Diana Serra Cary, age 95, is currently a respected author of such fascinating looks at film history as "Hollywood Posse," "Hollywood's Children," and "Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy." Ms. Cary has a particularly useful knowledge of the silent era, because in the 1920s, she was Baby Peggy in the movies.
Before Our Gang, before Shirley Temple, Baby Peggy was a major child star, first in short films and later in features. Her films were tremendous hits, and she made millions, sometimes being billed as The Million Dollar Baby. When she was 7 years old, her father canceled her studio contract due to an argument with studio head Sol Lesser, and Peggy found herself blacklisted from Hollywood. She tried vaudeville for a few years, lived on a farm for a while, her family members went through her money, and she was poverty stricken as an adult. By 1935, she was making only seven dollars per week for extra work on the film "Ah Wilderness," in which her silent movie contemporary Mickey Rooney was one of the stars.
Ms. Cary is still alive today and in the 2011 documentary "Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room" (Milestone Film and Video), she recalls her career from its humble beginnings, to the super stardom, to its early end and the struggles that followed. Photos and film clips help enhance this fascinating look at one of the last surviving stars of silent movies.
Times were far different before there were child welfare laws. As a toddler, Baby Peggy would be working on movie sets for ten and twelve hour days. She was held underwater until she fainted. She witnessed animal cruelty and saw a trainer crushed by an elephant. In vaudeville she would be forced to perform on stage on nights when she was so ill, she threw up backstage before going on, and again as soon as she finished. As a young adult, she suffered nervous breakdowns. One of the subjects of her books, Jackie Coogan, was her only child star rival and suffered similar situations in his personal life. He sued his parents for millions in 1938 and established the Coogan Law, which now insists that children's earning must be placed in a trust fund for that child.
In the documentary, we not only see the natural charisma she had as a child in silent movies, we hear the lucid, accurate reflections of her in old age, now at peace with all that has gone on and realizing it shaped her as a person. Nice clips from the film works that survives are fascinating enough, but he newer footage, that shows her talking to her lookalike granddaughter, and appearing at film festivals saluting her career, and assessing her life is equally fascinating. Her million dollar career ending when she was a child who never had any education, and didn't even know how to read or write, her fortune lost and leaving her in poverty, Diana Serra Cary survived, persevered, and became a respected author and historian.
This documentary also includes, as special features, the short films "Carmen Jr" (1923), "Peg O' The Mounted" (1924), and "Such is Life" (1924), as well as her feature "Captain January" giving a more thorough look at her career and her significance to movie history.
"Baby Peggy: Elephant in the Room" is highly recommeded to libraries, universities, and research centers, as well as to film buffs with an interest in the silent era.