One of the most instantly recognizable movie features of the 1930s are the Our Gang shorts. These productions are fascinating glimpses into American children's clothing in the 1920s through early 40s. Some of the episodes even work the clothing into the story line. They were produced by Hal Roach, first on his own and then with MGM. The "Our Gang" children supposedly arrived at the studio at 8:00 am and went home at 5:00 pm. The studio claimed that they were all in bed by 8:00 pm. The children attended the "Gang School House" run by the famed Mrs. Carter. George continued in the series until 1942, two years before it ended. Roach later commented on the Our Gang series, saying that "They were a special kind of child. Today you would have to have a contest to find one like them. They talked and acted exactly like children really do. And that's what made "Our Gang" so popular." The boys were Alfalfa (Carl Switzer), Buckwheat (William Thomas), and Spanky (George McFarland. Others included Dickie Moore, Jackie Cooper, Bobby Blake (then billed Michael Gubitosi). Also see Little Rascals Our Gang used to be a TV staple, but today is rarely seen. HBC is unsure as to how the children were costumed. They often wore rather ragged clothes, but as they were well paid for their acting this had to be costuming. Some of the fancier clothes, howevr, could have been clothes they actually wore.
One of the most instantly recognizable movie features of the 1920s and 30s are the Our Gang shorts.
These productions are fascinating glimpses into American children's clothing, "Our Gangs" fils were made over quite a few years and thus provide a wonderful view of children's clothes in America during the 1920s and 30s. Some of the films were also shot in the 1940s. Some of the episodes even work the clothing into the story line. HBC is unsure as to how the children were costumed. Unfortunately we have no details at this time on just how the productions were costumed. This would be interesting information to have and we would be interested in what readers might know on the subject. They often wore rather ragged clothes, but as they were well paid for their acting this had to be costuming. They were dressed upo for some scenes or had characters who might be dressed up. Some of the fancier clothes, howevr, could have been clothes they actually wore.
They were produced by Hal Roach, first on his own and then with MGM. Silent films were made in the 1920s (1922-28) and the talkies in the 1930s and early 40s. In 1938 Hal Roach, the creator of Our Gang, sold the series to MGM. MGM proceeded to churn out a series of poorly written episodes that were not nearly up to the standards of the earlier episodes.
The "Our Gang" children supposedly arrived at the studio at 8:00 am and went home at 5:00 pm. The studio claimed that they were all in bed by 8:00 pm. The children attended the "Gang School House" run by the famed Mrs. Carter.
Roach later commented on the Our Gang series, saying that "They were a special kind of child. Today you would have to have a contest to find one like them. They talked and acted exactly like children really do. And that's what made "Our Gang" so popular." Many child stars today, especially on television, seem so artificial. The "Our Gang" kids seemed mot like the kids next door.
Some of the kids came and went, appearing only in a few shoots. Other children were long-time regulars. There were quite a number of children who appeared in the series. There were both boys and girls, but the boys got more attention. Some of the children stood out more than others, such as Alfalfa and Spankey. The boys were Alfalfa (Carl Switzer) and Spanky (George McFarland). George was one of the most important and continued in the series until 1942, 2 years before it ended. Others included Dickie Moore. Unusual for the 1930s, there were always black children involved. The best known was Buckwheat (William Thomas). Some like Jackie Cooper and Bobby Blakely (then billed Michael Gubitosi) went on to have adult film careers. Others like Switzer (Alfalfa) tried and failed.
Both Our Gang and Little Rascals can essentially be used interchangeable. The detailed story of the rights to the various names is very comlex. The title of the very first short film made in 1922 was Our Gang, while the original title to the series was "Hal Roach's Rascals". After copyright ownerships were juggled, and studios changed, Roach began calling the series The Little Rascals. King World Productions eventually bought the rights to the shorts and created the Little Rascals title cards that were so wdely shown on television.
Our Gang used to be a TV staple, billed as The Little Rascals, but today is rarely seen. I had thought that King World Features owned the Our Gang films. One HBC reader reports that Bill Crosby purchased the film rights because he did not like the way black children were depicted and accoding to this rumor, apparently does not permit their broadcast. This appears to inaccurate. As far as HBC can determine, Hallmark has the rights to the "Our Gang" shorts and as a corporate decission is not releasing them. Another report indicates that the rights to th Hal Roach Our Gang was purchased by Hallmark, and the entire series of Our Gang that had been released were discontinued. They are no longer available. Some of the MGM shorts owned by Turner Entertainment. These are the very last Our Gang comedies featuring Froggy, Janet, Robert Blake and others.
Some see the Our Gang series as beng rascist. It is not difficult to understand why. The black children were always pictured in the most ragged clothes. Jokes were made out of their physical fearures--although not by the other children. They were jokes made by the director. They were picture as being especially supersticious. They were often picture eating watermellon or fried chicken. In many ways, however, the series was way ahead of America in race relations. Notably black children were present. In many Hollywood productions there were no black chasracters and when present they were usually servants. The situation on the "Our Gang" productions is quite different. The children mingle freely together as friends and equals. I can not recall a film from the 20s an 30s which depicted children interacting in this way. Never was a mean or racist word said to the black characters. Even so, children with no historical perspective looking at these shorts can understanably draw the wrong conclusions. It is a shame that these wonderful depictions of American childhood have this aspect that can be so easily misunderstood.
Many of us today recall "Our Gang" from TV showings rather than the movies. The series also appeared on British TV. A british reader writes, "I expect some of the story lines would be abit chancy these days. I recall one story in which the school teacher says they are to have a new teacher. However what is happening is that she is getting married and its really the same teacher now using her married name. They doctor the food at a party. Lots of curry powder is added and also other spices to make the food horrible. Our Gang find out what is really happening and have to eat the food they spiked. Steam coming out of their ears and the like. I would not think that these days you could have a film like this shown to children because they would copy the idea and it would be far worse. Must have been brought up right proper because seeing this sort of film left you with the knowledge that it was a comedy film made for a laugh but not something to really do! However inspired by "our Gang" I did throw a cream cake in the school dinning hall to start a cream bun throwing fight! Didn't work was in in big trouble! The head master wrote a letter home recommending I not to watch "Our Gang" TV films. So my parents punished me for this crazy act."
The definitive source of information on "Our Gang" is Leonard Maltin and Richard Bann's The Little Rascals. The Life and Times of Our Gang. This is an incredible body of work which includes in-depth descriptions, analysis and production notes of every short, along with biographies of every Rascal.
Other important sources include:
Bond, Tommy and Ron Genini, You're Darn Right It's Butch: Memories of Our Gang the Little Rascals.
Cooper, Jackie with Dick Kleiner. Please Don't Shoot My Dog : The Autobiography of By Jackie Cooper (1981).
Gulick, Rebecca. Those Little Rascals : The Pictorial History of Our Gang, (Brompton Books Corporation, 1993).
Moore, Dick (Dickie). Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star: But Don't Have Sex or Take the Car, (1984).
Parish, Robert. Growing Up in Hollywood, (1976).
Taylor, Jackie Lynn. The Turned-On Hollywood 7: Jackie remembers Our Gang
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