The Silent Years (1922-1927)
Our Gang was the brain-child of Hal Roach, the creator and producer of the most successful shorts through the Twenties and Thirties. Through his studios passed some of the greatest silent film stars of his generation: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Harold Lloyd, James Finlayson and Charley Chase.
A native of Elmira, New York, Roach had been an aimless drifter who began work in Hollywood as an extra and graduated into becoming a producer. He had an eye for what was funny, a creative mind and a vision for something special. He created Hal Roach Studios on an inheritance, but he hardly stayed there. He used much of the Los Angeles area as his backdrop in his films and short subjects. In 1921, he was one of the topmost regarded men in his field when he was searching for a brand new idea to develop. That year, child actor Jackie Coogan had practically stolen the movie out from under British comic legend Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1921), and that film must have been lurking through his mind as he glanced out the window to the lumberyard across the street and noticed a group of kids in a world of their own. Roach had been tirelessly inundated with overly made-up and over-rehearsed child actors auditioning for him for years. Like an anthropologist studying a new culture, he watched these kids, observed them and saw something that was real, honest and truthful, the potential for what became one of the longest running most successful comedy series of all time, even over Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges and Abbott & Costello.
This idea was created and developed up around Ernie "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison Jr., already a talented youth in the shorts of Harold Lloyd and Snub Pollard. He also recruited two of the unbilled kids from Ernie's movie, Penrod (1921), namely Jackie Condon and Peggy Cartwright into the first short. Photographer Gene Kornman recommended the son of his best friends, one freckled, exuberant youth named Mickey Daniels. Supervised by Charley Chase, the short was helmed by director Fred Newmeyer and entitled Hal Roach's Rascals until becoming known as "Our Gang," a name that lent to the name of the series that followed. Unfortunately, Roach scrapped much of Newmeyer's work and gave it to former fireman Robert F. McGowan to reshoot. The cast of this first short, rounded out with other generally unknown child actors, bore no resemblance to what would become one of the most familiar Rascal line-ups. Over the following shorts, Allen Hoskins casually followed Ernie to work one day and landed a job that lasted ten years. Jack Davis was the younger brother of Harold Lloyd's leading lady, Mildred Davis, and Kornman introduced one more addition, his own daughter, Mary Kornman to replace Peggy Cartwright. Andrew Samuel was encouraged to try out for the Rascals by doing his Charlie Chaplin impression for Hal Roach, and likable Joe Cobb was brought in as a charter character and ended up staying for several more years. Despite other child actors preceding them, Ernie, Jackie, Allen, Jack, Mickey, Mary and Joe were considered the original first string Rascals. However, when Harold Lloyd married Mildred, he quickly yanked Jack out of Our Gang, and Jack would be replaced by Johnny Downs, previously introduced in a more peripheral capacity.
High turn-over in the Rascal line-up would become a regular occurrence in the series. As new kids became more popular, like Jay R. Smith, they became added regulars, and as others got too old, they were quietly phased out. Ernie left the series to focus in movies and was replaced by Eugene Jackson, but by that time, Allen Hoskins as Farina was already overshadowing him and getting more screen time. At times, there was as many as five to eight additional Rascals in addition to the six to seven main leads, but McGowan somehow managed to corral and control these kids while at the same time getting magical performances from out of them.
During the whole turnover in characters, the Rascals were often joined by a menagerie of dogs, cats, mules and pet monkeys, but none among them were so cherished or remembered as Pete The Pup, an American Pit Bull Terrier played by a dog named Pansy. Assorted Petes appeared through the series and on the screen, multiple dogs were used with one dog good for close-ups, another for running and maybe another for lifting and carrying things in his mouth. Over the years, the ring over his eye moved from his right eye back to his left and then vanished completely along with the dog by the M-G-M years.
Toward the end of the Silent Film years, numerous changes were to come. One by one, the original Rascals were phased out as they reached adolescence; had they stayed on, their appearances might have affected the innocence of the shorts. Mickey was the first to go in Thundering Fleas, followed shortly behind by Mary in The Fourth Alarm and Johnny Downs in Chicken Feed after a long absence. Eventually, Jackie followed after seventy-eight shorts with Election Day. Joe and Allen stayed just a bit longer. Joe Cobb actually starred in a few shorts with his replacement, Norman Chaney, until leaving the series in 1929 after Bouncing Babies. Allen was not just the only surviving original Rascal to stay on, but the longest lasting Rascal in the series with over a hundred shorts, finally leaving Our Gang in 1931 after Fly My Kite.
The Farina Years (1927-1929)
As Farina, Allen Hoskins was the only surviving Rascal of the original series to survive a transitional period and make it into the next Our Gang incarnation as its anchor in the early years. By this time, he was one of the major stars of the series; Jay R. Smith had survived to succeed Mickey as the freckled kid, Jean Darling replaced Mary, Norman replaced Joe Cobb and Harry Spear became the tough kid. Clifton Young, Mildred Kornman and a host of other kids rounded out the ensemble. At the helm, Robert F. McGowan remained, but he had to take a brief sabbatical to contend with exhaustion and sickness.In his place, his nephew, Robert A. McGowan, under the name "Anthony Mack," directed a few, creating a brief decline in quality in shorts amidst the high turnover. McGowan soon returned and brought the series back to where it was.
By now, the studio had changed distributors, changing from Pathe Exchange to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The change gave Hal Roach a larger budget and the chance to have his films packaged for the MGM features to the Loews Theatre chains. It also gave him better access to acquiring more talent. Mary Ann Jackson and Robert Hutchins were just two of the new stars to join before the transition to sound. In 1928, Hal Roach Studios were distributing the Our Gang comedies with phonographic discs that synchronized music-and-sound with the shorts, and by 1929, Hal Roach studios were fully converted to recording with sound. The transition was very hard for McGowan to adjust. In the earlier format, he was free to give direction during filming and now, he had to get used to controlling a much bigger crew of behind the scenes staff. Our Gang was spiraling forward to some of the most remembered shorts in Our Gang.
The Cooper-Crabtree Years (1929-1935)
A funny thing happened after the transition to sound. As Allen Hoskins was making what was going to be his last shorts, Robert Hutchins as Wheezer became a fan favorite. The short, Fly My Kite was the last short for Allen Hoskins, Norman Chaney, Mary Ann Jackson, and Shirley Jean Rickert, who had replaced Jean Darling. Jackie Cooper, Dorothy DeBorba and Allen's replacement, Matthew Beard, joined the series. Jackie turned out to be the biggest personality as the shorts featured and showcased his sibling rivalry with Robert Hutchins as Wheezer or his infatuation with the attractive schoolteacher, Miss Crabtree, played by June Marlowe. He soon left Our Gang for a bigger career in feature films when his contract was sold to MGM. His short, Teacher's Pet, marked the first use of what would be the Our Gang theme music. Named "The Good Old Days," the music was composed by Leroy Shield and featured a saxophone solo that today by itself serves as the main music of the series. Along with the regular Hal Roach music director, Marvin Hatley, Shield produced many of the musicals scores that created the themes in the shorts.
In 1930, Hal Roach reunited Mickey Daniels and Mary Kornman as teenagers in college for the Our Gang spin-off, The Boy Friends. The series ran for two years with fifteen instalments in all. 1931 saw another big shake-up back home in the regular Our Gang camp. As all the older kids moved on, Robert Hutchins, Matthew Beard and Dorothy DeBorba had grown up to carry the series themselves. They were joined by Sherwood Bailey, a rising child star introduced to Hal Roach by Harold Lloyd and Kendall McComas, fresh off the rival Toonerville Trolley series which Shirley Jean Rickert had just joined. The biggest new star to rival Allen Hoskins and Robert Hutchins before him was the cherubic three-year-old George McFarland, whose own screen test was inserted into the short, Spanky, where it stole the focus from the main storyline. Starting out as a tag-a-long kid, George as Spanky stole several shorts out from under the older kids such Matthew Beard, now nearing the end of his time in Our Gang. Joined by Scotty Beckett, Spanky stole many scenes out from under the older kids which now included new talents like Wally Albright Jr., Tommy Bond and Richard Moore. The 1933 short, Mush And Milk, set in the fictional Bleak Hill Boarding School was the next short to clean house; it was the last appearance for Robert Hutchins, Dorothy Deborba, and Richard Moore. In time, even fan favorite, Matthew Beard, proved vulnerable to the rotation and he hesitantly departed. Except for cameo appearances in Reunion In Rhythm, Stymie's exit was made way for another favorite Rascal named Buckwheat.
It was also the last year for Robert F. McGowan, whose behind-the-scenes touch had made Our Gang such a major success for MGM. Worn from the stress of working on the series, he left to focus solely on feature films. He would be replaced by German-born Gus Meins, starting with Hi'-Neighbor featuring Wally Albright Jr., Jackie Lynn Taylor and Jerry Tucker. Meins proved to be less-improvisational than McGowan, relying more on dialogue. His tenure also marked the first appearance of William Thomas Jr. as the next black character. Even though he was male, Thomas appeared originally as the character of Buckwheat, initially identified as Stymie's sister, previously played by Carlena Beard then Willie Mae Taylor. Eventually, he became known as a male character under the name. Gradually, Gus Meins would discover more talents to become the most powerful starring leads in the series. Joining McFarland and Thomas as core Rascals came Carl Switzer in Beginner's Luck, Darla Jean Hood in Our Gang Follies Of 1936 and Eugene Lee as Spanky's little brother in Little Sinner.
At the time, rumors were swirling that Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy might be breaking up. Hal Roach kept and negotiated their contracts separately, and as Stan hesitated to renew, Roach started deciding to pull George McFarland out of Our Gang to star in The Hardys as the son of Oliver Hardy. Things only got as far as some test photos before Stan finally renewed and George stayed where he was.
The Spanky Years (1935 - 1938)
Helmed by Gordon Douglas, Meins' assistant director, the Spanky years of Our Gang became the most remembered series of shorts throughout the history of the series. Indeed, it's the faces of these kids who would adorn the majority of Rascal merchandise to come. By this time, Spanky was becoming the star of the series and often appeared to open the titles of several shorts. Scott Beckett had moved on to features, but by this time, he had been replaced by Carl Switzer as Alfalfa as Spanky's best friend and partner in michief. The shorts of this time particularly focused on the antics of Spanky, Alfalfa and Darla and the fickle romantics of Alfalfa and Darla. Buckwheat and Porky were the little kids too young to understand what was going on but with a better grasp of the situation, much as Spanky and Scottie were in previous shorts to Dickie, Stymie and Wally. The shorts also showed Spanky throwing big kiddie shows in the cellar and barn of his property. For the first time, the Rascals proved they weren't just funny, but they could sing and dance as well. Alfalfa's off-key warbling was another recurring joke of the time.
In an unprecedented move, Tommy Bond was brought back as the bully, Butch, joined by Sidney Kibrick, whose older brother had played the bully to Wally Albright and Stymie Beard. Tommy had left the series just before Robert McGowan left for the last time. McGowan did think Tommy was unique enough and let him go at the end of his contract, but as Hal Roach and Gordon Douglas were looking for someone to play a bully, they recalled Tommy and brought him back. Despite his on-screen persona as a bully, Tommy and Carl Switzer became close friends, but things were not as pleasant between Carl and George's parents often arguing over their screen time and number of lines.
Another character brought along was Darwood Kaye as Waldo. Basically a peripheral character to the main storyline, a voice of reason to the others, he was an unexpected cog in the on-again-and-off-again wooing between Alfalfa and Darla. Darla was always using Waldo and even Butch to make Alfalfa jealous. With Alfalfa becoming the star, Spanky briefly departed and was conspicuously missing from five shorts, returning later in Aladdin's Lantern.
Despite the success and popularity of Our Gang, theaters were dropping shorts and focusing on main features. The shorts dropped from two-reel (twenty minutes) to one reel. Laurel and Hardy stopped doing shorts to do features films, as did the Rascals. Their first feature film, General Spanky, however, was not a great success, possibly because it focused on the adult leads more than the Rascals. Hal Roach was also debating on ending Our Gang; the unsuccessful feature film had been suggested by Louis B. Mayer, the head of M-G-M, for him to stay on, but with the one Rascal movie a dismal failure, Our Gang was not able to make such a smooth transition to feature films as Laurel & Hardy had made. Although the shorts were still doing success as one-reels, profit margins on the series declined and Hal Roach was just able to afford to keep making the shorts. Not wanting an end to the highly-popular series, M-G-M purchased the rights and contracts from Hal Roach for $25,000.
The M-G-M Years (1938 - 1944)
The last Hal Roach short created was Hide And Shriek. Roach gave up his beloved Rascals to M-G-M with the proviso that he was not allowed to create or produce another kiddie comedy like Our Gang. The Rascals along with Gordon Douglas now reported directly to M-G-M for work, but Douglas only completed two shots before leaving M-G-M and returning to Hal Roach Studios now associated with United Artists. This was pretty much the start of the beginning of the end.
Without Hal Roach, Our Gang became exactly what Hal Roach had vehemently resisted: creating another round of casual child actors. The studio was also trying to go for a more continuity-friendly series of shorts, quite unlike the haphazard style of writers at Hal Roach Studios who could never keep track of the style and depictions of the increasingly broad Our Gang universe being conjured by their peers. However, but in trying to create some sort of continuity, they mistreated the shorts by using them as a jumping-off place training area for prospective directors. None of the directors during this time had the magic of Robert F. McGowan or the vision of Gordon Douglas and it showed as the Rascals found themselves struggling for the first time to act. Eugene Lee, who played Porky, as well as the rest of the child talents all felt the palpable difference in studios. They had gone from being treated like kids to be treated like child actors. Another difference was that the majority of the shorts were being written and created by Robert A. McGowan, formerly Anthony Mack, who despite being the nephew of Robert F. McGowan, had very little talent. He had been the director of a few lackluster shorts in the late Twenties, but he showed even less talent as a writer. Dropping his previous name to go as Robert A. McGowan must have confused fans who thought he was one and the same person as his uncle.
Fans of Our Gang and film historians both agree along with the Rascals themselves that the shorts created during the M-G-M years were far worse than even the weakest Hal Roach shorts. The performances were described as stilted, the lines were delivered stiffly and stories were more like grammar school moral films of the Fifties, which were probably based on them. Hal Roach had avoided over-rehearsed child performers for locating natural kids with natural talent, but too many of the latter now inundated the series. Furthermore, the regular Our Gang stars were starting to turn into gawky teenagers and were gradually being let go. Eugene Lee was first to go after Auto Antics, Tommy Bond followed after Bubbling Troubles. Darwood Kaye left after Waldo's Last Stand. Carl Switzer left after Kiddie Kure, and Darla Jean Hood departed after Wedding Worries. George McFarland was forced to stay until he was fourteen, finally leaving after Unexpected Riches, just twenty one-reelers short of the last Our Gang. The last short was Dancing Romeo; the following short, Home Front Commandos, cancelled during filming.
There seemed to be a number of determining factors in the end of Our Gang. For one, it had lost the magic that was the combined talents of Hal Roach and Robert McGowan's partnership. These two giants had a vision of a creation that they had started and carried through almost two hundred shorts. Anthony Mack didn't seem to have that vision, nor did any of the writing staff at M-G-M. Two, the majority of the M-G-M shorts had an over-handed moralizing mentality. The studio did not seem to be aware that the primary fans of the shorts were kids watching kids like themselves living grand adventures that no child could ever have. They did not want to be lectured to or preached to on subjects they were force-fed at home and in school. Three, the majority of the series' top-stars were gone. Both Roach and McGowan had carefully picked youths with a "certain look" and charm to round out their series. If it had not been for Stymie's charm to pick up after Farina or for Buckwheat after Stymie, Our Gang might not have lasted as long as it did. Spanky was the second to last major character to stay in the series with Buckwheat staying through to the end, and even then, William Thomas Jr. was entering into his awkward adolescence years. By the end, he was alone with Robert Blake who would later called his Rascals experience as "forced child labor," Janet Burston - a saccharin-coated Shirley Temple clone with little acting talent and even less singing ability and William Laughlin - an unfortunate charming young man who possibly was never comfortable using his handicap for the sake of comedy. One has to wonder what Hal Roach thought of the young child actors that would bring his cherished Rascals to a close.
The Aftermath (1944 - 1994)
Hal Roach had sold Our Gang with the option to buy back the rights if he did not create any more "kiddie comedies," but he forfeited that right in order to try and re-create Our Gang from scratch. He created and released Curley and Who Killed Doc Robbin with two entirely new ensembles of child actors, one of whom was Rene Beard, Matthew Beard's brother, but fans of Our Gang did not see the connection of the Cine-Color featurettes and the movies failed critically and financially. His next course of action was to buy back Our Gang, and in 1949, M-G-M sold Hal Roach the rights to the 1922 to 1938 silent and sound shorts, but M-G-M retained the rights to the Our Gang name, the one Our Gang feature film (General Spanky) and the less than favored 1938 to 1944 films they had produced. As per the sale, Roach had to remove the M-G-M studio logos and all instances of "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer," "Lows Incorporated" and "Our Gang" from the film prints. Before now, "The Little Rascals" had referred to the kids starring in Our Gang which was the name of the series, but now, it was the name of the new Rascals series. Beginning in 1951, "The Little Rascals" was the name of the reborn Our Gang franchise in theaters, but a bigger explosion was about to come. As a syndicated television series, "The Little Rascals" renewed the popularity of the Rascals to completely new audiences. Their new popularity on television launched whole new Rascals memorabilia in the form of comic books, toys and merchandise. Former Rascals Johnny Downs and Jackie Lynn Taylor hosted shorts for a San Diego TV Station; it was just one of several shows re-releasing the shorts. Not to be left out of the moneymaker, M-G-M began releasing their less-than-grand Our Gang shorts as well. As stations purchased both, both packages competed with each other and were run alongside each other under the "Little Rascals" banner.
Along the way, the rights to the series were spread out and divided up several ways. M-G-M might have been shrewd in controlling some shares, but Hal Roach lost some control as well. That one man once owned the rights of the property stretched so far and wide is to boggle the imagination. Today, the Our Gang franchise is divided as thus:
- When Hal Roach purchased back the rights to the 1927 to 1938 silent and sound shorts in 1946, M-G-M kept the rights to the Our Gang name, the M-G-M shorts, and the Our Gang feature film, General Spanky. Hal Roach in turn sold the rights to seventy-nine of the eighty sound shorts (the only one not included in the package was Railroadin', as the film's soundtrack was lost at the time) he owned to Erko for home movie distribution. As M-G-M owned the rights to the name Our Gang, Erko renamed the series The Kids N' Pets Series. In 1950, Roach made a deal with another home movie distributor Official Films, who renamed the series Famous Kids Comedies. That same year, Roach made a deal with Monogram Pictures to redistribute the sound shorts to movie theaters. Monogram (later renamed "Allied Artists") was the first company to call the series The Little Rascals. In 1955, Monogram brought their seventy-nine sound shorts (as well as thirteen silent shorts produced from 1927 through 1929) to television under their Interstate Television Corporation division. In 1961, King World Productions bought the television rights to the sound shorts. That same year, Roach sold the original silent Pathé shorts to National Telepix and other distributors who re-released them as The Mischief Makers and Those Lovable Scalawags With Their Gangs. In 1958, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released their fifty two Our Gang shorts to television. In 2008, CBS Television Distribution bought King World's television rights to The Little Rascals shorts. Several of these shorts debuted in 2001 on the American Movie Classics cable network.
- The theatrical and home video rights, however, went to Blackhawk Films whose re-issues featured custom-created cards in place of the original Our Gang logos as per Hal Roach's agreement with M-G-M. They began distributing "Little Rascals" VHS sets by order only through catalogs. Blackhawk was acquired in 1983 by National Telefilm Associates, later re-named Republic Pictures. Republic then sold the rights to RHI Entertainment, who absorbed Hal Roach Studios, Roach's estate, and the remaining Hal Roach properties. In 1994 and 1995, RHI released the eighty Hal Roach sounds shorts as well as a few silent shorts on VHS through Cabin Fever Entertainment. Hallmark Entertainment later bought Cabin Fever, and briefly released the films in DVD format. The Roach material, which includes all eighty Roach sound shorts (fifty three of which are also available in colorized form), sixteen of the M-G-M/Roach silent comedies, and seventy two of the Mischief Makers TV series is currently owned by Sonar Entertainment.
- In 1986, Ted Turner purchased the M-G-M library which owned General Spanky, the M-G-M shorts and the rights to the Our Gang name. Instead of competing with each other, Turner made a deal with King World to jointly market Our Gang and "The Little Rascals." The M-G-M films were once available at AOL's in2TV website, as well as on American Live TV network and the Turner Classic Movies cable network. Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc. currently owns the rights to the Turner package
- To date, fifty-nine Our Gang short films have fallen into the public domain. These films include the first fifty four silent films, as well as the 1928 release Playin' Hookey. Four Our Gang sound shorts (Bear Shooters, School's Out, Our Gang Follies Of 1938, and Waldo's Last Stand) have also fallen out of copyright, and have been released on home video frequently.
There has been a long-standing urban legend that comedian Bill Cosby bought up the TV rights to keep Our Gang off television because of possible stereotyping that could be perceived from the shorts, but this is false. Cosby never owned any part of shorts at any time, but several shorts, Lazy Days, Moan & Groan, Inc., A Tough Winter and Little Daddy to name a few were removed from the TV package by King World because of perceived racism along with Big Ears for dealing with the subject of divorce. Additionally, the first Our Gang sound short. Sadly, some distributors cut out scenes and remade original opening title cards while others misnamed shorts (Bouncing Babies became "Bounding Babies" ) and misidentified the Rascals themselves, Chubby Chaney became Joe Cobb, Stymie Beard became "Sunshine Sammy" and Jean Darling became Mary Kornman. Some of the prints were also chopped into stock footage; a clip from Dogs Of War! can be seen appearing in a throwaway shot of an episode of "Mythbusters" on Discovery Channel. It seems the legacy of Our Gang has taken several ugly twists and detours through history.
However, several VHS distributors have re-issued versions of the Cabin Fever "Little Rascal" shorts which accounts for the numerous VHS and DVD packages with the exact same sets of shorts. To date, the best possible collection of all the shorts is possibly the eight-disc DVD set, The Little Rascals - The Complete Collection including 80 of the Hal Roach-produced sound short films. There is no known set that includes the entirety of the shorts in one package, and there may never be as long as the rights are spread so far apart.
The Legacy (1994 - Recent)
The legacy of "The Little Rascals" has been bittersweet. For the adults who starred in the Our Gang series, they can see their faces on all forms of merchandise from comic books, children's books, plastic dolls and the memorabilia, but they don't get any residues from the use of their likenesses. Post-Rascals success came to but a few like Jackie Cooper, Dickie Moore, Tommy Bond and Mary Kornman while others like Jack Davis, Jay R, Smith, Dorothy DeBorba, Eugene Lee and Joe Cobb found contentment out of show business in the real world. Some like George McFarland, Carl Switzer, Kendall McComas and Michey Daniels struggled hard to deal with being out of the limelight while a few, Scotty Beckett and Matthew Beard, fell into the underworld drug culture. The only legacy they had from being Rascals was the admiration of fans; Jean Darling and Johnny Downs shared memories through their children and grandchildren and until her death, Darla Jean Hood continued to get fan mail from ardent admirers young and old. Even George McFarland, who grew into a very private person, relished hearing from fans who met him in the street.
For a few of the grown-up Rascals, their Our Gang experiences turned out to be a bit of an embarrassment. Harry Spear disavowed his connection to it, Carl Switzer called it "an M-G-M short project" in his 1946 resume and Robert Blake tried to forget about it entirely, and yet, the majority of them like George McFarland and Darla Jean Hood called it the most fun time of their lives. Few Rascals had become successful as adult actors after the experience while others became successful in other fields of work. Despite this, many believe in a "Little Rascals Curse" responsible for the early tragic deaths of many of the young stars as adults, but the many more happy fates of the Our Gang child stars would refute that.
Few awards went to Our Gang or its child stars. In 1987, Ernie Morrison was inducted into the Black Film-Makers of America and Jackie Cooper received an Academy Award as an adult actor. George McFarland received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame in 1994. The one "award" the Rascals would surrender would be the unending string of imitators and frauds who claimed to be Rascals. Many of these imposters could be easily exposed by their sad limited or exaggerated knowledge of the shorts or by claiming to be bogus non-existent characters. Beginning in the Twenties, Hal Roach tracked a Robert McGowan impersonator travelling the country with a carload of scenery and taking money after promising to get the children of parents in the movies. Over the years after the end of the series, there were numerous old-timers looking for attention by claiming to be former Rascals. Darla Hood herself was impersonated by a woman using names of her relatives, actress Raquel Welch was married to a man reportedly linked to the series, one character claimed to be the extra Alfalfa in a double-exposed picture of Carl Switzer from Alfalfa's Double and one charlatan claimed not just to be one Rascal but three different Rascals in one interview. The most famous imposter to date was Bill English, a grocery store clerk from Tempe, Arizona interviewed on the 20/20 ABC news program and outed by George McFarland. In December 1991, William Thomas III, the son of William Thomas Jr., filed suit on ABC for negligence in reporting for the error. Even actress Nanette Fabray, comedian Eddie Bracken and columnist Joyce Haber have resumes that claim they were once Rascals. However, the truth is that there were numerous rival kiddie comedies such as Mickey McGuire and The Kiddie Troupers (which Bracken actually starred in) that these individuals could much easier have appeared in, but as long as there are countless unnamed and unidentified one-time Rascals, there will always be the potential for new Rascals popping up.
However, with the success of the "Little Rascals" TV franchise and VHS/DVD market, there have been several attempts to make lightning strike twice with all-new Rascals. Hal Roach himself tried to recreate the series numerous times, first with a failed series of Cinecolor Streamliners( Curley and Who Killed Doc Robbin). As late as the early 1970's, Roach continued to announce potential series revivals, but nothing ever surfaced. From 1942 through 1949, Walt Kelly produced a series of Our Gang Comics for Dell Comics. Dell Comics tried their hands at another Rascals comic series as part of their Four Color Comics series (1956-1962). King World produced a feature-length compilation film, Rascal Dazzle, narrated by Jerry Lewis that was followed by a "Little Rascals" musical play. The musical featured songs by Sesame Street songwriter Joe Raposo, and lasted for eleven weeks with scathing reviews in 1987.
A bit more successful was The Little Rascals Christmas Special, an animated NBC special set at Christmas starring Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Porky Stymie (instead of Buckwheat) and Pete the Pup. The real Stymie, Matthew Beard did the voice of the local butcher while Darla Jean Hood did the voice of Spanky and Porky's mother. It ran on NBC during the holidays for two years and was followed by 156 thirty-second public service announcements starring the Rascals in health and safety announcements for kids. The appeal of these probably inspired the Saturday Morning The Little Rascals" animated series that ran for two years from 1982 through 1984.
A live-action Rascals revival was a bit harder. Norman Lear attempted to restart the series in 1977 with a series of pilots that were only notable only for giving young Gary Coleman of "Diff'rent Strokes" his entry into show business. Jackie Cooper also attempted Our Gang TV pilots, but none of these went as far as production. In 1981, Eddie Murphy jumped to comic stardom by playing Buckwheat as a grown man still lacking complete verbal elocution on "Saturday Night Live" for NBC; when Robert Blake guest hosted on the show, the entire SNL ensemble of comedians dressed in Rascal guise to stage a "Rascals reunion." William Thomas's son, however, objected to Murphy's portrayal of his father and wrote to Murphy describing his objection to the portrayal, but Murphy waited until a Newsday interview to acknowledge the letter and apologize. NBC executive Dick Ebersol went a bit further by both writing and phoning Thomas's son to apologize.
In 1984, the Rascals were recreated for a series of color thirty second ads for Jell-O Gelatin Pops. Among the cast of lookalike Rascals was a then-unknown Seth Green as Alfalfa. Two years later, an off-Broadway musical based on the series debuted, and ran for a mere four months.
Perhaps the most notable Rascal revival was the 1994 The Little Rascals feature film starring lookalike actors in the roles. Directed by Penelope Sheeris, the film included cameos by Mel Brooks, Darryl Hannah, Donald Trump, Reba McEntire and Whoopi Goldberg. The plot re-created several moments the "Little Rascals" were best known for in a script outlined to include as many of those scenes as possible in a modern-day color setting. Promoted by a TV special starring Martin Mull amidst the new Rascals, the movie was a moderate success, bringing in only $51,764,950 in box office revenues, not nearly enough to warrant a sequel. The biggest criticism from fans and film critics was the movie did not include any of the surviving members of the original Our Gang series.
In 2014, The Little Rascals Save The Day, yet another film adaptation of the original series, was released directly to home video. As with the 1994 film, this new adventure recreated classic scenes from the original series.
Ostensibly, the only way to bring Our Gang back today as a TV Series would be to place them in the the American Heartland in a city away from all the modern contrivances that modern kids "can't live without," but such a city large enough to include their structures, lanes, suburbs and outlying farmlands could not realistically be sheltered from the modern world. As George McFarland once said, "We did it right the first time."
As of this writing (2013), the few living Rascals includes Robert Blake, Jean Darling, Marianne Edwards, Sidney Kibrick, Richard Moore, Jackie Lynn Taylor and Jerry Tucker, but this list does not include the numerous lesser-known Rascals like Doris Oelze, the daughter of Our Gang prop-master, Charlie Oelze, and Wadell Carter, daughter of on-set teacher, Fern Carter, who both appeared randomly in the series.