Such is Life
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Such Is Life (1924) was one of eleven films that starred Baby Peggy in 1924. Ironically, it was the same year that her meteoric film career came to a crashing halt. Produced for Century Pictures by Abe and Julius Stern and released by Universal, Such Is Life was a two-reel comedy short directed by Alfred Goulding. Goulding had worked with Baby Peggy many times before, including Hansel and Gretel and Carmen, Jr. both 1923, and after Such Is Life, the team would make one final film, Peg O' the Mounted (1924). Also in the cast was nine-year-old Tommy Wonder, with whom she had danced in Carmen, Jr..
Such Is Life was loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl, which was the film's original working title, along with Little Miss Spunk. However, unlike Andersen's tale, in which the little girl dies in the snow, no Baby Peggy film could have a tragic ending.
Peggy-Jean Montgomery was only five years old when this film was made. Despite being such a young child at the time, some of her memories of working in Hollywood are still vivid, particularly those that involved the dangerous stunts she did (for which she was insured with Lloyds of London for $250,000) or unusual situations. Of Such Is Life, she can recall only one scene, which she shot with co-star Joe Bonner. Her hair and clothes were covered in fake snow, made out of oatmeal. "Oppressed by a terrible misery, I sat in a doorway where I was freezing in the snow."
Life after "Baby Peggy" resembled the poverty-stricken Little Match Girl. She'd been in films from the age of 19 months and was the biggest female child star of the 1920s. By 1923, she was receiving 1,700,000 fan letters a year and the studio had to employ five secretaries to answer them. Baby Peggy's films were reliable at the box office and the public was taken with the little girl with the dark eyes, chubby cheeks and page-boy hairdo. Like Shirley Temple and Judy Garland who followed after her, Baby Peggy was rushed into film after film. And, like Garland, she later endured decades of personal problems, caused by having been forced to perform as a child and missing out on a normal life. These problems were compounded by the fact that her father mismanaged her money and her step-grandfather literally cleaned out her home and her bank account, leaving the family penniless. This came just at the moment when her father had broken her contract with Universal, claiming he'd been cheated out money from her personal appearances. Blackballed in the industry and unable to find more than extra work in motion pictures, the former Baby Peggy worked in vaudeville until the advent of talking pictures. She was a has-been at 10.
Unlike Judy Garland and many other former child stars, Baby Peggy - who changed her name to Diana Serra Cary - was a survivor. She had a long and successful marriage, and later became a respected author and historian. Now in her mid-90s, she is enjoying a new-found popularity at film festivals around the world and has made peace with Baby Peggy at last.
Producer: Abe Stern, Julius Stern
Director: Alfred J. Goulding
Cast: Baby Peggy, Joe Bonner, Thomas Wonder, Jack Henderson, Arnold MacDonald, Paul Stanhope
Exhibitors Herald Dec 1923
Exhibitors Herald Mar 1924
Goldrup, Tom and Goldrup, Jim Growing Up on the Set: Interviews With 39 Former Child Actors of Classic Film and Television
Iwerebor, Vera Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room
Lussier, Tim "Baby Peggy: An Interview with Diana Serra Cary"
Photoplay Magazine March 1924
Robinson, David "Interview with Diana Serra Cary"
Villecco, Tony Silent Stars Speak: Interviews With Twelve Cinema Pioneers