Now that the silent movie renaissance is picking up pace, classic movie fans are fortunate to experience fine reprints of books long out of print. Many of these books have been upgraded and updated to provide the reader with more accurate and interesting information than ever before. The latest and most exciting reprint so far is Diana Serra Cary’s Hollywood Posse: The Story of a Gallant Band of Horsemen Who Made Movie History. Hollywood Posse is an affectionate and gutsy look back to the origin of the cowboy/stuntman. Diana Serra Cary’s father was cowboy/stuntman/actor Jack Montgomery, who she lovingly showcases in her book. She also introduces and recounts the group of men of “Gower Gulch,” Hollywood’s dusty Western studio throughfare of the 1910s and 1920s. Names like Jack Dawn, Art Acord, Fred Burns, Neal Hart, Al Jennings and Leo McMahon; men whose names are only remembered by a handful of film buffs, but deeply deserve public recognition. Cary successfully champions these brave and dedicated men. She also elaborates about famous movie men, Cecil B. DeMille (who had long running and bitter altercations with many hired wranglers for his epics) and great Western stars from Yakima Canutt to Tom Mix to John Wayne.
Ms Cary’s reminiscences stem back to the time she was known as “Baby Peggy” Montgomery in the early 1920’s. She grew up as a precocious, hard-working acting professional, who became a top child star of the 1920s. She talks about her career in depth in her memoir What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy. When it came to her off-camera relationships, her work-mates, mentors and protectors were the real cowboys that she adored. They kept her ego down to earth and helped her remain secure in herself. Her observations are so vivid that the reader feels transported to a special world of movie making. Her descriptions serve to point out that the seemingly effortless screen magic in reality was carefully planned – and sometimes the best-laid plans could turn into chaos.
The men that Cary reminisces about are the kind of people one doesn’t find in everyday places. They did not become “Hollywoodized.” They were more concerned with their craft rather than their fame and the over-expansion of the ego that fame produces. They were not accustomed to being cutthroat individuals or social climbers. These men were honest, hard working and concerned with a chivalry that no longer exists. For all the talent and risks they took to make a better picture for the producers, they were often times unfairly treated. They were expected to risk their own lives or the lives of others and animals, without safety precautions, just to get a better shot. These men fought hard to ensure that their work was executed correctly, for many times it seemed more important for the studio executives to get the job done “come hell or high water.” Eventually, unionization of outside organizations (like the Teamsters union) robbed the cowboy/stuntmen of their hard earned, professional position that they had achieved in the entertainment industry. When these honorable men were unceremoniously dismissed, a quality of conscientiousness and experience left with them.
Thank goodness for Diana Cary’s memories and her ability to eloquently convey a world that is long gone. Hollywood Posse is essential for anyone interested in Hollywood history or the Western genre and comes highly recommended. Cary is a writer, noted film historian and lecturer about the ups and downs of the classic Hollywood era – after all, Baby Peggy was there.