From the very beginning, Virginia Garner knew there was something special about her only child, Peggy Ann - She wasn't just pretending when playing with the neighborhood kids; rather, she was acting in the purest sense of the word. People kept telling Virginia that this child should be in the movies. Peggy Ann's father, attorney William Garner, had neither the contacts nor the interest in making this goal a reality; so a very determined Virginia set out to do it herself. And do it she did. In spades!
First, she took Peggy Ann to New York City, where she was given dancing and acting lessons and became a client of the John Robert Powers Modeling Agency. As a result, little Peggy was given some modeling jobs and roles in summer stock at the age five. When she was six, Virginia and Peggy Ann conquered Hollywood. At first, she was given small parts in films. Soon, Hollywood executives started noticing her and gave her larger roles. As the young Jane Eyre, she was simply awesome! When she was only twelve years old, she played Francie in "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn", which became her most-remembered role and the one that earned her a special Oscar. Until now, they had intentionally made Peggy Ann look as plain as possible, which worked well for those roles but really did a number on her emotionally. So she was promised curls next time, and when that came about, she looked beautiful. The damage had already been done, however. Throughout her life, Peggy Ann always thought of herself as "plain".
Nevertheless, she was blessed with a bubbly personality, which made her a delight to all who worked with her. At the time of life when many child stars fade away, Peggy Ann was still going strong. She starred in the wonderful film "Junior Miss" with Barbara Whiting, with whom she would appear again in "Home Sweet Homicide", and they became lifelong friends. Another of her dear friends from her child-star years was Roddy McDowall.
In the early 1950s, Peggy Ann had her own TV series called "Two Girls Named Smith". One of her co-stars was singer Richard Hayes, whom she married in 1951. This marriage lasted less than three years before ending in divorce. It had lasted longer than the TV series did, however; and Peggy Ann then worked on the New York stage. In 1955, she was brokenhearted that she wasn't given the part of Cherie in the Broadway play "Bus Stop". The play was so successful, however, that they decided to take it on the road so the whole country could see it. She tried, again, for the role and this time won the coveted part. Her co-star would be Albert Salmi, who had won awards for his work in the Broadway version. The tour lasted almost a year and, during that time, Peggy Ann fell in love with Albert. They were married in 1956. Ten months later, he made her longtime dream come true - He gave her a baby girl. They named her Catherine Ann Salmi, and put her initials together to form a nickname - "Cas". Albert and Peggy had problems in their marriage, however, and after seven years, they were divorced. Peggy Ann soon married again, a real-estate broker named Kenyon Foster Brown, in 1964. This did not last long, either, before it, too, ended in divorce. She never married again.
Peggy's career as an adult was nowhere near as successful as it had been as a child. She made occasional guest-starring appearances on TV shows and did a few movies, but it seemed that Hollywood didn't need her anymore. Instead of fretting about it, she saw what the "real world" was like when she went to work as a real estate agent. Later, she changed careers again and became a car fleet executive; and they say she was a very good one. Her heart was always in the movies, though. When she was called for a part in the 1978 film "A Wedding", she was so glad to be back in front of the cameras again. That's the kind of work she did better than any other, and she just loved it.
In the following decade, Peggy's health was a major concern. She became very ill with pancreatic cancer, and was in and out of hospitals for treatment. It was too late. On October 16, 1984, at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, Peggy Ann Garner drew her final breath. Only fifty-two years old, she was never able to meet and enjoy her four grandchildren, who are now her only living decedents.
Daughter Cas, who lived the most tragic life of all, died of premature heart disease in 1995, when she was only thirty-eight.
Virginia Garner Swainston had always lived for her only child and only grandchild. Now they were both gone. Six months later, she would join them, succumbing to lung cancer.
An era had ended.