The Other Peggy Stewart

A few words today on actress Peggy Stewart (Peggy O’Rourke, 1923-2019). I always take special note when I see her in anything, for the completely random reason (which you’d have no reason to know or care about) that she had the same name as my mother. In the case of the film actress her given name was O’Rourke; she later changed her surname to that of her stepfather.

Stewart’s career is often compartmentalized into “B movie western actress” but though that accurately captures her peak early years for the most part, overall her credits are more diverse than that. Her career, whether you choose to believe it or not, spanned an astounding 77 years, certainly one of the longest in these annals. She was only 14 when she cast as Joel McCrea’s daughter in Wells Fargo (1937). Then for the next six or seven years most of her film roles were in non-westerns. Among other things, she was cast in a couple of the Little Tough Guy films, as well as such well known movies as Fifth Avenue Girl (1939), All This and Heaven Too (1940) and Back Street (1941). In 1940 she married B movie western star Red Barry, ironically divorcing him four years later — the same year she signed with Republic and began appearing regularly in westerns herself. Stewart acted in over three dozen westerns through 1952, including Red Ryder pictures with Barry, several Gene Autry and Roy Rogers vehicles, and also several episodes of The Cisco KId. Even during this period she worked in other genres. For example, she did horror flicks like The Vampire’s Ghost (1945), and The Ghost Goes Wild (1947),

In 1953 Stewart married bit player Buck Young, and shortly thereafter she began working regulalry as a supporting actress in film and television herself. Initially much of it was on western shows like Gunsmoke and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, but she rapidly branched out. In the ’70s you could see her on shows like Emergency, Room 222, and Quincy. She also continuted to appear in movies like The Way West (1967) and The Boogens (1981).

What I love about her career is that, thrillingly, it takes us all the way to the doorstep of now! She did shows like Coach, Seinfeld, Frasier...and, fast forwarding, even My Name is Earl, Weeds, The Office, and Community. She was in her mid-80s when she was a regular on the show The Riches, with Eddie Izzard, Minnie Driver and Margo Martindale. Her last credit was a 2014 episode of Getting On with Laurie Metcalf and Alex Borstein. She was 91, and had been in over 160 films and television shows. She was 95 when she passed away in 2019.

Stewart’s older sister Patricia Ann O’Rourke was in the 1942 film version of The Jungle Book and was married to Wayne Morris.