At first, “The Little Rascals” were named “Our Gang”. In any case, this was one of the most beloved comedy series in history. The producer, Hal Roach, had the genius idea to film kids acting like, well, kids. This is exactly what set “Our Gang” apart from other films at the time. Audiences found the silent and sound short films hilarious for years to come. Unfortunately, a lot of the kids on the show didn’t lead happy lives. Here are the fates of some of our favorite characters along with some facts you might not have known about the series.
Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer Died At 31
Just like other child actors in Hollywood, Switzer had a difficult time after his role on The Little Rascals ended. He had some small parts in big movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and TV shows like the Roy Rogers Show. However, he was forced to take odd jobs between roles to keep himself afloat. In 1959, Switzer was shot and killed while fighting a man over $50. He was 31 years old at the time. The man was ruled to have acted in self-defense when witnesses came forward and said that Switzer had threatened him with a knife. This ruling became the subject of a lot of controversies.
Failed The Auditions
Both Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple auditioned for Our Gang. Neither of them was chosen to act in the series. Hal Roach has said that he remembered Rooney’s audition, saying he didn’t think the young actor would fit in with the rest of the gang. Temple didn’t make it past the audition either. Both of these child stars would go on to have long careers, so we’re sure they didn’t suffer from being turned down for the show. Rooney starred in TV, radio, and comedic shows until he passed away. Even though Temple retired from acting at age 22, she later became a politician and the 27th U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia. Both of these actors passed away in 2014, at ages 93 and 85, respectively.
Matthew ‘Stymie’ Beard
Once the show ended, Stymie had some issues with the law on several occasions. The actor played a young con artist on The Little Rascals and was always quick with a clever scheme to get the gang out of trouble. Even after his stunt on Our Gang ended, Beard got more work as an actor. He landed minor roles in a few movies and TV shows alongside stars like Bette Davis and Henry Fonda. However, the actor ended up spending his early adulthood in and out of jail. Eventually, he was able to beat his demons and return to acting. A lot of times, he’d travel and give lectures to kids about the importance of staying on the right path. In 1981, he passed away at age 56 after he had complications from a stroke. He was buried wearing his signature derby hat.
Norman ‘Chubby’ Chaney
Between 1929 and 1931, “Chubby” appeared in multiple movies from the Our Gang series. He was known for his big personality and soon became a fan-favorite. Chaney and his family decided he wouldn’t pursue an acting career after he left the show. He went back to Baltimore when he learned in public school and did well in his studies. Sadly, Chubby’s weight was a serious health issue. It was a result of a glandular problem, leading to more and more weight gain over time. Before surgery, he weighed 300 pounds while being only 4’7. The surgery helped him lose 160 pounds, but shortly after, he died of myocarditis. He was only 21 years old.
Pete The Pup
It seems that The Little Rascals curse wasn’t limited to human actors. The first dog that played “Pete” died after it was allegedly poisoned by an unknown perpetrator in 1930. The dog’s real name was Pal and he appeared in several movies before Our Gang. The cast was devastated by the news of the dog’s untimely passing. Pal’s son, ‘Petey’ ended up replacing him on the show. However, you can easily spot the difference between the pit bulls – Pal had a circle drawn around his right eye, while Petey had one drawn on the left. When Harry Luecenay – who owned Petey – was fired from the show, he took the pup home with him. Petey lived a long and happy life, appearing in a lot of other movies. Both Petey and Pal were the second-highest paid actors on the show. Each of them made $125 a week.
Billy ‘Froggy’ Laughlin Died At 16
The reason “Froggy” was called that was since he had a strange and gravelly voice. Many people said it sounded like a frog’s croak. His voice was so unique that people were convinced that he was overdubbed by a different actor. Turns out that his voice was completely natural! After the show ended production in 1944, Laughlin went on to appear in the movie, Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore before he retired from the entertainment business completely. While he was delivering newspapers on a motor scooter, the teen as struck and killed by a speeding truck. Just two weeks before the accident, his parents had gifted him the scooter.
Chubby, Stymie, And Buckwheat
To fill slots on the series, producers would hold national talent contests to find suitable actors. A few of Our Gang’s most famous characters came as a result. Chubby, Stymie, Buckwheat, and Farina all got their roles on the show by winning large-scale talent scouting contests. Since the show featured almost all child actors, it was necessary to replace cast members often since they grew out of their roles quickly. Parents would constantly try and get their kids on the show, even when no contests were going. At times, producers would give these kids a chance to audition.
When she was four years old, Darla appeared on the show for the first time. Typically, she played the love interest of Butch and Alfalfa. Her mother saw her talent and got her singing and dancing lessons at a very young age. Joe Rivkin, the casting director, arranged her audition. Hood appeared on her first Our Gang short movie in 1935. After leaving the show, she had a role in a few more movies and started a semi-successful musical career as part of a quartet named the Enchanters. Later, she went solo. After getting an appendectomy, she passed away at age 47. She was preparing for an Our Gang reunion in 1980.
Bobby ‘Wheezer’ Hutchins
‘Wheezer’ was the young tag-along who was eager to be accepted by the older kids. He appeared in 58 Our Gang short films between 1927 and 1933. Other kids on set would say that Hutchins’ parents were very overbearing and would pull him away whenever he would begin playing with the rest of the kids. Hutchins never appeared in any more movies after leaving Our Gang. He returned to public school before joining the Army Air Force in 1943. Unfortunately, his plane collided with another plane during a training exercise. He died at the age of 20 – one week before his graduation from Aviation Cadet Program.
Richard ‘Mickey’ Daniels
The actor who played a leading part in the early Our Gang movies had a rather unfortunate fate after he left the show. On the show, he would often play Davis’ rival when competing for the attention of Mary Kornman. Daniels continued an acting career and appeared in Vaudeville productions, television shows, and feature films up until 1941. After leaving the film industry, he got a job in construction and later became a taxi driver. Tragically, he suffered from alcoholism and later died from cirrhosis of the liver in a rundown hotel in San Diego in 1970. He was aged 55.
Spanky Escaped The Curse
When his mother answered an ad looking for cute kids, George Robert Phillips McFarland started his acting career. Before that, he was modeling for kids’ clothing for a department store in Dallas and had appeared on Wonder Bread billboards. He was named “Spanky” because he was constantly being scolded by his mother for grabbing things. “Spanky, don’t touch,” she would say. When the show came to an end, George had trouble finding work in the show business. He joined the Air Force and served for many years. Eventually, he became a successful businessman in Dallas. He’s one of the few cast members who passed away from natural causes. He died of a heart attack in 1993 at the age of 64.
Billie ‘Buckwheat’ Thomas Died
While his death was relatively natural, he died fairly young. Thomas appeared as a background character in Our Gang in 1934. His very first appearance as Buckwheat had him dressed as a female character. He ended up staying on the show for a solid decade, having one of the longest tenures of any of Our Gang actors. After he left the show, Thomas joined the army before making his way back to show business. During that time, most of his work was done off-camera as a lab and film technician. He died of a heart attack in his L.A. apartment in 1980 at age 49.
George ‘Spanky’ McFarland’s
Even though he pretty much retired from acting not long after appearing on Our Gang, Spanky still returned to the screen before he passed. It was in a small role, however. At the end of the episode “George Gets an Election,” Spanky gets spotted by Cliff and Norm drinking alone at the bar. Cliff approaches Sparky while whistling the theme song from The Little Rascals before telling him how much he looks like the character. Before George can tell him he is, in fact, Spanky, Cliff cuts him off while ranting about how he’s such a fan of the series. After Cliff leaves, Norm asks if George is Spanky. McFarland says “Oh yes,” and gives Spanky’s signature nod.
Jay ‘Pinky’ Smith
After Mickey Daniels grew out of his role, Jay Smith replaced him as the freckle-faced kid. “Pinky” made his first appearance in Boys Will Be Joys. The actor didn’t adapt well to the non-silent movie and ended up quitting acting immediately after his role on Our Gang. He switched careers and started his paint shop in Hawaii, where he lived for years. In the early 1990s, he moved to Nevada. In 2002, however, he went missing. His body was found several days later. A homeless man Smith had supposedly befriended was convicted of the murder and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison. Smith was 87 years old.
Dorothy Dandridge’s First On-Screen Appearance
The famed singer, Dorothy Dandridge, started her career on a 1935 Our Gang short film. While her role was relatively minor, the experience helped build her resume and lead to more acting jobs. During that time, there were very limited roles for black actors. Not to mention, they were all very stereotypical. Also, it was against the Motion Picture Code to show interracial dating in movies, limiting roles even more. Still, Dandridge didn’t give up and eventually, she became the first black woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also became the first black woman to grace the cover of Life magazine. In 1957, she sued the tabloid paper, Confidential, for libel and ended up earning an out-of-court settlement of $10,000. Unfortunately, Dandridge died under mysterious circumstances in 1965 at age 42. A lot of people claim her death was suicide, but the official report claimed that her death was caused by an embolism that resulted from a dancing accident.
Mary Ann Jackson
Jackson played one of the most adored female characters on the show. She joined the show while it transitioned from silent to “talkie” in 1928. Mary Ann played Wheezer’s older sister, the girl with the bob haircut who was a bit of a tomboy. In 1931, at age 8, she left the series. After she left the show, she wasn’t able to find work playing the kind of characters she liked. Even though “Girly-girls” were in high demand, she didn’t fit the image. Instead of changing her style, she begged her mother to let her quit acting. Even though she had a negative experience with acting, she looked back on her time in Our Gang fondly. She ended up outliving a lot of the cast members, having died of a heart attack at age 80 in 2003.
Eugene ‘Porky’ Lee
While Porky may have also escaped the curse, he at least lived a longer life than most of his cast-mates. Even though he was one of the most popular characters on the show, Porky’s role was cut short due to a huge growth spurt. He originated the phrase “O-tay”, even though it’s most commonly associated with Buckwheat. After he left the series, Eugene Lee decided to leave acting and become an educator. He was tired of people recognizing his name, so he changed it to Eugene Gordon Lee. After a while, he began to accept his relative name and appeared in Little Rascals’ reunions. He even sold “Porky” merchandise. At the age of 71, he died, following a battle with lung and brain cancer.
Darwood ‘Waldo’ Kaye
The studious rich boy with glasses, aka Waldo, was Spanky and Alfalfa’s rival when they competed for Darla’s attention. He made his first appearance on Our Gang in the film Glove Taps and was a semi-regular character for the rest of the series. After the show was over, he appeared in a few minor film roles before he gave up on acting and joined the army. Later on, he became the minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and provided minister services in a lot of churches in Southern California. He moved to Thailand later on to do missionary work, where he ended up living for many years. In 2002, Darwood was struck and killed by a hit and run driver at the age of 72.
Gary Coleman Landed An Iconic Role
In 1977, Norman Lear made two pilots when he was trying to reboot the Little Rascals. These attempts proved to be fruitless. However, they were vital for one well-known TV actor’s career. A television executive was blown away by Gary Coleman’s acting that he ended up making him the lead on Diff’rent Strokes. Coleman’s time on that show wasn’t all that happy, as it turns out. He was forced to work long hours as a young actor and felt isolated from his peers. He later successfully sued his parents for misappropriating the money he earned from the show. Coleman passed away at the age of 42 in 2010.
Ernie ‘Sunshine Sammy’ Morrison
You might know that The Little Rascals was one of the first-ever film series to portray black and white American children interacting as equals. However, what you might not know is that Ernie Morrison, who played Sunshine Sammy, was the first African-American actor to get a long-term contract in Hollywood. He signed a contract in 1919 with Hal Roach, three years before the show began filming. When Roach came up with the idea for the series, Morrison was the first actor to be recruited. The actor left the show in 1924 and worked as a Vaudeville actor. Later on, he was drafted into World War II and spent most of his time working on military defense plants. He died of cancer in 1989 at 76 years old.
The Theme Song
The infectious tune of “Good Old Days” is one of the most famous parts of the show. However, it didn’t appear on the show until almost halfway through the series. Leroy Shield composed the song, which caught on relatively quickly. Later, the song would be used on the NBC show, Kaltenmeyer’s Kindergarten, and in Laurel and Hardy’s Pardon Us. On the 101st episode of Our Gang, Mrs. Crabtree made her first appearance – she was one of three of the most recognizable adult characters in the series.
Clifton ‘Bonedust’ Young
Robert “Clifton” Young appeared in 19 of the episodes between 1925 and 1931. To avoid him being confused with the actor Robert Young, he started using his mother’s maiden name, Clifton. He started his career early, having appeared in Vaudeville comedies from the age of five years old. He first appeared on Our Gang at age seven. He’s most featured in the film School’s Out. After leaving Our Gang, Young made an appearance in a few movies. He had a lot of roles in Joe McDoakes So You Want… comedies. Clifton died in a fire after he fell asleep while smoking a cigarette in his bed. He was only 33 years old at the time.
There Was A Total Of 220 Our Gang Films
The whole run of the Our Gang series lasted for an incredible 22 years. It transferred from the era of silent films to sound. Throughout the 220 short films, 41 actors were employed. While Alfalfa, Spanky, and Buckwheat are the most recognizable names from the series, the show was running for a decade before they showed up. The Little Rascals show was created when Hal Roach compiled 79 of the 80 movies made with sound and put them all together. The series started in 1955, 11 years after Our Gang ended. It was extremely influential and inspired plenty of imitations. However, none of them reached the popularity of The Little Rascals.
Only Three Cast Members
The most recent member of Our Gang to pass away was Leonard Landy, who passed away in 2017. He appeared in a lot of films between 1938 and 1941. He was recognizable by his big ears and freckles. Jerry Tucker also passed away recently, in 2016, of natural causes. Mildred Kornman was a regular in the silent film era of Our Gang and appeared in a few of the “talkies”, but always in non-speaking roles. She later became a model and a photographer. Recently, she celebrated her 94th birthday. Sidney Kibrik, who played “Woim”, just turned 91.
Hal Roach Outlived The Kids
Hal Roach lived to be 100 years old. Just days after he turned 100, he appeared on the Johnny Carson Show and told stories about working with Laurel and Hardy, as well as actress Jean Harlowe. The comedy producer was responsible for hundreds of silent and sound films alike. He never believed that Our Gang was cursed. He said, “Naturally, some [of the child actors] got into trouble or had bad luck. They’re the ones who made the headlines. But if you took 176 other kids and followed them through their lives, I believe you would find the same percentage of them having trouble later in life.”
‘Scotty’ Beckett Died
Beckett started his career in the entertainment industry at just three years old. A casting director just happened to hear him sing. He was entertaining his father in a hospital by singing him songs in Pig Latin. The nurses who heard him were so impressed that they took him from room to room for him to sing to the patients. He played Spanky’s best friend in a lot of the Our Gang episodes between 1934 and 1935. After he left the show, he landed a lot of prominent roles in movies like Dante’s Inferno, The Blue, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. When he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and writing a bad check, he was fired from his co-starring role on Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. He went on a downward spiral from that point. Eventually, this led him to check into an L.A. nursing home to get treatment for a vicious beating he suffered in 1968. Two days later, he was found dead in his room. While he had written a suicide note, it wasn’t clear whether he died from the injuries he had from the beating or not.
A Film Spin-Off Of Our Gang
The movie was named General Spanky and marked the first and last attempt to move Our Gang from shorts into feature films. Weirdly enough, the story took place during the Civil War. Spanky and the gang formed a regiment of kids called “The Royal Protection of Women and Children Regiment Club of the World and Mississippi River.” The crew ended up in the middle of the war and was forced to defend themselves from the advancing army. Rather than use real weapons, the gang fights off the enemy with comical, childlike distractions. The movie didn’t do well in the box office. And so, Our Gang went back to short films.
Kendall ‘Breezy’ McComas
One of the oldest kids to appear on the show was Kendall McComas. He was short enough to look like a convincing grade-schooler even when he was in his teens. He only worked as part of the series for one year and appeared in eight of the short films. When he left the show, he started working at the U.S. Naval Weapons Center as an electrical engineer. He eventually became an institutional mortgage-backed bond salesman, taking on the name John Mandy. At age 65, he faced mandatory retirement and ended up taking his own life.
Mickey Gubitosi, otherwise known by his stage name, Robert Blake, is still alive, unlike so many of his castmates. However, his story is not a very happy one. He appeared on 40 of Our Gang films after he replaced Eugene “Porky” Lee. Blake didn’t have a difficult time finding roles after Our Gang. He appeared in dozens of shows and movies, even in adulthood.
Robert Blake Went On Trial For Killing His Second Wife
In 1999 Bonnie Lee Bakley met his second wife making him her 10th husband. Supposedly she was involved with Marlon Brando’s son while he was dating Blake, and in 2001 she was murdered in Blake’s parked vehicle. Four years later he was found not guilty for murder but liable in civil court for her death and forced to pay $30 million. He ended up filing for bankruptcy and since then has been out of the media.
Ernie Morrison Was Meant To Be The Leading Star
Ernie Morrison was supposed to be the lead of the show but his character was controversial for many because he was African-American. Instead, Roach decided to include more children and change the show’s concept.
Allen “Farina” Hoskins
The character “Farina” was played by Allen Hoskin and was one of the most popular characters on the show. Not only was he one of the first African-American child stars, but he also made more money than anyone else on the show. He quickly abandoned his acting career to serve in WWII but was later blacklisted for attending dances sponsored by the Young Communist League and the Socialist Workers Party while he was a teen. However, he went on to help disabled workers find jobs, but unfortunately succumbed to cancer in 1980 and passed away at age 60.
Dorothy DeBorba, Known For Her Ringlets, Loved Working On The Show
Dorothy DeBorba was best known for her curly locks and hair bows that were hand made by her mother. She made quite the impression on Hal Roach because of her ability to cry on cue. She also played Jackie Cooper’s kid sister and was impeccable at imitating other character’s lines. She was mysterious and admitted that she had the best time on the show. When she left the show she decided to get her high school diploma and went on to become a senior clerk in the School of Journalism at UC- Berkeley. She married two times and had two children. In 2010 at age 85 she died of emphysema.
Jackie Cooper was best known for his crush on his teacher Miss Crabtree when he was part of “Our Gan.” Not many child stars at the time went on to be famous adults but he did. At just nine years old he was nominated for an Academy Award for the film Skippy. He went on to play in the other big roles and passed away from natural causes in 2011.
Beckett’s Life Took A Troubling Turn
Spanky’s partner in crime was played by Scott Beckett. He was known for his signature baseball cap and large sweater. When he left the series he went on to star in movies and a temporary comeback in 1939 as Alfalfa’s cousin. In the late ’50s, he was part of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, but was then fired and arrested for a concealed weapons charge and bad checks. He died at 38 for a suspected overdose.
Motivation For Our Gang
In the early 1920’s the creator Hal Roach developed The Little Rascals. After sitting through a terrible audition with a young actress he saw some children arguing in a lumberyard. He watched this exchange for nearly 15 minutes, which sparked the idea to shoot a film about kids being themselves.
Money Making Is Over
The show was very popular at first but the income started to go down and Roach had to sell the rights to MGM in 1938. While the studio continued making the short series, the quality was criticized and fans were less than pleased. After a while, it was not worthwhile to keep making the series.
Featured Guest In The Movie
Movie executives decided to create a big-budget version of the TV program. They took the characters and put them in modern-day times, with various The Little Rascals shorts. Even Donald Trump, who was a real estate businessman at the time, was featured at Waldo’s wealthy father. The film wasn’t a huge success.
Since Our Gang was such a success, Hal Roach decided to create a spinoff series called The Boy Friends. It was a chance for the alder actors to keep up their performances and featured regulars like Daniels and Mary Kornman.
The young brothers Carl and Harold Switzer were on a public tour of Hal Roach’s studio when they decided to put on a random performance in the cafeteria. Coincidentally, Roach was there and hired the brothers to appear in the film as well. Harold wasn’t as successful but Carl became the most well-known character of the series.
The Hidden Talent
Alfalfa had a trademark talent which was when he would break into off-key versions of well known and loved songs. He did this despite being a well-accomplished singer with an impeccable voice.
Normal Lear is a TV legend for being the creator, writer, and producer of well-known series like All in the Family, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Maude. While he tried to reboot the show in the late 1970s, he was unsuccessful in doing so.
More Movie Additions
In 2014 there was yet another film based on Our Gang Shorts: The Little Rascals Save the Day. It featured many shorts and the grandma character was played by Doris Roberts. This was one of the last time she was featured on the screen.