Two thumbs up for this engrossing, sometimes shocking, memoir of life as a child actor during the silent-movie era.
The real-life tale of Baby Peggy makes the fictional Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? seem tame in comparison. Discovered in 1921 at the ripe old age of 19 months, Cary (Hollywood Children, 1978, etc.)then known as Baby Peggyquickly became one of Hollywood's most popular stars. By the age of five, she'd made 150 comedy two- reelers and a handful of features, earning hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. By the time she was six, her fame had peaked, and a reasonably successful vaudeville tour and several adolescent comeback attempts did little to stop her slide into penurious anonymity. As former child actor Paul Peterson once observed, "Fame is a dangerous drug and should be kept out of the reach of children." In Baby Peggy's case, fame should also have been kept away from her parents. Backstage parents from hell, they insisted on closely controlling every aspect of her life (her father, a cowboy, believed in raising children the way you would break a horse). But their own lives soon spiraled into chaotic excess as they freely spent her substantial wealth on themselves. What money remained was stolen by an unsavory assortment of relatives and managers. Soon, in the depths of the Depression, there literally was nothing left, and the family was forced to rely on charity. It was only the independence of adulthood that gave Cary the ability to finally break free from her parents and her old identity and go on to put together a reasonably normal life as a bookseller and writer. Her story drags a little here, but considering the suicides, serial marriages, and disastrous addictions that have afflicted so many former child stars, normalcy in itself is a remarkable achievement.
Hollywood memoirs just don't get any better than this.