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November 5, 2008 > Baby Peggy turns 90!

Baby Peggy turns 90!

By Emma Victoria G. Blanco

Before Shirley Temple, there was Baby Peggy. Peggy-Jean Montgomery, born on October 28, 1918 became "Baby Peggy" at the tender age of 19 months when she accompanied her mother to the Century Studios lot on Sunset Boulevard and was "discovered." Thus began the "shared infancy" of a young girl and the film industry.

Baby Peggy made nearly 150 short and nine feature length films between 1920 and 1923 including the hits The Darling of New York, Helen's Babies and Captain January. Captain January would later be remade, starring Shirley Temple. Baby Peggy was especially talented at imitating the film legends of that time, such as Rudolph Valentino, Pola Negri, Mary Pickford and Mae Murray. Thus it isn't surprising that many of her more popular comedies were parodies of movies previously made by the grown-ups. By the time she turned five, Baby Peggy was already a millionaire, her films earning as much as Charlie Chaplin's.

Her acting career did not last long. "As typifies many child stars," stated Dorothy Bradley, President of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, "Baby Peggy was unable to make the transition from 'cute and cuddly' as she grew up." It didn't help that her mother and father (a career cowboy who got into the acting business as a stunt double and extra) misspent her fortune. From age eight through her teens, Baby Peggy made several attempts to restart her career and provide for her family by starring on the vaudeville circuit, early-talkies, even changing her moniker to Peggy Montgomery. She eventually managed to work through it all and reinvented herself as Diana Serra Cary, book publisher, writer and film historian. She has found success as the author of books including The Hollywood Posse (1975), Hollywood's Children (1978), What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy (1996) and Jackie Coogan: The World's Boy King (2007).

This weekend the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum celebrates the 90th birthday of this extraordinary woman. November 8 and 9 will be two days of films and activities honoring the first child actress. Rare Baby Peggy films have been gathered from the world over for this special weekend, including As You Like It from the Netherlands Film Museum, The Kid Reporter from the British Film Institute and Captain January and Helen's Babies from the Library of Congress. On Sunday, November 9, Cary (along with noted authors David Stenn and Larry Telles) will discuss life on the movie set in the early 1920s in a panel discussion.

A birthday banquet honoring Cary's life will take place on Saturday (Nov. 8) evening at the Essanay Caf?. The film programs, discussion panel and book signing will be held at the Niles Edison Theater. For a complete schedule of events and more information, visit www.nilesfilmmuseum.org.

A 90th Birthday Bash for Baby Peggy!
Saturday and Sunday
November 8 and 9
Edison Theatre
(home of Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum)
37417 Niles Blvd, Fremont
Tickets only available at (510) 494-1411.

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