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Diana Serra Cary, Silent Films Child Star Known as 'Baby Peggy,' Dies at Age 101

Jaimie-lee Prince
Feb 25, 2020
07:30 P.M.
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Baby Peggy has passed away after leaving behind a legacy in silent films. As a child, she made $1 million a year, but her reign on the big screen didn't last for long. 


Diana Serra Cary has passed away at her home in Gustine, California, at age 101, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Better known as "Baby Peggy," she was one of the biggest child stars in early Hollywood. 

Born to cowboy Jack Montgomery, Cary was only 19 months old when she landed her first starring role on television. Her 1921 debuts were in the shorts "Playmates," "Brownies Little Venus," and "Brownies Baby Doll."

Diana Serra Cary speaks onstage at the screening of the film "Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room" in Hollywood, California on April 13, 2012 | Photo: Getty Images



Her Hollywood run

Cary hit the big time when she began working with director Alfred J. Goulding. She became "Baby Peggy," and went on to appear in more that 150 short films under Century Film Corp and Universal. 

"The Darling of New York," "Miles of Smiles," "Helen's Babies," and "Captain January" all made America fall in love with the little girl who could evoke an array of emotions with her expressions. 

The lengthy appearances onscreen also made Cary and her family into multimillionaires. She lived in a Beverly Hills mansion and took a limousine to work every day. 


No real childhood

But even back then, child stardom meant real childhood was lacking. Cary didn't go to school and rarely enjoyed playtime. Instead, she was regularly overworked at her young age — even when sick.

She would often have to make national public appearances. In 1924, she stood next to Franklin D. Roosevelt for the Democratic National Convention waving the American flag. 

Things came to a halt the next year when Cary's father caused her to get blacklisted after falling out with a studio over his daughter's salary. Cary's last film pre-teen years was in 1926 — "April Fools."


Going back to poverty

From there, Cary's parents made her perform in vaudeville. The couple were living lavishly off the young girl's fortune and would leave nothing for her to support herself. 

A stepgrandfather embezzled some millions, some of it got lost, and the rest suffered in the 1929 stock market crash. When the family sold their home, cars, and luxuries, they moved to Wyoming. 

As a teen, Cary was forced to appear in eight films between 1932 and 1938 for small roles. She later attended Lawlor Professional School. Post-graduation, she got married in 1938, only to divorce ten years later. 


Personal life and new career

Cary opted to change her name and became a switchboard operator and bookstore clerk. In 1954, she got married to artist Bob Cary. The pair had one son, Mark. Sadly Bob passed in 2001. 

In 1970, Cary began her career as a film historian and writer. By 1975, she released the memoir, "The Hollywood Posse." Her 1996 autobiography, "Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy," was more of a healing, however. 


Memorial and survivors

Extra TV released a statement from Cary's son: "I am proud of how she was able to come to terms with what happened to her from when she was just a toddler and re-create her life anew."

Rena Kiehn, who works at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, reportedly announced the news of Cary's death. The museum will hold a memorial for the former actress in a few months. 

Cary is survived by her son and a granddaughter. The family set up a GoFundMe account for fans to donate towards outstanding medical bills. No exact cause of death has been revealed. 


A final accomplishment

As one of her final accomplishments, Cary released her first self-published novel, "The Drowning of the Moon," back in January of 2018. It's about the Mexican-American New Spain colonial Empire. 

The novel follows a woman, Sirena, as she deals with the civil war. At the time, Cary considered herself still employed, with no plans for retirement. Her death is reminiscent of William Wintersole's. 

The "General Hospital" star died at 88 in November last year from cancer complications. Wintersole was also known for his "Young & Restless" tv role. He passed away in Los Angeles.