The Our Gang series of short comedy films achieved two things that the U.S. movie industry had never attempted before. First of all, the films, which were made from 1922 to 1944, presented kids behaving “normally” instead of like adults. Secondly, they showed black children playing alongside white kids – a big deal at the time.
Because of these factors – and because they were genuinely funny – the Hal Roach-produced Our Gang shorts are still remembered today, some 70-plus years down the line. But what happened to its small cast of tiny actors, who were sometimes known as the Little Rascals?
20. Jean Darling (1922-2015)
Jean Darling was just four years old when she started appearing in the Our Gang series and eventually completed 52 films, six of which were “talkies.” The California girl grew up to be a writer and a journalist – and one happy to chat about her childhood acting days too. Darling even did a Reddit AMA – or Ask Me Anything – session for inquisitive fans in 2014. Sadly, however, she died the following year at the grand old age of 93.
19. Lassie Lou Ahern (1920-2018)
Lassie Lou Ahern’s Our Gang film career was short and sweet. The Los Angeles-born girl began appearing in the movies in 1923 and quit the following year, by which time her sister Peggy had come on board. In fact, Lassie teamed up with her elder sibling for much of her career, appearing on stage with her a decade later as song-and-dance act The Ahern Sisters. Eventually, Lassie became a dance teacher, although she continued to make cameos in TV shows right up until the 1970s. She died at the impressive age of 97.
18. Peggy Ahern (1917-2012)
Born in Arizona, Peggy Ahern spent longer as a member of Our Gang than little sister Lassie did, as the elder Ahern worked on the series from 1924 to 1927. Nevertheless, she ended up following much the same career path as her younger sibling, as Peggy also became a teacher – although of the piano rather than dance. She passed away aged 95, preceding Lassie and leaving two daughters.
17. Bobby Hutchins (1925-1945)
Washington State’s Bobby Hutchins earned the nickname “Wheezer,” since he ran around so much as a kid that his breathing would become impaired. He made Our Gang shorts from 1927 to 1933 and was still a child of just eight when he left the series. However, Hutchins did not get much of a chance to enjoy his adulthood. Tragically, after joining the U.S. Air Force in 1943, he was killed in a training accident just two years later at the age of 20. And perhaps strangely, considering the number of films in which he appeared as a kid, a single drawing is apparently the only image to represent the adult Hutchins.
16. Tommy Bond (1926-2005)
In 1931, as five-year-old Tommy Bond was was leaving a cinema in his native Dallas, he was spotted by a Hal Roach Studios talent scout. And as a result, Bond too would make several appearances in the Our Gang films. The boy actor then left in 1934 to go to school but returned in late 1936 to play the character Butch. In later life, Bond embarked on a career in the U.S. Navy and later played Jimmy Olsen in two Superman films. He died of complications from heart disease aged 79.
15. Allen Hoskins (1920-1980)
Boston-born Allen Hoskins had a very small part when he began appearing in Our Gang productions. But even though he was just a baby in his first film, Hoskins grew up to become one of the most popular kids on the series, racking up 102 appearances. In fact, the boy who portrayed the staple character Farina is widely referred to as the first-ever black child star. Alas, though, Hoskins’ fame did not last, and when he died of cancer at the age of 59, he was buried in an unmarked grave. Furthermore, it took another two decades for his resting place to be given a headstone in 2000.
14. Joe Cobb (1916-2002)
Joe Cobb was known throughout his childhood as “the fat kid” from The Little Rascals, but being large didn’t hurt his huge popularity any. The out-size Oklahoma boy appeared in 86 Our Gang shorts from 1922 to 1929 and even came back for some cameos after that. But Cobb stopped acting in the 1940s and took up a position on the assembly line at an aircraft manufacturer. Retiring in 1981, Cobb was always happy to attend Our Gang conventions until his death at the age of 85.
13. Mary Ann Jackson (1923-2003)
Los Angeles’ Mary Ann Jackson was one of the “leading ladies” of the Our Gang shorts. She was also one of the cast that had the most success once sound was introduced to the pictures in 1929. Nonetheless, by the time Jackson was 20, she had more or less jacked in her acting career, becoming a housewife and mother. And while in later years she reminisced fondly about Our Gang, she reportedly always hated her stylish-for-the-time short bangs. Jackson died of a heart attack at the age of 80.
12. Mickey Daniels (1914-1970)
Goofy-looking Wyoming lad Mickey Daniels’ talent for physical comedy made him very popular in the Our Gang movies. The boy graduated from the series at the tender age of 12, then started working for the film studio MGM after that. But while everything seemed to be going well for Daniels, unfortunately his good fortune wasn’t to last. Daniels quit acting and took up taxi driving and the bottle. Tragically, then, the one-time child star died of cirrhosis of the liver aged 55, having become a homeless alcoholic.
11. Dickie Moore (1925-2015)
Dickie Moore was a massive child star in his day; not only did the Los Angeles boy appear in Our Gang, but he also starred in 1933 film Oliver Twist. Unfortunately, Moore suffered the same fate as many child actors – largely cast aside rather than cast as a lead once he reached his teens. A stalwart of B-movies, Moore went on to produce films and write books. The latter included the amusingly titled Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (But Don’t Have Sex or Take the Car) about his life as a child acting prodigy. After a successful career running his own PR firm, Moore died in a hospice five days shy of his 90th birthday.
10. George “Spanky” McFarland (1928-1993)
George McFarland, known to many by his nickname “Spanky,” had one of the longest runs as an Our Gang player and was one of the series’ most famous characters. The Dallas-born child star even got his own film spinoff, General Spanky, in 1936. Plus, McFarland managed a sustained and successful career in the entertainment industry long after the Little Rascals called it a day. Indeed, Spanky’s last TV appearance was as himself in the celebrated TV sitcom Cheers. McFarland died relatively young after a heart attack at the age of 64 in 1993. The following year, the actor received a posthumous Hollywood Walk of Fame star; remarkably, he is one of only two Our Gang cast members to have been given that honor.
9. Janet Burston (1935-1998)
Canadian actress Janet Burston was the last of the Little Rascals’ “leading ladies.” After the series came to an end in 1944, however, Burston ended up choosing a quieter life away from the movie industry, getting married no fewer than four times and raising children. On occasion, though, the actress still found the time to put in an appearance at an Our Gang reunion event. Sadly, Burston succumbed to cancer, aged only 63.
8. Eugene Gordon Lee (1933-2005)
Texan Eugene Lee was given the nickname “Porky” during his four-year tenure in the Our Gang stable. And despite the embarrassing nickname, he was a popular character and became celebrated for his “O-tay!” catchphrase. But, unfortunately, Lee became – literally – too big for the show. Producer Hal Roach sold the franchise to MGM in 1938. Early the following year, Porky experienced a growth spurt which saw the then five-year-old reach eye level with his ten-year-old co-star Spanky McFarland. His new bosses thought Lee too tall, then, and he was promptly fired. The boy subsequently went back to school and then led a perfectly normal adult life, having changed his name to Gordon Lee. Eventually, he was even happy to attend Our Gang get-togethers. Lee died aged 71 after a fight with both lung and brain cancer.
7. Matthew Beard (1925-1981)
Quite a few members of Los Angeles’ Beard family appeared in the Our Gang shorts, and Matthew – a.k.a. Stymie – was a main character in the series for five years from 1930. Sadly, though, the child actor would grow up to fall into a common trap for those who taste fame at an early age: drug addiction. Still, Beard eventually beat the habit and took up playing bit parts on the small screen. In addition, he traveled the U.S. lecturing on the dangers of drug abuse. And when he died following a stroke, having just turned 56, Beard was buried with Stymie’s trademark bowler hat.
6. Darla Hood (1931-1979)
Oklahoma-born Darla Hood’s appearances in the Our Gang films, and her life-long association with the franchise, saw her immortalized in pop culture. Hood even gets a mention in the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Purple Stain.” The actress and comedian was spoofing her performance as Darla on TV long after the Little Rascals shut up shop, but Hood did not seem to mind. And the trooper was actually preparing for an Our Gang reunion when she died at 47, having contracted acute hepatitis from an earlier blood transfusion.
5. Jackie Lynn Taylor (1925-2014)
As a child star, Compton’s Jackie Lynn Taylor racked up appearances in five Our Gang shorts in the space of a year. But it would be her contributions to the small screen that Taylor would really be remembered for. In 1951, for instance, she became the presenter of the first daily TV variety show in Los Angeles. Four years after that, Taylor was named TV Woman of the Year by the San Francisco Examiner newspaper. Then, in the 1970s and ’80s, she hosted Little Rascals Family Theater, which saw her reunited with many members of the Our Gang cast. Sadly, though, Taylor developed Alzheimer’s disease as she got older, and the disorder contributed to her death aged 88.
4. Billie Thomas (1931-1980)
Billie Thomas played Buckwheat from 1934 to 1944 in the Our Gang films, but the black stereotypes used in the LA native’s portrayal would be seen as totally unacceptable today. Nevertheless, Thomas continued to be loved by his fans, and he received a standing ovation at a convention not long before his death from a heart attack aged 49. What’s more, when Eddie Murphy lampooned Buckwheat on Saturday Night Live after Thomas’ demise, George McFarland publicly complained that the sketches were disrespectful to his former co-star.
3. Jackie Cooper (1922-2011)
Jackie Cooper was one of the few Little Rascals who ended up being famous for more than just the Our Gang series. When the Californian child actor appeared in the movie Skippy in 1931, he even received an Oscar nomination, and Cooper maintained his stardom on the big and small screens thereafter. Indeed, to date he is the only member of Our Gang to have joined Spanky McFarland on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Cooper passed away at the age of 88.
2. Carl Switzer (1927-1959)
Carl Switzer is just as famous for the way he died as he is for the life he brought to the character of Alfalfa in the Our Gang productions. The boy from Illinois played one of the central parts in the series, but as an adult actor Switzer could never replicate his childhood success. Tragically, aged just 31, he was shot in the groin during an argument over money and subsequently passed away. And Switzer’s poor luck continued into death. In particular, his murder was overshadowed in the press, as he had the misfortune to be killed on the same day that legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille died.
1. Robert Blake (1933- )
New Jersey boy Robert Blake appeared in the Our Gang films from 1939 to 1944, and the actor is the only Little Rascal on our list to still be alive. Alas, the screen veteran’s life has become embroiled in scandal. In 2005, for example, Blake stood trial for the murder of his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, who had been fatally shot in a parked car outside a restaurant in Studio City. The actor was ultimately acquitted but was still held liable for “wrongful death.” These days, then, Blake is bankrupt, and he has not had an acting role since 1997.