Diana Serra Cary, née Peggy-Jean Montgomery (29 October 1918—24 February 2020), was one of three major American child stars of the Silent Film era during The Roaring '20s, alongside Coogan and Marie Osborne Yeats, aka Baby Marie. She was also one of the last surviving actors of that era until her passing.
Cary, then known as Baby Peggy, starred in over 150 short films, after a chance encounter with director Fred Fishbach when she, her mother and a film-extra friend visited Century Studios, the latter known and described by Cary in her memoir to be a ragtag production outfit based at a "very large, very old, fast-disintegrating" studio. Most of the early shorts were in the form of parody films satirizing silent-era actors and actresses of the time like Rudolph Valentino and Pola Negri. Peggy later worked for Universal, where she appeared in dramas like The Darling of New York and the first feature-length adaptation of Captain January, the latter of which inspired a remake starring Shirley Temple. These films were billed as "Universal Jewels," owing to Peggy's star status at the time and the lavish production values given to them.
During her heyday, Montgomery earned over a million dollars for her films, earning her the nickname "The Million Dollar Baby", and serving as an inspiration for Judy Garland to pursue an acting career, but mismanagement of her finances, along with her parents holding a tight rein on her and not accounting for her well-being, took a toll on Montgomery's career as a child star which tailed off in 1924, culminating in a stint in vaudeville and a short-lived comeback as a teenage actress during the early 1930s. Disenchanted with show business and following The Great Depression, she retired in 1938 and later adopted the name Diana Serra Cary, eventually finding success as a professional book seller, historian, and author.
Cary recently penned and released her first historical novel The Drowning of the Moon, a tale of a silver mining family in 18th century Mexico.
Cary passed away at a ripe old age of 101 in her home in Gustine, California.
Baby Peggy films listed on this wiki include:
- The Family Secret (1924)
This actress provides examples of:
- Adorably Precocious Child: Mostly since she basically acted as the breadwinner of the family. It showed as she was well behaved on-set, no thanks to her father's strict handling.
- Alliterative Name: Subverted, in that certain sources erroneously list her birth name as Margaret Montgomery, though Diana herself noted that she was indeed born as Peggy Jean Montgomery - the nuns at her birth hospital recommended the name Margaret over Peggy as the latter was perceived to be too pagan, only for her parents to reject it.
- Broke Episode: Peggy was coaxed into performing in vaudeville after being blacklisted following a contract dispute. With most of her earnings gone, she and her family had to work as extras in the 1930s, all while having to give the impression that they're still affluent.
- Cheerful Child
- Glory Days: She once had trouble coming to terms with them when she lived under an assumed name and moved on to a different career.
- Last of Her Kind: She was, until her death in February 2020, the last living star of the The Silent Age of Hollywood. Especially poignant since the only others alive from that era were cast as extras with no lines or infants with no memories of actually appearing in the film.
- Lighthouse Point: Where Captain January mostly took place.
- No OSHA Compliance: Peggy, er, Diana, attested to that in her memoir. She did her own stunts, among them being trapped in a burning set and left to her own devices while keeping character in The Darling of New York, hanging precariously upside-down by the side of a truck during a botched riding sequence, witnessed an unruly elephant crushing an animal trainer to death and a chimpanzee who went amok which his handlers took care of by bludgeoning him with a crowbar.
- Same Face, Different Name: Having been jaded by her Baby Peggy moniker, she lived under an assumed name as she retired from acting and focused on her new career as a bookstore salesperson and author.
- She Is All Grown Up: Her short-lived career during the 1930s. She did blossom to a bubbly teen, but things didn't go out well for her during that period, at best playing bit roles in feature films of the day.
- Terminally Exclusive Club: In Hollywood's Posse, she mentions the cowboys forming a club open to only those who'd followed the chuckwagons before 1910. As this was a way of honouring a bygone era, the members knew full well that this club would eventually fold.
- '20s Bob Haircut: Being The Roaring '20s, of course she had this.