For generations, Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Darla, Porky and friends have charmed audiences as “The Little Rascals,” our “Our Gang” as they were originally known. Join us as we take a look back at the film series’ creator and its child stars who live on in the hearts of fans and as icons of pop culture.
Hal Roach (1892–1992)
Hal Roach – What he lacked in comedic timing, Roach, seen here in 1932, more than made up for with amazing business acumen. His studio in Culver City, Calif., produced some of the most profitable short subject films of the silent era as well as the golden age of Hollywood.
Our Gang – Roach came up with the idea for the films after watching a group of children playing together. The first cast of “Our Gang” was made up almost entirely of non-actors and was also one of the first integrated casts in Hollywood to give equal prominence to black and white actors. From left: Pete the Pup, Dorothy DeBorba, George McFarland, Darla Hood, Eugene Gordon Lee, Carl Switzer and Billie Thomas c. 1935.
Carl Switzer (1927–1959)
Alfalfa – Illinois native Carl Switzer was discovered when, while touring Hal Roach Studios with his family, began to sing and dance with his brother in the studio cafeteria. Roach signed both brothers. Switzer had some success in films as a young adult in the 1940s, but fell on hard times in the 1950s. He was fatally shot while attempting to collect a debt from a client in 1959.
Billie Thomas (1931–1980)
Buckwheat – Billie Thomas of Los Angeles appeared in the “Our Gang” films from 1934 to 1943. The 3-year-old took over the Buckwheat character from Carlena Beard, changing the role from a girl to a boy. After leaving the Gang, Thomas served in the U.S. Army, learned film editing and cutting, and had a successful career as a lab tech at Technicolor.
George McFarland (1928–1993)
Spanky – George Robert “Spanky” MacFarland of Denison, Texas, modeled children’s clothing and appeared in print advertising in Dallas before becoming an actor. He took a series of low-profile jobs after “Our Gang,” returning to the spotlight for occasional cameo roles and as host of a children’s show. His last television appearance before his 1993 death was a cameo as himself in an episode of “Cheers.”
Darla Hood (1931–1979)
Darla – Darla Hood, of Leedey, Okla., made her debut at the age of four in “Our Gang Follies of 1936.” She starred as the main love interest until 1941 before going on to a successful singing and acting career. Hood died in 1979 after contracting hepatitis from a blood transfusion. She was 47.
Eugene Gordon Lee (1933–2005)
Porky – Eugene Gordon “Porky” Lee of Fort Worth, Texas, was cast at the age of 18 months thanks to his resemblance to George “Spanky” MacFarland. He played MacFarland’s little brother for four years, until a growth spurt brought him to the same height, at age 5, as his 10-year-old “older brother.” After “Our Gang,” Lee left acting behind and went into alternative education.
Spanky vs. Alfalfa
Spanky vs. Alfalfa – During their years together in “Our Gang,” Spanky (George McFarland) and Alfalfa (Carl Switzer) were both featured prominently, trading off starring roles from film to film. Off-screen, the actors’ fathers fought with each other and producers over how much screen time each boy received and who got top billing.
Working with Children…
Working with Children… – One of the difficulties in working with toddlers is their inability to read a script. To get around that, senior director Robert McGowan told the kids what the scene was about and had them improvise their actions. Eugene Lee as Porky, Carl Switzer as Alfalfa and Henry Lee as Spike in the 1938 Our Gang comedy “The Awful Tooth.”
…And Animals – Apparently, Roach wasn’t familiar with the old saying “never work with kids or animals.” His “Our Gang” films featured a revolving menagerie of dogs, cats, monkeys and other animals for the children to play with, creating some of the most memorable scenes. Pete the Pup, pictured here, was one of the most popular pets in the series. The spot around his eye is not natural; it was stage makeup applied by Hollywood legend Max Factor.
The Little Rascals Live On
The Little Rascals Live On – In the 1950s, the films were re-released in theaters and syndicated on television, and “Our Gang” became known as “The Little Rascals.” Exposed to a new generation of fans, the classic characters created by Hal Roach and his child actors became cultural icons, still cherished to this day. From left: George MacFarland, Darla Hood and Carl Switzer in “Our Gang Follies of 1938.”