A little documentary gem for silent film buffs, Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room tells another chapter of the all-too-common riches-to-rags Hollywood story, with a prodigious, prolific talent ruined financially by her irresponsible parents. Born Peggy-Jean Montgomery and now known as Diana Serra Cary, the actress best known as Baby Peggy was one of the shining stars of the silent era before she was even two years old. She starred in more than 150 shorts and a number of features and was one of the early successes in movie merchandising. But the millions were gone by age 11, forcing her into a stint on the Vaudeville circuit and later, into doing extra work in the talkies.
Vera Iwerebor’s 54-minute film plays more like a DVD extra than a full-fledged, feature-length documentary, following Baby Peggy’s path through the highs and lows chronologically. Still, it’s an absolute treat to see clips from a number of films and get to hear from Cary, now 95 and one of the last surviving links to the silent era. Determined to separate herself from her childhood identity and all the pain associated with the financial and emotional exploitation for many years, Cary eventually came to terms with Baby Peggy. The film’s most winning moments feature Cary seeing a rediscovered Baby Peggy film for the first time and explaining her slice of cinema history to her granddaughter.
Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room might be too slight to warrant a DVD purchase on its own, but Milestone Films has turned the disc into something of an essential package for silent film fans by including the feature-length (64 minutes) 1924 Baby Peggy film Captain January, which was later re-made (in 1936) as a Shirley Temple vehicle. Also included are the Baby Peggy short films Carmen, Jr. (1923), Peg O’ the Mounted (1924) and Such is Life (1924).