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Curse of "The Little Rascals"
For years the rumor of a curse on the cast of Our Gang has persisted. Whether or not it is true is a matter of opinion. But, the number of tragedies befalling some of the child actors in later life makes one wonder. Between 1922 and 1944 there were 221 Our Gang films produced. Out of the 176 actors who participated in the show only a handful gained star status in the comedy series. They became known as The Little Rascals beginning in the mid-1950s, when 80 of the original "talkies" were syndicated for television.
Created by producer Hal Roach, the series in some ways was ahead of its time. It placed the children, regardless of race gender or parent’s social status, in a setting where they were all equals. It was a first in the cinema industry.
Many of the kids had a difficult time after leaving the show. It wasn’t the same as with child stars of today. Back in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, they earned less than a $100 a week and received no residuals later on. Therefore they had little to fall back on.
Out of all the cast, Robert Blake was the most successful actor. “Bobby” Blake began his acting career as an Our Gang kid and appeared in 39 episodes of the “Our Gang” series using his real name, Mickey Gubitosi. But before he hit the big time he starred in the Allied Artists’ gangster movie The Purple Gang (1960) and played featured roles in such films as PT 109 (1963), Ensign Pulver (1964), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) and guest starred on dozens of TV shows.
He became best known for his role as the New York City detective Tony Baretta in the series “Baretta,” which ran from 1975-78. He was arrested in 2002 and charged with the murder of his wife. Although the charges were later dropped the incident ruined his career. As unfortunate as this was, others from the show fared far worse.
Carl Switzer who played “Alfalfa,” the love struck, off key singing Romeo who vied for the affections of the cast’s leading lady, Darla Hood, had a tough time finding acting roles. Although he landed a few bit parts in films like It’s a Wonderful Life and The Defiant Ones, it wasn’t enough to make a living. To make ends meet he took such odd jobs as a bartender, dog trainer and hunting guide. Carl died at 31 from a gunshot to the head following an argument over $50 in 1959. His older brother Harold, who also appeared in the series, murdered his girlfriend in 1967 and then killed himself. Harold was 42.
However, not all died so violently. William Thomas, who played “Buckwheat,” became a film technician. In October 1980, he was found dead in bed of a heart attack. He was 49.
Some died young:
· Robert “Wheezer” Hitchins became a cadet in the Army Air Corps. He died at 19 in 1945 while attempting to land his plane during a training exercise.
· Norman “Chubby” Chaney had a glandular problem and by the time he was 17 weighed over 300 pounds. In 1935 he had surgery and his weight plummeted to 130 pounds, but his health had deteriorated. He died in 1936 at the age of 18.
· William “Froggy” Laughlin died in 1948 at the age of 16. He was struck by a truck while delivering newspapers on his motor scooter.
“Scotty” Beckett was the kid who wore his cap turned sideways. When his acting career came to an end he became an alcoholic and drug addict. He had two failed marriages, a history of violence, and numerous run-ins with the law. In 1968 someone beat him up and he sought care in a Hollywood nursing home. Two days later he was found dead with a bottle of barbiturates and a suicide note by his bed. It was never determined whether he died from the beating or suicide. Beckett was 38.
“Stymie,” played by Matthew Beard, appeared in 36 of "Our Gang" shorts from 1930 to 1935. His trademark, anoutsized derby hat, was a gift from comedian Stan Laurel. He never finished high school and was also involved with drugs. He battled heroin addiction for over 20 years during which time he was in and out of prison. However, in 1970 he cleaned up his act. From then on he made regular appearances at "Our Gang" reunions and volunteered his time to lecture kids about the dangers of drug addiction. Beard also resumed his acting career landing bit parts in films like "The Buddy Holly Story" and made cameo appearances on sitcoms like Good Times,” "Maude” and "Sanford and Son.” He passed away in 1981, at age 56 from pneumonia, following a stroke.
“Darla” Hood Granson, the leading lady in the series from 1935 to 1941,went on to appear in several other movies as well as making the hit record" I Just Wanna Be Free" in 1957. She also appeared in the movie Calypso Heat Wave the same year singing a duet with Johnny Desmond. Darla was organizing the 1980 Little Rascals reunion for the Los Angeles Chapter when she underwent a minor operation at a North Hollywood hospital. Following the procedure, Hood contracted acute hepatitis and died suddenly of heart failure on June 13, 1979. She was 47.
Curse or coincidence…you decide.