Sunday, January 24, 2021

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912)

Hello again, kitty cats! I thought it would be a good idea to give you all an idea of what kind of content I will be offering on my new Patreon page. One of the extras will be "Silver Sheet Stories" and the other will be film reviews. I will be viewing available silent films, giving my two cents, as well as including contemporary reviews from those who had the pleasure of seeing them on the big screen. Those lucky so-and-sos!

And, of course, I am working on figuring out merch!

So, that being said, please check out the Patreon page to see if anything there strikes your fancy. I wish I had the time to do all of this extra content for free, but with a full-time job from home that now includes added responsibilities, it takes a lot more to churn out extra content. Every little bit helps, and I cannot thank you enough for the support.


My first choice for a film review may seem like an interesting choice, so let me explain a little bit as to why I chose it. Florence La Badie was the first actress I wrote about when I started this blog in 2010. She really was my muse in the creation of this blog. Reading her story and seeing her pictures made me sad that she was barely remembered today, and there are so many others like her. Therefore, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss one of her films on my first film review entry. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912) is the one I have seen the most and tend to always associate with her. I wish it was a full length film and not just a little over 11 minutes, but, it's what we have to work with!

This film was the second American screen adaptation of the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. The first was made in 1908 and starred Hobart Bosworth as the titular character(s). The 1912 version was made for Thanhouser Studio and starred James Cruze as Jekyll/Hyde and Florence La Badie as his sweetheart (referred to in the film as "the minister's daughter). It also features silent film child actress, Marie Eline, who basically is just in the film for Cruze to bump into on the street, as well as Jane Gail, Harry Benham, and Marguerite Snow as extras.

Florence La Badie and unidentified actor

In a 1963 magazine article, Harry Benham stated that he also appeared as Mr. Hyde in some scenes of this film. However, upon watching, it appears as if it is just Cruze throughout the whole thing. It could be that the makeup was just that good and the low quality of the print that we aren't able to distinguish the two actors. OR, perhaps, there are reels of film that no longer exist that contain extended footage that include Benham's portrayal. 

The film is pretty straightforward, and it kinda has to be to cover the crux of the novel in just 11 minutes. A Cliff's Notes version, if you will. Jekyll takes "drugs" to test their effects, Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde, Hyde terrorizes town, Hyde poisons himself to end the terrifying ordeal, ending both sides of the man. Novel in a nutshell!

James Cruze as Dr. Jekyll and possibly Harry Benham as Mr. Hyde

In the January 1912 issue of Moving Picture News, reporter Margaret I. MacDonald had this to say about the film: "One of the finest releases which the Thanhouser company has ever put out is the release of...Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Nothing that has been recently released has impressed me any more strongly than this wonderful picture...To the intelligent person this picture is a wonderful lesson. Those familiar with the story from which the picture was made will be thrice impressed by its reproduction on the screen, where a startling moral stares at one with such vivid intensity that you can almost hear a still, small voice asking, 'Is this you?'"

The film was well received by critics and audiences alike. But, just to show you how filmmaking worked during these early days, another adaptation came out the following year. This adaptation starred King Baggot. The next American adaptation would be in 1920, with John Barrymore as the titular character.

James Cruze and Florence La Badie

Comparing this to the feature length Barrymore version in 1920, this version is going to leave you wanting. But, I think it is important to view this version for a number of reasons. First, you get to see Florence La Badie looking beautiful on screen. Florence appeared in almost 200 films before she died in a tragic car accident in 1917. Any chance to view 'Fearless Flo' on screen is a treat. Second, even if it is brief, we are able to see a pretty good performance from James Cruze. Considering this film was made in 1912, in the early years of filmmaking, it is impressive to see how emotive these actors could be, in and out of grotesque makeup. 

James Cruze as Mr. Hyde

Here's the thing about James Cruze, however. Him portraying Jekyll and Hyde is pretty symbolic for the man he was on and off camera. On camera, or even behind while directing, Cruze was very talented. He had over 100 film credits under his belt as an actor, directed over 70 films, and produced thirty. Needless to say, he was quite busy in the 1910s. Away from filmmaking, Cruze was a whole other story.

James Cruze

James Cruze was married three times, two of which were to actresses. His first marriage was to actress Marguerite Snow in 1912. The couple had one child together, a daughter, Julie, born in 1913. Marguerite filed for divorce in 1923, citing cruelty, telling the courts that Cruze repeatedly beat her. She also accused him of being "continually drunk." One incident of abuse she highlighted occurred in 1921 while the couple was attending a party. After most of the guests departed, Cruze reportedly beat Marguerite so badly that he knocked out one of her teeth. What caused him to snap? According to Marguerite, all she did was ask if he could take one of her friends home. The couple separated after this incident, and Marguerite filed for divorce two years later. She won custody of their daughter in the suit as well as alimony and child support. 

Marguerite Snow

Cruze's second marriage was no better. In 1924, he married actress Betty Compson. She filed for divorce from him in 1930, claiming, like the previous Mrs. Cruze, that he was always drunk and throwing "wild and endless parties at their home." She told newspapers that the separation was amicable, however, and that "Jim is the best fellow in the world." What she failed to mention to the public was that her marriage to Cruze left her broke. During their marriage (and probably even before) Cruze just didn't feel the need to pay his income taxes. Because of this, both Cruze and Betty were sued by the government, forcing them to sell their home, cars, and other items of value they had accumulated. I don't think I would leave this situation in a very amicable mood. 

Betty Compson

Around the time of his second divorce, Cruze sued an artist he had commissioned to paint his portrait. Cruze was not pleased with how the artist, John Decker, painted him, saying he made him look like "a frog and a gargoyle." Because of his disgust with the work, he refused to pay for it. In response, Decker painted prison bars over the portrait and displayed it in his shop window with a sign saying, "James Cruze in jail for refusing to pay his debts." Decker was pretty amused by the whole thing, saying that as the artist, he could paint someone however he wanted. "When a man employs an artist to paint a portrait it is up to the artist to do his worst as he sees best. If Cruze wanted some wishy-washy, sloppy sentimental portrait of himelf, he could have had a photograph taken or hire a two-bit painter to do it. I gave him a work of interpretative art." Cruze was pretty pissed at this and sought damages from Decker, but the case appears to have been thrown out.

Another case of Mr. Hyde/Cruze in litigation came when he sued his 24 year old daughter in 1938. He stated in his claim that he had given his daughter some properties because, as he stated, "...I had heart trouble. I thought I might die at any time and I wanted to fix the property so it would go to my daughter." One of the things that seemed to get Cruze's goat was the fact that his daughter gave a piece of property to her mother, Marguerite Snow, who had fallen on hard times. Cruze also claimed that his daughter was unfit to handle the properties due to her problems with drugs (Julie was arrested for possession of morphine earlier that year). He stated that he she obviously needed a guardian, or he wanted the properties back. Julie claimed that the properties were deeded to her and were therefore hers fair and square. She won the suit. Father and daughter may have reconciled by the time of their deaths, however. Cruze died in 1942 and, sadly, Julie died just three years later from pneumonia. Both were cremated and their ashes interred in the same vessel. I hope they reconciled beforehand, otherwise this is kind of a questionable thing to do. 

Julie Cruze


What do you think of 1912's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this film, as well as the stars. 

Check out the film below!



Sunday, January 10, 2021

Silver Sheet Stories - Francis Boggs

 Wow! It has been a minute (give or take a few years) since I have written a blog post here. But, I thought it would be a good idea to give everyone an idea of what kind of content I will be offering on my new Patreon page. One of the the things will be something like this which I am calling "Silver Sheet Stories." These stories are going to highlight lesser known figures from the silent film era that I think deserve to have their stories told. I am, however debating back and forth on whether or not I want these to be written stories or turn them into mini podcast episodes. You'll have to let me know which you would prefer!

One of the other things I will be offering through Patreon is silent film movie reviews. I would like to set up a discussion board for that so you guys can weigh in as well. I would also like to include a grave tour (of sorts) to highlight my over 1000 celebrity grave photos.

And, of course, I am working on figuring out merch!

So, that being said, please check out the Patreon page to see if anything there strikes your fancy. I wish I had the time to do all of this extra content for free, but with a full-time job from home with added responsibilities, it takes a lot more to churn out extras.

Thank you again for your continued support of Silence is Platinum! I hope you enjoy reading the first Silver Sheet story about director Francis Boggs.


Francis Boggs

Francis Winter Boggs was born March 28, 1870 in Santa Rosa, California. He was the second of five children born to George and Alabama McMeans Boggs (how cool was mom's name?!)

Frank, as he was known to family and friends, began acting on stage when he was a teenager. While touring with a troupe he landed in Chicago where he met up and coming film producer, William Selig. The two became friends as well as a creative dynamic duo. Selig's name probably sounds familiar if you have heard of the Selig Polyscope studio. Well, he's the Selig! And it was Frank who helped him expand the studio, first by making films for Selig and then by expanding the company. Their first film together was The Two Orphans (1907), which was based off of a French novel of the same name. 

William Selig

In 1908, Boggs directed The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays, the first screen adaptation of L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz book series. This short was interesting because it wasn't just a moving picture. The short included magic lantern slides (the precursor to films), Baum appearing on screen as a silent narrator, and even an original score. Sadly, this film is lost...because of course it is.

One interesting note about Fairylogue is the actress who played Dorothy. Ten year old Romola Remus was the daughter of George Remus, a famous bootlegger. Remus made headlines in 1927 after he shot and killed his second wife, Imogene, in the middle of Eden Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. Quite the background story for the first onscreen Dorothy Gale! (For a more in depth story about Remus, I HIGHLY recommend the book The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen Abbott.)

Still from The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays
ANYWAY! Back to Boggs! In 1909, Frank was in Los Angeles working on what would be the first motion picture made entirely on the west coast. In the Sultan's Power would be shot in a lot in what is now known as the Los Angeles Jewelry District. The short featured some of the earliest actors in silent film: Hobart Bosworth, Tom Santschi, and Betty Harte. Boggs served as director. 

His next short, Ben's Kid, wasn't anything significant at the time. However, it is significant now for being the film debut of Mr. Roscoe Arbuckle, playing a character named "Fatty Carter."

Filming at Selig Polyscope Studio in Edendale, California
These films, along with at least 100 more that Bogg's directed (one report stated it may have been over 200!) were all for the Los Angeles branch of the Selig Polyscope Company, which still had it's home base in Chicago. Boggs set up the west coast branch at the behest of Selig, and, clearly, he was doing a great job manning the helm! I mean, honestly, look at the filmographies of these early film pioneers. Most of the directors, performers, writers, etc. had at LEAST 100 credits to their name. Yes, the films were much shorter, but, still, that is very impressive. It's one of the things I love most about the silent film era, how hard these trailblazers worked.

Street views of the Selig Polyscope studio in Edendale, California

Like many early filmmakers of the early 1900s, most of his films are lost. However, at least two of his films are available to watch on YouTube: The Sergeant (1910), featuring Hobart Bosworth and Iva Shepard, and The Blacksmith's Love (1911), featuring Tom Santschi and Eugenie Besserer.  

Unfortunately, this hardworking director's career was cut short in what is considered to be the first murder in filmdom.

Boggs (with his back to the camera) directing a 1910 short.


On Friday, October 27, 1911, Boggs, studio business manager J.L. McGee, and William Selig were having a meeting inside Boggs' office, when, out of nowhere, a shot rang out. Boggs' secretary, E.H. Philbook, and actors Tom Santschi and Hobart Bosworth, who were in an adjoining room, ran to see what the hell was going on. At least four more shots rang out. One shot went into the arm of Selig, while another narrowly missed hitting Santschi. A third was reportedly shot toward actress Bessie Eyton, who had also heard the gunshots and come running. The fourth bullet was fired wildly and went through a wall. Santschi dove for the shooter to try and wrestle the gun away from him. The shooter tried to fire off another shot, but the gun apparently jammed. So, instead, he went for a small dagger he had on his person, but Bosworth and Philbrook swooped in and helped to disarm and restrain him. Either Selig or Santschi managed to grab the gun and hit the shooter in the face with it, knocking him unconscious in the melee. 

Hobart Bosworth

Bessie Eyton

Tom Santschi

The first cop on the scene was said to have heard the gunfire and had galloped over on his horse to check it out. The officer managed to slap handcuffs on the subdued shooter and placed him under arrest. He was actually handcuffed to the officer at one point in the front seat of the ambulance used to transport the victims to the hospital. 

Some reports indicated that Boggs died instantly, while another claimed he died enroute to the hospital from TWO gunshot wounds. Another newspaper reported that hospital staff told them that Boggs was expected to recover! (I could preface almost every statement in this entry with "according to some reports," honestly.) But, if we are to believe that Boggs was shot straight through the heart, he either died instantly or within seconds. I don't think he held on long enough for the ambulance to arrive. William Selig only sustained the through and through wound to his arm and made a full recovery. 

So. What the hell happened?! Who was the shooter?! Why did he go on a shooting rampage?? The "who" was Frank Minnimatsu, a 29 year old Japanese gardener/janitor for the studio. Unfortunately, I do need to make note of the fact that he was Japanese since that was a HUGE part of the sensational headlines reporting the murder. The senseless shooting was bad enough, but newspapers seemed to think the fact that the shooter was Japanese was a part of the problem. 

Frank Minnimatsu
Minnimatsu seems to have had a Jekyll and Hyde reputation around the studio. Some referred to him as the "gentleman janitor" because of how polite he was. While others saw him as a violent, crazed drunk. According to May Boggs, the widow of Frank Boggs, Frank's sister, Florence, had stated "...[Minnimatsu] was treacherous, but [Frank] thought he would be alright." This premonition of Florence's came after an incident four months prior to the murder where a drunken Minnimatsu shot at the gas tank of a car parked on the studio lot and attacked another employee. According to May Boggs, Frank gave Minnimatsu another chance because he showed remorse for his actions. "They could not have that kind of fellow around where there were so many films and he was discharged. After capturing him and placing him in handcuffs they found an empty whiskey bottle he had been drinking from and I am afraid that is the trouble this time. A short time ago he came back and asked to be forgiven, and Frank took him back into employment."

When May Boggs had the chance to confront Minnimatsu (most likely at the police station) she asked him why he had killed her husband. He replied, "He was a bad man, so I killed him." Minnimatsu also apparently told police that he had been waiting for six months for the chance to kill the director, but that "He was a good friend to me, but an old man told me he was a bad man, so I killed him." Friends would later tell newspapers that Minnimatsu had spoken of the need to kill three bad men in order to get into heaven. If it isn't clear already, the "gentleman janitor" suffered from unspecified mental illness.

Minnimatsu was charged with first degree murder in the death of Francis Boggs. From what police were able to piece together, the shooting was something that had been planned at least a few month beforehand. Although he usually carried a knife, the gun used was apparently taken from the studio prop room. (Back in the days when you just had loaded guns on sets!) Minnimatsu had been drinking for most of the day and pretending to work, when in actuality he was keeping a close eye on Boggs. When he saw his chance, he fired into the office, aiming specifically for Boggs. Santschi, Selig, Bosworth, Eyton, Philbrook, and McGee were lucky to have escaped with only one receiving a minor bullet wound.

Frank Minnimatsu
In December, just two months after the shooting, Frank Minnimatsu was found guilty of first degree murder. It took the jury just seven minutes to come back with the verdict. He was sentenced to life in prison, escaping the death penalty due to his mental health. He was sent to San Quentin Prison in San Rafael, California, where he would continue working as a gardener on the prison grounds. He actually came up for parole a few times, but he reportedly refused it, fearing he would be deported back to Japan. He died in 1937 when he was around 55 years old (his exact birthdate is unknown) and is buried in the prison cemetery. 

May Boggs had her husband's body taken back to Chicago and buried at Graceland Cemetery. 


A little more about the man behind the camera...

Frank Boggs was married twice. He married his first wife, actress Lillian Hayward, in 1895. They had a son, Edwin, the following year. Sadly, Edwin passed away in 1918 from pneumonia shortly he arrived in France to serve his country during World War I. A notice of his death lists that he had an 11 year old sister, Jacqueline, but I can't find any other mention of her. Frank and Lillian would eventually divorce, but I don't know the year.
Lillian Hayward
His second wife was actress May Hosmer, who he married in 1907. Although May married again after Frank's death, when she died just eight years later, she was buried next to him in Chicago.

May Hosmer-Boggs
Motography magazine had an entire page dedicated to the memory of  Frank in their December 1911 issue. "Real tragedy, as grim as any that ever brought tears to the eyes of the picture theater devotee, has visited the ranks of the motion picture men since Motography last issued. A producer of the silent drama in its highest conception has been cut down in the midst of his usefulness by the act of a mad man."

The name and work of Francis Boggs just seemed to evaporate as the years went on. But those who knew him made sure that he was remembered. In a 1929 interview with the Los Angeles Evening Express, Hobart Bosworth spoke about his dearly departed friend. "...There was a bright, smiling little gentleman named Francis Boggs who later met death at the hands of an insane Japanese gardener. Boggs was the first great motion picture figure. Don't forget him as many others have done for he was a genius and contributed more to the advancement of motion pictures in the pioneer days than any other man...Francis Boggs and I became fast friends and he saved my life by continuing to use me as a leading man in his pictures..."

Francis Boggs

"Don't forget him as many others have done for he was a genius..."


Find a Grave (specifically Bobb Edwards)

Monday, February 24, 2020

Baby Peggy Interview

On February 14th I had the honor to sit down with Diana Serra Cary aka Baby Peggy of silent film fame. Needless to say this didn't just make for the best Valentine's Day ever, but it also made for one of the best days ever. Diana and her son Mark were so gracious and kind to allow me to drive up and spend almost four hours with them in their home, and I am forever grateful. 

Diana Serra Cary and yours truly with a big ole cheesy grin.
My interview differs from others out there because although I did come with questions written for her in my notebook, I really just wanted to sit and listen to what she had to say. Diana has tons of stories not just about silent films, but about growing up during the 1920's, current politics, and libraries and books (we bonded over our love of books and being librarians). Being a silent film fan and having the opportunity to meet and speak with a woman who was there during that time and knew the players, I was just in awe. I still kind of am when I think about it. 

I hope you enjoy reading this interview and also learn something new from what she had to say. 

I first wanted to ask about her early life before she began acting, which isn't a long time at all considering the fact that she was barely two years old when she first appeared on screen. "Growing up, we lived in two tents. My father was a ranger. He helped build the trails in the Grand Canyon. He was the one who took dynamite and mules and lumber down to rebuild the trails. It was very dangerous work and he did this for $18.00 an week."

"One of the reasons we were so obedient was that our mother and father had trained us to respond to a snap of the fingers and 'Don't do that!'" Diana then told me the story about how effective this discipline was on her and her older sister, Louise. One day, Louise was around a year old and was playing outside when her mother saw a rattlesnake near where Louise was running around. Marian barked at her daughter, "Louise Montgomery, you get in here right now!" So, what may have seemed like a harsh command was really Marian's way of getting her daughter to safety without frightening her. This 'training' would come in handy later when Baby Peggy was on set.

"I never had a childhood friend, never. I never went to school, neither did my sister. She had to pay the penalty too because she was associated with me. She didn't get the benefits, she didn't get to pay the price. I didn't get the benefits either, but I got to pay the price. I was the work horse. My sister and I were never asked that crucial question, 'What are you doing to do when you grow up?' I was gonna be Baby Peggy forever. That was it. There was no Democratic feel to our family's table. I simply occupied a house and did what I was told. I was the breadwinner. My sister eventually blacked out a lot of her life. It was so stressful because she was in competition with me. She developed a real inferiority complex."

Eventually, the family moved west to Los Angeles. The rugged wilderness homestead was proving to be a little too much for Marian Montgomery, and she wanted a safer place for her daughters to grow up. Not to mention the fact that there were often wild animals roaming around and sometimes the family would wake up with an inch of snow on their beds!

"My father and a couple of his cowboy friends would meet at a waterhole saloon and they gathered and were there for calls for jobs. And they were known to be there, and that was the first place to get film extras. He got a job and ended up as a stunt double for Tom Mix. And he would come home with all these exciting stories about what was happening at the studio and mother had never been to a studio, so she was curious as to how movies were made." 

One day, a friend of Marian's, who just happened to work in movies, came by and asked if she would like to go with her to the movie studio to pick up her paycheck. Marian was curious about what a movie set would be like, and so she went with her friend to the studio, with her two young daughters in tow. During that time, most film studios were in barns, and so Marian told her daughters to sit on two stools outside of the barn door and not to move while she went and watched some of the movie making action. The girls were trained well because they didn't move or make a sound, even when a director approached Peggy because he thought her to be quite adorable. He was impressed by the little girl's obedience and told Marian so. He told her to give her number to the secretary so they could be in touch about getting the little girl a screen test. 

Now, Marian was quite scared to go home and tell her husband that not only was she on a film set, had given her phone number to a stranger, AND that his youngest daughter was wanted for a screen test. "Father considered women who were actresses a form of prostitute, which was true in many cases. It was not well spoken of. He didn't want my mother near a studio!" Marian had to reassure her husband, "I swear to God I didn't do anything! Peggy was just sitting there!" 

The role that Peggy was wanted for was opposite a dog named Brownie in a series of shorts. When she first met the dog, he ran through the door without any warning from the director and this of course made the little girl cry. "'She's not afraid of a dog,'" my father told them. And of course, my father being a typical stunt man, he didn't want a daughter who was afraid of anything. Father even had me feed one of the big grizzly bears on set, which is something that they refused to let even tourists do! I was reasonably scared, but I didn't show it. Father wouldn't accept that." The dog and toddler eventually became great pals, and Diana said she loved working with him and that he was very smart. 

For being so young at the time she was making movies, Diana has (and is lauded for) her incredible memory about what it was like making films during the silent era. "I remember a lot of infinitesimal, small things. I was taught very early on and I paid a lot of attention to those things and one of the reasons I was so popular as a child actor was because I had such expressions. I could do the emotions and I could imitate the people even though I didn't look like them. It's because I had the equipment facially. And of course I worked with people who had years and years and years of stage work." One of those people was actor Hobart Bosworth, who she was very fond of. "I liked him immediately and so I started asking about his life and I learned all about him. I don't think half the people in Hollywood knew anything about him, but I wanted to learn the whole story! He was telling me, 'I had to learn that my gestures were too broad and they were broad so they could be seen from the back row, since you couldn't see facial expressions on the stage.'"

When I asked her whether or not she knew she was working when she was on set, she responded with a very emphatic, "Yes!" Her mother, however, spun a very different story for the newspapers and magazines. "'Peggy doesn't know she is working. She thinks she is playing. All little girls like to make up stories and pretend.' I knew I was working. For years my mother was condemned as a stage mother, even though she was ignorant about how movies were made. She made up stories all of her life so she could have a better background."

She recalled a story that her sister told her when they were older about the moment she knew that Peggy had 'drank the Kool-Aid' and knew she was a special child. "I was about three and a half and one Monday morning we didn't go to work. There had been a rainstorm and the set was loused up. We were at home in Beverly Hills and there was a big ruckus next door. All of these kids were making noise. I asked what that noise was and Louise said there was some kids next door. I got on a box and looked out the window and saw that they were having a party. 'It's a weekday,' I said. 'Why aren't they working?' She said that she realized then that I had taken the poison. That I knew what was expected of me. If I wasn't working, no one would eat, and I knew that. The connection was impossible to separate. She knew then that I knew what I was doing. It was work. We went to work at 8 a.m. and worked six days a week like everyone else. Why would I think it's playing? I didn't know what playing was!"

During her career, Baby Peggy had the chance to work with some big names in silent film, one of whom is a favorite of mine, Clara Bow. Baby Peggy appeared in the 1924 Clara Bow film, Helen's Babies, and I knew going into the interview that I wanted to ask her about what it was like working with the It Girl of the time (of all time in my opinion). Diana told me that while she appeared with many different people on screen, the only ones she really remembered are the ones she worked with on multiple occasions and because she and Clara only shared the screen for this one film, she didn't really remember her. What she did have to say was that she remembered her being kind. 

Another question I had for her in regards to Helen's Babies was a scene in which five year old Baby Peggy drops from a tree branch hanging over the road into the car that Clara is driving in. I told her that I couldn't believe a five year old was given that kind of stunt to perform because that would be unheard of today! "The little girl I was with [Jeanne Carpenter] refused to do it. She dropped out of the stunt and I had contempt for her from then on. So, father said I was gonna have to do it alone and I remember I was scared to death of that drop, and it was our own car! It was my father's Dusenberg! How that simple family in the film got that car is beyond me, but no one thought about that at the time I guess."

Edward Everett Horton, Baby Peggy, and Clara Bow in Helen's Babies (1924)

While Baby Peggy knew she was working on film sets, she said she later found out by observation and interviews that the male child stars seemed to have had a better time acting. "The boys, they had a ball in films because this boy, a friend of mine, Frank Coghlan, in this film [The Yankee Clipper] was hired and he had the whole run of the picture. Frank told me stories about making this film, he never forgot. For example, he saw Douglas Fairbanks make the drop from that old sailing ship on a rope and he said when he came out his hands were bloody. Both hands were bleeding profusely. He soon became a pal of Fairbanks. All of these things were pluses for a boy of eight or ten years old. They were wild!"

On the opposite end of the spectrum, she recounted tales of stories told to her by female child stars Shirley Temple and Judy Garland, who had a harder time of it. "Their mothers only prayed to God they would have someone like me! In fact, women used to come into the bank in Santa Monica where Mr. Temple worked and ask him to sire a child with him so they could have another Shirley Temple. He got so embarrassed, he couldn't even make up a good answer. Mrs. Temple got $1000 a week from the studio just for curling Shirley's little curls and teaching her her lines every night. You know, when Shirley talked, it was Mama talking little girl talk. That was the way she taught her lines and that's why Shirley talked baby talk almost until she was a grown child."

"I found out from Judy Garland that her mother played the piano in a theater that her family owned and she said her mother had played for all of my films and it was always her dream that she would get a child star and she worked to make Judy a star so that she would be a big salary earner. She learned all that from watching my films. And I thought, 'Oh my God!' It was going on for other children too and I told her that was terrible."

When she was just eight years old, her career was over. Her father reportedly told off the wrong person at the wrong time, and with that his daughter's career was gone, along with all of the earnings she made during her years on screen. To this day, Diana still has no idea what happened to her earnings, which would have been around $600,000. After that, Baby Peggy and her days as a beloved child star of film were forbidden to be mentioned. The Montgomery family still had to eat, however, so Jack went back to being a stunt double in westerns and Baby Peggy was put on the vaudeville stage. "I never took a vacation on vaudeville. I worked seven days a week. There were three shows a day, but during the holidays you worked four shows a day and sometimes on top of that there was a vaudeville benefit for the National Vaudeville Association for tubercular cases. That was the hardest part of my life. That was the toughest period." When I asked her why she was the one who had to work so hard and not her parents she said, "My father worked with me in the act and I think that helped him keep his manly pride."

Like many child actors then and now, Diana went back to the studios as a young adult to try and get work, but using her Baby Peggy name was not the way to do it. According to her, if you were an actor in silents, you didn't mention it. "People asked me in my teens how I could remember anything about making films and I said I remembered everything about making them. I never had any problem with that, but many child stars had that denial thing. They didn't want people to think they started out like that. Many times, and I did it too, I ended up denying that I had ever been in movies. People don't realize that denial was a big problem. I remember Mary Jane Irving and I were photographed together in one still that's very famous and I remember she was right next to me in this photograph and everyone knew her and they said we must know each other. They think we all knew each other, but I had never heard of her and never worked with her before. I still never got her story. I was introduced to Baby Marie Osborne by Richard Lamparski [author of the 'Whatever Became Of...' book series] and I didn't even know who she was! Her time was before mine on screen. I didn't like her at the time because she had worked with Ginger Rogers' mother and later had the blessing to be Ginger's stand-in. I thought, 'I could have been someone's stand-in!'"

"There are so many sad stories, it was overwhelming. Sometimes when I go to sleep at night, I think about them, and the most depressing ones are the ones that shouldn't have gotten mixed up in it. They paid a terrible price for it. To me, they were all cautionary tales. Perhaps I assumed it because I lived it. Not all of my stories are negative, but the one you get caught in is a negative story." She then went on to tell me more stories of child stars she had known and interviewed. "I had a terrific crush on Frankie Darro. Frankie ended up living in the same apartment he grew up in, a hopeless alcoholic. Just tragic. His was the most tragic life of all. So many of the children came to me to write down their stories because they couldn't remember their stories. They squelched them. They made up new ones or trimmed up the old ones. Most of them were children invented as child stars. Their parents dragged them to the studios."

One of the greatest things about interviewing someone born in 1918 is that you get to hear about what it was like going from silent pictures to talkies and from talkies to television. "Hollywood fought television. They wouldn't allow a t.v. set to be seen in any MGM movie. It couldn't be shown in the background. There WAS no television. That is how violently opposed they were. My parents would never have allowed me to go on t.v. because they were so devoted to the industry, and since the industry was opposed, it would have been suicidal. But, like Jackie Coogan said, if it hadn't been for television, he would have starved to death. When he was older that was the only place he could go!" She went on to tell me more about Jackie and his career as a child star. "MGM had blacklisted him, he was blackballed because his father was so obnoxious. Jack Coogan Sr. wanted to be Jackie's pal, not his father. MGM hated his father and they took it out on Jackie. He was blackballed for 18 years and the only place he could work for was Monogram or Mascot on Poverty Row. Chaplin kept Jackie under contract for a year after The Kid so he couldn't capitalize on his fame. So for one full year he couldn't do anything but go to school or stay home and he was the talk of the town! He was responsible for the success of that movie!" 

Another pal of hers was Roddy McDowall, who I was so excited to hear about because I was a big fan of his. Roddy was not just a wonderful actor, but he also cared about the preservation of films. In fact, it was he who bought the headstone that now marks the resting place of the actress who is considered by many to be the first real movie star, Florence Lawrence. "Roddy was the only person I knew who knew everyone's secrets. There's a library in Boston where he put a file full of secrets. No one can access that file for fifty years, so all the secrets are safe. He wouldn't spill the beans on anyone. He was scrupulous. He was the only one of the child stars who never lost their head. He was just a cool person."

Something else I was interested in talking to Diana about was what it was like growing up during the 1920's. She had so many stories and tidbits to share about the invention of the telephone, learning to drive, and dating during that time. "My sister couldn't even date until she was twenty because father wouldn't allow it. Fathers believed they had a job to not let their daughters go out with a boy in a car who could take them to a dark theater and give them the once over. The theater was the place where you would be made. And teaching your daughters how to drive was like making her a prostitute. She didn't have to walk the streets, she could drive the streets! My father never taught my sister or me how to drive, and my mother could never drive. He refused to let her. I remember the sister-in-law of Alice Roosevelt [Theodore Roosevelt's eldest daughter] asked Alice, 'What is your behavior like in a buggy on a date? How do you keep the horses from getting spooked?' and Alice replied, 'Anything is okay as long as it doesn't scare the horses.' 

"The telephone was another under evaluated situation. You never knew who was talking to your daughter. She may be making dates!"

"A woman cutting her hair was just unheard of. She never let her hair down because that signaled she was getting ready for bed or ready for a seduction. The average woman could never meet a man at the door if her hair was down. Nice girls met boys at the door with their hair done up and pompadoured. And my parents fought furiously over these milestones!" 

As our time together was winding down, I wanted to ask her her thoughts on coming to terms with being Peggy Montgomery, Baby Peggy and Diana Serra Cary at the same time. "I've gone through a period with that child where she was the only person I could afford to get mad at. I knew from the age of four that I was a separate person in a way. I never bought the person on the screen. I knew that she was projected by me, but I didn't occupy her. It never occurred to me that she was working for me and she remembered all these little things and I realized I had made a terrible mistake because it was she who was providing me with all the stories, the things nobody keeps record of."

I can't state enough how lucky I feel to have been able to sit down and talk to Diana about her experiences and how amazing it was that she opened up to me about so many topics. Hearing someone you admire so much call you a 'friend' and a 'sister' is incredible, and I look forward to visiting with her again. 

And, in the spirit of the current presidential elections I want to share Diana's take on the current candidates...because it is amazing. "I hope Hilary wins because I don't want any of the other idiots in the Republican party to win. It's not even the Republican party anymore. It's a hodge podge of evangelicals and tea parties." 

Cheers to that! 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Silence is Platinum: Episode 6

We are slowly making our way through the series devoted to silent film actors and actresses who died before they were able to appear in a talkie. The purpose of this series to break the silence permanently put on these performers so they can be remembered 100+ years after their deaths.

I hope you enjoy the latest episode dedicated to four silent film actors and actresses who lost their lives in the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Four bright stars whose lights were dimmed far too soon...


True Boardman, Jr.



Still of Vera lying in state from the film made about her funeral.