Boomer TV Trivia: The Little Rascals (Our Gang)
Q1. Which child actor from The Little Rascals/Our Gang series went on to win an Emmy Award for his work on the 1975-1978 television series Baretta?
Q2. What popular character from The Little Rascals/Our Gang film and television series, was frequently parodied in Saturday Night Live sketches during the early 1980’s?
The Little Rascals black & white comedy series, which began airing on television for the young baby boomer audience in 1955, was comprised of approximately 80 “talkie” episodes from the big-screen short film series Our Gang. The Our Gang series began in 1922 (the silent movie era), switched to “talkies” in 1929, and wrapped up production in 1944. The series has been in syndication since 1955 on television, enjoyed by the original big screen audience and television audience of baby boomers and seniors.
The central themes of the Our Gang/The Little Rascals series created by producer Hal Roach was that of a gang of poor ethnically diverse children of both sexes, banding together to “win” against rich kids, adults, and authority. Considering the racial discrimination prevalent in the U.S. when the series was being produced (1922-1944), this was liberal thinking for the times. The characters portrayed by the child actors on the series, used the actor’s own names and/or nicknames.
All of the child actors that appeared in the Our Gang/The Little Rascals series were paid weekly salaries during their time on the show; none of them ever received royalties from re-runs or syndication, and many of them ended up being typecast, making it difficult to find acting work as adults.
There were a few exceptions to this, notably actor Jackie Cooper (1929-1931), who went on to become an adult movie actor, television director, producer and executive. Cooper was the first child actor (and the youngest ever for many years) to receive an Academy Award nomination, as Best Actor in a Leading Role for his work in Skippy (1931) at age 9; he died in 2011 at age 89. Cooper and co-star George “Spanky” McFarland (1932-1942) were the only two actors from the Our Gang/The Little Rascals series to receive stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Left, Jackie Cooper in Our Gang. (Photo: deliataylor.co)
Dickie Moore was born in 1925 and appeared in the Our Gang films from 1932-1933; he began his acting career in 1926 in silent films, and went on after the series to star in movies until 1952. After retiring from the movies, he went on to star in plays on stage and television, teach, and write books in his 50+ and senior years. Update: Dickie Moore died on September 17, 2015 just before his 90th birthday. He is survived by his widow, actress Jane Powell. Right, Dickie Moore & Pete the Pup by Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
The rumour that there was a curse on the Our Gang child actors (many of them died before becoming senior citizens at the age of 65) is not true; although some of the more popular actors/long-running characters, did die before becoming senior citizens, in some cases quite young. Billy “Froggy” Laughlin was hit by a truck and died at age 16 in 1948; Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer was shot in a dispute over money and died in 1959 at age 31; Darla Hood died at age 47 from heart failure in 1979; Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas died of a heart attack at age 49 in 1980; and George “Spanky” McFarland died abruptly in 1993 at age 64 from cardiac arrest. However, the following octogenarian and nonagenarian senior citizen alumni of The Little Rascals/Our Gang series that are still alive today includes actors Robert Blake – 81, Leonard Landy – 82, Sidney Kibrick – 87, Jerry Tucker – 89, Mildred Kornman – 90, Jean Darling – 92, and Lassie Lou Ahern – 95. Update: Jean Darling died in September 2015 at the age of 93.
A1. Baretta star Robert Blake got his start as a child actor on the Our Gang short films, portraying the character of Mickey Gubitosi (the actor’s birth name was Michael Gubitosi) from 1939-1944. (Mickey Gubitosi/Our Gang courtesy comicvine.com)
A2. One of SNL cast member Eddie Murphy’s most popular sketch characters from 1981-1983 was that of Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas from The Little Rascals, originally played by child actor William “Billie” Thomas, Jr. from 1934-1944.