It’s hard to believe that one of the first (and one of the biggest) child stars in movie history is still with us, but Diana Serra Cary, who was, as Baby Peggy, a bona fide star in the 1920s, celebrates her 100th birthday today. Here are 10 things you should know about Diana “Baby Peggy” Serra Cary.
Actress Toby Wing was born Martha Virginia Wing in Amelia Court House, Virginia, 101 years ago today. She was never a star, but she’s remembered fondly by old-movie buffs for her many memorable small parts and cameos. Here are 10 TW Did-You-Knows:
- She took her screen name Toby after the nickname her father had given a horse.
- After serving in World War I, Wing’s father moved to Hollywood to serve an assistant director and mid-level executive at Paramount Studios. He also served in World War II and was for a time was a prisoner of the Japanese in the Philippines; he survived the infamous Bataan Death March.
- Her sister Madison was also a film actress, under the name Pat Wing. Madison appeared in 32 pictures between 1923 and 1937, though she generally went uncredited.
- As a child, Wing took a few small parts in silent pictures before refocusing on her studies at her parents’ insistence.
- She was romantically paired with an impressive roster of prominent men—Maurice Chevalier, Alfred Vanderbilt, Franklin Roosevelt Jr., Jackie Coogan (Wing and Coogan were engaged for a time) and Pinky Tomlin among them.
- Wing’s best-remembered role was in the 1933 Warner Brothers musical 42nd Street, where she was the “Young and Healthy” girl opposite crooner Dick Powell.
- Wing’s career alternated between sizable roles and cameos (with the latter being prevalent). Mostly, she served (and ably so) as eye candy, though she occasionally scored more prominent roles when she appeared in Poverty Row pictures.
- After being engaged—but not wed—to a long string of men, Wing married prominent aviator Dick Merrill, who was 22 years her senior. Many were skeptical of the union, but the pair enjoyed wedded bliss until Merrill’s death in 1982.
- Wing appeared on Broadway in Cole Porter‘s You Never Know, a troubled production that lasted just 73 performances; Wing appeared in the production alongside Clifton Webb, Libby Holman and Lupe Velez.
- Wing and Merrill settled in Miami Beach, Florida, where she dabbled in real estate and taught Sunday School at All Souls’ Episcopal Church into her 80s.
Happy birthday, Toby Wing, wherever you may be!
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the ads for the TCM Classic Cruises and thought, “That would be fun.”
But then we can’t help but think, “But it would have been much more fun ten or fifteen years ago.” The sad truth is, there just aren’t that many performers left from the 1930s and ’40s and, of course, there are even fewer that date back as far as the silent movie era.
In that latter category, there’s Mickey Rooney and Carla Laemmle (who was never a big star, but did appear in some big pictures, including Lon Chaney‘s Phantom of the Opera and the 1931 version of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi).
And then there’s Diana Serra Cary (née Peggy-Jean Montgomery), who was one of the biggest stars of the silent era, albeit at a very young age.
Cary, then known as Baby Peggy, made her film debut in 1921. She went on to make more than 150 shorts for Century Pictures before signing with Universal Pictures in 1923 for $1.5 million a year. Jackie Coogan, the top child star of the day, was growing up, and Universal was hoping Peggy, who would now be starring in feature-length pictures, pick up the slack left by his declining popularity.
Peggy is to have received more than 1.2 million fan letters during her relatively brief time in the spotlight, but by 1925, the bottom fell out of her career. Her father played it tough in negotiating with independent producer Sol Lesser, for whom she had made a couple of features, and Lesser not only declined to work with her any more, he used his influence in Hollywood to see that no one else would hire her, either. She made only one more silent movie, a small role in the 1926 film April Fool, and then began touring in vaudeville.
With the crash of 1929, Peggy’s family fortunes went in the tank. Her parents had spent most of her earnings, and what investments they had made were now worthless. She eventually stooped to doing extra work in the 1930s, but by 1938, at the age of 19, she was through working in pictures.
In later years, Peggy became a writer and author, publishing a number of books about Hollywood, including her 1996 memoir, Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy?. She’s still active today, making personal appearances at film festivals and revival houses.
Beginning at 8 p.m. on Monday, December 3, Turner Classic Movies will air a new documentary about Peggy’s life and career, Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room (2012), and four of her pictures (most of which are lost films), three shorts—Carmen Jr. (1923), Peg o’ the Mounted (1924), and Such Is Life (1924)—and one feature, Captain January (1924).