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Our Gang (also known as The Little Rascals or Hal Roach's Rascals) is a series of American comedy short films about a group of poor neighborhood children and their adventures. Created by comedy producer Hal Roach, the series is noted for showing children behaving in a relatively natural way, as Roach and original director Robert F. McGowan worked to film the unaffected, raw nuances apparent in regular children rather than have them imitate adult acting styles.
In addition, Our Gang notably put boys, girls, whites and blacks together in a group as equals, something that "broke new ground," according to film historian Leonard Maltin. Such a thing had never been done before in cinema but has since been repeated after the success of Our Gang.
The first production at the Roach studio in 1922 was a series of silent short subjects. When Roach changed distributors from Pathé to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1927, and converted the series to sound in 1929, the series took off even further. Production continued at the Roach studio until 1938, when the series was sold to MGM, who then continued producing the comedies until 1944. The Our Gang series includes a total of 220 shorts and one feature film, General Spanky, featuring over forty-one child actors. As MGM retained the rights to the Our Gang trademark following their purchase of the production rights, the 80 Roach-produced "talkies" were syndicated for television under the title The Little Rascals beginning in 1955. Both Roach's The Little Rascals package (now owned by CBS Television Distribution) and MGM's Our Gang package (now owned by Warner Bros. Entertainment) have since remained in syndication, with periodic new productions based on the shorts surfacing over the years, including a 1994 Little Rascals feature film released by Universal Pictures.
Unlike many other motion pictures featuring children that are based in fantasy, producer/creator Hal Roach rooted Our Gang in real life: the majority of the children were poor, and the gang was often put at odds with snobbish "rich kids," officious adults and parents, and other such adversaries. The series was notable in that the gang included both blacks and females in leading parts at a time when discrimination against both groups was commonplace.
Senior director Robert F. McGowan helmed most of the Our Gang shorts until 1933, assisted by his nephew Anthony Mack. McGowan worked hard to develop a style that allowed the children to be as natural as possible, downplaying the importance of the filmmaking equipment. Scripts were written for the shorts by the Hal Roach comedy writing staff, which included at various times Leo McCarey, Frank Capra, Walter Lantz and Frank Tashlin, among others. The children, some of them too young to read, very rarely saw the scripts; instead McGowan would explain the scene to be filmed to each child immediately before it was shot, directing the children using a megaphone and encouraging improvisation. Of course, when sound came in at the end of the 1920s, McGowan was forced to modify his approach slightly, but scripts were not adhered to until McGowan left the series. Later Our Gang directors such as Gus Meins and Gordon Douglas used a more streamlined approach to McGowan's methods, in order to meet the demands of the increasingly sophisticated movie industry of the mid to late 1930s. Douglas in particular was forced to streamline his films, as he directed Our Gang after Roach was forced to halve the running times of the shorts from two reels (20 minutes) to one reel (10 minutes).
As the children grew too old to be in the series, they were replaced by new children, usually from the Los Angeles area. Eventually Our Gang talent scouting employed large-scale national contests, where thousands of children tried out for one open role. Norman "Chubby" Chaney (who replaced Joe Cobb), Matthew "Stymie" Beard (who replaced Allen "Farina" Hoskins) and Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas (who replaced Stymie) all won contests to become members of the gang. Even when there was not a talent search, the studio was bombarded by requests from parents who were certain their children were perfect for the series. Among these were future child stars Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple, neither of whom made it past the audition stage.
The Our Gang series is notable for being one of the first times in cinema history that blacks and whites were portrayed as equals. The four African-American child actors who held main-character roles in the series were Ernie "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Matthew "Stymie" Beard and Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas. Ernie Morrison was, in fact, the first African-American actor signed to a long-term contract in Hollywood history, and was the first major African-American star in Hollywood history as well.
In their adult years, Morrison, Beard and Thomas became some of Our Gang's staunchest defenders, maintaining that its integrated cast and innocent story lines were far from racist. They explained that the white children's characters in the series were similarly stereotyped: the "freckle-faced kid," the "fat kid," the "neighborhood bully", the "pretty blond girl," and the "mischievous toddler." "We were just a group of kids who were having fun, " Stymie Beard recalled. Ernie Morrison stated, "When it came to race, Hal Roach was color-blind." Other minorities, including Asian Americans (Sing Joy, Allen Tong, and Edward Zoo Hoo) and Italian Americans (Mickey Gubitosi), were also depicted in the series, with varying levels of stereotyping.
According to Roach, the idea for Our Gang came to him in 1921, when he was auditioning a child actress to appear in one of his films. The girl was, in his opinion, overly made up and overly rehearsed, and Roach patiently waited for the audition to be over. After the girl and her mother left the office, Roach looked out of his window to a lumberyard across the street, where he saw a group of children having an argument. The children had all taken sticks from the lumberyard to play with, but the smallest child had taken the biggest stick, and the others were trying to force him to give it to the biggest child. After realizing that he had been watching the children bicker for 15 minutes, Roach thought a short film series about children just being themselves might be a success.
Our Gang also had its roots in an aborted Roach short-subject series revolving around the adventures of a black boy character called "Sunshine Sammy", played by Ernie Morrison. Theater owners of the time were wary of booking a series focused on a young black boy, and the series ended after only one entry, The Pickaninny, was produced. Morrison's "Sunshine Sammy" instead became one of the foci of the new Our Gang series.
Under the supervision of Charley Chase, work began on the first two-reel shorts in the new "kids-and-pets" series, which was to be called Hal Roach's Rascals, later that year. Director Fred C. Newmeyer helmed the first version of the pilot film, entitled Our Gang, but Roach scrapped Newmeyer's work and had former fireman Robert F. McGowan re-shoot the short. Roach tested it at various theaters around Hollywood. The attendees were very receptive, and the press clamored for "lots more of those 'Our Gang' comedies." The colloquial usage of the term Our Gang led to its becoming the series' second (yet more popular) official title, with the title cards reading "Our Gang Comedies: Hal Roach presents His Rascals in..." The series was officially called both Our Gang and Hal Roach's Rascals until 1932, when Our Gang became the sole title of the series.
The first cast of Our Gang was recruited primarily from children recommended to Roach by studio employees, with the exception of Ernie Morrison, already under contract to Roach. The other Our Gang recruits included Roach photographer Gene Kornman's daughter Mary Kornman, their friends' son Mickey Daniels, and family friends Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Jack Davis, Jackie Condon and Joe Cobb. Most of the early shorts were shot outdoors and on location, and also featured a menagerie of comic animal characters, such as Dinah the Mule.
Roach's distributor Pathé released One Terrible Day, the fourth short to be produced for the series, as the first Our Gang short on September 10, 1922; the pilot Our Gang was not released until November 5. The Our Gang series was a success from the start, with the children's naturalism, the funny animal actors, and McGowan's direction making a successful combination. The shorts did well at the box office, and by the end of the decade the Our Gang children were pictured on numerous product endorsements.
The biggest Our Gang stars in this period were Sunshine Sammy, Mickey Daniels, Mary Kornman, and little Farina, who eventually became both the most popular member of the 1920s gang and the most popular black child star of the 1920s. Daniels and Kornman were also very popular, and were often paired in both Our Gang and a later teenaged version of the series called The Boy Friends, which Roach produced from 1930 to 1932. Other early Our Gang children were Eugene "Pineapple" Jackson, Scooter Lowry, Andy Samuel, Johnny Downs, and Jay R. Smith.
After Sammy, Mickey and Mary left the series in the mid-1920s, the Our Gang series entered a transitional period. The stress of directing the child actors forced Robert McGowan to take a pair of doctor-mandated sabbaticals for exhaustion, leaving nephew Robert A. McGowan (credited as Anthony Mack) to direct many of the shorts from this period. The Mack-directed shorts are considered to be among the lesser entries in the series. New faces included Bobby "Wheezer" Hutchins, Harry Spear, Jean Darling and Mary Ann Jackson, while stalwart Farina served as the series' anchor.
Also at this time, the Our Gang cast acquired an American Pit Bull Terrier with a ring around his eye; originally named "Pansy," the dog soon became known as Pete the Pup, the most famous Our Gang pet. In 1927, Hal Roach ended his distribution arrangement with the Pathé company. He instead signed on to release future products through newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which released its first Our Gang comedy in September 1927. The move to MGM offered Roach larger budgets, and the chance to have his films packaged with MGM features to the Loews Theatres chain.
Some of the shorts around this time, particularly Spook Spoofing (1928, one of only two three-reelers in the Our Gang canon) contained extended scenes of the gang tormenting and teasing Farina, scenes which helped spur the claims of racism which many other shorts did not warrant. These shorts marked the departure of Jackie Condon, who had been with the group from the beginning of the series.
Starting in 1928, Our Gang comedies were distributed with phonographic discs that contained synchronized music-and-sound-effect tracks for the shorts. In spring 1929, the Roach sound stages were converted for sound recording, and Our Gang made its "all-talking" debut in April 1929 with the 25-minute Small Talk. It took a year for McGowan and the gang to fully adjust to talking pictures, during which time they lost Joe Cobb, Jean Darling and Harry Spear, and added Norman "Chubby" Chaney, Dorothy DeBorba, Matthew "Stymie" Beard, Donald Haines and Jackie Cooper. Cooper proved to be the personality the series had been missing since Mickey Daniels left, and was featured prominently in three 1930/1931 Our Gang films: Teacher's Pet, School's Out, and Love Business. These three shorts explored Jackie Cooper's crush on the new schoolteacher Miss Crabtree, played by June Marlowe. Cooper soon won the lead role in Paramount's feature film Skippy, and Roach sold his contract to MGM in 1931. Other Our Gang members appearing in the early sound shorts included Buddy McDonald, Bobby "Bonedust" Young, and Shirley Jean Rickert. Many also appeared in a group cameo appearance in the all-star comedy short The Stolen Jools (1931).
Beginning with When the Wind Blows, background music scores were added to the soundtracks of most of the Our Gang films. Initially, the music consisted of orchestral versions of then popular tunes. Marvin Hatley had served as the music director of Hal Roach Studios since 1929, and RCA employee Leroy Shield joined the company as a part-time musical director in mid 1930. Hatley and Shield's jazz-influenced scores, first featured in Our Gang with 1930s Pups is Pups, became recognizable trademarks of Our Gang, Laurel and Hardy, and the other Roach series and films. Another 1930 short, Teacher's Pet marked the first use of the Our Gang theme song, "Good Old Days", composed by Leroy Shield and featuring a notable saxophone solo. Shield and Hatley's scores would support Our Gang's on-screen action regularly through 1934, after which series entries with background scores became less frequent.
In 1930, Roach began production on The Boy Friends, a short-subject series which was essentially a teenaged version of Our Gang. Featuring Our Gang alumni Mickey Daniels and Mary Kornman among its cast, The Boy Friends was produced by Roach for two years, with fifteen installments in total.
Jackie Cooper left Our Gang in early 1931 at the cusp of another major shift in the lineup, as Farina Hoskins, Chubby Chaney, and Mary Ann Jackson all departed a few months afterward. Our Gang entered another transitional period, similar to that of the mid-1920s. Stymie Beard, Wheezer Hutchins, and Dorothy DeBorba carried the series during this period, aided by Sherwood Bailey and Kendall "Breezy Brisbane" McComas. Unlike the mid-20s period, McGowan was able to sustain the quality of the series with the help of the several regular cast members and the Roach writing staff. Many of these shorts include early appearances of Jerry Tucker and Wally Albright, who later became series regulars.
New Roach discovery George "Spanky" McFarland joined the gang late in 1931 at the age of three and, excepting a brief hiatus during the summer of 1938, remained an Our Gang actor for the next eleven years. At first appearing as the tag-along toddler of the group, and later finding an accomplice in Scotty Beckett in 1934, Spanky quickly became Our Gang's biggest child star. He won parts in a number of outside features, appeared in many of the now-numerous Our Gang product endorsements and spin-off merchandise items, and popularized the expressions "Okey-dokey!" and "Okey-doke!"
Dickie Moore, a veteran child actor, joined in the middle of 1932, and remained with the series for one year. Other members during these years included Mary Ann Jackson's brother Dickie Jackson, John "Uh-huh" Collum, and Tommy Bond. Upon Dickie Moore's departure in mid-1933, long-term Our Gang members such as Wheezer (who had been with Our Gang since the late Pathé silents period) and Dorothy left the series as well.
Robert McGowan, burned out from the stress of working with the child actors, had as early as 1931 attempted to resign from his position as Our Gang producer/director. Lacking a replacement, Hal Roach managed to convince him to stay on for another year. At the start of the 1933-34 season, the Our Gang series format was significantly altered to accommodate McGowan and convince him to stay another year. The first two entries of the season, Bedtime Worries and Wild Poses the latter of which featured a surprise cameo by Laurel and Hardy as babies, released in the fall of 1933, focused on Spanky McFarland and his hapless parents, portrayed by Gay Seabrook and Emerson Treacy, in a family-oriented situation comedy format similar to that later popular on television. A smaller cast of Our Gang kids - Stymie Beard, Tommy Bond, Jerry Tucker, and Georgie Billings - were featured in supporting roles with reduced screen time.
An unsatisfied McGowan abruptly left the series after Wild Poses. Coupled with a brief suspension in Spanky McFarland's work permit, Our Gang went into a four-month hiatus, during which the series was revised to a format similar to its original style and German-born 'Gus Meins was hired as the new series director.
Hi-Neighbor!, released in March 1934, ended the hiatus and was the first series entry directed by Meins, a veteran of the once-competing Buster Brown short subject series. Gordon Douglas served as Meins's assistant director, and Fred Newmeyer alternated directorial duties with Meins for a handful of shorts. Meins's Our Gang shorts were less improvisational than McGowan's, and featured a heavier reliance on dialogue. McGowan returned two years later to direct his Our Gang swan song, Divot Diggers, released in 1936.
Retaining Spanky McFarland, Stymie Beard, Tommy Bond, and Jerry Tucker, the revised series added Scotty Beckett, Wally Albright, and Billie Thomas, who soon began playing the character of Stymie's sister "Buckwheat" though Thomas was a male. Semi-regular actors such as Jackie Lynn Taylor, Marianne Edwards, and Leonard Kibrick, as the neighborhood bully, also joined the series at this time. Tommy Bond and Wally Albright left the cast in the middle of 1934; Jackie Lynn Taylor and Marriane Edwards would depart by 1935.
Early in 1935, Carl Switzer and his brother Harold joined the gang after impressing Roach with an impromptu performance at the studio commissary. While Harold would eventually be relegated to the role of a background player, Carl, nicknamed "Alfalfa," eventually became Scotty Beckett's replacement as Spanky's sidekick. Stymie Beard left the cast shortly after, and the Buckwheat character morphed subtly into a male. The same year, Darla Hood, Patsy May, and Eugene "Porky" Lee also joined the gang, as Scotty Beckett departed for a career in features.
Our Gang was very successful during the 1920s and the early 1930s. However, by 1934, many movie theater owners were increasingly dropping two-reel (20-minute) comedies like Our Gang and the Laurel & Hardy series from their bills, and running double feature programs instead. The Laurel & Hardy series was switched from film shorts to features exclusively in mid-1935. By 1936, Hal Roach began debating plans to discontinue Our Gang until Louis B. Mayer, head of Roach's distributor MGM, convinced Roach to keep the popular series in production. Roach agreed, and began producing shorter, one-reel Our Gang comedies (ten-minutes in length instead of twenty). The first one-reel Our Gang short, Bored of Education (1936), marked the Our Gang directorial debut of former assistant director Gordon Douglas, and won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (One Reel) in 1937.
As part of the arrangement with MGM to continue Our Gang, Roach received the clearance to produce an Our Gang feature film, General Spanky, hoping that he could possibly move the series to features as he had done with Laurel & Hardy. Directed by Gordon Douglas and Fred Newmeyer, General Spanky featured Spanky, Buckwheat, and Alfalfa in a sentimental, Shirley Temple-esque story set during the Civil War. The film focused more on its adult leads (Phillip Holmes and Rosina Lawrence) than the children, and was a box office disappointment. No further Our Gang features were made.
After years of gradual cast changes, the troupe standardized in 1936 with the move to one-reel shorts. Most casual fans of Our Gang are particularly familiar with the 1936–1939 incarnation of the cast: Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Buckwheat, and Porky, with recurring characters such as neighborhood bullies Butch and Woim and bookworm Waldo. Tommy Bond, an off-and-on member of the gang since 1932, returned to the series as Butch beginning with the 1937 short Glove Taps. Sidney Kibrick, younger brother of Leonard Kibrick, played Butch's crony, The Woim. Glove Taps also featured the first appearance of Darwood Kaye as the bespectacled and foppish Waldo. In later shorts, both Butch and Waldo would be portrayed as Alfalfa's main rivals in his pursuit of Darla's affections. Other popular elements in these mid-to-late 1930s shorts include the "He-Man Woman Haters Club" from Hearts Are Thumps and Mail and Female (both 1937), the Laurel and Hardy-ish interaction between Alfalfa and Spanky, and the comic tag-along team of Porky and Buckwheat.
Roach produced the final two-reel Our Gang short, a high-budget musical special entitled Our Gang Follies of 1938, in 1937 as a parody of MGM's Broadway Melody of 1938. In Follies of 1938, Alfalfa, who aspires to be an opera singer, falls asleep and dreams that his old pal Spanky has become the rich owner of a swanky Broadway nightclub, where Darla and Buckwheat perform and make "hundreds and thousands of dollars."
As the profit margins continued to decline due to double features, Roach could no longer afford to continue producing Our Gang. However, MGM did not want the series discontinued, and agreed to take over production. On May 31, 1938, Roach sold MGM the Our Gang unit, including the rights to the name and the contracts for the actors and writers, for $25,000 (equal to $407,742 today). After delivering the Laurel & Hardy feature Block-Heads, Roach ended his distribution contract with MGM as well, moving to United Artists and leaving the short subjects business. The final Roach-produced short in the Our Gang series, Hide and Shriek, was also Roach's final short subject production.
The Little Ranger was the first Our Gang short to be produced in-house at MGM. Gordon Douglas was loaned out from Hal Roach Studios to direct The Little Ranger and another early MGM short, Aladdin's Lantern, while MGM hired newcomer George Sidney to become the permanent series director. Our Gang would be used by MGM as a training ground for future feature directors: Sidney, Edward Cahn and Cy Endfield all worked on Our Gang before moving on to features. Another director, Herbert Glazer, remained a second-unit director outside of his work on the series.
Nearly all of the 52 MGM-produced Our Gangs were written by former Roach director Hal Law and former junior director Robert A. McGowan (also known as Anthony Mack, nephew of former senior Our Gang director Robert F. McGowan). Robert A. McGowan was credited for these shorts as "Robert McGowan"; as a result, moviegoers have been confused for decades about whether this Robert McGowan and the senior director of the same name back at Roach were two separate people or not.
By 1938, Alfalfa had surpassed Spanky as Our Gang's lead character; Spanky McFarland in fact had departed from the series just before its sale to MGM. Casting his replacement was delayed until after the move to MGM, at which point it was arranged to re-hire McFarland.
Porky was replaced in 1939 by Mickey Gubitosi, later better known by the stage name of Robert Blake. Tommy Bond, Darwood Kaye, and Alfalfa Switzer all left the series in 1940, and Billy "Froggy" Laughlin (with his Popeye-esque trick voice) and Janet Burston were added to the cast. By the end of 1941, Darla Hood had also departed from the series, and Spanky McFarland followed her within a year. Buckwheat remained in the cast until the end of the series as the only holdover from the Roach era.
Overall, the Our Gang films produced by MGM were not as well-received as the Roach-produced shorts had been, due to both MGM's inexperience with the brand of slapstick comedy Our Gang was famous for and MGM's insistence on keeping Alfalfa, Spanky and Buckwheat in the series until they were in their early teens. The MGM entries are considered by many film historians, and even the Our Gang children themselves, to be lesser films than the Roach entries. The children's performances were often stilted, with the fully scripted dialogue now being recited stiffly instead of spoken naturally. The stories were more heavy-handed, with adult situations driving the action, and the films usually incorporated a moral, a civics lesson, or a patriotic theme. The series was given a permanent setting in the fictitious town of Greenpoint, and the mayhem caused by the Our Gang kids was toned down significantly.
Exhibitors noticed the drop in quality, and often complained that the series was slipping. When six of the 13 shorts released between 1942 and 1943 sustained losses rather than turning profits, MGM discontinued Our Gang, releasing the final short, Dancing Romeo, on April 29, 1944.
Since 1937, Our Gang had been featured as a licensed comic strip in the UK comic The Dandy, drawn by Dudley D. Watkins. Starting in 1942, MGM licensed Our Gang to Dell Comics for the publication of Our Gang Comics, featuring the gang, Barney Bear, and Tom and Jerry. The strips in The Dandy ended three years after the demise of the Our Gang shorts, in 1947. Our Gang Comics outlasted the series by five years, finally changing its name to Tom and Jerry Comics in 1949. In 2006, Fantagraphics Books began issuing a series of volumes reprinting the Our Gang stories, most of which were written and drawn by Pogo creator Walt Kelly.
When Hal Roach sold Our Gang to MGM, he had retained the option to buy back the rights to the Our Gang trademark, provided he did not produce any more children's comedies in the Our Gang vein. In the mid-1940s, he decided that he wanted to create a new film property in the Our Gang mold, and forfeited his right to buy back the Our Gang name in order to obtain the permission to produce two Cinecolor featurettes, Curley and Who Killed Doc Robbin. Neither film was critically or financially successful, and Roach instead turned his plans toward re-releasing the original Our Gang comedies.
In 1949, MGM sold Hal Roach the backlog of 1927–1938 Our Gang silent and talking shorts, while retaining the rights to the Our Gang name, the 52 Our Gang films it produced, and the feature General Spanky. As per the terms of the sale, Roach was required to remove the MGM Lion studio logo and all instances of the names or logos "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer", "Loews Incorporated", and Our Gang from the reissued film prints. Using a modified version of the series' original name, Roach re-packaged the 80 sound Our Gang shorts as The Little Rascals. Monogram Pictures and its successor, Allied Artists, reissued the films to theaters beginning in 1951. Allied Artists' television department, Interstate Television, syndicated the films to TV in 1955.
Under its new name, The Little Rascals enjoyed renewed popularity on television, and new Little Rascals comic books, toys, and other licensed merchandise was made available for purchase. Seeing the potential of the property, MGM began distributing its own Our Gang shorts to television in 1956, and as a result, the two separate packages of Our Gang films competed with each other in syndication for three decades. Some stations bought both packages and played them alongside each other under the Little Rascals show banner.
The television rights for the original silent Pathé Our Gang comedies were sold to National Telepix and other distributors, who distributed the films under titles such as The Mischief Makers and Those Lovable Scallawags with Their Gangs.
In 1963, Hal Roach Studios, by then run by Roach's son Hal Jr, filed for bankruptcy. A struggling novice syndication agent named Charles King purchased the television rights to The Little Rascals during the bankruptcy proceedings and returned the shorts to television. The success of The Little Rascals paved the way for King's new company, King World Productions, to become one of the largest television syndicators in the world.
In 1971, because of controversy over some of the racial humor in the shorts, as well as other content deemed to be in bad taste, King World made significant edits to its Little Rascals TV prints. Many of the series entries were trimmed by two to four minutes, while several others (among them Spanky, Bargain Day, The Pinch Singer and Mush and Milk) were cut down to nearly half of their original length.
At the same time, eight Little Rascals shorts were removed from the King World television package altogether. Lazy Days, Moan and Groan, Inc., the Stepin Fetchit-guest-starred A Tough Winter, Little Daddy, A Lad an' a Lamp, The Kid From Borneo, and Little Sinner were all deleted from the syndication package because of perceived racism, while Big Ears was deleted for dealing with the subject of divorce. The early talkie Railroadin' was never part of the television package because its soundtrack (recorded on phonographic records) could not be found and was considered lost, although it was later found and restored to the film.
In the early 2000s, the 71 films in the King World package were re-edited, reinstating many (though not all) of the edits made in 1971 and the original Our Gang title cards. These new television prints made their debut on the American Movie Classics cable network in 2001 and ran until 2003.
In 1977, Norman Lear tried to revive the Rascals franchise, taping three pilot episodes of The Little Rascals. The pilots were not bought, but they were notable for giving an early start to Gary Coleman.
1979 brought The Little Rascals Christmas Special, an animated holiday special produced by Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, written by Romeo Muller and featuring voice work from Darla Hood (who died before the special aired) and Matthew "Stymie" Beard. Hanna-Barbera brought the animated gang back from 1982 to 1984 in a series of Little Rascals television cartoons for ABC Saturday mornings. Many producers, including Our Gang alumnus Jackie Cooper, made pilots for new Little Rascals television series, but none of them ever went into production.
From 1982 to 1984, Hanna Barbera produced a Saturday morning cartoon version of The Little Rascals, which aired on ABC during The Pac-Man/Little Rascals/Richie Rich Show (later The Monchichis/Little Rascals/Richie Rich Show). It starred the voices of Patty Maloney as Darla; Peter Cullen as Petey and Officer Ed; Scott Menville as Spanky; Julie McWhirter Dees as Alfalfa, Porky and The Woim; Shavar Ross as Buckwheat, and B.J. Ward as Butch and Waldo.
In 1994, Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures released The Little Rascals, a feature film based upon the series and featuring interpretations of classic Our Gang shorts, including Hearts are Thumps, Rushin' Ballet, and Hi'-Neighbor! The film, directed by Penelope Spheeris, starred Travis Tedford as Spanky, Bug Hall as Alfalfa, and Ross Bagley as Buckwheat; and featured cameos by the Olsen twins, Whoopi Goldberg, Mel Brooks, Reba McEntire, Daryl Hannah, Donald Trump and Raven-Symoné. The Little Rascals was a moderate success for Universal, bringing in $51,764,950 at the box office.
The characters in this series became well-known cultural icons, and could often be identified solely by their first names. The characters of Alfalfa, Spanky, Buckwheat, Darla, and Froggy were especially well known. Like many child actors, the Our Gang children were subsequently typecast and had trouble outgrowing their Our Gang images.
Several Our Gang alumni, among them Carl Switzer, Scotty Beckett, Norman Chaney, Billy Laughlin, Donald Haines and Bobby Hutchins, died before the age of forty. This led to rumors that there was an Our Gang/Little Rascals "curse", a rumor popularized by a 2002 E! True Hollywood Story documentary entitled "The Curse of the Little Rascals". The Snopes.com website debunks the rumor that there is an Our Gang curse, stating that there was no evidence of a pattern of unusual deaths when taking all of the major Our Gang stars into account, despite the deaths of a select few.
The children's work in the series went largely unrewarded in later years, although Spanky McFarland received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame posthumously in 1994. Neither he nor any of the other Our Gang children ever received any residuals or royalties from reruns of the shorts or licensed products with their likenesses. The only remittances they received were their weekly salaries during their time in the gang, which ranged from $40 a week for newcomers to $200 or more a week for stars like Farina, Spanky, and Alfalfa.
One notable exception is Jackie Cooper, who was later nominated for an Academy Award and had a full career as an adult actor. Cooper is known today for portraying Perry White in the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve, as well as for directing episodes of TV series such as M*A*S*H and Superboy.
Due to the popularity of Our Gang, a number of imitation kid comedy short film series were created by competing studios. Among the most notable of these are The Kiddie Troupers, featuring future comedian Eddie Bracken; Baby Burlesks, featuring Shirley Temple; the Buster Brown comedies (from which Our Gang received Pete the Pup and director Gus Meins); and Our Gang's most successful competitor, the Toonerville Trolley-based Mickey McGuire series starring Mickey Rooney. Some less notable imitations series include The McDougall Alley Gang (Bray Productions, 1927–1928), The Us Bunch and Our Kids. There is also evidence that Our Gang-style productions were filmed in small towns and cities around the country using local children as actors during the 1920s and 1930s. These productions did not appear to be affiliated with Hal Roach, but often used storylines from the shorts of the period, and sometimes even went so far as to identify themselves as being Our Gang productions.
In later years, a large number of adults falsely claimed to have been members of Our Gang. A long list of people, including persons famous in other capacities such as Nanette Fabray, Eddie Bracken, and gossip columnist Joyce Haber have all claimed to be or have been publicly called former Our Gang children. Bracken's official biography was once altered to state that he appeared in Our Gang instead of The Kiddie Troupers, although he himself had no knowledge of the change.
Among the most notable Our Gang impostors is Jack Bothwell, who claimed to have portrayed a character named "Freckles", and went so far as to appear on the game show To Tell The Truth in the fall of 1957 perpetuating this fraud. In 2008, a Darla Hood impostor, Mollie Barron, died claiming to have appeared as Darla in Our Gang. Another is Bill English, a grocery store employee who appeared on the October 5, 1990, episode of the ABC investigative television newsmagazine 20/20 claiming to have been Buckwheat. Following the broadcast, Spanky McFarland informed the media of the truth, and in December, William Thomas, Jr. (son of Billie Thomas, the actual actor who played Buckwheat) filed a lawsuit against ABC for negligence.
A number of other groups, companies, and entities have been inspired by or named after Our Gang. The folk-rock group Spanky and Our Gang was named in honor of the troupe, but had no other connection with it. In addition, there are a number of (unauthorized) Little Rascals and Our Gang restaurants and day care centers in various locations throughout the United States. Ren and Stimpy, the animated stars of Nickelodeon's The Ren and Stimpy Show, were first created as supporting characters on a proposed cartoon show called Your Gang about a group of children.
For many years, Blackhawk Films released 79 of the 80 Roach talkies on 16 mm film. The sound discs for Railroading' had been lost since the 1940s, and a silent print was made available for home movie release until 1982, when the film's sound discs were located in the MGM vault and the short was restored with sound. Like the television prints, Blackhawk's Little Rascals reissues featured custom-created title cards in place of the original Our Gang logos, as per MGM's 1949 arrangement with Hal Roach not to distribute the series under its original title. The only edits made to the films were the replacements of the original Our Gang title cards with Little Rascals titles.
In 1983, with the VHS home video market growing, Blackhawk began distributing Little Rascals VHS tapes available through catalogue only, with three shorts per tape. Blackhawk Films was acquired in 1983 by National Telefilm Associates, later renamed Republic Pictures. Republic would release Little Rascals VHS volumes for retail purchase in various, non-comprehensive collections through the rest of the 1980s and early 1990s. By this point, all but 11 of the Roach-era sound films were available on home video.
In 1993, Republic sold the home video rights to the 80 sound Roach shorts and some of the available silent shorts to Cabin Fever Entertainment. Cabin Fever also acquired the rights to use the original Our Gang title cards and MGM logos, and for the first time in over 50 years, the Roach sound Our Gang comedies could be commercially exhibited in their original format. Twenty-one VHS volumes were released between 1994 and 1995, hosted by Leonard Maltin. With four shorts per tape, Cabin Fever made all 80 Roach sound shorts, and four silents, available for purchase, uncut and with digitally restored picture and sound.
Cabin Fever began pressing DVD versions of their first 12 Little Rascals VHS volumes (with the contents of two VHS volumes included on each DVD), but went out of business in 1998 before their release. The Little Rascals home video rights were then sold to Hallmark Entertainment in 1999, who released the DVDs without an official launch while cleaning out their warehouse in early 2000. Hallmark also colorized a few Our Gang shorts and released them across 5 VHS tapes. Later that year, the first 10 Cabin Fever volumes were re-released on VHS with new packaging, and the first two volumes were also released on DVD as The Little Rascals: Volumes 1–2. Two further Hallmark DVD collections featured ten shorts apiece, and were released in 2003 and 2005, respectively.
From 2006 - 2009, Legend Films produced colorized versions of twenty four Our Gang comedies (23 Roach entries, and the public domain MGM entry Waldo's Last Stand), which were released across five Little Rascals DVDs.
RHI Entertainment and Genius Products released an eight-disc DVD set, The Little Rascals – the Complete Collection, on October 28, 2008. This set includes all 80 Hal Roach-produced Our Gang sound short films. Most of the collection uses the 1994 restorations, while 16 of the shorts are presented with older Blackhawk Films transfers as their remastered copies were lost or misplaced during preparations.
On June 14, 2011, Vivendi Entertainment re-released seven of the eight DVD's from RHI/Genius Products' The Little Rascals - The Complete Collection as individual releases. This includes the 80 shorts - replacing the Blackhawk transfers on the previous set with their respective 1994 restorations - but excludes the disc featuring the extras.
During the 1980s and 1990s, MGM released several non-comprehensive VHS tapes of its shorts, as well as a VHS of the feature General Spanky. After video rights for the classic MGM library reverted to their new owners, Turner Entertainment/Warner Bros., in the late 1990s, four of the MGM Our Gang shorts appeared as bonus features on Warner Bros.-issued classic film DVD releases.
On September 1, 2009, Warner Home Video released all 52 MGM Our Gang shorts in a compilation titled The Our Gang Collection: 1938–1942 (though it contains the 1943-44 shorts as well) for manufacture-on-demand (MOD) DVD and digital download. The set is available by mail order and digital download as part of the Warner Archive Collection, and is also available for individual purchase via the iTunes Store.
There are many other unofficial Our Gang and Little Rascals home video collections available from several other distributors, comprising shorts (both silent and sound) which have fallen into the public domain.
Currently, the rights to the Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts are scattered.
Sonar Entertainment (formerly known as RHI Entertainment, Cabin Fever Entertainment and Hallmark Entertainment) owns the copyrights of and holds the theatrical and home video rights to the Roach-produced Our Gang shorts. Sonar acquired these after absorbing Hal Roach Studios in 1988, and both Roach's estate and Cabin Fever Entertainment in the late 1990s.
CBS Television Distribution, formed by the merger of King World Entertainment with CBS Paramount Domestic Television, owns the rights to the Little Rascals trademark and the Little Rascals television package. CBS offers both original black-and-white and colorized prints for syndication. The King World/CBS Little Rascals package was featured as exclusive programming (in the United States) for the American Movie Classics network from August 2001 to December 2003, with Frankie Muniz as the host. As part of a month-long tribute to Hal Roach Studios, Turner Classic Movies televised a 24-hour marathon of Roach Our Gang shorts - both sound films and silents - on January 4–5, 2011.
The MGM-produced Our Gang shorts, General Spanky, and the rights to the Our Gang name are owned by Warner Bros. Entertainment as part of the Turner Entertainment library. Turner Entertainment acquired these assets in 1986 when its founder, Ted Turner, purchased the pre-1986 MGM library; Turner merged with Time Warner in 1996. The television rights for the MGM Our Gang shorts belong to Warner Bros. Television Distribution, and the video rights to Warner Home Video. The MGM Our Gangs today appear periodically on the Turner Classic Movies cable network.
The widely circulated rumor that entertainer Bill Cosby bought up the rights to Our Gang to keep the racial stereotypes off of television is false. Cosby has never owned any rights to the series at any time.
For a detailed listing of the Our Gang child actors, recurring adult actors, directors, and writers, see Our Gang personnel.
The following is a listing of the main child actors in the Our Gang comedies. They are grouped by the era during which they joined the series.
As of June 2013, living Our Gang actors included Robert Blake, Sidney Kibrick, Jean Darling, Marianne Edwards, Dickie Moore, Jerry Tucker, Jackie Lynn Taylor, Lassie Lou Ahern, Mildred Kornman, and Leonard Landy.
For a complete filmography, see Our Gang filmography.
The following is a listing of selected Our Gang comedies, considered by Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann (in their book The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang) to be among the best and most important in the series.
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