Baby Peggy was a self-made millionaire at five years old, thanks to being one of the most successful child actresses in silent films. However, she had to retire at the age of six and her father ended up spending all of her hard-earned money.
Diana Serra Cary, the name Baby Peggy chose to ensure anonymity after walking away from the entertainment industry, was born in October 1918 and began working as a child actress when she was only two years old.
The bob-haired girl starred in nine films and 150 shorts between 1921 and 1925. At the peak of her career, she earned up to $1 million a year. Unfortunately, her career was relatively short.
Portrait of Baby Peggy circa 1923 | Photo: Getty Images
BABY PEGGY WAS A STAR
In the middle of a challenging era, Baby Peggy stole America’s heart with her dramatic expressions and impressive range. Critics often talked about her having “five faces:” miserable, amused, brave, saucy, and angelic.
Her father, former stuntman and cowboy Jack Montgomery had a lot to do with it as he raised her to answer commands immediately. She once admitted her dad would snap his fingers and ask her to cry, laugh, or be frightened, and she would do it. “He called it obedience,” Baby Peggy explained.
Baby Peggy shooting a scene in the early 1920 | Photo: YouTube/Most Actor & Actress Hollywood
She was so popular that she received more than 1.2 million fan letters when she was only six years old. If that wasn’t enough, she had a line of Baby Peggy dolls and jewelry.
Due to all of her hard work, she and her parents lived in a mansion in Beverly Hills. Apart from having maids to fulfill her needs, Baby Peggy also traveled in a chauffeured limo.
To become such a famous star, Baby Peggy had to work a lot more and harder than what would even be considered acceptable nowadays. Studios made her work eight hours a day, six days a week, with no breaks or schooling time.
They would also put her in dangerous situations, like making her character escape a burning room reportedly doused with kerosene. Her adult co-stars frequently pushed her around to follow the script, too.
Unfortunately, Baby Peggy’s family life was far from perfect. Her dad controlled her earnings and schedule but was greedy, so he spent his daughter’s money like it was nothing and didn’t even save some for her future.
Baby Peggy once said that her parents probably thought her career would never end as they didn’t send her or her sister to school. They just “grew up and worked.”
Diana Serra Cary, also know Baby Peggy, on April 13, 2012 in Hollywood, California | Photo: Getty Images
Things started to get complicated in 1925 when Montgomery got involved in a financial dispute with producer Sol Lesser. It is important to point out that Baby Peggy was only six years old at the time.
Although she had already secured a $1.5 million contract, Montgomery fought over her salary. As a result, the initial contract was canceled, and she was blacklisted from Hollywood.
Baby Peggy’s parents still wanted to keep up their luxurious life, though, so they forced her into the vaudeville circuit and made some money out of it. Eventually, her parents spent her money on hotels, travel, and expensive cars.
END OF HER CAREER
In the early-30s, when Baby Peggy was a teenager, she tried to win back her career as an actress, but most people had already lost interest in her. In 1938, she left Hollywood for good.
Her career’s downfall negatively impacted her relationship with her parents. She once admitted that her family was “upside-down,” and nobody ever talked about her time in the entertainment industry again. She added:
“I could never be important to my father again after I became ‘me.’ My father had this feeling that I disappeared. It was as if somebody died.”
In 1938, she married Gordon Ayres, a movie extra, but they parted ways ten years later. Baby Peggy then married artist Bob Cary in 1954. They had a son, Mark, and stayed together until he died in 2001.
Baby Peggy spent her adult life working as a freelance journalist, author, and film historian. On February 24, 2020, she passed away in Gustine, California. She was 101 years old. Rest in peace, legend.
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