Baby Peggy's Life Was Marred with Tragedies including Living with Insatiable Dad Who Could Make Her Sob in a Snap
Fans should recall actress Peggy-Jean Montgomery who was better known as Baby Peggy. Her life might’ve looked like a fairytale, but it was filled with tragedy, and her father was quite strict.
In 1918, Peggy-Jean Montgomery was born and was later known as child superstar Baby Peggy. She became a well-known star at the age of 5 after being discovered at the age of 2 in 1920.
Peggy became one of the most famous performers of the Hollywood silent era. She later became a self-made multimillionaire after starring in three feature films and almost 150 shorts.
BLACKLISTED & NO SCHOOLING
When she was just 7, she faced one of her first big tragedies when she was blacklisted. All the studios who had exploited her turned away after having made her work eight-hour days without breaks.
She never got to go to school properly and worked six days a week. “The New York Times,” said the star was so big that she also had her own line of Baby Peggy dolls, jewelry, and sheet music.
LIVING IN LUXURY & RAISED BY A BULLY
She and her parents lived in a huge Beverly Hills Mansion. The actress was chauffeured in a limousine to work, and she had maids who attended to all her needs, but all she had was gotten through hard work.
Her father, Jack Montgomery, raised her and her sister, Louise, like horses. They had to answer commands immediately or face punishment as Jack snapped his fingers, demanding Peggy to cry at the drop of a hat.
PEGGY’S ACTING RANGE & FATHER
One newspaper once described Peggy’s acting range as the “five faces of Baby Peggy: miserable, amused, brave, saucy and angelic.” A lot of her work was lost in a 1926 studio fire, but what survived was preserved.
The star’s father was a troubled man who once threatened to shoot himself and his entire family because of a bad toothache. Her parents argued a lot, within earshot, about her salary.
Jack and Marian Montgomery failed to look out for her well-being. Her father was a former stuntman and cowboy, and he controlled all of her daughter’s earnings and spent them without guilt.
He didn’t even save for her future, and in 1925, at age 7, he started a fight with a studio, and that move cost her everything. In the documentary, “Showbiz Kids,” the actress confessed that her career was over at that time.
The last silent film star is 100 and 💯— Dianna Serra Cary AKA “Baby Peggy” is a total badass and just self published her first novel. This factoid is my therapy today. pic.twitter.com/LNlxLe8nZZ
— Brently Heilbron (@Brently) August 13, 2018
CHILDHOOD & LOSS OF CAREER
The Alex Winter-directed HBO documentary was shot before her death in February 2020. She confessed to Winter that she never got the chance to be a regular child because she never had friends.
Jack fought with a studio over his daughter’s salary leading to her $1.5 million contract being canceled. In 1924, Peggy held the American flag at the Democratic National Convention, alongside Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Goodnight, Baby Peggy (Diana Serra Cary) who has died aged 101. A silent movie star who earned $1 million a year before retiring at the age of six. pic.twitter.com/iWHwr8UgmZ
— Quentin Fottrell (@Quantanamo) February 25, 2020
DANGEROUS ACTING ROLES
However, by the time Roosevelt became president in 1933, the actress had long retired. When she still had proper work, Peggy worked long hours with little supervision, and studios often put her in dangerous situations.
In 1923’s “The Darling of New York,” her character had to escape a burning building that was actually doused with kerosene. Peggy was also abused on set by fellow actors.
— BFI (@BFI) February 25, 2020
In one of Peggy’s acting roles, she was bucked from a speeding truck, struck by a bicycle in another, and half-drowned by a Great Dane while filming a rescue at sea.
She often found herself being physically pushed around by adults because the script demanded it. After the star lost all her work, her parents continued trying to find ways to use her to support them.
We mourn the passing of Diana Serra Cary, better known to her fans as Baby Peggy, who passed away yesterday at 101. Although most of her films are lost—a sad commonplace in the silent era—we’ve done a lot of preservation work on ones that do survive, like Circus Clowns (1922). pic.twitter.com/YLap29RG1m
— LOC National Audio-Visual Conservation Center (@LOC_AV) February 25, 2020
“The New York Times” obituary revealed how the actress’s $2 million fortune was spent within a couple of years. It was used for luxury cars, hotels, and travel expenses.
With the Depression looming, the family moved to Wyoming for a brief period before returning to Hollywood. In 1932, the star returned to movies as Peggy Montgomery, but she had little success.
— Matthew Sweet (@DrMatthewSweet) October 29, 2016
THE END OF AN ERA
Over the next five years, she got some parts but never regained the kind of fame she had experienced as a child. In a 1982 interview, she confessed that she felt like a senior citizen at age 15.
Peggy recalled how Baby Peggy destroyed her family as their life was turned upside down. Her family never discussed Baby Peggy again, and the star never became important to her father again after becoming herself.
RIP Diana Serra Cary, aka #BabyPeggy: one of Hollywood’s first child actors, and surely the last surviving silent film star, has died aged 101. @PamHutch pays tribute ☞ https://t.co/qMhGQQLJiJ pic.twitter.com/K4RwYT1jbS
— Sight and Sound magazine (@SightSoundmag) February 25, 2020
ATTENDING SCHOOL & REINVENTION
However, she finally got to go to school and attended Fairfax High school in Los Angeles. After graduation, she married her first husband, movie extra Gordon Ayres, whom she divorced 10 years later.
Peggy [Montgomery] passed away at the age of 101 in Gustine, California.
— Variety_Film (@Variety_Film) February 25, 2020
TRANSITIONING, FINDING LOVE & NEW CAREER
The marriage marked a transition period for Peggy, who changed her name to Diana Serra Cary. The name change was so she could have anonymity and distance from her Hollywood persona.
She found love again in 1954 when she married artist Bob Cary, with whom she had a son. The actress reinvented her career by becoming an author after having a few odd jobs and starting her writing career.
A great era is over.
— Samuel West 💙 (@exitthelemming) February 25, 2020
1st NOVEL & DOCCIE ABOUT HER LEGACY
In 2019, she self-published her first novel, “The Drowning of the Moon,” at the age of 99. Long before that, in the 1970s, the star became a film historian and spoke at film festivals about her life and career.
In 2012, the documentary “Baby Peggy, the Elephant in the Room” was released, and it focused on the star’s legacy. Peggy passed away at the age of 101 in Gustine, California.