In memoriam: Diana Serra Cary AKA Baby Peggy, 1918-2020 – ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and last living silent film star

Sad news today. Baby Peggy, the last of the surviging silent film stars, has died aged 101. She was born Peggy Jean Montgomery in San Diego on 29 October 1918 and she died on 24 February 2020, 400 miles away in Gustine, California.

She was a star before she was even two years old, starting out as a cute dimpled co-star for Brownie the Wonder Dog, before going on to play the lead in around 150 comedy shorts and features. She was an unforgettable presence on screen: dimpled, diminutive and delightful – one of the youngest and most brilliant of child stars. And she really was a star, the “Million Dollar Baby”.

Long after her own days as a silent film star were over, she was a writer and an advocate not just for the silent era but for the rights of child performers. It had never been an easy life being a toddler-actress, far from it, and on 14 February this year, she gave an interview to Silence is Platinum in which she said this:

People asked me in my teens how I could remember anything about making films and I said I remembered everything about making them. I never had any problem with that, but many child stars had that denial thing. They didn’t want people to think they started out like that. Many times, and I did it too, I ended up denying that I had ever been in movies … There are so many sad stories, it was overwhelming. Sometimes when I go to sleep at night, I think about them, and the most depressing ones are the ones that shouldn’t have gotten mixed up in it. They paid a terrible price for it. To me, they were all cautionary tales. Perhaps I assumed it because I lived it. Not all of my stories are negative, but the one you get caught in is a negative story.”

We owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude, not just for her wonderful films and her fantastic comedy, but for her memories, which she put to good use, even though many of them were traumatic.

My Sight & Sound obituary for Baby Peggy is online here. We will all remember her, her work, and her beautiful smile, very fondly.

Baby Peggy and Hobart Bosworth in Captain January (1924)
Baby Peggy and Hobart Bosworth in Captain January (1924)
  • The 2013 TCM documentary Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room is available on DVD from Milestone, with a selection of her films, including Captain January (1924)
  • The Family Secret (1924) has also been released on disc by Undercrank Productions, with more of her short films and some archive footage.
  • Silent London will always be free to all readers. If you enjoy checking in with the site, including reports from silent film festivals, features and reviews, please consider shouting me a coffee on my Ko-Fi page

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