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Our Gang

Our Gang, also known as The Little Rascals, was a long-lived series of film shorts starring a troupe of neighborhood children and their adventures, often centered around putting on a show. The series was notable in that the gang included both African Americans and girls in leading parts at a time when discrimination against both groups was commonplace.

More than 100 shorts featuring 41 actors were made by the Hal Roach Studios and produced by MGM from 1922 to 1944. They have frequently been played on television as well, when the name The Little Rascals was used.

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, Darla, and Froggy were especially well-known, though like many child actors they were subsequently typecast and had trouble outgrowing their Our Gang images.

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 films. Robert Blake (Mickey Gubitosi) also went on to success as an adult in cinema (In Cold Blood) and television (Baretta). Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple both tried out for a part but failed their screen tests.

The character of Buckwheat was known for being one of the few blacks at the time to play a major role in a film series, though some historians do not look favorably upon the character today. Played by child actor Billie Thomas, Buckwheat often epitomized the Stepin Fetchit stereotype of a "negro" who provided comedy relief by talking in a mangled version of English and frequently being so frightened, his hair stood on end. Comedian Eddie Murphy controversially parodied this character in a series of skits for Saturday Night Live. Thomas had been preceded in the series by other black children; Ernie "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, and Matthew "Stymie" Beard, whose trademark was a derby hat that had been given to him by Stan Laurel and he was the lead character of the series before Spanky came on board. It should be noted that these actors in their adult years became some of Our Gang's staunchest defenders, maintaining that its integrated cast and generally innocent storylines were far from racist.

In addition to the long-running series of short films, a full-length feature film starring the Our Gang characters was filmed in 1936, entitled General Spanky.

Due to its popularity a number of imitation kid gang troupes were formed. "Our Gang" also spawned a large number of adults in later years who falsely claimed to have been a member of the popular group. Most notable is Jack Bothwell who claimed to have portrayed a non-existent character named "Freckles" and went so far as to appear on the game show To Tell The Truth perpetuating this fraud.

See George McFarland, Robert Blake


Note: The folk-rock group Spanky and Our Gang was named in honor of the troupe, but had no other connection with it.