Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Baby Peggy

Before there was Shirley Temple, there was Baby Peggy. Debuting at the age of 3 and appearing in more than 150 shorts and films during the silent era.

Baby Peggy was born Peggy-Jean Montgomery on October 29, 1918 in Merced California to Marian and Jack Montgomery.

Her father, Jack Montgomery was a cowboy for several years all over the western states. He ended up in the movies as a stuntman and extra driving stagecoaches. He also served as Tom Mix's stunt double.

Baby Peggy was discovered while visiting the Century Studios lot on Sunset Boulevard with her mother when she was a mere 19 months old. Impressed by Peggy's well-behaved demeanor and willingness to follow directions, director Fred Fishbach hired her to appear in a series of short films with Century's canine star, Brownie the Wonder Dog.

Baby Peggy made her debut in Her Circus Man (1921) at the age of 3.

She went on to appear in nearly 150 shorts between 1920 and 1923 and nine full feature films.

Baby Peggy appeared in such shorts as On With The Show (1921), Playmates (1921), Brownie's Baby Doll (1921), Get Rich Quick Peggy (1921), Circus Clowns (1922), The Kid Reporter (1923), Little Red Riding Hood (1922), Peggy Behave (1922), The Darling of New York (1923), Hansel and Gretel (1923) and Jack and The Beanstalk (1924).

The vast majority of Baby Peggy's films have not survived and records related to their production have been lost.

A handful of Baby Peggy shorts, including Playmates (1921), Miles of Smiles (1923), and Sweetie (1923) have been discovered and preserved in film archives around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Her first full length film was Penrod (1922).

Her full length films The Family Secret, April Fool (1926), Capatin January (1924) and Helen's Babies (1924) have also survived and have been restored.

Many of Baby Peggy's popular comedies were parodies of movies that grown-up stars had made, and she delightfully imitated such legends as Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford, Mae Murray and Pola Negri.

Baby Peggy's film career abruptly ended in 1925 when her father had a falling out with Sol Lesser over her salary and cancelled her contract. From 1925 to 1929, Peggy enjoyed a successful career as a vaudeville performer.

Baby Peggy reportedly made at least two million dollars in her early career but her parents' bad management and free spending left her in poverty. This resulted in several nervous breakdowns in young adulthood.

At the age of seventeen, trying to escape the film industry and her parents' plans for her life, Baby Peggy ran away from home and rented an apartment with her sister Louise. She married actor Gordon Ayres in 1938, but the union was not a happy one. She divorced Ayres in 1948 and married Bob Cary (sometimes listed as Bob Carey) in 1954. They are still married today.

She adopted the name Diana Serra Cary and is now a publisher, historian and author. Her books included "What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy: The Autobiography of Hollywood's Pioneer Child Star" and "Jackie Coogan: The World's Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood's Legendary Child Star."

She has also advocated reforms in child performer protection laws, most recently as a member of the organization A Minor Consideration. As a toddler she worked eight hours a day, six days a week. She was generally required to perform her own stunts, which included being held underwater in the ocean until she fainted in Sea Shores Shapes (1921) and escaping alone from a burning room in The Darling of New York (1923).

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