Monday, January 30, 2012

Remembering the Little Rascals

During Christmas, one of my sisters gave me a DVD compilation of Little Rascals comedies. That was what they called the classic Our Gang movie shorts when they aired them on television. I always preferred the name Little RascalsOur Gang sounds too generic and the modern connotation for "gang" is too far removed from the simple charm of those old black-and-white stories by producer Hal Roach from the 1920s through the 1930s (and more were made by MGM after that). "Rascal" is such a great word, so lets keep it alive, shall we?  If you're feeling a bit of the winter blues, tune in to the antics of the Little Rascals and they'll bring a smile to your face.

Whether it's the early days of Joe Cobb, Jean Darling, and Wheezer Hutchins, or the golden era of Chubby Chaney, Jackie Cooper, Spanky McFarland, Dickie Moore, Alfalfa Switzer, and Darla Hood, or the final years with Froggy Laughlin and Mickey Gubitosi (who would later grow up to become Robert Blake), they always managed to entertain me.  Pete the Pup was one of the best dogs in show biz. There were some unforgettable adventures, like "Teacher's Pet" and "The Follies of 1938," which featured the infamous "Barber of Seville" performance.

Seeing the show with modern eyes, there were many non-politically correct moments (like Spanky punching a White-Throated Capuchin Monkey in the face after swinging him by the tail) or the racial stereotypes.  Regarding the latter, however, some of my favorite characters were those played by Farina Hoskins, Stymie Beard, and of course Buckwheat Thomas. The bond of friendship shown on screen between Buckwheat and the rest of the Rascals, especially Porky Lee, was inspirational.


Did you know that Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple auditioned to be part of Our Gang, but were rejected?  Did you know that Norman Lear tried to revive the franchise in 1977?  (Gary Coleman, apparently, had one of his first acting jobs in one of the failed pilots.)

I've seen the Little Rascals Christmas Special cartoon and the 1994 movie, which was disappointing, but still had its heart in the right place. They couldn't live up to the greatness of those original short movies.

There have been Little Rascal impersonators and some of the real Rascals had tragic ends, but the legacy left behind is a string of little films that still manage to cheer me up every time I watch them.

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