Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,
The In Memoriam segment during the Academy Awards telecast always generates some controversy because of the names that aren't included. I was never bothered by it––until this year.
No Diana Serra Cary? I realize most people don't recognize the name, but those who work in the film industry should know that last year we lost the last star of silent films (three actors from silent films survive).
I'm no silent film buff, but on a trip to the library many years ago I came across a book that looked interesting: What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy: The Autobiography of Hollywood's Pioneer Child Star by Diana Serra Cary. The book was fascinating, and it's the reason I know about the remarkable, strange career of Baby Peggy.Peggy-Jean Montgomery started working in 1921 when she was two-and-a-half years old. Between 1921 and 1924 she starred in approximately 150 short films, and in 1923 she also started making feature films. She had a $1.5 million contract as Baby Peggy.
She worked eight hours a day, six days a week. She did her own stunts, some of which were dangerous. Baby Peggy was once held underwater until she passed out. She saw things no child should see and no adult wants to see. Her father, Jack Montgomery, took all the credit for her success, saying she did well because she obeyed his every order. Even on vacations, he put her on display for her adoring fans to see her follow his commands as if she were a well-trained dog.
She also made personal appearances to promote her movies. Baby Peggy dolls were produced, and she endorsed sheet music, jewelry, and milk. Her fan
letters numbered more than a million. She was the official mascot of the 1924 Democratic Convention, where she was onstage with Franklin Roosevelt.
Her father handled every aspect of her career, making all business decisions, until he had a dispute with a producer in 1925 that ended Baby Peggy's movie career. The family then turned to touring in vaudeville, where she made $300 a day. Her father gave her a nickel for each performance. She worked even when she was so sick she had to vomit in the wings. Exhausted, they stopped touring in 1929.
And she didn't have a penny. Her parents spent everything.
As a teenager she became an extra in films for $3 a day. She hated it. Many of the other extras were also silent film actors.
She married and changed her name to Diana Ayers in an attempt to separate herself from Baby Peggy and carve out a new career as an actress, but couldn't repeat the success she had once enjoyed. Then she divorced and remarried to become Diana Serra Cary––silent film historian, writer, and advocate for child actors. She died Feb. 24, 2020, age 101.
In addition to her autobiography, she wrote a biography of Jackie Coogan, another child star who ended his career with little of the millions he earned.
The majority of the Baby Peggy movies no longer exist. They burned in a fire or were lost through carelessness. The few that remain have been preserved. Occasionally, a new one is discovered.
Infinities of love,
That sounds like an absolutely dreadful early life. Child abuse in fact.ReplyDelete
I hope the rest of her life was much, much happier - and that she divorced her parents.
When Jackie Coogan sued his mother and stepfather in an attempt to obtain what remained of his money, Diana's parents asked if she was going to sue them. She said no. She knew the money was gone. She had a difficult relationship with her father and didn't feel she was free of his control until he died.Delete
And really in a sense this kind of thing still goes on. I'm thinking about Britney Spears and her father. And here in the UK Amy Winehouse who appeared to be controlled by hers too. Very sad.ReplyDelete
Britney is a good example, with her father controlling her money. And Amy's father demanded she return to the stress of touring when she wanted to relax and enjoy herself for a while.Delete
Hi Janie - what an interesting post about someone I'd never heard of ... she was certain a determined lady and kept going - obviously to reach 101 ... amazing - thanks for telling us about her ... cheers HilaryReplyDelete
She was determined that she self-published her first novel at age 99.Delete
What a sad story. I hope she found happiness later in life.ReplyDelete
It seems as if she did. Her second marriage ended only with her husband's death in 2005. They had one child.Delete
What a sad and tragic story! Yes, she should have been included in the "In Memoriam" segment, I agree. I found this year's whole segment to be rushed and disrespectful -- it moved so fast, you couldn't even read the names half the time.ReplyDelete
I know! I had to watch it online a second time to make sure they really hadn't included her name.Delete
I had not heard of this person until now. my spouse is a silent film buff, and knew of peggy and the 3 remaining silent child stars.ReplyDelete
Two of those left are members of the Watson tribe.Delete
I don't think I heard about this death. What a long and interesting life. This sent me down an internet rabbit hole and I wound up reading about silent film child stars and then actors in "Our Gang" comedies -- did you know the guy who played Alfalfa was shot to death in 1959? There's a random Hollywood factoid.ReplyDelete
Yes, I knew about "Alfalfa." The strangest thing, if I remember correctly, was years later when some guy turned up and claimed he had played Alfalfa. I remember reading about it in the newspaper.Delete
Definitely child abuse ~ a fascinating woman.ReplyDelete
She was a great writer.Delete
I've never heard of her, but knowing who she was, I'm surprised she was not included. They should have someone do basic research on all members who die each year to determine who should be included. This seems disrespectful of their whole history.ReplyDelete
It just occurred to me that she might not have been a member of The Academy. People have to be members to vote for the awards. I wonder if they also have to be members to be included in the segment.Delete
What a sad story:(ReplyDelete
Her childhood was sad, but her life seemed much better as she grew older.Delete
She sounds fascinating. Thanks for this. I'm going to look up her autobiography and the bio of Jackie Coogan.ReplyDelete
I haven't read the Jackie Coogan bio, but I'm going to look for it. I bet it's interesting.Delete
Interesting. I must learn about other child stars!ReplyDelete
So many of them have terrible lives.Delete
Such a shame what happened to the early child actors...and some of the women were robbed, too, of all their earnings. She has such a kind, sweet face--old and young.ReplyDelete
Plenty of child actors who came later also ended up with little or no money.Delete
She was a huge star and should have been there even though it went through the list in Ferrari speed.she was huge and its su h a shame her parents spr t it all. Even when the Coogan law came into effect, parents still found d ways to use their kid's money.ReplyDelete
People often cite the Coogan Law as if it protected the money of child actors.Delete
I haven't watched any awards shows in forever.. I just like to see what people are wearing. But I agree, she should have been included. Just because she was not currently famous does not mean she and her dedication to her craft should have been overlooked.ReplyDelete
Awards shows are also fashion shows.Delete
You are a champ for watching the Oscars this year.ReplyDelete
It was so bad I could barely get through it--even worse than the year James Franco and Anne Hathaway were the hosts.Delete