Peggy Cartwright: Interracial Pioneer as Both Wife and Rascal

Silent movie era child star Peggy Cartwright (1912-2001) was born on this day. I am amused by how Our Gang-centric her wikipedia entry is. Cartwright is thought of as the first Our Gang “love interest” (make of that what you will) and the last of the original cast to pass away. But she was in only five of the shorts, and she appeared in dozens of other films, some of them pretty major — in fact, about as major as it gets.

I love the morbid, Gothic quality of this photo, both Kewpie Doll and corpselike

Like her rough contemporary Mary Pickford, Cartwright hailed from Canada. Her first roles were in the D.W. Griffith films in The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). She’s in Harold Lloyd’s From Hand to Mouth (1919). She’s in the Louise Glaum feature Love (1920), the original screen adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s Penrod (1922) and John Ford’s The Iron Horse (1924). Her last silent was the 1925 short Wildcat Willie. In 1931, she came back to make three talkie features in Great Britain: Hindle Wakes, Magic Night, and Faithful Hearts. And she’s in many films besides these.

Cartwright got in on the ground floor of Our Gang as Hal Roach was launching the series, appearing in the early shorts One Terrible Day, Fire Fighters, Our Gang, Young Sherlocks, and A Quiet Street, all in 1922.

She retired in 1932 to marry comedian and radio host Phil Baker. The marriage, which bore four children, lasted until 1941. Two decades later, in what has to be one of Hollywood’s first interracial marriages, she wed African American actor Bill Walker, the same year he appeared in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). She remained with Walker until his death 30 years later. I can’t help but connect this with the fact that she had been a member of Hollywood’s first integrated cast, all those years earlier.

For more on Our Gang, please check out my 100th anniversary podcast episode here.

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