Note: This is an encore post from 2011.
Like Blanche Dubois, Peter depended upon the kindness of strangers to augment his spare existence working odd jobs and living in a shack in the Hollywood hills. He wore simple white shirts and pants and sandals, resembling an Old Testament prophet, and carried a staff or large walking stick in his hand. A gentle man and vegetarian, animals like dogs, goats, burros, and chickens gathered around him in the hills. Not exactly a panhandler, Peter accepted donations of food, money, and other things without flat- out asking for them. He spoke out in favor of vegetarianism, taking care of the environment, odd philosophizing, and looking out for each other long before these became accepted norms in this country.
Peter originally lived in the Cahuenga Pass in a small tent, from which he traveled to Hollywood Boulevard to greet people, talk with them, and appear in photographs. He believed his mission was to enlighten mankind. He obviously made an impression on writers and celebrities, as his likeness and name appeared in several periodicals, ranging from 1923 and 1925 issues of “Photoplay” magazine, a 1927 issue of “Screenland” Magazine, and a cartoon in the September 1921 issue of “Vanity Fair” magazine, as well as several articles in the “Los Angeles Times.” Mae West even mentioned in an early 1930s interview before leaving New York that the man she most wanted to meet in Hollywood was Peter the Hermit. “Life” magazine featured him in an article on November 21, 1938, entitled Cuckooland: Screwy California May be the Future Athens of America.
In the mid-1920s, Peter even appeared in one film, “Souls of Bondage,” wearing his normal clothes and appearing as a sort of prophet.
Other artists captured him in various pieces of art, from bronze bookends to photographs by Bruno of Hollywood.
In 1927, Peter sued Count Ilya Tolstoy, the son of the great novelist, Edwin Carewe and the producers of Inspiration Pictures for $130,000, claiming they had promised him the leading role in the film “Resurrection.” The case was eventually settled, with the defendants paying him only a few hundred dollars.
March 15, 1969, The Times obituary on Peter the Hermit Howard.
In 1931, acquaintances in the film industry collected $500 to help support him, and put the money in a bank. Peter built a small shack near Lookout Mountain and Laurel Canyon in which to live, but by the late 1930s, he wanted to move into the San Fernando Valley side of Laurel Canyon to put more distance between himself and others. It took him visiting the assistant deputy city attorney to get the money to buy a small plot on which to live.
Life continued on much the same until Peter passed away at the age of 90 on March 14, 1969, leaving only a memory of a more gentle time in early Hollywood.
Peter the Hermit in “Los Angeles in 7 Days” and in the 1930 satire “Queer People.”