In the early days of the cinema, the world was hungry for stars. People were enamored by the hilarious stunts of Charlie Chaplin, the sultry expressions of Greta Garbo, and the thousand faces of Lon Chaney. There was one vacancy, however, for the spot of a famous child — until executives discovered Baby Peggy.
No one was immune to the charms of the round-faced little girl with moxie to spare. But while Baby Peggy was featured in every theater, her day-to-day life was hardly fit for an adult, let alone an innocent child. Blazing the trail for future child stars came at a heavy price that she never would have chosen if given the choice.
In 1918 Jack and Marian Montgomery welcomed their second baby girl, Peggy-Jean Montgomery. While the nuns at the hospital suggested they name her the traditionally Christian name Margaret, they had a good feeling about Peggy.
Coast News / Diana Serra Cary
As Peggy grew, her dark wavy hair filled out and face became increasingly cherubic. Everybody was charmed by this above average adorable baby. Her cuteness also came from her nature: perceptive, sweet, funny, and most importantly, well behaved.
University of Washington Digital Collections
The California couple hadn’t planned on getting their beautiful baby in show business, but they weren’t entirely strangers to the industry. Jack was a real life cowboy who pivoted to using his talents in the relatively new world of filmmaking.
Olean Times Herald / Tom Mix Museum
This was smack dab in the Silent Era of the 20s, when movies were gathering steam, raking in money, and becoming the coolest thing in the world. So when Marian Montgomery’s friend offered to take her along to a film set, she didn’t wait to arrange a babysitter.
KCET / USC Libraries / California Historical Societies
Marian carried a quietly obedient 19-month-old Peggy around the Century Studios set. The toddler made not a peep, and the right people took notice. Peggy herself explained how her life changed in a 1999 interview with the website Silents Are Golden.
“As it turned out,” she said, “the director had been looking everywhere for a small child to work with one of their famous contract players, who was a dog.” It was an enthusiastic yes from Marian and Jack Montgomery. They wanted to see their baby shine.
The Hollywood Reporter
For her first part in 1921’s Playmates, Peggy starred opposite a canine actor named Brownie the Wonder Dog. Together, the wholesome duo made a series of short films that appealed to many theatergoers in surprising numbers.
Circus Clowns / Universal
The first job was a hit, and after the movie was a financial success, she was offered a contract with Universal Studios. From then on, she went by the moniker Baby Peggy and remained that way in the eyes of the public long after her childhood ended.
Part of what made Peggy a natural actor was her willingness to follow her father’s instructions. She explained in an interview, “He had raised horses when he was a cowboy and he believed you could train anything. He was very strict with us.”
The Coast News
To the world, Baby Peggy was a brand new kind of sensation. She was one of the first-ever child stars, not just of the Silent Film Era, but of all-time. Baby Peggy walked so Shirley Temple could giggle her way to icon status.
Internet Archive / Exhibitors Herald
In fact, Peggy’s 1924 film Captain January was rebooted 12 years later for Shirley Temple. Still, Baby Peggy’s legend couldn’t be overshadowed. Her revolving door of film releases prompted people to call her the “Million Dollar Baby” and “Little Miss Hollywood.”
The Hollywood Reporter
Her image struck a chord with such a wide audience that Baby Peggy was commemorated into a doll. Children across the country played with the doll version of her. Actress Judy Garland did so during her childhood!
San Diego Union Tribune / Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum
The New York Times reported that in Baby Peggy’s heyday, she received over 1.7 million fan letters per year. Her star power merited an invite to the 1924 Democratic National Convention where she posed alongside Franklin D. Roosevelt.
BFI National Archive
In her five years as the child actress, Peggy totaled 150 films, a majority of which were lost in a fire — an indictment of the standards and practices of the time. That lack of caution carried over into Peggy’s on-set life too.
Hollywoodland / Allan Ellen Berger
Back then, child labor laws and safety standards meant Peggy did her own incredibly dangerous stunts. No one stepped in to prevent filmmakers from holding the toddler underwater to the point of losing consciousness, throwing her from a truck, or tying her to a goat.
San Diego Union Tribune / UC San Diego
One particular film saw Peggy forced to escape from a kerosene-soaked building set ablaze. When she wasn’t risking her life, Peggy was also not going to school. Her job prevented her from getting an education until age 12.
Movies Silently / Circus Clowns / Universal
According to The Guardian, Baby Peggy’s contract with Universal Studios had her earning $1.5 million a year. Sadly, from the very beginning, the showbiz parents of the very first child movie star didn’t have their child’s best financial interest at heart.
Calisphere / Los Angeles Public Library
Nearly all of her earnings were spent appeasing Jack and Marian Montgomery’s elegant tastes. Peggy’s parents squandered them on luxury cars, designer clothes, and opulent homes, not leaving anything for their daughter’s future.
All the glamour and glory ended abruptly in 1925. It was money that did it. Jack Montgomery got into such a vicious fight with movie producer Sol Lesser that his daughter’s career prospects were permanently damaged.
The Darling of New York / Universal Pictures
Disgraced by the movie industry, Peggy’s parents ushered her to showcase her talents on the vaudeville stage. Her reach as a live performer never matched that of her toddler glory days. When the stock market crashed in 1929, that was curtains for Baby Peggy.
By her teenage years, Peggy’s celebrity had worn off. She remembered a particularly scathing interaction at a portrait studio: “I went in to pick it up,” she recalled, “and the clerk leaned over and said, ‘How does it feel to be a has-been at 16?’”
BFI National Archives
Eventually, Peggy’s family relocated to Wyoming to her incredible relief. She enjoyed the remote quiet for the first time in her life. However, the family returned to Hollywood on her father’s wishes to give it another go.
Trails Off Road
Apart from extra work and a rare booking, Peggy’s acting career was kaput. She married at 17 and went on the difficult journey of distancing herself from her childhood persona. It took years of odd jobs and intense work, but she gained respect as an author.
The Hollywood Reporter
The real sense of freedom came when Peggy changed her name. She divorced and later remarried, finally settling on Diana Serra Cary. She penned three books about Hollywood cowboys like her father, herself, and her competitor Jackie Coogan.
San Diego Union Tribune / Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum
In her elderly chapter, Diane Serra Cary was considered a Silent Era film historian with unparalleled firsthand knowledge until she passed quietly in 2020 at age 101. Those who followed in her footsteps struggled with similar issues of Old Hollywood.
Shirley was always destined for stardom, at least if her mother, Gertrude, had anything to say about it: Gertrude enrolled her daughter in Meglin’s Academy for the Performing Arts when Shirley was just two years old.
Our Gang was a children’s film troupe that featured abnormally adorable, precocious kids. You can imagine their dismay when the little girl they rejected, Shirley Temple, made it big just a short time later.
At the peak of her career, Shirley was making more money from advertising gigs than her movies. She appeared in ads for Quaker Oats, General Electric, and Packard Motors. She even had her own line of talking dolls!
Here’s a tip: Never compare your accomplishments to Shirley’s. She was six years old when she was awarded an honorary Academy Award for her contributions to film, the youngest ever Oscar recipient.
Shirley’s defining feature was her unruly curls, and more work went into obtaining them than you’d expect. Her mother painstakingly pinned each one before Shirley went to sleep, usually coming to a grand total of 56 curls.
Gertrude earned an additional $250/week as Shirley’s personal hairstylist. That money, in addition to Shirley’s own salary, meant the young actress was, at the height of her fame, more wealthy than the President.
Shirley was once accused of being an agent of the Communist Party by a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which is obviously crazy because she was only ten years old at the time. Her accuser’s career was destroyed in the aftermath.
Americans struggling through the Great Depression found a lot of comfort in Shirley’s adorable movies, including Franklin D. Roosevelt. He reportedly said, “So long as we have Shirley Temple, we’ll be alright.”
It’s a huge honor to have a drink named after you — unless you’re not a fan of the drink, that is. A Shirley Temple is made with grenadine, lemon-lime soda, and a maraschino cherry, all flavors the drink’s namesake found to be too sweet.
Shirley was no stranger to controversy. Her first film, 1932’s Baby Burlesk, is, unfortunately, exactly what it sounds like: Three-year-old Shirley appeared as a burlesque dancer who flirts with two tots dressed up like soldiers. We doubt this was funny then, either.
At least someone saw a problem with one of Shirley’s scenes in 1936’s Captain January: Test audiences greatly protested a scene in which Shirley’s character danced the hula, with some going so far as to call it “immoral.”
Still, 1935’s Curly Top was Shirley’s biggest film — and also one of her most controversial. In the film, Shirley plays a trouble-making girl named Elizabeth, and many feared that her character was a bad influence on other kids…
This was so feared that the movie, which was a hit in China and in the U.S., was restricted in several European countries. Denmark and Italy even went so far as to ban the movie from theaters all together.
Hollywood wasn’t exactly “the good ship lollipop.” No one knew this better than Shirley, who was sent to a dark room and forced to sit on a block of ice whenever she misbehaved on set. We can’t imagine going through that as a toddler!
There was a period of time in the ‘30s when, unbelievably, the Vatican investigated rumors that Shirley was not a little girl but actually a middle-aged adult with dwarfism. The reasons this rumor started don’t even make sense…
Apparently, it appeared to the public as if Shirley never lost her teeth. Some people speculated that this was because she was actually a grown-up with adult teeth, though obviously she had just used movie magic to hide the gaps.
The 1944 film National Velvet, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney, was a huge hit — and it could have had Shirley in the lead role instead of Taylor, if only Gertrude hadn’t felt the role was beneath Shirley’s pay-grade.
Shirley retired from acting in 1950 after being told she was no longer a box-office draw. That being said, she still made some hits as an adolescent in movies like Since You Went Away and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.
Shirley married Charles Black in 1950. It sounds hard to believe, but Black claimed that he never saw any of Shirley’s films! Whether it’s true or not, there’s no denying their love: They were married until Black’s death in 2005.
As an adult, Shirley had loftier goals than anyone could have predicted. She had political ambitions with the Republican party, and was even made a delegate to the UN and ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia by Richard Nixon.
When Shirley passed away in 2014, her death of obstructive pulmonary disease revealed one of Shirley’s biggest secrets: She was a life-long smoker, a fact she hid in order to prevent other kids from picking up the nasty habit. She wasn’t the only child star from the era with secrets to hide, either.
Frances Ethel Gumm was born on June 22, 10, 1922 in Minnesota. The youngest daughter of two vaudevillians, she was meant to entertain and loved singing and dancing from a very young age. No one who knew her doubted she would be a star someday…
Her showbiz debut came when she and her older sisters formed a singing group called The Gumm Sisters. While they performed mostly at their father’s own theater, they gained a fair amount of attention, and one important businessman took a particular interest in Frances…
Film producer, and co-founder of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios, Louis B. Mayer asked to hear Frances sing. He instantly fell in love with her voice and asked if he could work with her, to which Mr. and Mrs. Gumm agreed without hesitation.
Thus, Judy Garland was born. But just because Louis Mayer liked her didn’t mean she had an easy time working at MGM studios. Casting directors and film producers all across Hollywood deemed her too ugly for film and turned her away.
Nevertheless, in 1936, Judy booked her first feature film, Pigskin Parade. While her performance left the cinematic bigshots wanting for nothing, they called her a “pig in pigtails,” insinuating she needed to lose weight and change her appearance to meet Hollywood standards.
Things were looking up for Judy when she booked her most iconic role: Dorothy in the 1939 film The Wizard Of Oz. Her performance of “Over The Rainbow” touched hearts in all corners of the world, and it quickly became her signature song. But that wasn’t the only impact the movie had on her life.
Her career skyrocketed, and while this kept producers off her back for a while, it also paced her in a spotlight that no young teen could handle.
Behind the scenes, she was given drugs for weight loss, drugs for depression, and drugs to help her sleep. She quickly developed an addiction and became severely depressed, feeling isolated and unworthy.
Gerald Clarke, the author of her biography, stated that on top of all the criticism about her appearance, she was suffering from sexual harassment during her time at MGM. In her unfinished memoir, she wrote: “Don’t think they all didn’t try.”
At the age of 19, after having had several public relationships, Judy married songwriter David Rose, who was 12 years her senior. While Judy thought she finally found happiness, David seemed to regret his commitment from the get-go. He was the first of five husbands.
Still, not long after they wed, Judy became pregnant with David’s child. He didn’t want to have any children yet and urged her to have an abortion because becoming a young mother would “ruin the image of her innocence.” Heartbroken, she agreed, even though the procedure was illegal at the time.
If her mental health wasn’t in pieces by then, being pressured into having an abortion did the trick. Traumatized by the procedure, the harassment, and her time as a child star, Judy had breakdown after breakdown and was constantly in and out of mental hospitals.
So she finally walked away from MGM studios, much to the despair of Louis B. Mayer, who claimed he’d “fallen in love with her.” She wanted a break from her work, from the public, and from the criticism. She wanted to maybe even find love again.
And she did, in the form of director Vincente Minnelli. The two married, and she gave birth to her first child, Liza. It seemed as if becoming a mother gave Judy some relief from the chaos of her life, but of course, it brought on its own difficulties.
After she and Minelli divorced, Judy faced serious financial problems. She wasn’t working anymore, and now she had a family to support. It didn’t help that her agent stole from her and that her third husband gambled her savings away. Thankfully, she had a little help.
Her daughter Liza Minnelli had gained her own piece of fame and was now supporting her mother financially, but still, it was never enough. When Judy was feeling well enough, she sang in dingy bars for only $100 per night. But her stars were about to change once more.
Things seemed to finally look up when she returned to star in the movie A Star Is Born in 1954. She gave the role her all, and it restocked her bank account… but she lost the Oscar for Best Actress to Grace Kelly that year.
Giving up on the big screen for good, Judy returned to singing in clubs, where she met her last husband Mickey Deans. For a second, she seemed happy, but three months later, he would find her body in the bathroom of their London home.
The infamous Judy Garland overdosed on barbiturates — sedatives prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders. It was 1969, and she had just turned 47. She was, however, not forgotten: 20,000 people lined up in the streets of New York for her memorial service.
While many superstars (like Frank Sinatra, Katherine Hepburn, and Bette Davis) grieved and spoke of her talent, it was Judy’s Oz costar Ray Bolger, a.k.a. the Scarecrow, who summed her troubles up perfectly: “She just plain wore out.”
While Judy felt alone in life, she wasn’t alone in her stresses: fame has worn down more than a handful of Hollywood’s greatest talents over the years. Even the strong-willed don’t always thrive under the spotlight.
Not unlike Judy, Barbra Streisand was also known for her acting, singing, and songwriting. And just like the Oz actress, she didn’t have an easy career, nor a simple life. She fought every day.
Born into a Jewish family from Brooklyn, New York, in the early ’40s, young Barbra grew up smack dab in the middle of the entertainment and business world. Still, she felt lightyears away from it all as her family was not well off.
Her parents both worked at a school, but her father died when Babs was only a baby. Without him, the family suffered huge financial stresses — something that would come back into play once Barbra’s career took off.
As a young girl, she attended public school in Brooklyn, where developed an interest in acting. While she may have dreamed of being recognized for her acting chops, her neighbors praised her stunning singing voice.
Despite a flubbed audition with MGM records (at age 9!) she recovered gracefully. At age 13, she recorded a demo tape, starting her career much sooner than most people would’ve imagined.
When she graduated from high school, it was time for Barbra to make a difficult choice: stay with her family and get a job to support them, or leave them behind and follow her dreams of being in the spotlight?
No more than a week later, she moved into an apartment in Manhattan, ready to pursue an entertainment career. She started as an usher for The Sound of Music, but the director of the show encouraged her to keep auditioning.
In September of 1960, she opened for comedian Phyllis Diller at the Bon Soir nightclub. This was important on two fronts: it was her first paid gig and she got to practice humorous banter in between songs.
Since she was still auditioning for Broadway roles, she finally got cast for the musical I Can Get It For You Wholesale in 1962. Although her part was small, she earned a Tony Award as Best Supporting Actress and instantly broke through in the industry.
Fast forward to the late ’60s and early ’70s, when Barbra Streisand was becoming a household name. Opportunities in the film, theater, and music industries appeared left and right. She even tied with Katharine Hepburn for Best Actress!
From 1969 through 1980, Streisand appeared on the list of Top Ten Money-Making Stars ten different times, and she was frequently the only woman on the list. Her highest-earning project? The 1976 remake of A Star Is Born of course.
Meanwhile, Barbra was also working on her career as a pop singer and stealing hearts across the globe. Her debut album, The Barbra Streisand Album, peaked in the top 10 and won her 3 Grammy Awards. It didn’t stop there.
As Barbra continued to shoot movies, record award-winning albums, appear on countless TV shows, and made millions on millions, her family grew bitter. After all, her mother had worked hard to keep a roof over her head, and Barbra left her in the dust.
“I think sometimes there are parents who don’t really like themselves,” Streisand said. “They don’t like their offspring either. My mother meant well. She loved me as best she could. She had dreams of her own, and she wanted to be a singer.”
Still, that may be exactly what drove Barbra to succeed the way she did. “I just couldn’t please her. But I owe her my career. It was painful on the way up. I was always trying to prove to her that I was worthy of being somebody.”
In an attempt to be the mom that her own mother wasn’t, Barbra fully supports her only child’s career in any way that she can. Her son, Jason – whose father is Elliott Gould – took after both parents and became an artist, writer, and film director.
“We sang together every night when I put him to sleep, so he knew lots of songs as a baby,” Barbra said. “I never heard him sing again until he was 15. I heard him hum through a closed door, and I said, ‘Jason, that is the most beautiful hum.”’
After getting remarried in 1998 to her current husband, James Brolin, Barbra finally felt as loved as she deserved. “People who have two parents who love them are very lucky. They are not left with a hole to fill. And it’s very hard to fill. You have to fill it with yourself eventually.”