goes to her; he soothes her. He talks her down – and he falls in love. Only to discover that she is a ghost.

Thus, another story thread begins.