From the 1920s until the 1940s, American audiences were captivated by a crew of spunky young kids known simply as Our Gang. After the original short film series finished its run, it won the hearts of a new generation when it was broadcast on television and renamed The Little Rascals. The series was so popular that it inspired an animated series and even spawned a major movie version, released in 1994. Once again, more kids fell in love with the series’ lovable characters, including Darla, Spanky, Buckwheat, and Alfalfa. Read on to find out the secrets behind this beloved series and the legacy that it left behind.
1. Our Gang Begins
Hal Roach, creator/producer of Our Gang (later called The Little Rascals when it was broadcast on TV), came up with the idea for the series while watching a child actress audition for a movie role. Roach thought that the girl was overly rehearsed and made up to look like an adult.
After the audition was over, he began looking out his window at some children playing across the street. Then he noticed that he had been entertained for some time just watching them play, naturally. Thus the idea for Our Gang was born.
2. George “Spanky” McFarland
George McFarland is most famous for portraying the character Spanky in the Our Gang shorts from 1932 until 1942. He was “discovered” when he was only three years old after his aunt answered a casting call and sent his photos to Hal Roach Studios.
He was invited for a screen test and then cast in the series, ultimately becoming one of the stars of the series. After Our Gang ended, McFarland left acting for a while and served in the US Air Force. He came back to host a children’s TV program called “The Spanky Show” in the mid-1950s.
3. Children Acting Naturally
“Our Gang” actually broke new ground in acting methods. Before Our Gang made its debut in 1922, children in Hollywood were taught adult acting techniques. The difference between the old methods and the ones for “Our Gang” was like day and night.
With the production of Our Gang, children were finally allowed to act like themselves, meaning that they were allowed to act like children. What could be more natural than that? Read on to find out some more interesting facts about The Little Rascals.
4. The Name Spanky
According to actor George McFarland, he received the nickname Spanky from a Los Angeles newspaper reporter. The reporter had apparently referred to McFarland as “a spanky child.” The term may seem odd in modern times, but it doesn’t mean what you think it does.
It is actually a term of endearment. A “spanky child” actually meant a gifted and intelligent child. So, in fact, Spanky is a nickname that refers to his intellect, not as you might assume, the disciplinary act of spanking a child.
5. Fatherly Feud
George McFarland’s character Spanky quickly became the de facto “leader” in the “Our Gang” series. However, this put him in direct competition with Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa, as the two vied for screen time. It’s not easy to be a child actor, right?
The competition wasn’t limited to the actors themselves. Their fathers would constantly bicker and fight on set over which one of them would get more time on screen. We all know how protective parents can be of their children, but child star parents? Better watch out!
6. The Darling of the Gang
Actress Darla Jean Hood is best known for her role as Darla in the “Our Gang” series from 1935 to 1941. She was born in Leedey, Oklahoma. Her mother was a music teacher and encouraged her daughter to pursue the arts.
Hood was discovered during a trip to New York City where she was spotted by Hal Roach Studios casting director Joe Rivkin. She was invited to the studios for a screen test and was a hit. Her career took off from there. Read on to find out more fun facts from Our Gang/The Little Rascals.
7. First Film Attempt
Producer Hal Roach was determined to turn the Our Gang series into a feature film in 1936 with his movie “General Spanky”, which centered on the character Spanky as a Civil War general. Was it as successful as the series of comedy shorts?
The effort didn’t work out at this time, however. The movie was not very well received at the box office. After this, Hal Roach Studios ended up experiencing a lackluster year and in 1938, had to sell the Our Gang series to MGM Studios.
8. Many Imitators
The success of “Our Gang” gave the blueprint for spawning many rival shows to compete with them. Among them were “The Kiddie Troupers” featuring actor Eddie Bracken, “Baby Burlesks” which featured the talented Shirley Temple in her first role, and “Toonerville Trolley” which starred Mickey Rooney.
There were also “Our Gang” imitators that directly copied the scripts of Hal Roach’s short films, filming their own alternate versions in small cities across the US. Some even were so bold as to falsely claim to be associated with the real version.
9. Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer
Carl Switzer is best known for playing the role of Alfalfa from the mid-1930s through 1940. While a child actor on the set of Our Gang, Switzer was known for being a trickster and playing cruel jokes on the other actors.
He would also frequently hold up filming with his antics. After his time in “Our Gang”, Switzer was heavily typecast as Alfalfa and had difficulty finding other work. He went on to star in a number of small roles and B-movies.
10. The Actors That Weren’t
Several actors falsely claimed to have acted in the “Our Gang” series at some point. For example, actor Eddie Bracken once had his official biography altered to state that he was part of “Our Gang”, instead of “The Kiddie Troupers”. He, however, claims to have had no knowledge of the change.
Several other actors over the years continued to claim that they were part of the original cast of “Our Gang” even though they weren’t, including Tony-award winning actress Nanette Fabray and gossip columnist Joyce Haber. Wow! Being a part of the gang really was that big of a deal!
11. Adorable Buckwheat
Billie Thomas is best known for his role portraying Buckwheat in the Our Gang series. Interestingly enough, the role was previously played by a female. Thomas’ gender was left ambiguous for a while, with his appearance and wardrobe remaining the same.
Thomas later in life went into the Army and left acting behind. “After the Army, I wasn’t really interested in the hassle of performing,” he said in an interview. “Even the big stars had to chase around an audition; it seemed like a rat race to me, with no security.”
12. African-American cast members
“Our Gang” broke new ground in television history for portraying black and white actors and actresses in equal roles. In fact, the series made Ernie Morrison, who played Sunshine Sammy, the first black actor ever to sign a long-term contract in Hollywood.
“When it came to race, Hal Roach was color-blind,” one of the actors later told reporters. There had been accusations that the earlier parts of the series were somewhat racist and stereotypical however all the actors on the show defended the show in their adult years.
13. Life of the Little Rascals
The original “Our Gang” cast received only weekly salaries during their time in the series, which ranged from $40 to $200 a week. However, none of the cast received any money from reruns of their short films on TV nor from the sales of their likenesses by the studio.
It was only in 1994 that actor George McFarland, who played Spanky, was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In fact, most of the original cast members went unrewarded or unacknowledged for their work in those the early days.
14. Hal Roach
Hal Roach is best known for producing the extremely successful “Our Gang” and “Laurel and Hardy” series but before all that, he lived a very modest life. He was the grandson of Irish immigrants to the US and following a stint living in Alaska, he tried his hand at film by moving to Hollywood.
Roach began his career acting in silent movies and after inheriting money, began producing short films. During World War II, he a served in the US Army’s Signal Corps and produced military training films. He also leased his studios to the Air Force during the war.
15. Petey the Dog
It wouldn’t be The Little Rascals without their trusted canine companion Petey. The original dog that played the role, named Pal the Wonder Dog, had a naturally-occurring ring partially around his eye. Makeup was used to complete the circle that became his signature look.
After the original dog from the 1920s passed away, the role of Petey went to his son. Every dog that was used was given the same distinct circle around the eye. Even today, Petey is one of the most memorable dogs in entertainment history.
16. Out With The Old
In 1994, the feature-length movie version of The Little Rascals was released, but it turns out that the filmmakers chose to not incorporate the original Little Rascals cast members. The Our Gang actors who were still around attempted to reach out to the studio but found their input unwelcome.
“It’s real cold. They have no respect for the old-timers. At least they could have recognized some of the living legends surviving from the first films,” said Eugene Jackson, who played Sunshine Sammy in the silent version of Our Gang, in an interview.
17. O-Tay, Porky!
Eugene Gordon Lee was the actor behind the character Porky and he got his big break in acting when he was only an 18-month-old toddler. He was noted for looking very similar physically to Spanky, but he still found a way to distinguish himself.
Lee is best known for originating the catch phrase “O-tay!” and not Buckwheat, who is commonly given credit for the catchphrase. Lee was later replaced after growing too tall. He ended up changing his name (to avoid association with his acting career) and became a teacher.
18. Filmed Out of Order
Filming with so many children is no easy task. Just take it from the directors and producers of the movies and series. Children love to bully and pick on each other and everyone knows how cruel kids can be. So when filming the 1994 movie, director Penelope Spheeris came up with a special technique.
Essentially, they just filmed the plot out of order. In order for the kids to get along, they shot the middle section first, then the beginning, and then the end. Turned out it was a great move by the director as everyone got along well.
19. The Iconic Song
One of the most memorable scenes in the 1994 movie is when Porky and Buckwheat sing their adorable song, “We Got A Dollar.” You probably didn’t know this, but, it turns out that the song was completely improvised by the two kids and went “We’ve got a dollar, we’ve got a dollar, we’ve got a dollar, hey, hey, hey, hey.”
The producers decided that the song was catchy enough that it was worth leaving it in the final cut of the movie, and good thing they did. Those two should have considered careers in songwriting because they had serious improvisation skills as kids!
20. The Special Wave
Ever wonder where that weird hand-under-chin wave that featured in the “Little Rascals” movie came from? Well, apparently it all stemmed from an inside joke. Director Penelope Spheeris taught the kids to do it during filming as a way of keeping them entertained.
The wave caught on and became an integral part of the movie. Kids everywhere were doing the wave after seeing the movie and its popularity was totally unexpected by Spheeris. She was just trying to help the kids get along and have fun.
21. Alfalfa Played By Brandon “Bug” Hall
When child actor Brandon “Bug” Hall played the iconic role of Alfalfa in the 1994 “Little Rascals” movie, it was his very first acting gig. After this, he became well-known for playing the role of Buster Stupid in the 1996 film “The Stupids”.
Banking off his early childhood success, Hall went on to continue acting in movies such as “The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas”, “Hercules”, “Safety Patrol”, and “Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves”. He even had a cameo as an ice cream man in the 2014 movie “The Little Rascals Save the Day”. Most recently, he has been a guest star in multiple TV shows.
22. The Three Best Friends
There was lots on in-fighting between the characters on screen during the filming of “The Little Rascals”, especially between the characters of Spanky, Alfalfa and Woim. But not to worry! That was all part of the acting. Off-screen, the dynamic between the three was much different.
It’ll warm your heart to learn that Spanky, Alfalfa and Woim were actually the best of friends in real life. The fighting and bullying between each other was all just good acting. That’s pretty impressive considering how young they were at the time.
23. Olsen Twins Cameo
The “Little Rascals” movie was filled with tons of celebrity cameos. You might not have noticed all the cameos in the movie but one that was easy to miss was of the Olsen twins. That’s right, both Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen appeared briefly in the movie.
Their brief appearance was during the scene where Darla was gushing over Alfalfa. They certainly did not approve, as evidence from their fingers in their mouths. Yuck! Boys… who needs them anyways? At the time, the twins were already super famous from their roles on “Full House”.
24. Buckwheat Played By Ross Bagely
Ross Bagely, who played Buckwheat in “The Little Rascals” movie, made his acting debut with his role in the movie. It catapulted his acting career and landed him the reccurring role of Nicky Banks on the legendary show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”.
From there, Bagely went on to play parts in the movies “Eye for an Eye”, “Independence Day” and “Profiler”. Bagley won three Young Artist awards for his roles in “The Little Rascals” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. He was also nominated for the same award for his performance in “Independence Day”.
25. Reba McEntire
Another celebrity cameo you might have missed was of the Queen of Country music herself, Reba McEntire! She appeared as the character A. J. Ferguson. In the end, A.J. Ferguson was a woman and not a man as the gang expected.
Reba presented the trophy after the gang won the derby by the skin of their teeth. That’s also when she said her famous line “Is that a cow lick, or are you just glad to see me?” to Alfalfa, commenting on his hair.
26. Whoopi Goldberg
Did you notice who the actress who plays Buckwheat’s mom? There’s another cameo you might have missed if you weren’t looking closely, but that face is instantly recognizable. It’s Oscar-winning actress and comedienne Whoopi Goldberg! She even does the famous hand-under-chin wave at him.
In one scene, Buckwheat shouts out that his mom is there and Porky sarcastically exclaims “whoopi!” in an obvious play on the actress’s name. That was just one pun that was unavoidable. Probably not the first time Whoopi Goldberg has heard that one.
27. Darla Played By Brittany Ashton Holmes
The adorable little girl who played Darla in the 1994 movie was none other than actress Brittany Ashton Holmes. Still to this day she is best-known for her role as Darla, the object of Alfalfa’s affection and the creator of the tension in the “He-Man Womun Haters Club”.
After acting in “The Little Rascals”, Holmes went on to act in a few more movies but ultimately made the decision to leave the acting world behind when she was seven years old. She is currently pursuing a degree in political science.
28. Donald Trump
Donald Trump, now the 45th president of the United States, is famous for his cameo appearances in films. He plays the role of Waldo’s father, a rich oil tycoon who is new to town. He appears in the audience of the race like only Trump would, looking suave and using the latest cell phone technology.
He congratulates his son, Waldo, by tell him that he’s “the best son money can buy.” Now there’s a compliment if we’ve ever heard one. Maybe that’s why Waldo, the movie’s antagonist, acts like such a spoiled brat during the film.
Another famous face in the 1994 movie “The Little Rascals” is a young and adorable Raven-Symoné, who was just a budding star at the time. She was already well-known for her role on “The Cosby Show”, but this was only her second film role.
Raven-Symoné played the part of Stymie’s girlfriend, the vice president of the “He-Man Womun Haters Club”. Thankfully by the end of the movie, the boys had come to their wits and started allowing girls into their exclusive club. Hopefully that included Raven!
30. Waldo Played By Blake McIver Ewing
Every movie needs its villain and actor Blake McIver Ewing played the part with his character named Waldo, a son of a wealthy oil tycoon. Waldo squeezed his way in between Alfalfa and Darla’s love affair, creating a love triangle.
After “The Little Rascals”, Ewing continued acting. He is well-known for his recurring role of Derek S. Boyd on “Full House” and he voiced character Eugene Horowitz on the animated series “Hey Arnold!” Apart from acting, Ewing is also a singer-songwriter and pianist.
31. Poster Remake
The entire gang got back together 20 years after the release of the 1994 movie “The Little Rascals” and recreated several of the popular scenes from the movie, including the poster. It’s so cool to see what everyone looks like now.
Even though so much time has passed, most of the characters are easily distinguishable as their younger childhood selves. Maybe hair, makeup and wardrobe have a lot to do with it, but they all grew up looking exactly like they did.
32. Porky Played By Zachary Mabry
The actor who played Porky, Zachary Mabry, was only four years old when he appeared in “The Little Rascals” as Spanky’s little brother and assistant. It was also his only foray into the acting world. Since the movie, he’s been living a fairly normal life out of the spotlight.
Mabry went on to complete college at the University of Oklahoma, earning a degree in accounting and finance. He is now working as an accountant in the Dallas area. But even though he is an accountant now, he will forever be known as the adorable Porky.
33. Butch Played By Sam Saletta
Sam Saletta started his acting career with the role of Butch, the bully, in “The Little Rascals”. His character was famous for bullying the gang and stealing their go cart. Saletta went on to play roles in numerous movies and TV series.
Saletta had voice roles in the animated series “King of the Hill”, “The Kids from Room 402”, “Rocket Power” and “Rugrats”. He also has voiced roles in the video games “Call of Duty: Black Ops” and “Zero: Akai Chou”. He also appeared in six episodes of the popular TV series “7th Heaven”.
34. Stymie Played By Kevin Jamal Woods
Child actor Kevin Jamal Woods played the character of Stymie, vice-president of the “He-Man Womun Haters Club”. Apart from playing the character of Stymie, Woods is also known for his roles in “A Perfect World” and the most famous pig film, “Babe”.
Woods left the acting world early on when he was still a child and has since pursued other interests. He graduated form university in 2009 and works for a media market research firm in Texas in addition to producing music.
35. Spanky Played By Travis Tedfor
The role of “Spanky” in The Little Rascal’s movie was played by adorable child actor Travis Tedford. He was the leader of the gang and also leader of the “He-Man Womun Haters Club”. His character was named Spanky McFarland, a tribute to George McFarland who played Spanky in the 1930s and 1940s.
Tedford became a recognizable face throughout the United States, not just for his role in the movie, but also for being the face of Welch’s juice. The child star acted in a number of roles including “A Bug’s Life”, “The Amanda Show”, “Freaky Friday” and “The Final”, before retiring from acting. He eventually returned to his home state of Texas and currently resides in the Dallas area.
36. Just Dance!
During the scene when Alfalfa and Spanky crash Darla’s ballet recital, it turns out that the boys wanted to learn the choreography and dance real ballet along with the girls. Director Penelope Spheeris, however, had other ideas in mind for the scene.
The directors wanted Alfalfa and Spanky to look out of place and especially awkward. So, the boys were told to just make up the dance by the seat of their pants. And, boy, did they stick out like sore thumbs.
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