Grave Spotlight

In a way, cemeteries are like libraries. They contain the final resting places of thousands of people, each with their own separate and unique story. Some of these people are famous, and their stories are well known. Most are not, but that doesn't make their life any less interesting or their stories any less worthy of being told and remembered.

Periodically, we'll spotlight a different Los Angeles-area grave. Every person has a story, and we will use this space to tell their story, through their final resting place.

Peggy Shannon

(Jan. 10, 1907 – May 11, 1941)

Dec. 13, 2012 -- Peggy Shannon's life started out like the stereotypical Hollywood legend. She was a small-town girl from Arkansas with dreams of becoming a movie star. As a teenager, while visiting her aunt in New York City, she was spotted by an agent and landed a spot in the chorus in the Ziegfeld Follies, where her stunning beauty caught the attention of a big-time studio producer. She was brought out to Hollywood, replaced a major star, and got her big break in the movies.

For a real Hollywood ending, Shannon should've become a successful and beloved movie star, maybe even won an Academy Award.

For Peggy Shannon, however, the story ends with her sitting alone at the kitchen table in her Los Angeles home, her career over, a burned-out cigarette in her hand, suffering from the effects of long-term alcoholism -- dead at the age of 34.

Peggy Shannon was born Winona Sammon in 1907 in Pine Bluff, Ark., the daughter of Edward and Nancy "Nannie" Martin Sammon. (Fairly early in her film career, the year of her birth was "changed" to 1910.) While visiting her aunt in New York City in 1923, Shannon, 16, was hired to appear as a chorus girl in the Ziegfeld Follies. (Shannon's aunt reportedly lived in the same apartment building as Ziegfeld's secretary. And, if Shannon had actually been born in 1910, she would have been appearing in the Follies when she was 13. And that would have been too young, even for Ziegfeld.) She also appeared in two editions of "Earl Carroll’s Vanities," and won the title of "Miss Coney Island" in 1925.

Shannon married another Broadway actor, London-born Alan Davis, in 1926, and she worked steadily on Broadway for the next several years, appearing in ever-larger roles in plays including "What Ann Brought Home," starring Mayo Methot; "High Gear," starring Shirley Booth; "Back Here," starring Melvyn Douglas and Jean Dixon; and "Now-a-Days," starring Douglas and Methot.

In 1931, Shannon, a 5-foot-4-inch, blue-eyed redhead, was spotted by B.P. Schulberg, a producer at Paramount Pictures, who signed her to a film contract. At the time, Paramount was looking for a possible replacement for Clara Bow -- Hollywood’s "It Girl" hated the new talkies, and was becoming increasingly difficult and unreliable, so the studio needed a back-up plan. A few days after Shannon arrived in Hollywood, Bow suffered a nervous breakdown during rehearsals for "The Secret Call" (1931), co-starring Richard Arlen. Bow was taken to a sanitarium in Glendale to rest, and Shannon was called in to replace her in the film. Shannon, however, avoided any comparisons to Bow. "They brought me to Hollywood to take Clara Bow's place," she said. "Imagine that! I am as much like Clara Bow as onion soup is like a fine day."

Although "The Secret Call" received mixed reviews, Shannon was singled out for her "youth, beauty and sympathetic appeal. Best of all, she has a voice trained in nuances of expression and she uses it with taste and intelligence." When "The Secret Call" premiered in Pine Bluff, Ark., the city's mayor declared July 14, 1931, as "Peggy Shannon Day."

Shannon next co-starred with Clive Brook in "Silence" (1931) and, although the film was described as "acceptable week-to-week pap for the movie mills," Shannon was again singled out in reviews -- "Miss Shannon now definitely proves herself a good actress." Before the end of 1931, Shannon had also appeared in "The Road to Reno," with Buddy Rogers, and "Touchdown," with Richard Arlen, Jack Oakie and Regis Toomey.

Shannon was also known as a fashion trend-setter, and was often featured in newspapers wearing the latest styles.

Shannon appeared in five films in 1932, all starring roles -- "This Reckless Age" with Rogers and Richard Bennett, "Hotel Continental," "Society Girl" with Spencer Tracy and James Dunn, "The Painted Woman" with Tracy, and "False Faces" with Lowell Sherman. She was just as busy in 1933, appearing in five more films -- "Girl Missing" with Ben Lyon and Glenda Farrell, "Deluge," "The Devil's Mate," "Turn Back the Clock" with Lee Tracy and Mae Clarke, and "Fury of the Jungle" with Donald Cook.

Shannon was sometimes working on two films at the same time, often working 16-hour days. She was also starting to become known as a difficult and temperamental actress, and was rumored to have a drinking problem. Shannon appeared in one film in 1934, "The Back Page," then returned to New York City to appear on Broadway in "Page Miss Glory," co-starring with a relatively unknown actor named James Stewart. (A film version of "Page Miss Glory" was released by Warner Bros. the following year, with Mary Astor in the role played on stage by Shannon, and Frank McHugh in the Stewart role.)

When the play ended its run in March 1935, Shannon began performances in another play, "The Light Behind the Shadow," but was replaced before the play reached Broadway. The official reason was that Shannon was suffering from a tooth infection, but there were also rumors that her drinking was becoming more of a problem.

Shannon returned to Hollywood, and appeared in a series of smaller roles in films by the major studios, or starring roles in films produced by smaller studios, including "Night Life of the Gods," "Fighting Lady," "The Case of the Lucky Legs," all released in 1935, and "The Man I Marry" and "Ellis Island," both released in 1936.

As Shannon's drinking worsened, the number and quality of the film roles she was offered declined. She appeared in "Youth on Parole" in 1937, and an uncredited role as an inmate in a women’s prison in "Girls on Probation" (1938). Shannon was signed to co-star with comedian Joe Penner in "Mr. Doodle Kicks Off" (1938), but was replaced in the film by June Travis.

While Shannon's career was fading, her husband was working steadily, although usually appearing in small and uncredited roles. From 1934 to 1939, Alan Davis appeared in more than 30 films.

Shannon appeared in smaller, supporting roles in several films in 1939, including "Blackwell’s Island," starring John Garfield; "The Adventures of Jane Arden"; "Fixer Dugan," starring Lee Tracy; and uncredited roles in "The Amazing Mr. Williams," which starred Melvyn Douglas and Joan Blondell, and "The Women," which starred Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell.

Shannon also appeared in a couple of Our Gang comedy shorts -– "Dad for a Day" (1939) and "All About Hash" (1940), playing Robert Blake's mother. Her last film appearance was in "Triple Justice" (1940), starring George O’Brien and Virginia Vale.

Shannon filed for divorce in 1940, charging that Davis was "lazy" and that she had to support him during their 14-year marriage. She also charged that Davis struck her while they were guests in the home of actress Wynne Gibson. The divorce was final in July 1940. Three months later, Shannon married studio cameraman Albert G. Roberts in Mexico.

In March 1941, Davis went to the home Shannon and Roberts shared at 4318 Irvine Ave. in North Hollywood, and banged on the door. When Roberts answered the door, Davis swore at him, and Roberts flattened Davis with a punch. When a friend of Davis, Raymond Larios, arrived, Roberts went to a neighbor's house to call police. When police arrived, Davis was inside the house using the telephone, and Larios was in the garage. Larios reportedly had two wristwatches in his possession, one inscribed with the initials "P.S.D." Roberts told police that both watches had been taken from his home. Davis and Larios were arrested on a charge of attempted burglary, but were released the next day when no complaint was signed against them.

Two months later, on May 11, 1941, Roberts returned home from a fishing trip with fellow cameraman Elmer Fryer and discovered Shannon dead. She was sitting at a table in the kitchen, her head on the table, barefoot and wearing a sun suit, holding a cigarette in her right hand which had burned down to her fingers. Three empty glasses and a soft drink bottle were found in the kitchen sink. Shannon was 34 years old.

There were no signs of foul play, and police ruled that her death was caused by a combination of "low vitality, run-down condition and a heart attack," complicated by a liver ailment caused by years of heavy drinking.

Shannon's mother hired private investigators and attorneys to investigate, believing that her daughter's death was not due to natural causes.

In the early morning hours of May 30, two and a half weeks after his wife's death and after visiting her grave for the final time, Roberts sat in the same chair at the kitchen table where his wife was found dead, and shot himself with a .22-caliber rifle.

Roberts first called his sister, Phoebe Genereaux of Glendale, at dawn and told her that he was going to kill himself. As she shouted, "Al, don't do it!," she heard a gunshot, then the barking of Roberts' German shepherd, Spec.

Before pulling the trigger, Roberts wrote three suicide notes, including two to his sister. In the note addressed "To Whom it May Concern," Roberts wrote, "It happens that I am very much in love with my wife, Peggy Shannon. In this spot she passed away. So in reverence to her, you will find me in the same spot. ... No one will ever understand, as it should be. Why don't you all try a little harder -- it wouldn't hurt, I can truthfully say for both of us. Adios amigos." In one of the notes to his sister, Roberts asked her to take care of his dog, and ended with, "P.S. Hey, bury me in my gray suit." Roberts was 38 years old.

Shannon was buried at Hollywood Memorial Park, now Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Her grave marker identifies her as "That Red Headed Girl." She is buried next to her mother, Nancy (Sammon) Shannon, who died in 1970; her sister, Carole Shannon Bohm, who died in 1994; and Carole's husband, William Bohm, who died in 1987. William and Carole Bohm were horse breeders, and partners in Carole Shannon Bohm Stables, Inc. (Shannon's father died in 1937, and is buried in Arkansas.)

Roberts, however, who killed himself because he was so much in love with his wife, was not buried with her. Roberts' grave is at Forest Lawn-Memorial Park in Glendale, in the Wee Kirk Churchyard. He's buried next to his mother, Addie Roberts (1875-1944).

Interestingly, Shannon and Roberts aren't the only people in this story who died young. Shannon's first husband, Alan Davis, died two years later, in 1943, at the age of 41. And Elmer Fryer, the cameraman who went with Roberts on the fishing trip before Roberts discovered Shannon dead in their home, died in 1944, at the age of 46.

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