Late in elementary school I found an interest in theater. There was something about doing a show that thrilled me and being able to entertain has always been important to me. I did mostly community theater, but also did a few short stints at companies where I was actually compensated for my work like Trinity Repertory Company, Newport Playhouse, and Kaleidoscope Theater. In 1996 I did a black and white film for a Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) student entitled Egypt Hollow where I spent some cold winters at a barn in Connecticut in below freezing temperatures. I got screen credit for it, but nothing else which satisfied me plenty.
I wasn’t what you’d call a child star. My parents, grandparents, and family thought I was, but I was never pushed to go any farther than I wanted. I knew kids who were being shipped off to audition for Broadway shows in New York, but I never went farther than Boston for an audition. Perhaps my biggest audition was in Providence for a film called The Deep End of the Ocean. Michelle Pfeiffer was in it.
Sometimes people stick their noses up and roll their eyes when they hear about the problems child stars have. We live in a society of entitlement and sometimes lose sight of the fact that people who have money don’t have problems too. When we hear about child stars and their problems we immediately think about names like Lohan, Cyrus, Spears, Garland, Barrymore, etc. We sigh and remark about people that we think have better lives than us, having no idea what their daily life is actually like. If you want to know just how bad a child star’s life can be just ask Dylan Farrow.
Child stars have a long history of exploitation and abuse. They are adorable and we want to see just how much talent they have and then we pay them to entertain us. Their money doesn’t always go to them though and their formative years spent on set, stage, or studio are not compensated for, their money squandered and gone before they are of age to use it for their own purposes. This was the case for America’s first Million Dollar Baby, Peggy-Jean Montgomery also known as Baby Peggy. Today she is known as Diana Serra Cary.
Back in the 1920s child labor laws were largely a thing of political imagination. I’m not a particularly liberal person, but I believe that work comes with a price tag that it should reflect the success that is received in a project. Baby Peggy was discovered at only nineteen months old on set at Century Studios and a director marveled at how easily she was able to take direction. Silent film being what it was, she was easily coached through scenes as no sound was being recorded. She appeared in over a hundred short films and later in several major motion pictures. She was even named the mascot for the 1924 Democratic National Convention where she stood beside Franklin Delano Roosevelt waving an American flag.
Her parents were largely in control of her assets, being paid well for their daughter’s work and then spending the money. By the time she was eight she was out of the film industry due to disagreements between her parents and her employers. She was forced to turn to vaudeville for income, but that industry collapsed with the emergence of films with sound or “talkies”. With no film industry interested in hiring her she and her family lived on the poverty line. Later she was able to find work as a writer and publisher under the name Diana Serra Cary. She wrote several books about Hollywood and the lives of child actors including Jackie Coogan’s biography. She became an advocate for the welfare of child actors, herself the victim of the more unfortunate side of the business.
Today Diana is ninety-six years old and in 2012 a campaign was launched to finally get her a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I recently got in contact with an organization called A Star for Baby Peggy, explaining to them that Diana had a great deal of influence over my recent piece about an abused circus performer. We have had a few exchanges discussing the fact that Diana has no star on the Walk of Fame and as you can imagine it is a particularly political issue, Hollywood having their own brand of politics.
The idea of honoring Diana with a star on the Walk of Fame was brought to Turner Classic Movies (TCM). They had expressed an interest in helping, but little has come from it. This is probably due to the fact that there is little call to grant a silent film star her place on the walk of fame because so few people living today know who Diana is and what she has done. Newer stars like Kaley Couco and Gwyneth Paltrow have them, living only a fraction of the time Diana has. Organizations like A Star for Baby Peggy have tried raising money to put toward her star, but they’ve fallen short of the enormous dollar amount needed. The money went to help Diana’s living expenses.
In my email exchanges with A Star for Baby Peggy I asked if TCM might like to hear from their viewers about their interest in getting Diana her star. I have written a letter to their organization asking that they increase their advocacy and help to make this worthy dream a reality. In addition to this I am calling on my readers to help in the simplest way possible: write a letter. Turner Classic Movies is one of the only networks that provides viewers with access to classic films going all the way back to the silent era. TCM is in a unique position to help advocate for causes like this, and a woman who was such an important American icon and advocate should be honored with her own star on the Walk of Fame. My EMS and Nursing friends can tell you what it means to the elderly to be thought of and remembered. They are incredibly special people and have much to teach and tell us, Diana not least among them.
I am asking my readers to help A Star for Baby Peggy and myself get Diana Serra Cary her spot on the Walk of Fame. Seeing her work brings a smile to a person’s face today as it did ninety years ago and I encourage you all to write in to Turner Classic Movies and ask them to help push for her star. They can be reached at
TCM Viewer Relations
1050 Techwood Drive NW
Atlanta, GA 30318
You can also email Turner Classic Movies here (click Contact Us where the oldey-timey microphone is). It doesn’t have to be a lengthy tome of a letter, just something that asks them to help Diana get her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. My Political Science background tells me that a paper letter speaks more than an email and they tend to take a letter more seriously, but any advocacy from my readers helps and is deeply appreciated on my part. Currently A Star for Baby Peggy isn’t accepting donations, though that can change if TCM helps us.
The link below is a trailer for a biographical film about Baby Peggy
Please consider taking a moment out of your day to send a brief word to Turner Classic Movies with the address and link I’ve provided. The most this effort would cost you is the price of a postage stamp if you chose to “old school” the letter via mail. I greatly appreciate your help in giving a woman her deserved honor, a woman who gave us such inspiration and joy.