America Celebrates a Century of ‘Our Gang’ Comedy Classics

Who Can Name These Little Rascals?

It All Began in 1922 by Film Producer Hal Roach

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The first long term contract ever given to a Black actor in Hollywood was written for Fred Morrison.

Frederic Ernest “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison, born in New Orleans started out in films called the Baby Marie Osbourne series. He earned his “Sunshine Sammy” nickname for his big smile and easygoing personality. 

Producer Hal Roach had originally planned on giving him his own series, but “The Sunshine Sammy Series” failed after a few attempts. Hal and his wife brainstormed the idea of expanding it, not on just one character, but to a band of “Rascals.”

Mrs. Roach, very impressed with Morrison, suggested that her husband should get the 7-year-old under their studio contract. With the addition of more children, the “Our Gang” series was born.  Sunshine Sammy Morrison ended up working in the aerospace industry and died of cancer when he was 76.

When Roach first started making the shorts way back in 1921, the “Our Gang” the short films were shown in theaters prior to the main picture. When they eventually made the jump to television, the series became “The Little Rascals.”

After the 23 years of “The Little Rascals” run came to an end, 220 films had been made. Reruns ensured generations of fans would continue to enjoy the series.

PETEY THE CIRCLE EYED DOG

Who remembers Petey, the adorable dog with the black circle under his eye?

He was portrayed by a pit bull named Pal who had the naturally-occurring marking—accented with makeup to complete the ring.

Pal was introduced into the series as just a 6-month-old pup. He became a massive star and the beloved family pet of trainer Harry Lucenay. Tragically, in 1930, Pal passed away after being poisoned.

“The Little Rascals” was still going strong, and the gang needed their Petey. Pal’s own son, Peter, stepped in as the new “Perry.” Makeup artists drew the distinctive circle around Peter’s opposite eye, in tribute to his much-loved father.

ALFALFA

Carl Switzer spent five years portraying the very popular role of “Alfalfa” in 75 films. When he became to old for the part, his intention in 1940 was to continue his career in show business. Often uncredited, Switzer appeared in small parts in nearly sixty films, including My Favorite Blonde (1942), The Human Comedy (1943), Going My Way (1944), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), State of the Union (1948), Pat and Mike (1952). Switzer even played a slave in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956).

In early 1959, Switzer was breeding and training hunting dogs. He was hired to train the hunting dog of a man named Moses Stiltz. While training the dog, it took off. Desperate, Switzer offered a reward.

The dog was returned, Switzer ended up paying up, then decided to go to Stiltz to try to get his reward money back. The two men got into a fight, and Switzer was shot in the groin. He died when he arrived at the hospital.

JACKIE COOPER, A TOUGH RASCAL

Jackie Cooper passed away in 2011 and the world mourned the loss of the Superman film’s Perry White. Older fans knew Cooper had been one of “The Little Rascals.” 

Director Norman Taurog, told the young actor that he would shoot his dog if he didn’t cry on command during the filming for a 1931 film.

In “Our Gang,” Cooper was called “the little tough guy,” and unlike many of the kids who came and went through the “Rascals” roster, Cooper stayed in show business. (Which wasn’t entirely surprising, as his father was a studio production manager, and his uncle was the director that threatened to shoot his dog. He’s pictured signing his contract with MGM.)

OTHER NOTABLE RASCALS

🔹Norman “Chubby” Chaney died of a heart condition when he was 21.

🔹Billy “Froggy” Laughlin was riding a scooter when he was hit by a car and killed.

🔹Alfalfa’s brother, Harold “Slim” Switzer, took his own life at the age of 42. 

CAN YOU RECALL THESE RASCALS?

Then & Now, Cast of 1994 Movie

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

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