Hollywood discovered Peggy-Jean Montgomery when she was 19 months old and made her a star by the age of two. By the time she was six, she had made more than 150 popular shorts and a star of feature films. In fact, she was one of the most popular stars in Hollywood with a line of Baby Peggy products sold in stores around the world.
By the age of 11, however, she was a has-been, forced to work eight shows a day in Vaudeville. And soon, like rival silent film star Jackie Coogan, she was broke, her money squandered by her family. Over the course of the next six decades she reinvented herself as Diana Serra Cary, a respected film historian and advocate for laws protecting child performers. With narration co-written by Cary, Vera Iwerebor's documentary combines rare clips from Baby Peggy's films — most of which were lost when her first studio, Century, burned in 1926 — with a personal glimpse of a woman who lost her childhood to the movies. Although Cary was once rejected by Hollywood, where she was blacklisted after her father feuded with producer Sol Lesser, her remaining films, including the first movie version of Captain January (1924), have been rediscovered, bringing her a new generation of fans. Documentarian Vera Iwerebor has created a film, that like Ms. Cary, is filled of warmth, humor and a love for cinema and life.
Captain January (1924) 64 minutes. Starring Hobart Bosworth, Baby Peggy and Irene Rich. Music composed and performed by Donald Sosin. With Joanna Seaton (vocals).
Three short films starring Baby Peggy: Carmen, Jr. (1923), Peg O’ the Mounted (1924) and Such is Life (1924). Music composed and performed by Guenter Buchwald.
Song: “That’s My Baby” performed by Donald Sosin (piano) and Joanna Seaton (vocals).
Listen to Diane Serra Cary on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show, September 5, 2012
Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room ***1/2
Filmmaker Vera Iwerebor's excellent documentary tells the strange and often tragic story of Diana Serra Cary, who is now in her 90s but became one of Hollywood's biggest stars -- known as Baby Peggy -- before the age of 10. Discovered as a mere toddler when her father, Jack, moved his family to Hollywood to work as a stuntman and horseman, Baby Peggy was on par with Jackie Coogan and Shirley Temple as a box-office draw, at one point making $1.5 million annually. During that time, she received no education or protection from existing child labor laws, and a jealous Jack publicly took credit for her success. And then, suddenly, as these stories often go, it was all over. Baby Peggy's studio contract was cancelled at the same time her management team -- family members -- stole all of her money, forcing her to go on the road as a breadwinner to perform multiple shows a day on the vaudeville circuit. The film delves into successive chapters in Baby Peggy's rollercoaster ride through success and failure, identifying the moment she finally began taking the reins of her life, rebooting her identity as "Diana" and finding happiness with her second husband and only child. Sharp, charming, and full of memories, Cary appears on camera throughout, speaking at film festivals where a few of her surviving movies screen before appreciative audiences. Viewers also learn about Cary's work as a Hollywood historian and author, as well as her advocacy of greater protection for child performers. Extras include three short films starring Baby Peggy, as well as the 1924 feature-length Captain January, and a music video. A wonderfully entertaining profile, this is highly recommended. Aud: C, P. (T. Keogh)