Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Remembering Baby Peggy, the last silent film star

Diana Serra Cary, known as Baby Peggy in the 1920s, has died at the age of 101. Prior to her passing, she was widely regarded as the last living silent film star. Obits for the one time film star appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Hollywood Reporter and other publications. Turner Classic Movies (TCM) released this short video tribute.


In the 1920s, Baby Peggy was a superstar known and loved around the world. What a beautiful child she was, and what a beautiful adult she became - a survivor, and a hero to many.

In researching the life and films of Louise Brooks, I have come across articles about this pint-sized star time and again -- in newspapers and magazines just about everywhere I have looked -- in publications across Europe and Latin America, Australia, Canada, Asia, etc.... And though they crossed paths in print, Baby Peggy and Louise Brooks never met. I know that to be true because I asked Diana. She knew of Brooks, of course, and remembered her reputation for being "smart." (They both loved books, and reading.) The closest they came to crossing paths was through a mutual friend, Clara Bow. In fact, Baby Peggy and Clara Bow starred in film together, a 1924 comedy called Helen's Babies. I treasure the photoplay edition book I have of that film, which Diana signed for me.

Edward Everett Horton, Baby Peggy, and Clara Bow in Helen's Babies
I had the chance to spend time with Diana on a number of occasions. The first time I met her was in Niles, California when a bunch of us went out to lunch with her following an event at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. A few years later, I put on a bookstore event with her when her 2003 book, Jackie Coogan: The World's Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood's Legendary Child Star, was published. The following day, I organized a book signing for her at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, where she was a big hit.

In 2010, I snapped this photo of Diana and some of her admirer's at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. It depicts of Academy Award honoree Kevin Brownlow, Diana, the late preservationist David Shepard, and Leonard Maltin.


Over the years, I also interviewed Diana on a few occasions in connection with pieces I was writing for the Huffington Post, examiner.com, and the San Francisco Chronicle website. Unfortunately, my 2012 Salon piece, "Silent film star recalls 1924 Democratic Convention," is no long available on Salon, despite it getting a bit of buzz at the time and being a Salon editor's pick. In fact, it was one of the most viewed pieces on the Salon website for a couple of days running.The piece, however, can be read HERE.


My Salon article was occasioned by the release of an excellent documentary about Diana called, Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room. I recommend it. Here is its trailer.


In 2011, I organized “An afternoon with silent film star Baby Peggy,” and interviewed Diana on stage at the San Francisco Public Library. We showed one of Diana's short films, and then conversed for more than a half an hour. A large crowd turned out, perhaps 150 people, and afterwords, Diana signed lots of books and autographs - including one, I remember, for the late poet Kevin Killian, a long-time acquaintance of mine.

If you are ever looking to read an inspiring book about the silent film era, I would wholeheartedly recommend Diana's Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy: The Autobiography of Hollywood's Pioneer Child Star. It tells her story in her own words. It is a great read. As I write this blog post, I notice that it is amazon's #1 kindle bestseller in the Theater Acting & Auditioning category! I would also recommend tracking down her of her surviving feature films. Watch them and like me you may well fall a little bit in love with this special little actress. Be sure and check out Captain January, or The Family Secret on DVD



I treasure my copies of each of Diana's books. Here is how she autographed the dedication page of my copy of Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy.

2 comments:

  1. As always a thoughtful and informative article ,I had no doubt in my mind that you would have crossed paths , such is your passion

    ReplyDelete

SEARCH this Blog

TRANSLATE this Blog