I’m going to guess that most of you don’t know who Diana Serra Cary, otherwise known as Baby Peggy, is. See, way back when actors didn’t have sound in their films they had to act using what they had available to them. Basically much of their performance was emoted through movement and facial expressions with music played in the background. Stage presence was a must, and many a silent film star had a background in stage performing.
I recently had the good fortune to stumble upon an absolute gem of a film called Captain January starring probably the cutest little kid that ever graced a film screen, Baby Peggy. I’m a big believer in signs, probably more than I should be, and when I was in the midst of writing my most recent piece I was hit with a big one.
I found that my protagonist, a former circus girl and freak show performer named Tuesday, needed to be treated to a movie by the woman taking care of her. It’s a period piece that takes place in 1924 and it just so happens that when I started searching for silent movies from that era I found one that had a strikingly similar tone to Tuesday’s Gone. What really blew my mind was the mental image I had of my protagonist staring back at me from the movie posters I found online of this film. Diana Serra Cary is a dead ringer for my concept of Tuesday.
Captain January is about an old man who has taken care of a young orphan girl and raised her as his own daughter. They live in a lighthouse off the coast of Maine, and without giving away too much of the plot, it isn’t long before someone comes along to challenge this lighthouse keeper’s claim to the girl he calls Captain January. Heartbreak ensues and you better believe I got choked up watching a 91 year old movie with no sound. That is how powerful this film is.
Tuesday’s Gone is about a circus girl who is neglected and abused and made to perform in the freak show. She is a tumbler and her entire body, save her face, is covered in tattoos. She befriends an old lion named Judah, and when he intervenes on her behalf it sets in motion a series of events that takes her away from the circus and onto an adventure where she gets to sample a life she has been denied. It is not, and I can’t stress this enough, a kid’s story.
If you get the chance, watch Captain January and any film that Diana Serra Cary did. What is strikingly similar between Diana and Tuesday is how poorly child stars are treated. There are numerous comments made by other characters in Tuesday’s Gone about “Who runs away from the circus?” The circus, and Hollywood respectively, are places people seem drawn to because of the illusion of glitz and glamor, but child stars never really get to be kids. They are expected to be adults from very early on, often times with no ideas about how to be adults.
Here is a link to a trailer to a recent film about Diana Serra Cary entitled Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room
Later, when I get ready to publish Tuesday’s Gone I’ll be offering a few words on the treatment of circus performers and the animals that work in the circus. This is a largely under-reported issue, and I would suggest all my readers make themselves aware of it.