Diana “Baby Peggy” Cary, age 5, in Darling of New York (1923, dir. King Baggot)

Baby Peggy

And today’s child stars think they have it rough:

“[While filming a fire sequence for Darling of New York], King Baggot and my father walked me through the set and showed me how the crew had lined the windows & the only door with sawdust soaked in kerosene, which would be set afire for the scene. I was warned it would only be “one take” as the set would be completely burned. I was shown the two different windows in the kitchen which would be ablaze when the camera rolled. I was to look at them but turn away and run to the door. It would not be torched by the crew, Baggot said, and I was to escape immediately through that door.
But when filming began and I reached the door I found the crew had mistakenly set it ablaze. The door knob was already too hot to touch. But the camera, Baggot, and my father, shooting from a distance through the window above the kitchen sink, could not see the flames. I knew I could not spoil the scene by explaining the situation to them. So while they kept shouting at me to “GO OUT THE DOOR!” I ran back to the sink & the window above it, which was not burning as fiercely as was the door. Moving fast I clambered through the burning open window and gave the camera an unexpected close up of me escaping through the flames!

…Surprising as it seems, I worked with fire even as a toddler, and in other dangerous situations often over the years. I learned that my guides did not always see the dangers I saw up close. I realized early on that it was up to me to take care of myself and do whatever it took to get through a scene safely without ruining the film.”

-excerpted from Diana Cary’s piece on the good old days before child labor legislation at Starts Tuesday