BABY PEGGY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM (VIDEO) (director/writer: Vera Iwerebor; cinematographer: Vera Iwerebor; editors:Vera Iwerebor/; Katarina Turler music: Günter A. Buchwald; cast: Sam West (narrator), Baby Peggy (aka Diana Serra Cary); Runtime: 58; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Vera Iwerebor; Milestone; 2012)
“The well-crafted no frills and no-nonsense documentary is most of all a moving experience.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer-director Vera Iwerebor presents an engaging documentary on what became of the silent child star known as Baby Peggy(aka Diana Serra Carey). The gentle informative picture clues us in on the joys and dangers of being a child star and informs us that almost all child stars from the distant past had tragic lives. It’s narrated by Sam West, with the narration written by Iwerebor and as an adult the reinvented and renamed Baby Peggy child star Diana Serra Cary.
At 18 months Baby Peggy-Jean Montgomery was discovered by a Hollywood director while she was visiting with her cowboy father and motherthe Century Studios lot on Sunset Boulevardand in 1920 starred in a short entitled Playmates. When she was two, Baby Peggy was a popular star known internationally and soon became the first merchant celebrity and was earning over a million dollars a year. In 2004, producer Sol Lesser refused full payment to Baby Peggy for her starring role in Captain January because it failed to break even at the box office and her controlling father angrily broke the studio contract. It resulted in hard times for the family, as the studio boss black-balled the child star from future films and because of her manipulative parents’ bad money management and free spending she was left in povertydespite early career earnings of well over $2 million. Baby Peggy then worked the vaudeville circuit, finding some happiness when her dad used her earnings to buy a ranch in Wyoming. After the 1929 Wall Street crash left her family destitute, the family lived off the earth on the ranch. To make some money, Baby Peggy worked in Hollywood as an extra until 1934. Her story of finding out who she really was covers a span of over six decades, as she became as an adult a respected author, film historian and an advocate for laws to protect child workers. The title is derived from her child actress stint when her fame and earning power made her the elephant in the room for her dysfunctional family and she became the central figure of the family that they never talked about.
Baby Peggy was unhappy that she lost her childhood to the movies, that her neglectful parents never schooled her and that she never knew who she was until an adult conversion to Catholicism when she received counseling from a wise Franciscan. He told her you can love your parents without liking them, which meant a lot to her self-preservation and lack of hatred toward her parents. Eventually changing her name to Diana Serra Cary, she remarried an artist named Bob Cary after her loveless first marriage to her actor husband of 9 years ended in divorce. The former child actor wrote books about fellow child actor Jackie Coogan suing his parents, a book entitled Hollywood’s Children, a book about the missteps in her life entitled Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy? and has since 1962 researched material about her forgotten films. Receiving fan mail from mostly youngsters having read her books or seen some of her 12 recently found silents (she made over 150 shorts and a few feature films such as Penrod in 1922), gives the regal, good-hearted lady a good feeling and hope that her life lessons would be a positive inspiration to others. The well-crafted no frills and no-nonsense documentary is most of all a moving experience.
REVIEWED ON 10/9/2013 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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