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Silent Sunday Nights - October 2018
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Diana Serra Cary (aka Baby Peggy) 100th Birthday Celebration - 10/28


Happy Birthday, Baby Peggy! Diana Serra Cary, known to movie audiences as Baby Peggy, celebrates her centenary on October 29. Born Peggy-Jean Montgomery in San Diego, CA, Cary is considered one of Hollywood's first child stars and the last living legend of the silent era. TCM salutes Cary on her 100th birthday with a night of four Baby Peggy films.

The daughter of stuntman and aspiring cowboy star Jack Montgomery, Cary was discovered at the age of 19 months during a visit to Century Studios. She began her career with a series of shorts also featuring Brownie the Wonder Dog, then became the star of her own "Baby Peggy" films. Between the ages of three and five, she made more than 150 short comedies for Century. Later she appeared in full-length films at Universal Studios.

Baby Peggy was considered a leading box-office attraction of the day, with a $1.5 million annual salary that won her the title of "The Million Dollar Baby." She also performed onstage and appeared on magazine covers and in advertisements. At one point, she had her own line of various products, including dolls, sheet music and jewelry. Her lucrative career as a child star, however, came to an end when she was only eight.

Family mismanagement of her money left the adult Peggy without resources, and by the 1930s she was reduced to working as an extra in films. In later years, under the name Diana Serra Cary, she found a second career as an author and film historian. Her books include Hollywood Posse (1975), a study of cowboys finding new careers in the movies; Hollywood's Children (1978), a look at child stars in the movies; the biography, Jackie Coogan: The World's Boy King (2003); and her own autobiography Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy? (1996). Just last year in 2017, she self-published the historical novel The Drowning of the Moon.

Cary, whose writings have detailed the harsh circumstances under which she made her childhood films, has worked as an advocate for reforms in child-protection laws. She has had two husbands: actor Gordon Ayres, whom she married in 1938 and divorced in 1948; and artist Bob Cary, to whom she was married from 1954 until his death in 2001. Below are the films in our Baby Peggy birthday tribute.

Baby Peggy, The Elephant in the Room (2012) is an hour-long documentary by Dutch-born filmmaker Vera Iwerebor, who conducted a series of frank interviews with Cary. The former child star shared personal footage and photos, provided narration behind clips from her films and advised Iwerebor on the documentary's editing. The filmmaker has known Cary since 2003, when they worked on a documentary about child performers called Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Stars. She has said of Cary that "What impressed me most...was her early capability to observe her own people and the world she lived in from a distance." The documentary, from Milestone Films, is narrated by British actor Samuel West.

Peg o' the Mounted (1924) is a 22-minute comedy short from Century Studios, one of few such films to have survived. Baby Peggy appears as Peg, a mascot of the Royal Mounted Police (complete with her own Mountie costume). She befriends an exhausted Mountie (Bert Sterling) and takes over his assignment to track down moonshiners led by the oversized Jack Earle. The short, directed by Alfred J. Goulding, was shot partly in California's Yosemite National Park.

The Family Secret (1924) is a 70-minute comedy-drama from Universal, directed by William A. Seiter and featuring Peggy as the child of a couple whom are being kept apart by the unreasonable relatives of the wife (Gladys Hulette). The girl's grandfather (Frank Currier) arranges for her dad (Edward Earle) to be sent to prison, and he doesn't recognize his daughter upon his return. Of course, it's up to Peggy to set everyone straight, which she does in adorable fashion.

Captain January (1924) is the first screen version of the 1890 children's book by Laura E. Richards. Released through Principal Pictures, the 64-minute film is directed by Edward F. Cline. Baby Peggy has the title role as a girl who is adopted by a lighthouse keeper (Hobart Bosworth) after he rescues her from a shipwreck. Trouble brews when a wealthy young woman (Irene Rich) identifies January as the child of her late sister. Baby Peggy was often considered a precursor to Shirley Temple, who took over her role in a remake of Captain January in 1936.

by Roger Fristoe
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