Peggy Montgomery “Baby Peggy”
Present name: Diana Serra Cary.
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Peggy Jean Montgomery was born in January, 1917 Peggy died, 24 February 2020. As a child, her stage name was Baby Peggy. She later changed her name to Diana Serra Cary.
The dust jacket of her autobiography describes her years prior to high school, when she was known worldwide as Baby Peggy:
Long before Shirley Temple’s curls bounced their way into America’s heart, Baby Peggy lit up marquees from coast to coast. She was the original child star produced by Hollywood and her amazing journey set the pattern for all those who followed.
Discovered when she was only nineteen months old, Baby Peggy with her angelic face and expert mugging for the camera entertained audiences across the nation and around the world. She starred in a series of short two-reel comedies, completing 150 of them by the time she turned three. The now internationally famous star moved on to feature-length films, including her biggest box office smash, Captain January (later remade with Shirley Temple). By her fifth birthday, Baby Peggy’s films were earning as much as Charlie Chaplin’s, and she herself was a millionaire, having signed a three-film $3.5 million contract. Just like in her movies, a rosy life seemed secure.
For a brief period, she attended Fairfax High School, where she got As on her tests, but ended up with Bs and Cs because her professional obligations led to poor attendance. She transferred to Lawlor Professional School in February 1934, where they allowed for professional absences. Her younger sister Louise Montgomery also attended Lawlor at the same time. By this time, most of Peggy’s acting career was behind her, and her parents had squandered her fortune. She had supported her family on the vaudeville circuit for a while, and even tried a comeback in the talkies, but it was not to be. She tells of these trials and tribulations in two of her books, What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy, and Hollywood’s Children. She further tells of her father, who was a real cowboy, his friends and how their lives carried them from the dried out range to the silver screen in The Hollywood Posse. This is a must read for any Western history fan.
She graduated from Lawlor at the end of January 1936. She watched her Lawlor Professional School classmates, among whom were lifelong friends Frances Gumm (Judy Garland) and Joe Yule, Jr. (Mickey Rooney), go on to the fame that she once had.
In a move to change her life, she worked at the Santa Barbara Mission where only the Father who hired her knew her background. She built the bookstore/gift shop into a major component of the Mission, all the while developing a deep knowledge of western history. Her subsequent life as a trade book buyer, researcher, and freelance writer has brought her a new recognition and respect. Her research, lectures and writings contributed to the later beatification of Father Junipero Serra. This was her inspiration to change her name to Diana Serra and leave her Baby Peggy past behind. In 1954, she married artist Bob Cary and. They have a son, Mark, and also a charming granddaughter.
Diana Serra Cary’s book Hollywood’s Children contains material on the early days of Lawlor Professional School, and I urge all to read it and Diana’s other publications, the latest of which is about her childhood friend: Jackie Coogan: The World’s Boy King. She is a wonderful writer and her books are a joy to read.
– by Alan H. Simon, for Mar-Ken.org
From the 1935-36 Lawlor Professionals:
“Baby Peggy” is listed in this Lawlor Professional School casting book under “Some Stars who have attended our School”
Links to other resources about Peggy Montgomery:
Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum (biography and to purchase her books):
Wikipedia entry for Baby Peggy / Diana Serra Cary:
Photo gallery on SilentMovies.com:
Interview on Silents Are Golden website:
Photo on Silents Are Golden website:
Biography on MSN Entertainment:
All above photos are from Diana Cary Serra’s collection and are used with permission.