“I’m Just Saying” Blog Post: The Pancake Queen and the Tragic Star
March 26, 2015
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Who didn’t grow up eating Aunt Jemima pancakes? So fluffy and wonderful tasting especially with the syrup dripping slowly. Sometimes there was more syrup than pancakes on the platter. Her smiling face accompanied with a red and white checkered do-rag stood out on the left-side corner. Her look finally changed in 1989 when she received a much more sophisticated do and pearl earrings. Her sunny expression didn’t change either.
The original source for Aunt Jemima came from a vaudevillian song “Old Aunt Jemima” written in 1875 and used in minstrel shows. The character became more popular than the song and soon Aunt Jemima was looking for a brand new audience. Enter former slave Nancy Green from Montgomery County, Kentucky. Born on November 17, 1834, Green was a Jill-of-all trades and the first Aunt Jemima model. She had the perfect look for R. T. Davis Milling Company in St. Joseph Missouri, who were looking for someone to represent the package, being a very dark skinned, overweight Mammy looking archetype that a common representation of portly women during slavery in the South.
She made her debut in 1890 demonstrating how the self-rising pancake flour worked. Green received a long time contract in playing Aunt Jemima until she died at age 33 on September 23, 1923 in a horrific car accident. For 10 years after her death, no one portrayed the Aunt Jemima role.
Unfortunately, silent movie actress Peg Entwistle, born Millicent Lillian “Peg” Entwistle on February 5, 1908, became famous after she died as well. The way she died belongs in a tragic movie. On September 18, 1932 at age twenty-four, Entwistle discouraged with her acting career, jumped from the letter “H” in the Hollywoodland (now Hollywood) sign. A mysterious woman phoned the police after finding a shoe, jacket and purse while hiking. Inside the purse was a suicide note. The note read:
“I am afraid. I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.”
Further down, the woman, who was never identified, saw a body. Entwistle was discovered at the bottom of the ravine. Her uncle came and recognized the body as his niece.
She was born in Wales and came to America in 1913. Entwistle’s parents died when she was young and an uncle took her and her two half-brothers in New York. Entwistle is mainly remembered for her role as Marie Thurber in “Tommy” in 1927, which ran for 232 performances. She had a small and credited supporting role was in “Thirteen Women” (RKO,1932) with Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne. The film was released a month after she died.
Entwistle was usually cast as the funny girl with a good heart. She once told a reporter in 1929 her desire to play roles that are more dramatic.
“I would rather play roles that carry conviction. Maybe it is because they are the easiest and yet the hardest thing for me to do. ……I don’t know whether other actresses get this same reaction or not, but it does worry me.”