Thursday 26 December 2013

BABY PEGGY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Exploitation of silent child star Baby Peggy and her life after fame on this great disc from the visionary Milestone Films on their Milestone Cinematheque Label. Exquisite package includes the doc, plus very cool extras!

Milestone Films Cinematheque presents
one of the year's finest DVD releases
Baby Peggy was 19 months old in 1920 and became one of the world's most beloved movie stars, headlining over 150 shorts. In 1924 she was signed to a $1,000,000 contract for starring in the feature Captain January. She was also huge in vaudeville, performing all day, everyday in continuous live performances. By the late 1930s, her fortune had been squandered by her father and she disappeared for decades. She's still alive. Now in her 90s, Baby Peggy's real name is Diana Serra Cary. She continues to lead a full life as an author and advocate devoted to making the world aware of the exploitation of children in show business. This is her story.

Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room (2013) ****
Dir. Vera Iwerebor
Starring: Baby Peggy (Diana Serra Cary)


Review By Greg Klymkiw

Imagine spending an entire childhood feeling like your career as a movie star (and sole breadwinner) was over before the age of ten. Even worse, though, would be feeling like an elephant in the room, the weight of your "failure" tied to your neck in a family life fraught with strict patriarchal discipline, domestic disputes, itinerancy and poverty.

This was Baby Peggy's story. To watch her in the few films of hers that still exist (3 shorts and her classic feature Captain January, lovingly restored and available on this DVD as - I kid you not - extras) is to see a kid with immense talent whom the camera loved with considerable passion.

It's no wonder she became so huge.

That's why, however, there's a considerable melancholy to this tale, so simply and beautifully told in Iwerebor's documentary. Effectively using film clips, archival materials and, of course, interviews with the still alive-and-kicking 90+ year-old Baby Peggy, we get a wonderful sense of the sweep of her tale, but also the deeply dark aspects of it. She eventually "became" Diana Serra Cary, and it's both fascinating and somewhat astounding that she's in her 90s. She's as fit and fiddle as someone three decades her junior and her recollections of those early days seem picture-perfect vivid. It's no surprise she's a writer - she paints with words.

Most poignant ARE her memories of childhood and tellingly, we get a sense of what a sharp cookie she was as a kid. She always looked upon her Baby Peggy persona as a screen character and played it as such. On her own, she felt like herself and always viewed her roles - which ultimately were not diverse, but basically "her(other)self" in film after film. The most harrowing experiences she recounts were the vaudeville days. Her father sold her on the basis of her stardom, to be sure, but he also sold her to theatre proprietors on the basis of being a child star who could play continuous shows from early in the day to late at night. This was not only abuse, but amounted to child slavery.

At the same time, her Dad was a rodeo cowboy and occasional stuntman and she shared his love of horses. When it looked like she was "washed up" as a child, he bought a ranch and for a time, she was happy.

Until, of course, her father mismanaged the finances (during the Great Depression no less) and she in watched in sorrow as every piece of the ranch was sold in an auction.

The family tried their fortunes in Hollywood again. Alas, Peggy and her Mom, got work as extras, but Peggy herself did not experience the same kind of adolescent/adult revival as some other stars experienced.

Years later, stardom and Hollywood well behind her, Cary/Peggy became an advocate for the rights of child stars, a historian and also wrote a number of books including "Hollywood's Children: An Inside Account of the Child Star Era" and "Jackie Coogan: The World's Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood's Legendary Child Star" about the lives and histories of similarly exploited kids in the business (as well as a memoir of her own experience "Whatever Happened To Baby Peggy").

No doubt, in homage to her own father, she also wrote a superb book that I've personally read and love entitled "The Hollywood Posse: The Story of a Gallant Band of Horsemen Who Made Movie History".

Now she lives quietly in semi-retirement, but as more and more of her films are discovered and restored, she is frequently honoured at screenings and gets scads of personally addressed fan mail from kids of "all ages". And now you can see this great film about her life and a nice sampling of her films. This is really a lovely little documentary and hats off once again to Milestone Films for adding to the history and heritage of cinema by making this whole package available on one of the finest DVD releases of this (or frankly, any recent year).

"Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room" is available on DVD from Milestone Films and distributed by Oscilloscope.

In USA and the rest of the WORLD - BUY Baby Peggy The Elephant in the Room - HERE!

In Canada - BUY Baby Peggy The Elephant in the Room HERE, eh!

In UK BUY Baby Peggy The Elephant in the Room HERE