The Other Peggy Shaw (Carrie of the Chorus)

We refer to her as the other Peggy Shaw, because first in our hearts is the pioneering performance artist/ member of the team Split Britches. But today’s subject has her own claim on fame.

Born Louise Margaret Matzenbacher (1905-1990) in Pittsburgh, she was all of 14 when she got a job in the chorus of Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolics in 1919. This led immediately to her being cast in the comedy short Broken Bubbles (1920), starring Hank Mann, Vernon Dent, and James T. Kelley. Forbidden Love (1921) with Creighton Hale was her first feature; she was already fifth in the billing as a supporting player. In her next film (only her third), A Stage Romance (1922), directed by Herbert Brenon, she co-stars with William Farnum, playing Anna Damby to his his Edmund Kean. It is difficult to convey what a rapid rise this is — from the chorus to movie star in three films! It’s fairly unheard of. More frequently Shaw played supporting parts, but she was occasionally cast in some more leads, as The Grail (1923) with Dustin Farnum and Gold Heels (1924) with Robert Agnew and Lucien Littlefield. Another major production of this first phase is In Hollywood with Potash and Perlmutter (1924) with Alexander Carr and George Sidney.

Next she took a job starring in a unique film series produced, written and directed by James A. Fitzpatrick, who made a career of producing travelogues and biographical profiles. The “Songs Of…” series interpreted the popular folks songs of various foreign lands, with Peggy playing the characters in the songs. Recall that these films were silent! (Later some were re-issued with musical soundtracks). It started with Songs of the British Isles, with additional films focusing on England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Scandinavia, Central Europe, Spain and Italy. The series from 1925 through 1926.

Next came a series called “Carrie of the Chorus” or “Backstage Comedies”, a live action series made by Fleischer Studios. Peggy played the titular vaudeville hoofer. Max Fleischer’s daughter Ruth played her pal. A young Ray Bolger had a small part in at least one of the films. The premise was not unlike the Dixie Dugan or Maisie films, vaudeville folk who get stranded in various cow towns and have to work their way out of scrapes, enduring culture clash all the while. These films came out in 1926 and 1927.

Concurrently she took roles in features, co-starring in His Rise to Fame (1927) with George Walsh, and The Ballyhoo Buster (1928), with supporting parts, usually fourth billed or so in numerous others. Her last film was the 1928 comedy short Barnyard Rivals with Walter Lantz, better known as an animator.

After this, she drops off the map. The timing seems significant. This is the very moment when sound took over the film industry. It may have been decided that she was unsuited for the talkies. It is also extremely likely that she married and started a family, a frequent precipitator for show business retirement in those days for women. I’ve not yet come across any reference to such a development, but I’d bet money that that’s what happened. She was, after all, only 23 when she left films, with very little stage experience. And she lived another 62 years!

To learn more about vaudeville, please see my book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on early film, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.