Tonight, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) pays tribute to an American original, Diana Serra Cary, who in the 1920’s was the child actress known as “Baby Peggy.” Still active at age 94, Cary is widely considered the last surviving major silent film star.
Tonight’s TCM line-up includes the television premiere of a new documentary, Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room (2012) by Dutch filmmaker Vera Iwerebor, as well as four seldom seen silent films starring the diminutive actress, Carmen Jr. (1923), Peg o’ the Mounted, Captain January and Such Is Life (all 1924).
If you don’t know her name or films, you’re not alone. Baby Peggy’s film career ended some 85 years ago. Today, the one-time actress is largely known only to devotees of film history.
Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room seeks to change that. The title speaks to the unfortunate and almost tragic end to the actress’ brief career, and the silence and denial which surrounded it. This fascinating and ultimately heartbreaking documentary tells the story of a childhood spent working like an adult.
Baby Peggy’s story is a cautionary tale – one of worldwide fame, a fortune stolen, a trust broken, and a childhood lost. It is the epic story of a pint-sized movie star who conquered the world, only to lose it all. Iwerebor has done a fine job in telling Carey’s story.
Turner Classic Movies will also screen Captain January, a film that helped make Baby Peggy a superstar. An adaption of the well known children’s book, Captain January was only the actress’s second feature film and a smash hit in 1924. It tells the story of a lighthouse keeper who finds a little girl who has been washed ashore and tied to some wreckage. He adopts her and they become inseparable. Eventually her real family finds her and tries to take her away. Shirley Temple starred in a popular remake in 1936.
Also set to be shown are three shorts starring Baby Peggy. These 2 reel films (approximately 10-12 minutes) were a popular form during the silent era, and they are where Baby Peggy got her start. Carmen Jr. (1923) is delicious comedic parody not to be missed.
Should you not be able to view this special evening of films, Milestone Video plans on releasing Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room later this year. The DVD release will include the three shorts, Carmen Jr., Peg o’ the Mounted, and Such Is Life.
More info: The Turner Classic Movies (TCM) website has a group of pages devoted to Baby Peggy and her films.
Thomas Gladysz is a Bay Area arts and entertainment writer and early film buff, as well as the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the silent film star. Gladysz has contributed to books on the actress, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced Brooks’ films around the world. In 2011, Gladysz interviewed Cary on-stage at the San Francisco Public Library in conjunction with the exhibit, “Reading the Stars.”