The Young Rascals
From Spanky and Buckwheat to Darla and Porky, the characters in the classic "Our Gang" short film series—better known to TV watchers as "The Little Rascals"—are remembered as comedy icons. But many (though not all) of the actors who played them faced tragedy later in life. Click though for details on what became of these child stars, starting with Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, who met the most violent end of all 60 years ago.
Alfalfa (Carl Switzer)
Switzer—he of the freckles, cowlick and squeaky singing voice—starred in 61 "Our Gang" shorts from 1934-40. Aged out of the gang at 12, his acting career tailed off into the occasional bit role, most notably as the delinquent who dumps Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed into a swimming pool in "It's a Wonderful Life." In January 1959, Switzer confronted a hunting partner over a $50 debt and was shot to death after allegedly pulling a knife. Officials ruled it a justifiable homicide. Alfalfa was 31.
Spanky (George McFarland)
Beanie-wearing, scene-stealing Spanky joined "Our Gang" in 1935 when he was 3 years old and held forth as the gang's leader in 95 shorts, exiting in 1942 when he was 10. Movie offers dried up almost immediately, so McFarland left Hollywood, joined the Air Force and moved back to his native Texas. For the next two decades he worked a variety of low-paying jobs, including stints at a hamburger stand and popsicle factory. McFarland returned to TV briefly in 1958 as the host of "The Spanky Show" in Tulsa, Oklahoma, wearing a beanie and short pants to introduce "Little Rascals" adventures. He later found his niche as a salesman for the Philco-Ford Corp., working his way up to national sales training director. McFarland was 63 when died of a heart attack in 1993.
Buckwheat (William Thomas)
Picked out of hundreds of black child actors at an audition by "Our Gang" producer Hal Roach, 3-year-old William "Buckwheat" Thomas appeared in 93 shorts from 1934 until the series finale in 1944. Unlike many of his fellow rascals, Thomas gladly gave up acting when "Our Gang" ended. He served in the Army from 1954-56 and then began a long career as a film lab technician with Technicolor in Hollywood. Thomas was 49 when he died of a heart attack in his Los Angeles apartment in 1980—exactly 46 years to the day of his "Our Gang" audition.
Darla (Darla Hood)
"Little Rascals" sweetheart Darla Hood was spotted by a New York casting director in 1934 when she was 3 years old. A year later, she starred in the first of 50 short films with the gang over the next six years. After graduating from the series at age 10 in 1941, Hood pursued a singing career in stage shows and nightclubs and supplied vocals for hundreds of TV commercials for brands like Campbell Soup and Chicken of the Sea. She also popped up frequently on TV in the 1950s and early '60s, appearing on "The Merv Griffin Show," Groucho Marx's "Tell It to Groucho" and "The Jack Benny Show." The twice-married mother of three was organizing a "Little Rascals" reunion when she died of heart failure in 1979 after an appendectomy. An autopsy revealed that Hood had contracted acute hepatitis from a blood transfusion during the operation. She was 47.
Jackie (Jackie Cooper)
Perpetually smitten by his teacher, Miss Crabtree, Cooper appeared in 15 "Our Gang" comedies between 1929 and 1931. He was one of just two rascals to achieve stardom after leaving the gang. In 1931, he became the first child actor to receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination, at age 9, for his starring role in "Skippy." He also starred in such box office hits as "The Champ" and "Treasure Island," earning millions and working regularly throughout his teen years. Returning to Hollywood after serving in the Navy during World War II, Cooper found movie roles scarce and instead moved to live television and Broadway. He starred in several 1950s sitcoms and then worked behind the scenes as a TV executive and occasional director, winning Emmy Awards for episodes of "M*A*S*H" and "The White Shadow" in the '70s. Cooper revived his movie career as Perry White in 1978's "Superman" and its three sequels starring Christopher Reeve. Cooper died of natural causes in 2011 at age 88.
Mickey (Mickey Gubitosi, aka Robert Blake)
Gubitosi appeared in 40 "Our Gang" escapades over five years and later became a certified leading man in the 1960s and '70s as Robert Blake, starring in such films as "In Cold Blood," "Electra Glide in Blue," "Tell Them Willie Boy is Here," and, of course, ABC's hit 1970s series "Baretta" Along the way, Blake became one of the least bland personalities in Hollywood—baring his soul on talk shows with tales of his alcoholism, drug abuse and nervous breakdowns. He made headlines again in 2005 when he was tried and acquitted of the 2001 murder of his second wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley. Blake, 84, is now retired and lives in the Los Angeles area.
Stymie (Matthew Beard)
Wearing an oversized derby given to him by Stan Laurel, Stymie appeared in 36 "Our Gang" comedies. After graduating from the series in 1935 at the age of 10, Beard—whose paycheck helped support 13 brothers and sisters—scored minor roles in films like Errol Flynn's "Captain Blood" (1935) and Bette Davis' "Jezebel" (1938). But after high school he fell prey to a life of petty theft and a heroin addiction that would hound him until he completed a rehab program in the mid-1960s. Beard later made a minor show biz comeback in the '70s, most notably with roles on TV's "Maude," "Good Times" and "Sanford and Son" He also traveled around the country giving lectures on drug abuse awareness. Two days after his 56th birthday in 1981, Beard suffered a stroke and fell down a flight of stairs, sustaining serious head injuries. He died five days later.
Scotty (Scott Beckett)
With his oversized turtleneck sweater and sideways baseball cap, Scotty was one of the cutest child actors around. After appearing in 15 "Our Gang" comedies, Moore went on to prominent roles in major Hollywood films, co-starring with the likes of Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, Greta Garbo and Elizabeth Taylor. Unfortunately, by the 1950s his film work had dried up and Beckett's life began to unravel. There were run-ins with the law for passing bad checks as well as failed marriages, alcoholism and drug abuse. In 1968, after years of drifting from job to dead-end job, Beckett checked into a Hollywood nursing home for injuries suffered in a beating. A few days later, he was discovered dead in his room. Sleeping pills and a note were found near his body, but an autopsy ruled the cause of death "inconclusive." Beckett was 38.
Butch (Tommy Bond)
The sneering bully appeared in just 27 of the "Our Gang" comedies over a two-year span, but his fearsome Butch is one of the series' most memorable characters. Though Butch was Alfalfa's chief adversary, the two young actors were lifelong best friends. When his "Little Rascals" days ended in 1934, Bond enjoyed a fairly successful career as an actor in low-budget films and a new claim to fame: He was the first actor to play Daily Planet cub reporter Jimmy Olsen onscreen, appearing in the 15-part serial "Superman" in 1948 and "Atom Man vs. Superman" in 1950. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Bond returned to show business, working behind the scenes as a director and producer at two Los Angeles TV stations over the next 40 years. He was also the prop manager on NBC's groundbreaking comedy "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In." Bond retired in 1991 and died of heart disease in 2005 at the age of 79.
Porky (Eugene Gordon Lee)
Contrary to popular belief, it wasn't Buckwheat who originated the catchphrase "O-tay!"—it was his mostly silent sidekick, Porky. Just 2 years old when he joined "Our Gang," Lee appeared in 42 shorts before he was forced to leave after a sudden growth spurt made him taller than every other little rascal. His show business career over, Lee later worked as a high school teacher in Colorado. He died of cancer in 2005, nine days before his 72nd birthday.
Pete the Pup (Pete)
Well, actually, at least three different dogs played Pete, all pit bulls with a dark circle drawn around one eye. The assorted Petes, supplied by trainer Harry Lucenay, possessed different talents, sometimes resulting in multiple pups appearing in a single "Our Gang" comedy. Lucenay later retired to Atlantic City, where "Pete" would pose for photographs with children on the boardwalk. One of those kids was Fred Rogers, who grew up to host "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
Farina (Allen Hoskins)
Starting when he was just 1 year old, Farina and his upswept pigtails appeared in 105 "Our Gang" comedies, more than any other rascal. Hoskins was 11 when he left the series in 1931, but continued to act in small film roles and vaudeville shows as a teenager. After serving in the South Pacific during World War II, he began a long career working with the mentally disabled. The father of six children died of cancer in 1980. Hoskins was 59.
Wheezer (Robert E. Hutchins)
Bobby "Wheezer" Hutchins joined "Our Gang" at the age of 2 and retired by the time he was 8, appearing in 58 episodes from 1927-33. He worked as a gas station attendant after high school and joined the Army Air Corps toward the end of World War II. In 1945, Hutchins was killed in a training exercise when his plane collided in mid-air with another aircraft. He was just 20 years old.
Froggy (Billy Laughlin)
The comic star of "Our Gang" in its waning years, gravel-voiced Froggy appeared in 29 episodes. Uninterested in continuing to act after the series ended in 1944, Laughlin resumed life as a normal kid, even taking on a paper route in his hometown of La Puente, California. Laughlin was delivering papers on a new motor scooter given to him by his parents when he was struck by a truck and killed. At 16, he was the youngest rascal to die.
Miss Crabtree (June Marlowe)
Miss Crabtree appeared in only five of the "Our Gang" shorts, yet she remains one of the most beloved schoolteachers in pop culture history. Young, pretty, kind and understanding—she was the teacher everyone had a crush on. Marlowe had been a leading lady in silent films, but failed to make the transition to sound and was ready to retire when an "Our Gang" director struck up a conversation with her in a Hollywood department store and soon offered her the Crabtree role. After "Our Gang," Marlowe retired for good and moved to San Diego, where she was living with her husband of 49 years when she died from complications of Parkinson's disease in 1984 at age 80.
Chubby (Norman Chaney), Waldo (Darwood Kaye), Woim (Leonard & Sidney Kibrick), Mary Ann (Mary Ann Jackson), Joe (Joe Cobb).
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