Saturday, December 11, 2010

Our Gang

Often cited as an example of the terrible things that happen to child actors, some of the veterans of the Hal Roach Our Gang series did have unhappy lives, but most went on to have pretty happy and successful lives after the series.

Joining the cast at age two, George McFarland who played "Spanky" was one of the most popular and memorable of the Little Rascals. Some biographers include him among the kids with a tragic outcome, but that's simply not true.

McFarland went on to work in local television for several years, but eventually settled on sales as a career and was pretty happy. After retirement, McFarland was a popular featured guest at many film conventions and enjoyed meeting his many fans from around the world. McFarland was in no way connected with the band "Spanky and Our Gang".

Below is a clip from a 1993 episode of Cheers where McFarland plays himself avoiding an encounter with Cliff Clavern.

Below is an incident I had forgotten about. Billie Thomas played "Buckwheat" in over three dozen Our Gang shorts.  After returning from WWII, Thomas had no interest in acting but worked for many years as a technician in the famous Technicolor motion picture film developing plant.

He died in 1980, but by 1990 a man in Arizona surfaced claiming to be him.  Below is a clip of Spanky McFarland confronting the fake Buckwheat on ABC

I don't feel bad for the guy exposed for not being the real Buckwheat, but in his little Arizona town, kids loved the idea that they could see the real Buckwheat at their mom's grocery store.

McFarland probably wouldn't have exposed the guy, but Eddie Murphy was doing an impression of Buckwheat at the time on SNL that really upset Thomas' family and the other surviving members of the cast, so he wasn't very willing to let another pretender walk all over his friend's legacy.

Watch Spanky, Buckwheat, Alfalfa and Porky in the 1936 short "Spooky Hooky"

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