While most people who enjoy Hollywood history have most likely heard stories about the hard-working kids of the Golden Age, namely Judy Garland, Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney, there are two little ones who deserve a shout-out for being (in my opinion) the hardest working BABIES in Tinseltown.
Introducing: BABY LEROY and BABY PEGGY, two adorable tots who graced the screen in multiple film favorites such as “The Kid Reporter,” “Little Miss Hollywood,” “The Lemon Drop Kid” and “The Old Fashioned Way,” to name a few.
Baby Peggy was known as the “Million Dollar Baby” during the Silent Era, and Baby LeRoy was the youngest child of his time to receive a movie studio contract. In my humble opinion, both of these little stars worked harder than anyone I know, including myself, before the age of 4, and believe me, their stories are the stuff legends are made of! Let’s start with Baby Peggy…………
Film Daily cover – September 3 1922</a>” by The Film Daily / Universal Pictures – The Film Daily. Licensed under Public Domain
Diana Serra Cary, known as Baby Peggy by gazillions of movie fans, made over 150 short films between the two short years of 1921 and 1923, so basically 75 films per year starting at the age of 3, since this little worker bee was born in 1918! By 1922, Baby Peggy had received over a million fan letters from her pint-sized and grown-up fans, and by 1923, she moved over to Universal Pictures to begin starring in full-length films. But it doesn’t stop there! Between film shoots, Peggy made public appearances all over the country, and was given the official mascot title for the 1924 Democratic Convention in New York! And I thought juggling a full time waitress job and a three-night-a-week job at the front desk of a women’s gym was hard!!! (I have since moved on from both of those jobs, thank God, LOL.)
Back to the story…..
At the height of her fame (age 5) Baby Peggy even had a doll named after her, one of which, according to Hollywood Lore, was owned by Frances Gumm, aka the one and only Judy Garland! Which is totally interesting too, because Judy was also one of the hardest working showbiz kids ever!
Baby Peggy literally worked the same hours as an adult working a 9-5, sometimes even longer, with not-so-savory work conditions to boot. The poor girl often had to perform her own stunts, which put her life at risk on more than one occasion. According to A Star For Baby Peggy, during filming of “The Darling of New York,” Peggy stood terrified in a room in which the wall was literally set on fire and UP IN FLAMES. She made her way out while staying in character, but OMG! In “Sea Shore Shapes,” Peggy was held underwater in the freaking ocean, and passed out!
By 1925, Peggy was no longer a box office draw, but continued to receive minor parts here and there. She retired from acting in the late 30s, and became a successful writer of Hollywood biographies and books that detail the working conditions for little guys and gals during the Silent and Golden Age. Diana is still with us today, and remains an advocate for organizations such as A Minor Consideration, a group that fights for the rights of child performers. Fortunately, this pioneering pipsqueak was able to move forward in a positive way, and continues to be an inspiration for many. Now on to BABY LEROY!
(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images 1933)
Ronald Le Roy Overacker, commonly known as Baby LeRoy in Hollywood, was born in the early 1930s, around the time when Baby Peggy’s bright star began to fade a bit. At 16 months old, this precocious little cutie was given a movie contract, and the rest, as they say….is history! Baby LeRoy was the toast of the tiny tot town, starring with the likes of Maurice Chevalier, an actor and singer extraordinaire, known for his hit tune, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” and most notably W.C. Fields.
Baby LeRoy served as the tiny antagonist to W.C Fields in three movies, with the most popular being “The Old Fashioned Way,” a hilarious picture that has LeRoy throwing his pudding in W.C.’s face, squeezing his nose, and dumping his pocket watch into a bowl filled with molasses -LOL! The famous scene ends with W.C.’s character giving the baby a perceived kick in the backside as he stands in the door, which according to Fields at the time, was the funniest bit in the movie. By the time their third picture together came around, Mr. Fields was sick and tired of the little troublemaker, mainly due to the fact that he was stealing the show and receiving second billing, according to Hollywood legend. However, the “animosity” between Fields and LeRoy is most likely just that, a legend, as his grandson has stated that the rift between the baby and the funnyman was just an act, and Mr. Fields didn’t have any ill will towards children.
At the height of his stardom in the 30s, LeRoy was earning around $400 a week, but as he got older the parts started to dry up. When he was four, he was hired to act in “The Magnificent Obsession,” but one day, he just couldn’t deal, the poor kid was tired, hot, and over it. (We’ve all been there, I totally get it!) He refused to do his lines, and when they tried to do it again the next day, he still couldn’t deal, and he knocked the director’s hat off his head. LOL! That was it, Show’s Over! LeRoy and his mom were sent packing. He had another shot at eight years old with the lead role in “The Biscuit Eater,” a coming of age film about two boys and a dog. Well, LeRoy got sick after filming a water scene and was replaced. He was done at that point, and went on to become a merchant seaman and live a relatively quiet life. He did get to appear on “To Tell the Truth” in 1957, which is pretty cool if you ask me.
Well, I hope you enjoyed reading about these amazing little Hollywood kids. Here are some clips from a few of their most famous movies, as well as a clip from “The Elephant in the Room” a documentary about Baby Peggy.