Today the sad news broke that Diana Serra Cary, also known to the world as “Baby Peggy,” has passed away at age 101. In a sense, this marks the end of an era. She was our last living link to the silents films that we all love so well. The final page has been turned; the final chapter has ended.
Cary was just a toddler when her parents got her a film contract. Noticing what an obedient child she was, director Fred Fishbach thought she’d work well in a studio. After successful appearances in shorts alongside the canine star Brownie, Cary was given her own film series and eventually starred in light comedy features. She would act alongside luminaries like Clara Bow and be photographed with the likes of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.
Sadly, Cary’s family spent the money she earned recklessly, and when her father tried to dispute her contract one too many times it was severed in 1924. Even worse, a relative stole the remainder of the family’s sizable fortune, leaving them broke. They turned to vaudeville as a way to keep Cary’s career going, and she would make a number of successful appearances. Her parents made her return to Hollywood in the early ’30s, only to find that the industry had moved on. Cary’s last film was Having a Wonderful Time (1938), where she was an extra. She didn’t mind, having spent so many grueling hours working since she was practically a baby.
Post-films, Cary would marry twice (her second marriage to Robert Cary lasted until his death in 2001) and go by the name Diana Serra Cary, hoping to distance herself from the Baby Peggy image. She worked as a radio writer, publisher, and historian. Eventually growing more at peace with her difficult early life, she began writing about the experiences of child actors in early Hollywood, penning the books What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy: The Autobiography of Hollywood’s Pioneer Child Star, and Jackie Coogan: The World’s Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood’s Legendary Child Star.
In later years Cary was sought after for her memories of her early career. She appeared in documentaries, sat down for interviews, and became passionate about advocating for fair treatment of child actors. She would also publish her first novel, The Drowning of the Moon, at age 99.
Diana passed away on February 24, 2020, at her home in Gustine, California. Survivors include her son Mark and her granddaughter Stephanie. In a statement to the press, Mark said: “I am proud of how she was able to come to terms with what happened to her from when she was just a toddler and re-create her life anew. She learned to love herself and her unusual childhood so she could focus on telling her story to educate others in how to avoid the same negative things that she had experienced in her life and career as Baby Peggy.” In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions to be made to a GoFundMe account to help cover outstanding medical expenses.
RIP, Diana. We’re incredibly lucky that you were with us for so long, and we cannot thank you enough for your years of hard work and dedication. On my part, just knowing she was out there in California–a living link to the past that fascinates me so much–was always a thrill.
I remember how I felt when the last living person born in the nineteenth century passed away. I could almost hear the kerchunk of the door closing.
I like to say that the nineteenth century was when humanity declared war on time. Inventions like film and sound recording let people survive their deaths, so to speak. Cary will live as long as her films do.
She certainly will. ❤
RIP, Diana. Thanks for the joy you brought.
Such joy, and such generosity with her time and knowledge!
Nice tribute, Lea. Well done.
Thank you, Kellee!
Very nice tribute to a fine lady. I saw a documentary about her on TCM and she was quite a lady.
She certainly was! She will be very missed.
Her book of interviews, Hollywood Children, is excellent, and one that only she could write. Her own experiences made her the perfect interviewer of other actors who grew up on film and television sets. She spoke at the SFSilent film festival some time ago, and I believe she was proud of her late and hard won education as a psychologist, although I haven’t seen it mentioned online. She was living proof that our lives can have a “second act.” Remarkable woman!
I didn’t realize she was a psychologist–thanks for sharing, I learned something new!
Are last connection to the golden age of movies so sad to hear this news . My only hope 8s that the next generation doesn’t forget these beautiful people of the silent movies isn’t lost forever. I am happy to I have a Facebook friend a young teenager who does Charlie chaplin impersonator of him keeps his memory alive. And my hometown of muskegon Michigan celebrates Buster Keatons birthday. Thanks to my dad who passed away 3 years ago introduced me to these classics
I always have hopes that silent films and silent personalities like Diana will continue to attract fans as the decades go by, especially since the Internet makes sharing silents so easy. Plus,you would think that the older the films get, the more precious they’ll start to be. Future generations will get to see what life was like 150, 200, 300 years ago!
Muskegon! I was there a couple years ago for the Buster convention–a nice place, the air’s so fresh coming off of Lake Michigan…!
She was the last silent film comedian with their own series to pass away. Truly the end of an era.
Oh my, that didn’t occur to me. That’s true.
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