Before even Shirley Temple, there was Baby Peggy, the movies' first child star. Born Diana Serra Cary in 1918, by age five she had starred in over 150 shorts (most of them now, sadly, lost), had legions of fans, and was earning over a million dollars a year (thus earning her the nickname "The Million Dollar Baby"). But fame, especially for young stars, is indeed fleeting, and by the 1930s she was flat broke and working as an extra.
In later years, Peggy became an author, silent film historian (along with Carla Laemmle, Mickey Rooney and Lupita Tovar, she is one of the few surviving stars from the silent era) and children's rights advocate, specifically for child actors. Working conditions for child actors at that time were shockingly atrocious; for example, Peggy worked eight hours a day, six days a week, and had to perform her own stunts, such as when she was held underwater until she fainted(!).
The life and career of Baby Peggy is examined in the new documentary Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room, which will premiere tonight on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Watch the trailer below: