Friday, October 21, 2005

 

Two Little Rascals Pass Away

With in the last month, two of Hal Roach's legendary "Little Rascals" have passed away. On September 25, Thomas Ross Bond, who played Butch -- who would constantly bully Alfalfa and the rest of the gang -- died of heart failure at the age of 79; and today, Gordon Lee who played Porky -- Spanky McFarland's little brother, and Buckweat's best friend -- died of cancer, at age 71. I was introduced to the Our Gang film shorts when they were repackaged as The Little Rascals, for television. As a child, I was a faithful viewer of these televised black-and-white backyard adventures. (Now, on DVD, my son has developed a liking for the Rascals as well.) At the time, of course, I had no idea that these films had once played in movie theaters, or that the Our Gang short, entitled Bored of Education, had won the Oscar for Best One-Reel Short Subject in 1937. I also didn't "get" the clever lines, clearly intended to amuse adults in the audience. Such as in Shrimps for a Day, when a little orphaned girl, invited to the home of the orphanage's benefactor, runs away from a goose chasing her in the backyard, it prompts the benefactor's daughter to turn to her boyfriend and say, "Oh Dick, imagine a little girl being afraid of a goose!" (wink wink) Over the years, it was always fun to spot a Rascal, now an adult, in other movies. My father pointed out the small role played by Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer in the film It's a Wonderful Life. (Remember the dance scene in the school? Look for him in a key role.) Matthew 'Stymie' Beard showed up in The Buddy Holly Story and the TV miniseries Backstairs at the White House. The Rascals were given renewed interest when Eddie Murphy spoofed the character of Buckwheat on Saturday Night Live in the 80s, which led to the Rascals' first (and only) feature film (with an entirely new cast of children) in 1994, directed by Penelope Spheeris. Bond, who died in September, quit acting in 1951 (after playing Jimmy Olsen in two Superman movies in the 40s), and worked in television as a producer/director. Lee, who died today, became a schoolteacher and lived in Colorado, until he retired, and moved to Minnesota to be closer to his son. The actors who played the Rascals are almost all gone now, but thanks to Hal Roach, and his Oscar-wining collection of film shorts, they will always remain the independent-minded, resourceful gang of children planning their next bit of backyard mischief.

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