Our Gang

"The Little Rascals" redirects here. For other uses of the title "The Little Rascals", see The Little Rascals (disambiguation).
For the novel by Philip Roth see Our Gang (novel).

Our Gang, also known as The Little Rascals or Hal Roach's Rascals, was a long-lived series of American comedy short films about a troupe of poor neighborhood children and the adventures they had together. Created by comedy producer Hal Roach, Our Gang was produced at the Roach studio starting in 1922 as a silent short subject series. Roach changed distributors from Pathé to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1927, went to sound in 1929, and continued production until 1938, when he sold the series to MGM. MGM continued producing the comedies until 1944. A total of 220 shorts and one feature film, General Spanky, were eventually produced, featuring over forty-one child actors. In the mid-1950s, the 80 Roach-produced shorts with sound were syndicated for television under the title The Little Rascals, as MGM retained the rights to the Our Gang trademark.

The series, one of the best-known and most successful in cinema history, is noted for showing children behaving in a relatively natural way. While child actors are often groomed to imitate adult acting styles, steal scenes, or deliver "cute" performances, Hal Roach and original director Robert F. McGowan worked to film the unaffected, raw nuances apparent in regular kids. Our Gang also notably put boys, girls, whites, and blacks together in a group as equals, something that "broke new ground," according to film historian Leonard Maltin.[1] Such a thing had never been done before in cinema, but was commonplace after the success of Our Gang.

Contents

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About the series

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 kids 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 African-Americans and females in leading parts at a time when discrimination against both groups was commonplace.

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Directorial approach

Senior director Robert F. McGowan helmed most of the Our Gang shorts until 1933, assisted by his nephew Anthony Mack. He worked hard to develop a style that allowed the kids 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 kids, some of them too young to read, very rarely saw the scripts; instead McGowan would explain the scene to be filmed to each kid right before it was shot, directing the children using a megaphone and encouraging improvisation. Of course, when sound came in at the end of the decade, 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).

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Finding kid talent

As the children grew too old to be in the series, they were replaced by new kids, usually from the Los Angeles area. Eventually, Our Gang talent scouting was done using large-scale national contests, where thousands of kids (often at the behest of their parents) 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 major contests to become members of the gang. Even when there was not a massive talent search going on, the Roach studio was bombarded by requests from parents who were certain their children were perfect for the series. Two of these children included future child stars Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple, neither of whom made it into the gang.

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African Americans in Our Gang

The Our Gang series is notable for being one of the first times in movie history that African-Americans and Caucasians were portrayed as equals, though a number of people, including members of the African-American community, do not look favorably upon the characters of the black children today [2]. The four black child actors who held main-character roles in the series were Ernie "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Matthew "Stymie" Beard (whose trademark oversized derby hat was a gift from fellow comedian Stan Laurel), and Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas. Ernie Morrison was, in fact, the first black actor signed to a long-term contract in Hollywood history [3], and was the first major black star in Hollywood history as well [4].

The black children in Our Gang often epitomized the early Hollywood black stereotype of a "Negro", as well as that of the pickaninny [5]. These characters provided comic relief by speaking a mangled form of English, and by frequently being so frightened that either their hair stood on end, or they turned white with fear (a special effect created with negative film exposure techniques). The black children's fathers were perpetually mentioned as being in and out of jail, and the children themselves habitually ate watermelon and fried chicken in the shorts. Comedian Eddie Murphy controversially parodied Buckwheat and the stereotypical aspects of his character in a series of skits for Saturday Night Live.

In their adult years, Ernie Morrison, Matthew Beard, and Billie 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 "freckled kid," the "fat kid," the "pretty blond girl," and the "mischievous toddler." "We were just a group of kids who were having fun," Stymie Beard recalled [6]. Ernie Morrison stated that "when it came to race, Hal Roach was color-blind" [7]. 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.


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History

(From left to right) Ernie "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, Andy Samuel, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Mickey Daniels, and Joe Cobb in a 1923 still from one of the earliest Our Gang comedies.
(From left to right) Ernie "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, Andy Samuel, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Mickey Daniels, and Joe Cobb in a 1923 still from one of the earliest Our Gang comedies.
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Early years

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 kid had taken the biggest stick, and the others were trying to force him to give it to the biggest kid. After realizing that he had been watching the kids bicker for 15 minutes, Roach thought a short film series about kids just being themselves might be a success [8].

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 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 kids was recruited primarily from children recommended to Roach by studio employees, including photographer Gene Kornman's daughter Mary Kornman, their friends' son Mickey Daniels, Roach child actor Ernie "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, 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 kids' 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 kids were pictured on numerous product endorsements.

The biggest Our Gang stars in this period were Sunshine Sammy, around whom the series was structured; Mickey Daniels; Mary Kornman; and little Farina, who eventually became both the most popular member of the 1920s gang[9] and the most popular African-American child star of the 1920s[10]. Mickey and Mary were also very popular, and were often paired together 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 kids were Eugene "Pineapple" Jackson, Scooter Lowry, and Andy Samuel.

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Changing distributors

After Sammy, Mickey, and Mary left the series in the mid-1920s, the Our Gang series entered a transitional period. McGowan was often sick and unable to work on the series, 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.[11] 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 kids 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. During this period, Hal Roach ended his distribution arrangement with the Pathé company, instead releasing future products through newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. MGM 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 giant 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.

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The sound era

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 three-reel Small Talk. It took a year for McGowan and the gang to fully adjust to talking pictures, during which time they lost Joe, Jean, and Harry, and added Norman "Chubby" Chaney, Dorothy DeBorba, Matthew "Stymie" Beard, Donald Haines, and Jackie Cooper. Jackie proved to be the personality the series had been missing since Mickey left, and he was featured in three 1930/1931 Our Gang shorts, Teacher's Pet, School's Out, and Love Business.These three shorts explored Jackie's crush on the new schoolteacher Miss Crabtree, played by June Marlowe. Jackie soon won the lead role in Paramount's feature film Skippy, and Roach sold his contract to MGM in 1931.

Beginning with 1930's When the Wind Blows, background music scores were added to the soundtracks of most of the Our Gang films. The music, largely composed by studio musical director Marvin Hatley and part-time Roach staffer Leroy Shield, became a recognizable trademark of Our Gang, Laurel and Hardy, and the other Roach series and films. Shield's jazz-influenced scores, which made their debut with 1930's Pups is Pups, are particularly associated with Our Gang. Teacher's Pet marked the first appearance of the now-popular 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.

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Transition

Jackie Cooper left Our Gang in early 1931 at the cusp of another major shift in the lineup, as Farina, Chubby, and Mary Ann all departed a few months afterward. Our Gang entered another transitional period, similar to that of the mid-1920s. Stymie, Wheezer, and Dorothy carried the series during this period, aided by veteran child actors Dickie Moore 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 kids and the Roach writing staff.

New Roach discovery George "Spanky" McFarland joined the gang in 1931 at the age of three and, excepting a brief hiatus during the summer of 1938, remained an Our Gang kid 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!" [12]

In late 1933, Robert McGowan, worn out from the stress of working on the kids' comedies, left the series and the Roach studio, going over to direct features at Paramount. German-born Gus Meins assumed McGowan's role starting with Hi'-Neighbor! in 1934, working with assistant director Gordon Douglas and alternating directorial duties with Fred Newmeyer.

Wally Albright and Jackie Lynn Taylor joined the gang at this time; as did Billie Thomas, who within a few months of joining would begin playing the character of Stymie's sister "Buckwheat" (even though Thomas was a male). The Buckwheat character became a male in 1935 after Stymie left the series. The same year, Carl Switzer and his brother Harold joined the gang after impressing Roach with an impromptu performance at the studio commissary, the Our Gang Cafe, which was open to the public. While Harold would eventually be relegated to the role of a background player, Carl, nicknamed "Alfalfa", became Scotty Beckett's replacement as Spanky's sidekick. Darla Hood and Eugene "Porky" Lee also joined the gang in 1935.

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The final Roach years

Our Gang was hugely successful during the 1920s and the early 1930s. However, by 1934, movie theater owners were increasingly dropping two-reel (twenty minute) comedies like Our Gang and the Laurel and Hardy series from their bills, and running double feature programs instead. Although the Laurel and Hardy series was discontinued in mid-1935 (and Laurel and Hardy moved into feature films full-time), MGM head Louis B. Mayer urged Hal Roach to continue making the Our Gang shorts. Roach agreed, and began producing Our Gang comedies as one-reel shorts (ten-minutes in length instead of twenty). The first one-reel Our Gang short, Bored of Education, won the Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Subject (One Reel) in 1936. Bored of Education also marked the directorial debut of former assistant director Gordon Douglas.

Spanky, Darla, and Alfalfa in the "Club Spanky" dream sequence from the 1937 short Our Gang Follies of 1938
Spanky, Darla, and Alfalfa in the "Club Spanky" dream sequence from the 1937 short Our Gang Follies of 1938

Also in 1936, the first (and only) full-length feature film starring the Our Gang kids was released, entitled General Spanky. Directed by Douglas and Fred Newmeyer, it starred 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 kids, and was a box office disappointment.

Tommy Bond, an off-and-on member of the gang since 1932, returned to the series as the neighborhood bully Butch, beginning with the 1937 short Glove Taps. Glove Taps also featured the first appearance of Darwood Kaye as the bookish Waldo. In later shorts, both Butch and Waldo would become Alfalfa's main rivals in his pursuit of Darla's affections.

Roach produced one last two-reel Our Gang short, the lavish 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."

Most casual fans of Our Gang remember the 1936–1938 shorts the best, especially 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, Alfalfa and Darla's on-again-off-again romance, and the comic team of Porky and Buckwheat.

As the profit margins continued to decline due to double features [13], Roach could no longer afford to produce the series, and sold the entire Our Gang unit (including the rights to the name, the Our Gang film backlog from 1927 to 1938, and the contracts for the actors, writers, and director Douglas) to MGM in May 1938.

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The MGM era

The MGM-produced Our Gang shorts 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. After a frustrated Gordon Douglas left MGM to return to Roach after completing only two films, MGM began using Our Gang as a training ground for future feature directors; George Sidney, Edward Cahn, Herbert Glazer, and Cy Endfield all worked on Our Gang before moving on to features. Nearly all of the 52 MGM-produced Our Gangs were written by Hal Law and former junior director Robert A. McGowan (Anthony Mack). 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.

The Our Gang films produced by MGM are considered by many Our Gang historians, and even the Our Gang kids themselves, to be lesser films than the Roach entries. [14] The kids' performances are considered to exhibit a "cutesy" style of child acting that was the antithesis of the original gang. [15]. Porky was replaced in 1939 by Mickey Gubitosi, later better known by the stage name of Robert Blake. Butch, Waldo, and Alfalfa 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 had also departed from the series, and Spanky followed her within a year. Buckwheat remained in the cast until the end of the series as the only holdover from the Roach era.

The series dropped in financial success after 1939 [16], and when six of the thirteen shorts released between 1942 and 1943 sustained losses rather than turning profits [17], 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.

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Post-history (The Little Rascals)

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The Little Rascals television package

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 kids' 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 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 allowed Roach to buy back the rights to the 1927–1938 Our Gang shorts, while retaining the rights to both the Our Gang films it produced and General Spanky. As per the terms agreed during 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 packaged the 80 sound Our Gang shorts as The Little Rascals, and had Monogram Pictures distribute the shorts, first to theaters starting in 1951, and then to television 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 their 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.

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 Loveable Scallawags with Their Gangs.

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King World's acquisition and edits

The television rights to The Little Rascals were sold to Interstate TV in the late 1950s. In 1964, they were sold again to a then-new distributor named King World Entertainment, and the success of The Little Rascals paved the way for King World to become one of the biggest television syndicators in the world; distributing, along with the Rascals, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune. In 1971, because of controversy over their presumably racist content, 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, Mush & Milk, and Three Smart Guys) 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 (1929), Moan & Groan, Inc. (1929), the Stepin Fetchit-guest-starred A Tough Winter (1930), Little Daddy (1931), A Lad An' A Lamp (1933), The Kid From Borneo (1933), and Little Sinner (1935) were all deleted from the syndication package because of perceived racism, while Big Ears (1931) was deleted for dealing with the subject of divorce. The early talkie Railroadin (1929) was never part of the television package, not because of potentially offensive content, but because its sound tracks (recorded on phonographic records) could not be found and were considered lost.

When King World repackaged The Little Rascals in the early 2000s, the seventy-one films in the King World package were re-edited, restoring many 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.

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New Little Rascals productions

In 1977, Norman Lear tried to revive the Rascals franchise, taping three pilot episodes of the The Little Rascals. The pilots were not bought, but the pilots were notable for giving an early start to Gary Coleman.

1979 brought The Little Rascals Christmas Special, an animated holiday special based on the gang and featuring voice work from Matthew "Stymie" Beard and Darla Hood. 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 Our Gang TV shows, but none of them ever went into production.

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, Donald Trump, and Raven-Symoné. The Little Rascals was a moderate success for Universal, bringing in $51,764,950 at the box office [18]

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Legacy and influence

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; though like many child actors they were subsequently typecast and had trouble outgrowing their Our Gang images.

The kids' work in the series went largely unrewarded in later years, although Spanky received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame posthumously in 1994. Neither he nor any of the other Our Gang kids ever got 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 $300 or more a week for stars like Farina, Spanky, and Alfalfa [19].

One notable exception is Jackie Cooper, who was later nominated for an Oscar and had a full career as an adult actor; among other roles his best known character is probably Perry White in the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve, as well as directing several Superboy episodes in the 1st season. Robert Blake also went on to success as an adult in cinema (In Cold Blood) and more notably in television (Baretta). In 2002, Blake was arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakely. He was acquitted of his charges on March 16, 2005.

The 1930 Our Gang short Pups is Pups was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress, and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2004.

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Imitators and frauds

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 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.

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 and Eddie Bracken, have all claimed to be or have been publicly called former Our Gang kids [20]. 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. There are many other persons who have falsely claimed to have been Our Gang kids such as Spanky, Alfalfa, Froggy, and often other characters that never existed.

Among the most notable Our Gang impostors is Jack Bothwell, who claimed to have portrayed a nonexistent character named "Freckles", and went so far as to appear on the game show To Tell The Truth in 1957 perpetuating this fraud. 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., the son of the actual actor who played Buckwheat, filed a lawsuit against ABC for negligence.

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Persons and entities named after Our Gang

A number of other groups, companies, and entities have been inspired by or named after Our Gang. For example, 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.

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Home video releases and rights to the films

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16 mm, VHS, and DVD releases

From the 1960s to the 1980s, copies of all eighty Hal Roach Little Rascals talkies, and a handful of the silents, were available on 16 mm film through Blackhawk Films. The only edits made to the films were the replacements of the original Our Gang title cards with Little Rascals titles. Like the other Little Rascals distributors, Blackhawk was required to use custom title cards in place of the originals, and the conversion of Railroadin', whose soundtrack could not be found, into a silent. In the early 1980s, Blackhawk made two-thirds of the Little Rascals shorts available by catalog on VHS home video. Blackhawk Films was acquired in 1983 by Republic Pictures, who repackaged about thirty Little Rascals shorts in various VHS compilations for sale in retail stores in 1984.

Cabin Fever Entertainment acquired the Little Rascals home video rights from Republic in 1993, and between 1994 and 1995 issued all eighty Roach talkies in a twenty-two volume Little Rascals VHS tape set. Each volume, hosted by film historian Leonard Maltin, featured four digitally restored and uncut shorts, complete with their original Our Gang title cards. In 1998, Cabin Fever shut down and sold the Little Rascals home video rights to Hallmark Entertainment, who reisssued the first ten volumes of the Cabin Fever VHS set, and released two Little Rascals DVD compilations. A third DVD, entitled Little Rascals Collectors' Series Volume III, was issued on November 15, 2005, and includes ten sound shorts.

Meanwhile, MGM had released several non-comprehensive VHS tapes of its shorts, as well as the feature General Spanky. There are many other unofficial Our Gang and Little Rascals home video collections available from several other distributors, comprised of shorts (both silent and sound) which have fallen into the public domain.

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Status of ownership

Currently, the rights to the Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts are scattered. Hallmark Entertainment holds the theatrical and home video rights to the Roach-produced Our Gang shorts, which it acquired after absorbing Hal Roach Studios, Roach's estate, and Cabin Fever Entertainment in the late 1990s. King World continues to hold the rights to the Little Rascals trademark and the Little Rascals television package; it offers both original black-and-white and colorized prints for syndication. King World's Little Rascals package was recently 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.

The MGM-produced Our Gang shorts, General Spanky, and the rights to the Our Gang name have been owned by Turner Entertainment (today a subsidiary of Time Warner) since 1986. Turner made a deal with King World in the early 1990s to jointly market the Little Rascals and Our Gang films and properties, instead of competing with one another. The MGM Our Gangs now appear regularly on the AmericanLife TV Network, and 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 [21].

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Our Gang kids, pets, and personnel

For a detailed listing of the Our Gang kids, recurring adult actors, directors, and writers, please see Our Gang personnel.

The following is a listing of the best-known child actors in the Our Gang comedies. They are grouped by the era during which they joined the gang:

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Roach silent period

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Roach talkie period

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MGM period

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Notable Our Gang comedies

For a complete Our Gang 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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Notes

  1.   Maltin, Leonard (1994). The Little Rascals: Remastered and Uncut, Volume 22 (Introduction) [Videorecording]. New York: Cabin Fever Entertainment/Hallmark Entertainment.
  2.   Limbacher Jr (July 23, 2001). In 2001, Dan Rather was accused of racism by the Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson when he stated, on air, that "What happened was they [CBS management] got the willies, they got the Buckwheats. Their knees wobbled and we gave it up."
  3.   Maltin & Bann. The Little Rascals: The Life & Times of Our Gang, p. 243.
  4.   Donald Bogle, transcript for Life & Times (April 8, 2005). Excerpt: "[The] interesting thing is the first real kind of black star in Hollywood was a [child actor]. His name was Ernest Morrison. He was known as Sunshine Sammy and he worked with Harold Lloyd. He worked in the early "Our Gang" series. He was very well-known within the black community in Los Angeles. People knew him and admired him. But they were the early ones. The other thing that was also interesting was that, in the very early days, there were a number who ended up working as servants for major white stars."
  5.   Crowe. "The Picaninny Caricature". Retrieved May 30, 2005.
  6.   Maltin & Bann. The Little Rascals: The Life & Times of Our Gang, p. 181.
  7.   Ibid, p. 245.
  8.   Ibid, p.9.
  9.   Ibid, p. 246.
  10.   Bogle, Donald. Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, p. 21
  11.   Maltin & Bann. The Little Rascals: The Life & Times of Our Gang.
  12.   Ibid, p. 262.
  13.   Ibid, p. 195.
  14.   Ibid, p. 202.
  15.   Ibid, p. 211.
  16.   Ibid, p. 235 - 236. Financial data for negative costs, revenue, and profits/losses are provided for all 52 MGM Our Gang shorts.
  17.   Ibid, p. 236
  18.   "Business Data for The Little Rascals (1994)". IMDb. Retrieved May 30, 2005.
  19.   Maltin & Bann. The Little Rascals: The Life & Times of Our Gang, p. 246.
  20.   Ibid, p. 241–242
  21.   Sept. 17, 1999. "Urban Legends: The Little Rascals". Snopes.com. Retrieved June 24, 2005.
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References

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Further reading

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External links

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