Pepi Lederer: Hellion of Hearst Castle

Josephine Rose Lederer (1910-1935) was the daughter of Reinie Davies and Broadway producer/director George Lederer. Her parents divorced when she was two; she subsequently lived a good deal of the time with her aunt Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst at Hearst Castle, along with her brother Charles.

Nicknamed “Peppy” since childhood, she had her name legally changed to “Pepi” when she turned 18. Pepi ostensibly had designs on becoming an actress at least initially. She appeared in the Davies films The Fair Coed (1927, her part was cut) and The Cardboard Lover (1928, in which she was typecast as a flapper). Pepi was a party girl, fond of food, drink and drugs. Her circle of friends included Louise Brooks, William Haines, Sally O’Neill and Lloyd Pantages, son of Alexander.

When Hollywood parts weren’t forthcoming, she lived for a time in London and New York. Pepi was inclined to lesbianism, said to have had bedded her good friend Brooks, as well as African American actress Nina Mae McKinney. She is also said to have aborted an unwanted child, conceived as the result of a New Year’s Eve party rape.

In 1935 she was committed to an institution to cope with her drug addiction and mental instability. She’d only been there a short time when she leaped out a sixth story window to her death. Her younger brother, Charles Lederer went on to become a major Hollywood screenwriter, a frequent collaborator with Ben Hecht and Howard Hawks, and (ironically, a pal of Orson Welles, whose ex-wife, Virginia he had married).

More about details about Pepi Lederer’s short, sad life in this great article here.