Here are 10 things you should know about Joel McCrea, born 115 years ago today. Though he later appeared mostly in westerns, early in his career he starred in everything from screwball and romantic comedies to thrillers and dramas.
Here are 10 things you should know about Diana Serra Cary, who as Baby Peggy was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the early 1920s. Ms. Cary passed away today at the age of 101.
We had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Cary briefly some years back and founder her a lovely, warm person. May she rest in peace.
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.
Joel McCrea, who was born 111 years ago today in South Pasadena, California, is a favorite of ours. Though he eventually settled into a long run of western pictures, he had previously proven to be adept at many other types of roles, too, from screwball and romantic comedies to thrillers and dramas. Here are 10 JM Did-You-Knows:
- McCrea’s father was an executive with the L.A. Gas & Electric Company; his mother was a Christian Science practitioner. McCrea had a paper route, delivering the Los Angeles Times to D. W. Griffith and other prominent members of the film community.
- McCrea graduated from Hollywood High School and was a member of the class of ’28 at Pomona College. While in college, he took drama courses and appeared in school productions and also in plays at the Pasadena Playhouse.
- While in high school, McCrea was already working in the film industry. An adept horseman, he worked as a stunt double and “reins holder” for stars such as William S. Hart and Tom Mix.
- Just out of college, McCrea signed with MGM, appearing in The Jazz Age (1929) and earning his first lead role in The Silver Horde (1930). In 1930, he signed with RKO and began to establish his reputation as a handsome leading man.
- McCrea was good friends with Will Rogers, and the Oklahoma cowboy did much to boost McCrea’s career. It was Rogers who encouraged McCrea to put his money into real estate, and that advice made McCrea a millionaire. In fact, he earned more money in real estate than he did as an actor over his 50-year career.
- Katharine Hepburn, close friends with McCrea and his wife, actress Frances Dee, admired McCrea’s abilities as an actor, ranking him with Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracy.
- McCrea came by his affinity for all things western—roping, riding, ranching—naturally. His grandfather was a stagecoach driver who survived confrontations with Apache Indians.
- McCrea turned down the lead role in The Postman Aways Rings Twice (1946) that eventually went to John Garfield.
- McCrea got to meet Wyatt Earp in 1928 and had the chance to portray the western legend in Wichita (1955).
- McCrea had the opportunity to reunite with his The More, The Merrier (1943) costars, Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn, in The Impatient Years (1944), but declined the role, which would have found him playing a serviceman, saying, “If I’m too old to be called, I was too old for that kind of show.”
Happy birthday, Joel McCrea, wherever you may be!
Sadly, there are very few stars of the silent era who are still with us today, but Diana Serra Cary, born Peggy-Jean Montgomery 98 years ago today in San Diego, was, as Baby Peggy, a bona fide star in her day. Here are 10 DSC/BP Did-You-Knows:
- Peggy’s father, Jack Montgomery, worked as a cowboy for some years before entering the movie business, working as a stuntman and extra. He eventually did some stand-in work for western star Tom Mix.
- Young Peggy-Jean was discovered at the age of 19 months when she accompanied her mother to visit her father, who was working at Century Studios in Hollywood. Director Fred Fishbach (later Fred Hibbard), impressed by her demeanor and ability to take direction (from her parents, that is), cast her in a short subject opposite Century’s popular canine star, Brownie the Wonder Dog. Baby Peggy’s picture debut was in Playmates (1921). When it proved a success, she was signed to a long-term contract.
- From 1921 to 1924, Peggy appeared in nearly 150 comedy shorts for Century. These films were often parodies of other popular movies of the day, so Peggy was sometimes asked to satirize popular stars (she did take-offs on both Rudolph Valentino and Pola Negri in Peg o’ the Movies ).
- In 1923, Peggy began to appear in full-length dramatic features for Universal. These films were “A” pictures, dubbed “Universal Jewels,” the studio’s designation for its top-shelf offerings.
- In 1922, Peggy received more than 1.2 million fan letters. She was so popular that between pictures, she was sent on nationwide promotional tours, making public appearances along the way to promote her movies.
- By 1923, Universal was paying Peggy $1.5 million a year (more than $20 million today). Her face also appeared on a wide range of commercial products, from dolls in her likeness to sheet music, jewelry and milk. It’s said that as a girl, Judy Garland owned a Baby Peggy doll.
- You can probably guess the rest of the story: Her parents blew through all that money Peggy was earning, putting nothing aside for her. Her movie career came to a halt in 1925 (she was all of seven years old) when her father had a falling out with a producer over her salary and cancelled her contract. She was successful in vaudeville for a few years thereafter, but with a stage name like Baby Peggy, her career was bound to trail off. It was a relief to her when her career slowed down, but her parents relied on her for their income and kept the pressure on her, so she returned to pictures, playing bit parts and doing extra work.
- Finally, in 1938, Peggy appeared in her last film, Having Wonderful Time, and married Gordon Ayres, after which she changed her name to Diana Ayres (and then to Diana Serra Cary when she converted to Catholicism and remarried—Serra is her confirmation name, and her second husband was named Robert “Bob” Cary).
- In her later years, Diana has authored several books, among them The Hollywood Posse: The Story of a Gallant Band of Horsemen Who Made Movie History, Hollywood’s Children: An Inside Account of the Child Star Era, Jackie Coogan: The World’s Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood’s Legendary Child Star and her autobiography, What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy: The Autobiography of Hollywood’s Pioneer Child Star.
- These days, Diana lives in Gustine, California. There was a push recently for her to be allowed to reside at the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Woodland Hills retirement facility, but she is in good health, physically and mentally and wanted to remain in California’s Central Valley, near her son and his family. What she needed was financial assistance, not a residence. If you’d like to help her out, you can buy one or more of her acclaimed books (she’s a very good writer), you can send her a Paypal donation using the email address BabyPeggy1920 at att.net (her son oversees that account), or you can send her a card with a check to 738 Fifth Avenue, Gustine, CA 95322.
Happy birthday, Diana Serra Cary, and many happy returns of the day!