BABY PEGGY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM (DVD) Image

In 1920, Hollywood unveiled an unlikely new star: 18-month-old Peggy-Jean Montgomery, who was billed as Baby Peggy. The precocious toddler quickly became an audience favorite, and by 1924 she had appeared in more than 150 shorts and several feature films. Indeed, her popularity was so profound that she made a guest appearance at the 1924 Democratic Party presidential convention and was the subject of popular merchandising campaigns.

By the end of 1924, Baby Peggy was barred from Hollywood. A contract dispute between her parents and her producers brought an abrupt end to her stardom. When other studios refused to hire her, Baby Peggy was put on a vaudeville tour that stretched another four years. At the end of the decade, however, the fortunes earned by the child’s film and stage work were squandered, and the Montgomery family faced the Great Depression in near-destitution.

This new documentary by Vera Iwerebor traces the rise and fall of Baby Peggy, and the fascinating act that followed the young star’s disappearance from the spotlight. Reinventing herself as Diana Serra Cary, the former movie icon became a successful magazine writer before creating a series of books that detailed the less pleasant aspects of the Hollywood system.

Cary, who co-wrote the film’s narration, provides a fascinating insight on how the Baby Peggy phenomenon wound up destroying her already dysfunctional family. She speaks of the past without rancor, referring to “Baby Peggy” as a separate entity rather than as her own identity. Cary is still in demand among movie fans – she receives waves of fan mail and makes guest appearances at film festivals and conventions.  All told, she is a charming and intelligent woman, and her life story is fascinating and ennobling.

Sadly, many of the Baby Peggy films are considered lost. This DVD presents one of Cary’s surviving features, the 1924 “Captain January,” along with three shorts including the charming Bizet-spoof “Carmen, Jr.” (1923).

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