Before the triumph of Shirley Temple in the ‘30s, the silent era had its own female child star, Baby Peggy. When Jackie Coogan was at the height of his popularity, his female counterpart was Peggy Montgomery. Baby Peggy’s film career began when she was only two years old. Films were not foreign to her, even at that young age. Her father, a cowboy, was a film stuntman and double for Tom Mix. It was when Montgomery was on the lot with her mother that she was discovered. Montgomery’s films were first shorts where she was soon promptly featured as a main cast member. In between making comedy shorts, Montgomery appeared in a few feature length films as well. Her first credited feature length movie role was fittingly in Penrod (1922), which featured adolescent silent film star, Wesley Barry in the lead. Her first feature length star vehicle was just the next year, The Darling of New York (1923). Montgomery was only five years old when it premiered. The final reel of the film exists, showing a famous fire sequence with Montgomery and Gladys Brockwell. It was that film that proved Montgomery was a bona fide star who could carry her own feature films.
On top of continuing her work in short films, Montgomery’s other films included The Law Forbids (1924), where Montgomery, foreshadowing the kind of roles Deanna Durbin would later make popular, brings her estranged parents back together. There was also Montgomery’s most famous vehicle, Captain January (1924), where she got to share the screen with the very established Hobart Bosworth. Montgomery was also the titular The Family Secret (1924), another one of her surviving movies, along with the delightful Helen’s Babies (1924) where Edward Everett Horton and Clara Bow are tasked with the surprisingly difficult job of babysitting her. By now, Montgomery was pushing the ripe age of six and her box office appeal lessened. Her last silent film was April Fool (1926), where she didn’t even have a distinguishing role.
In the similar Jackie Coogan fashion, Montgomery’s earnings were squandered away by her father’s stepfather. This resulted in Montgomery trying to make a go on vaudeville and back in films in the mid-30s as a teenager. She was credited in 8 Girls in a Boat (1934), but her other roles of the time went uncredited, except for the short Off His Base (1932), which showcased the Gleason family (James, Lucile, and Russell). Montgomery’s financial situation, however, caused her to suffer nervous breakdowns at a young age. Where is one to go after working for years as a child and suddenly finding out they couldn’t do that anymore? Montgomery, instead, found a career outside of the film business, while still incorporating her knowledge of the industry. She became a book publisher and author whose stories were centered around the classic Hollywood glamour. She also penned her own autobiography, cleverly called “What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy?” Not only does saying goodbye to Baby Peggy mean that we are saying goodbye to a famous child star, however, we are also saying goodbye to the silent era. Montgomery was the last living star of the silent film industry whose name alone drew in a crowd back when that’s all that was required to pack a theater. Gone are the Swansons, Keatons, Gilberts, Valentinos, Novarros, Pickfords, Chaneys, and the Baby Peggys.