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Hoskins as Farina in Bear Shooters (1930)
|Born||Allen Clayton Hoskins|
August 9, 1920
|Died||July 26, 1980 (aged 59)|
Cause of death
Hoskins as Farina in Bear Shooters (1930)
|Born||Allen Clayton Hoskins|
August 9, 1920
|Died||July 26, 1980 (aged 59)|
Cause of death
Born in Boston in 1920, Allen Clayton Hoskins was just one year old when his tenure with Our Gang began. His character stayed in the series through the silent years and the transition to talking pictures, and he left the series in 1931 at the age of eleven. With his pigtailed hair and patchy outfits, Farina resembled a pickaninny in the tradition of the character Topsy from Uncle Tom's Cabin, but as the character became more popular, and as Allen Hoskins got older, Farina developed his own personality separate from that of Topsy. The name "Farina", derived from a type of cereal, was chosen because its gender was ambiguous: As a toddler, Farina was portrayed as both a boy and a girl, sometimes both genders in the same film.
He was born in Boston in 1920 but soon after his parents, Clayton H. Hoskins and Florence A. Fortier Hoskins moved the family to Los Angeles and in 1922 his acting career began. His younger sister Jannie also appeared in the series as "Mango" (1926-1929) and Hoskins's aunt, Edith Fortier, was his guardian on set. Variety, the magazine devoted to entertainment, reported that his parents divorced in 1926. By that time he was 6 years old, an experienced child actor, and as "Farina" made more money than most working adults.
The Our Gang comedies were created by Hal Roach Studios, located in Culver City, California. School was required for child actors. Hoskins and the other Roach studio children attended school on the lot at the "Little Red School House". The children were taught by Fern Carter. In 1959, a retrospective article about Fern Carter and her career as a teacher in Hollywood's "Little Red School House" was published. The article explained that she was teaching there when the series began in 1921 and taught over 300 students in a career that lasted 23 years. She often said that Farina was the brightest student she ever had.
The Studio was a family affair and often relatives, staff and other Roach Studio stars appeared in cameo roles or as extras in many of the films including Harold Lloyd, Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel, Ernie Morrison's father, Ernie Morrison Sr. and Fern Carter's daughter, Wadell Carter. In 1929 Hoskins' aunt and guardian on set, Edith Fortier, also appeared as an extra in two films: #82 "Noisy Noises" as a pedestrian and #89 "Small Talk" as a domestic.
In addition to acting in the Our Gang short films, the children also made personal appearances. In 1927, the Oakland Tribune published an article about such an appearance. "Countless millions of boys and girls have seen Our Gang comedies but this good luck doesn't befall orphans very often. East Bay orphans, however, are going to get their chance to see these popular screen stars in person..."
During his time in the Gang, Farina became both the series' anchor and its most popular character. While he was not the first black child actor (or even the first black Our Gang kid), Farina became arguably the first black child star. Hoskins' last contract with the Hal Roach Studio called for $350 a week, more than any other cast member was earning at that time. When he finally outgrew the series, he was replaced by Matthew Beard in 1931.
When his career in Our Gang comedies ended because of his age, several newspaper columnists took notice. In 1931, Columnist Jack Lait wrote the following in his Highlights of Broadway, from the Circle to the Square column:
"Have you ever wondered what became of Farina, that little black dish that used to take all the punishment in the Our Gang comedies? Lemme spill: Eight years ago Allen Clayton Hoskins, dressed as a girl pickaninny started getting bumps and stopping pies. Millions all over the world knew and liked him. He got $500.00 a week. Now he is 11 years old and is no longer cute so he can't scrabble a dime out of Hollywood. Recently, New York Vaudeville agents were sounded out on a proposed act to be played by Farina and his sister, Mango. Photoplay announces he is definitely through in the films."
On the same date, a column, with no byline, was published in The Register of Sandusky, Ohio:
"A star known the country over at the age of three and now eleven years old, flung on the discard. That's the story of Farina, otherwise known as Allen Clayton Hoskins, the negro boy who suffered outrages in the "Our Gang" comedies not the least of those outrages being the necessity of dressing up as a girl even to kinky pigtails. Nine years ago there was practically nothing to this tot but huge rolling eyes and a mass of kinky woolen hair. It was christened "Farina" dressed in rags and immediately hit in the face with a custard pie. Today a spindly colored boy of eleven, Master Hoskins is graduated from the Gang because he is no longer little and cute.
Farina fascinated us because he is the perfect incarnation of poor witless man's struggles against inscrutable and very rough and dirty fate. What a sucker Farina's pictures made of the silly movie "plots". For some years he drew down the elegant stipend of $500 a week and there is probably a tidy sum in the family teapot. At least he was well paid for his bruises of body and soul. He must feel seventy. True his mother hopes to send him into vaudeville with his sister, Mango. It may or may not come off. In movies we fear we may not look upon his like again."
At the end of the studio's 1930-1931 season, Hoskins aged out and he was not invited back. Other child actors were let go at the same time, including Norman "Chubby" Chaney and Mary Ann Jackson. While working as actors, all the children attended parties and special events at the studio, including Christmas where they received any gift they asked for. In January 1931 Farina was a star, making $350.00 a week,but by July 1931, he was unemployed.
It may be difficult today to grasp just how famous the Our Gang child actors were in the 1920s and 1930s. When Joe Cobb aged out in 1928, 20,000 boys auditioned for his part in a contest sponsored by Roach.
In 1926, several newspapers, including one in Lima, Ohio, carried a story about Farina simply because (it was reported) he wanted to quit playing a girl. "But of course you may not know that Allen Clayton Hoskins is the "sure-enough" name of Little Farina who is having a birthday party out in Hollywood today...now he's getting pretty big and he wants to wear trousers and be a boy on the screen as well as off it..." Exactly one year later (again on his birthday) the same newspaper carried a new story about how Farina learned to act (from his "brother", who did not exist).
Hoskins did not have a brother, but he did have a younger sister, Jannie. She rated her own story when she, too, began to appear in the comedies in 1926. The Oakland Tribune carried a "Movieland" column out of Hollywood, by Jack Wooldridge: "Janie [sic] the little sister of Farina had been added to the cast of Our Gang at the Hal Roach Studios...Janie is two years, 4 months old, black as midnight and all animation..."
Many stories about the Gang appeared from time to time and these were carried in various newspapers throughout the country. Most of them were related to release of a new film. The films, called "shorts", were usually two reels in length and local trade papers, such as "Motion Picture News" and "Motion Picture World", wrote about the Our Gang shorts every time a new one appeared. In 1923 alone, fourteen were released. The children were stars to their fans, both children and adults. The early comedies were silent, but when talkies emerged the studio quickly made this transition and so did Farina. Maltin wrote in his book about the excitement when the first talkie by Our Gang was released
"Simplistic as it may seem, early sound films were advertised as "The marvel of the age! Pictures that talk like living people! Electrifying! For "Small Talk", [#89, released May 1929] the trade blurbs read "A sensation wherever it is being shown! Until you See and Hear Our Gang in their first All-Talking Hit 'Small Talk' you can't know the profit power of the Roach talkies. Many theaters are billing them above the feature. When Our Gang made a personal appearance tour they broke every record wherever they played- big cities and small..."
In 1928, an unlikely trio of advertisements for a local theater appeared in a Rhinelander, Wisconsin newspaper. First up is an advertisement for a two day showing of Les Miserables. Second is an advertisement for Underworld written by Ben Hecht and touted as "The most intense thriller ever screened..." The final advertisement is listed simply as a "notice" : "All Children interested in making a one reel comedy similar to an Our Gang with Farina and 'Joe' the Fat Boy - Come to the Majestic Theater Saturday"
The fact that all of the children would eventually grow too old and their contracts would not be renewed was also considered newsworthy. An article that appeared in a 1937 Abilene, Texas newspaper attempted to explain how this worked.
"...Six children are always under contract and a child is kept until he out grows the part. There is a complete turnover every four years. Farina...stayed with it for nine years. He and Joe Cobb, the original fat boy who lasted eight years are the exception to the four-year rule..."
After Hoskins aged out in 1931, he returned to Roach Studios for several cameo appearances but was not chosen for a long-term role. He was given a cameo role in an unusual short film called The Stolen Jools.
"... both "Our Gang" and Laurel & Hardy contributed their services to an amazing film called The Stolen Jools - a star-studded short featuring names like Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Buster Keaton, Maurice Chevalier and some fifty others. It was a fund raising two reeler for the National Variety Artist's tuberculosis sanatorium. Our Gang's contribution, like everyone else's was incidental. The kids are shown slurping ice cream cones on Norma Shearer's front steps..."
After his career with the Our Gang comedies ended in 1931, Farina and his sister Jannie toured in a vaudeville act accompanied by their mother, Florence Hoskins, in 1932. The exact dates that they toured are not known, but early 1932 found them on tour in Jefferson City, Missouri. The article notes "...Today you are to have the opportunity to see him in person at the Miller Theater. Accompanied by Mango, his sister, the star will do a comedy skit..." The article also praises the other two acts. "...The Five Juggling Jewels...are all that their name suggests when it comes to juggling Indian Clubs... [and] "Diversion A La Carte" offered by Jack Fulton and Peggy Parker...just good fun and songs and that's enough..." 
In February 1932, they performed in Toronto, Canada. In 2010 Toronto columnist and historicist Jamie Bradburn published a retrospective piece about the events surrounding Farina's vaudeville appearance in Toronto in February 1932: "Like children elsewhere across the continent, young Toronto moviegoers in the 1920's and 1930's eagerly awaited the next installment of the Our Gang series of shorts...Having grown out of Our Gang after 1931's Fly My Kite, Hoskins' and his younger sister, (aka Mango) developed the vaudeville act that brought them to Toronto... On matinee day the STAR featured a front page interview with both children and their mother. Reporter Archibald Lampman (not the nineteenth century poet) noted that Janey "didn't think we were so hot". Bradburn notes that the girl's instincts were on target as the printed interview with "the doggy pickanins of the movies" was a shambling sometimes condescending affair. The occasion was special and the newspaper set up "chairs all around" Bradburn goes on to say that "...Lampman made lame attempts to act as if he was trying to keep up the façade of dignified reporter before giving in to a case of the cutes whenever Hoskins flashed a toothy grin..." The engagement began on February 12, 1932 with a Friday night spot as a special attraction at the Imperial Theatre...The next morning they performed at a matinee at the Imperial, then made brief appearances for adoring fans at two Kresge stores..."
Many of the original advertisements and photographs are included in this article. The siblings are pictured together signing a copy of the "Just Kids Safety Club" card, sponsored by The Globe (a copy of the card with his signature and his Los Angeles address are displayed in the column). There is also mention of an interview with Farina's mother. "Mrs. Hoskins hinted at the discrimination the family faced, noting that she seemed far more accepted on the west coast than the east. With a voice that Lampan described as "flowing like an old darky melody" she praised the efforts of Scopes Trial Lawyer Clarence Darrow to improve conditions for blacks in America (presumably a reference to the Ossian Sweet case) and believes that her children's generation would overcome prejudice..." Also of interest is an advertisement promoting Farina's singing ability: "...Appearing this week at the Imperial Theatre, [he] will entertain you...singing the sensational hits Home (Where Shadows Fall), Fox Trot and Save the Last Dance for Me,, waltz. Copies of these songs, 25 cents at Kresge's stores..."
While Hoskins did find some work after Farina, it was short term. Soon after leaving Our Gang one of his first roles was as the "Host" of the 13th episode of the Voice of Hollywood (second series). Among the guests were John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Jackie Coogan, but this was just a one-time event. In 1933 Hoskins, along with fellow graduates Mickey Daniels, Joe Cobb and Mary Kornman returned to "Our Gang" for an encore appearance in Fish Hooky, but nothing more came of it. Hoskins kept his relationship with the studio and in 1936 he was part of an "Our Gang" tour, and later appeared with the Gang on the You Asked for It show in the 1950s.
After his vaudeville appearances, Hoskins returned to Los Angeles where he auditioned for movie roles. When he appeared in his first full-length movie, You Said a Mouthful starring Joe E. Brown, various papers carried the "news" that Farina cut off his braids for the movie and placed them in the family Bible. After this movie ended, Hoskins continued to audition for other movie roles. From 1932 to 1936 he appeared in seven full-length films, but most were not credited and his career in movies did not flourish.
In 1940 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Service Act. Hoskins actually joined the Army in August 1940, shortly before the first draft registration took place on September 16, 1940. In 1941 Hoskins was stationed at Monterey, California, where a reporter found him:
"Remember Farina, the kinky haired little "girl" in "Our Gang" comedies of the silent movie days? Farina is in the Army now. Farina is Pvt Allen Hoskins, Company D, 47th Quartermaster Regiment, stationed at the Presidio in Monterey. When Claudette Colbert, visiting the Presidio leaned from her automobile and called "Say, don't I know you?" Hoskins told the actress only his rank and detachment. "Why didn't you tell her you were Farina?" asked a fellow soldier. "Well, [he replied], "Farina was the name of that other guy she was thinking of - a little guy in a white dress whose contract called for more money in a week than I now make in a year. Farina's grown up. I'd rather she remembered me as I used to be before the world lost its sense of humor."
In one of her 1945 columns (published in various newspapers including the Lowell Sun) Louella Parsons wrote about Hoskins and other actors who served in World War II. "No one at Fort Roach knew the drama back of Sgt. Allen Hoskins appearance there on his last day in the Air Corps. As a boy, twenty years ago Sergeant Hoskins was Farina, in the Hal Roach Comedies. Hoskins saw action in five major Pacific battles and received a presidential citation. He expects to write and produce for the stage and has a musical he wrote in Australia."
Parsons went on to write:
"Want to say it again and again and keep on saying it, our boys who gave up studio jobs to go into the service and who have done so much for Hollywood and for their country must get their jobs back. That's one thing Hollywood must not have on its conscience. I mean the bitterness and heartache of these kids. Bob McGowan, who directed "Farina" as a child in Our Gang Comedies, wrote me: 'Thank you for the plug for "Farina", now Sgt. Allen Hoskins. He was a pretty blue little black boy when he failed to get his old job back...we can't have that and neither can any great industry in our country...'"
At the close of World War II in 1945, Hoskins was now 25. After his tours of duty he sought to audition for parts outside of the Roach studios but was not selected, even by those studios he knew well. Hoskins started to drift away from performing and retired his stage name. In a 1950s televised reunion on the Our Gang cast, Hoskins explained why he abandoned acting: "I preferred a job that allowed me to eat regular."
Hoskins had survived the war but could not find work back in Los Angeles as an actor. To make matters worse, he was then called for questioning by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). HUAC was a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives created in 1938 to investigate possible communist activities in the United States. Many industries were investigated, but it was Hollywood that received the most publicity. A retrospective Associated Press article appeared in an Odessa, Texas newspaper in 1979:
"...During the McCarthy era Hoskins was questioned by the House Unamerican Activities Committee which found that as a teenager, he had attended dances sponsored by the Young Communist League and the Socialist Workers Party. The committee took his passport and Hoskins was blacklisted. "But it didn't matter. I wasn't getting work anyway. But I didn't want to stick around and be another has-been. I wanted to do something." Hoskins left Hollywood in 1952 and headed for the San Francisco Bay Area where he met his wife, Franzy. There he painted houses, washed dishes, "anything to make an honest buck", before entering a training program which led to a job as a Psychiatric Technician and eventually to his present position."
Known to his friends as Al, he and his wife, Franzy moved to Santa Rosa in the 1950s where they raised their children and where he began his career in the field of rehabilitation. Hoskins never looked back. The exact date he began working at Sonoma State Hospital, located in Eldridge, California, is not known, but by 1963 he was the Sheltered Workshop Director. In addition to working full-time, he became concerned about the problems of youth in the South Park area of Santa Rosa, where they lived. In his spare time he developed a proposal for "Weekend House - an Evening and Weekend Training and Counseling Center" for youth. In the Introduction he wrote, "The beginnings of future problems if not met now, can and will develop into serious community problems that left to its own uncontrolled development, will lead to the type of area and social breakdown that have been experienced by other communities in the past..." Part of the problem he stated was that "...there are no parks or recreational facilities in the district..." . In his proposal, Hoskins identified these issues and offered solutions. A copy of this survives but it is not known if he submitted it to the local government.
In 1965 he left Sonoma State Hospital for a better position and the family moved to Hayward, California. He was now the Sheltered Workshop Director at the Walpert Center, part of the Association for Retarded Children of Southern Alameda County. His career was followed in the local papers, not because he had been a child star called "Farina", but because of his work as an advocate for the disabled. In 1966 he appeared in the local paper, The Argus, reporting on the Workshop's effort to seek funding to complete an expansion: "We're using every inch of available space...We think we have a worthwhile program and we'd like the chance to do an even better job and serve more people..."
In 1968 an article appeared in the Oakland Tribune regarding his efforts to strengthen Sheltered Workshops in his area: "A stripling of an organization, barely 3 years old, the Association of Workshops is making significant contributions to the employment of handicapped people in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties...There are 14 Workshops in the Association. They employ 500 working clients from ages 18 to 70. All types of handicaps - blind, mentally retarded, paraplegic, quadriplegic and others are employed in the shops. Allen C. Hoskins of Hayward, is President of the Association. "...What we need is work." Hoskins said. "The hardest thing is to convince manufacturers that we can do a specific job" Hoskins declared. "Once we have successfully bid on a contract, a plant manager usually is impressed with the quality of our work and the ability of our workers...We believe a job is the glue that holds people together." Hoskins declared."
In February 1969 Hoskins was chosen to be Director of the 10th Annual Conference on Rehabilitation Workshops. "The problems of administrating and operating Rehabilitation Workshops for the Handicapped is the subject of the California Association of Rehabilitation Workshops' 10th annual conference...Allen Hoskins, director of the Hayward Retarded Children's Center, 1101 Walpert St. is the program director for this year's convention."
Apparently his hard work paid off as, under his guidance, the Oakland Tribune reported that the workshop was now employing 1,000 clients, double what it had the previous year. "Handicapped workers represent a vast economic resource which has been barely tapped," according to Hoskins, who was also at that time President of the Bay Area Association of Rehabilitation Workshops, which represented 40 Workshops in the Bay Area.
Hoskins spoke at a press conference marking the observance of Workshop Week, which was proclaimed by Mayor John H. Reading of Oakland and other mayors throughout the state. "I have yet to find a business operation in which there is not some item of work which could not be best handled by one of our shops", Hoskins said..."they're a sleeping giant...You call us and we'll survey your company, tell you what we can do for you and make you an offer... What we're looking for is work not a handout."
While working full-time Hoskins also continued to develop creative projects and opened his own studio. In 1976 the Oakland Tribune reported that he was volunteering to help young actors learn their craft at a local non-profit group, the Experimental Group Young People's Theatre Co., where he was an advisor to the group, "...volunteering his expertise..."
Hoskins was still active in his professional rehabilitation career in 1975 when he was chosen, for his work as an actor, to be inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame at the second annual Oscar Micheaux Award ceremony held at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland. Also honored that year were Sidney Poitier, Lena Horne, Ruby Dee and Quincy Jones. He was interviewed about his career then and now:
"I want it on record that I never once traded on the name of Farina. I have built a pretty good name for myself in the rehabilitation field and I hate to sound like a braggart... I think one thing that's been very important to me is that I try not to live in the past." ... The father of six children, Hoskins is involved in several projects including working on his autobiography, a radio series called Walkabout and is head of his own company for creative projects, ALFRAN."
In his acceptance speech, Hoskins asked the question, "What is success?", and part of his answer was, "I didn't get to do what I wanted so I did something I could live with. I think one thing that's been very important to me is that I try not to live in the past." He also thanked the audience: "...I want to thank each and every one of you. I'm sure glad you didn't forget me."
One year before his death, a retrospective article about his life was published and was printed in various newspapers. "Allen Hoskins says he has fond memories of playing Farina in Our Gang about 50 years ago but he hasn't any residuals. 'I'm sick and tired of people thinking I get residuals or payment for replays of the still popular series,' Hoskins said in a recent interview. 'I haven't got no pot of money, I have never tried to trade off the name Farina, I haven't done that - I don't do that.' Instead the 58 year old Hoskins said he struggled through years of house painting and dishwashing before landing his present job as Public Information Officer for the Alameda County Chapter of the Association for Retarded Children."
Allen Clayton Hoskins died of cancer on July 26, 1980, in Oakland, California. Many newspapers, including the Farmington Daily Times, carried the story of his death "...he died Saturday after being admitted in a coma...His wife Franzy, was at his bedside along with his daughter Candy and his son Chris...at the time of his death she said he had been involved in starting a radio series and headed his own projects company known as ALFRAN..."
His wife, Franzy, continued to reside in the Bay Area until her death many years later in 2010, and his sister, Jannie ("Mango"), also resided in Northern California until her death in 1996.
Hoskins was buried without a headstone in an unmarked grave in Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland. It wasn't until twenty years after his death that Hoskins received a proper headstone, through the efforts of Jan Turner and the Find A Grave website in 2000 (listed under Find A Grave Memorial #8483).
|1922||One Terrible Day||Farina|
|1923||Dogs of War||Farina|
|1924||Every Man for Himself||Farina|
|1925||Your Own Back Yard||Farina||Hal Roach's favourite short|
|1926||Uncle Tom's Uncle||Farina|
|1927||The Old Wallop||Farina|
|1928||The Smile Wins||Farina|
|1929||Small Talk||Farina||First studio "talkie"|
|1930||Pups Is Pups||Farina|
|1931||Fly My Kite||Farina||Last film as member of Our Gang|
|1932||You Said a Mouthful||Sam Wellington||Credited as Farina|
|1933||Fish Hooky||Farina||Cameo appearance Our Gang|
|1933||Mayor of Hell||Smoke||Credited as Farina|
|1933||Life of Jimmy Dolan||Sam||Uncredited|
|1935||Reckless||Gold Dust, a Jockey||Credited as Farina|
|1936||The Gorgeous Hussy||Page Boy at Ball||Uncredited|
|1936||After The Thin Man||Screwy||Uncredited|