Diana Serra Cary, better known during the silent era as Baby Peggy, has died aged 101. The emotive child star was at one point earning a million dollars a year, before her career came to an end at the ripe old age of 6. Most of her films have been lost to time, but included Little Red Riding Hood (1922), Hansel and Gretel (1924), and Captain January (1924). (In 2016 - a print of her 1924 short Our Pet was found in Japan.)
She was worth $4 million by the age of ten, but her parents hadn't saved any of her income. "They had a house in Beverly Hills before I was 3. Then we had a house in Laurel Canyon. The we had a Dusenberg car that was $30,000. But they thought Hollywood was forever."
As a toddler, she worked eight hours a day, six days a week. She was required to perform her own stunts, which included being held underwater until she fainted, and riding underneath a train car.
Her father, a cowboy who brought his family to Hollywood from San Diego when he heard the film industry needed horse-riding stuntmen, had a ferocious temper. His temper tantrums with the studio heads became so bad that his daughter was eventually blackballed from the industry. She made a living in vaudeville from 1925-29. Then a relative who managed her career stole the remainder of their money, leaving the family destitute. She attempted to return to Hollywood once the talkies had come in, but only managed to get a job as an extra in her final film, aged 19, in the Ginger Rogers film Having Wonderful Time (1938).
She later married, divorced, and became a book buyer for the University of California. In her later years she embraced her past stardom, wrote an autobiography in 1996, and was the subject of a documentary Baby Peggy, the Elephant in the Room in 2012. In 2017, at the age of 99, she self-published her first novel Drowning of the Moon. Her husband of 48 years, artist Robert Cary, died in 2003. She is survived by their son, Mark.