Peg, who became an actress in the United States, is mostly remembered for committing suicide by throwing herself off the top of the Hollywood(land) sign in 1932. American writer, James Zeruk Jr. was supposed to be writing a book about her life, from her Welsh birth to her American death, but by the time I'd submitted my MSS to Seren Books in March 2013 there was still no sign of it.
If I didn't know better I'd have said he was waiting for Real Port Talbot to be published because at the end of October 2013 (2 weeks before the launch of Real Port Talbot!), Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide: A Biography went on sale.
I am sure that Peg's later life, her theatrical ups and downs, her acclaims and disappointments, are well documented but there are a few hiccups in the American 'translations' and omissions of census and family history records from the first 8 years of her life, the lives of her parents and close family, and her links to Port Talbot. Hiccups that propelled me to search more deeply than I had time or space for during the writing of Real Port Talbot. So, if you're sitting comfortably...
Peg's mother, Emily Stevenson, was born in Yorkshire c.1877 and in 1901 she was living with her family in Middlesborough. Her sister, Laura, older by 10 years, had married Frank R.H. Seaton, of the well known Seaton family* from Margam, in 1888 while she was was living (and presumably working...) in the old Cwmafan parish of Michaelstone Super Avon.
(*Frank R.H. Seaton became the organist and choirmaster at St. Theodore's Church, Taibach; his father, Richard Seaton - originally from Oxford - had been the organist at Margam Abbey.)
The 1901 census shows Laura and Frank Seaton, their two sons and 7 year old daughter, at Groes Wen Cottages in Margam. So could they have been the cause of Emily and Robert meeting each other? Emily visiting her sister in South Wales while Robert was touring the local theatres? It's seems a likely possibility. They were married on 3rd November 1904 up in Birmingham.
The decades between census returns can make it difficult to know exactly what people were doing and where they were living in the interim years. But we do know though that Peg (or Millicent as she was named at her birth) came into the world at Laura & Frank Seaton's home, at 5 Broad Street, Port Talbot, in February 1908. We also know she was baptised at Swansea on 22nd March, although the section for 'Abode' on the Baptism register reads, 'South Hackney, NE London'.
Is it strange for parents to baptise their first and only child so far away from home? Could her father have been touring the local theatres in South Wales again and the family staying with Laura and Frank? Three years later, the 1911 census lists Robert and Emily Entwistle as Actor and Actress living in Lambeth, London. The census also states that they have one child, living, but little Millicent isn't living with them. The census for South Wales shows her with the Seatons, still at Broad Street in Port Talbot, aged 3 years.
It is easy to jump to suspicious conclusions and a part of me wants to believe that Emily and Robert wanted the best for their daughter but their mercurial professions prohibited them from being with her all of the time. A newspaper article from 1913 changed my mind.
Robert Entwistle subsequently met and married his brother's American sister-in-law, Lauretta Ross, in Jacksonville, Michigan in July 1914. But the first record of his passage across the Atlantic that I can find is from 1916 when he embarked The Philadelphia at Liverpool on 11th March and disembarked in New York on 19th. He travelled with his brother's family, his new wife, and his 8 year old daughter, Millicent/Peg.
Perhaps we'll never know the truth. Zeruk's book suggests that little Millicent/Peg was delighted at the prospect of a new life, a new mother. But I have my reservations about that emotional response, if it is the case that she spent so much of her young life with Laura Seaton, who would cared for her like a mother. Laura Seaton's own daughter, Ada Edith Mary, had died at the age of 9 in 1903. And it is easy to believe that the presence of another baby girl in her home from 1908, and her official presence there again in 1911, and maybe for even longer, would have meant so much to her.
And there was more sadness to come. Peg's stepmother, Robert's second wife, Lauretta Ross Entwistle, died 5 years later in 1921. Her father was killed by a hit and run driver in 1922. Ten years later Peg would end her life too.
Hanson, Ivor, Outline of a Welsh Town