The Little Rascals, originally known as Our Gang, first debuted in 1922. The series chronicled a group of ragtag neighborhood kiddos and their adventures. The kids were so distinct in personality and features that they all earned their own nicknames, from Spanky to Alfalfa.
And watching these kids be kids on-screen was revolutionary. It was an idealized version of youth. From putting on grand shows to inventing sweet rides, we watched and wished we could join in on the fun. It’s safe to say that this group of children started something, as their appeal continues to this day. So what did the rascals get into after this legendary show?
Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas
Buckwheat was originally a background member of the gang. Matthew “Stymie” Beard’s younger sister, Carlena portrayed Buckwheat before the character switched to male. Then, Billie ‘Buckwheat’ Thomas took over.
He began acting in the Little Rascals shorts in 1930 and that was the only acting he ever did.
Thomas later enlisted in the US Army at the age of 23, and after his time serving, he decided acting just wasn’t of interest to him. He once said in a 1980 interview, “After the Army, I wasn’t really interested in the hassle of performing. Even the big stars had to chase around and audition; it seemed like a rat race to me, with no security.” However, Billie still enjoyed movie magic as a whole. He even had a career as a film lab technician with the Technicolor Corporation. Billie then continued his education to film editing and cutting
Sadly, Billie died of a heart attack in his Los Angeles apartment in Oct. 1980 at age 49.
In 1990, ABC’s 20/20 aired a segment featuring a man named Bill English, a grocery bagger in Arizona, who claimed to be the adult Buckwheat. This prompted public objections from George Spanky McFarland, who informed the media that Buckwheat had been dead for ten years. Despite being this refute, English, who died four years later at the age of 60, refused to take back his claim, maintaining that he had originated the role of Buckwheat, with other actors taking over after his departure.
George “Spanky” McFarland
Ahh, good, old, Spanky— probably one of the most recognized members of the entire franchise. I don’t think I’ll ever forget him as “General Spanky.” Doesn’t get any cuter than that! When one mentions The Little Rascals, it’s Spanky’s Adventures with pal Alfalfa that most often comes to mind.
George McFarland joined the gang after Jackie Coogan’s departure, in late 1931. Before joining McFarland modeled children’s clothing for a Dallas department store and was visible on several highway billboards and also print advertisements for Wonder Bread.
His nickname is said to have come from his mother, who urged him not to misbehave in Hal Roach’s office, the creator of the show. McFarland had a habit of grabbing things and his mother would warn him, “Spanky, mustn’t touch!”
Roach is the mastermind behind Laurel & Hardy. And Spanky’s famous double and triple-takes were taught to him by Stan Laurel, while many of his mannerisms and exasperated expressions, were inspired by Oliver Hardy. It was a perfect storm of comedy.
After leaving the show, McFarland enlisted in the US Air Force. As for employment, he worked various jobs, at one time an executive with Philco Ford. From 1955 to 1960, he created and hosted his own daily children’s show, The Spanky Show, which aired on an Oklahoma CBS affiliate. Spanky entertained with games, craft making, skits, informational segments, and interviews, all in between reruns of The Little Rascals shorts.
McFarland was a passionate golfer who, in his later years, could be seen on the pro-am circuit. Sadly he died in June 1993 at the age of 64, but we’ll never forget Spanky.
Matthew “Stymie” Beard
Stymie was one of the minority cast members in the Gang, which for the time, was incredibly inclusive and encouraging. He was always recognized by his trademark bowler hat and bald head.
Beard was cast as a baby in many films before signing a five-year contract to play “Stymie”. His character was originally named Hercules until director Robert McGowan renamed him Stymie.
Once again Laurel & Hardy helped round out the character, as the trademark hat was given to him by comedian Stan Laurel. Beard’s very first appearance was as Hercules in “Teacher’s Pet” in 1930, and many recall this short as one of the series’ best.
Matthew left the show at age 10. He battled heroin addiction and committed small crimes to indulge his habit.
Thankfully, with the help of rehab, he was able to turn his life around and appeared as a guest star like his 3 episodes of Sanford and Son in the early 70s and also had a recurring role on Good Times as “Monty.” Then, in 1978, he appeared in The Buddy Holly Story, and of course, he was wearing his signature derby hat.
He went on to maintain his sobriety and often gave lectures on drug abuse awareness. He did this up until his passing in January 1981 at the age of 56. Matthew was buried with his infamous Stymie Hat.
Billy “Froggy” Laughlin
Froggy was a later addition to the show, joining in 1940 at age 8. He was known for wearing his thick glasses to correct his crossed eyes and had a distinctive “Popeye-Esque” voice. Billy was often bullied in his neighborhood so his mother enrolled him in a drama class, this is where an MGM talent scout spotted his popeye impersonation and led to his Froggy.
He worked in tandem with Alfalfa Switzer in his first three films and then replaced the now too old Switzer as the comic lead of the group beginning in 1941. His younger brother Mickey Laughlin joined the gang briefly as well, to try and fill Spanky’s shoes with McFarland’s -aged-out departure.
When Our Gang stopped production in 1944, Laughlin went straight into Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, but this would be the end of his acting career.
Sadly, at age 16, just two weeks after his parents gifted him a scooter. He was out delivering newspapers when a speeding truck struck the boy and his friend who was driving the scooter. The friend only suffered minor injuries, but Billy Laughlin died at a nearby hospital on August 31, 1948. At 16, he was the youngest Little Rascal death.
Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer
Alfalfa with his trademark cowlick and freckles is possibly the most iconic little rascal. His image appeared in every form of Our Gang merchandise, but unfortunately, he never saw the happiness or money from using his likeness.
On the set, Carl was often recalled as impatient and troublesome, leading the rest to mischief. When he got bored, he took the others to invade nearby sets, such as Tarzan, leading a charge into a love scene that was being filmed. Apparently, one time when angry with a director, He urinated on the studio lights and the stink drove everyone out.
After completing 61 shorts, his final one was the one reel, “Kiddie Kure” completed when he was 12 years old. he continued acting for a bit, including a small role in It’s a Wonderful Life as Donna Reed’s date at the high school dance. He guest-starred on 6 episodes of The Roy Rogers Show, and his final actin endeavor was in 1958, in the Tony Curtis-led film, The Defiant Ones. He admitted that he was struggling to find good roles being so recognizable as Alfalfa.
He left show business and became a dog breeder and hunting guide. Even taking Roy Rogers and Dale Evans out for a hunt. But tragedy struck again when in 1959, he was fatally shot during a tussle over owed dues of a hunting dog. He was just 31.
Darla was introduced to the gang with the very popular short, ‘Our Gang Follies Of 1936’. Coincidentally the final appearance of crooked hat Scotty Beckett. Darla was the adorable little girl who loved to sing, she performed “I’ll Never Say ‘Never Again’ Again” and the love relationship between her and Alfalfa was hinted at by her smiling gaze as Alfalfa nervously performed a number.
Darla’s mom introduced her to performing at an early age. The family moved to New York to seek opportunities for fame for Darla, that was when Joe Rivkin, a casting director for Hal Roach Studios, cast her in the Gang shorts.
Later on, Rivkin again cast her in her final adult role in a Vincent Price-led Horror flick called The Bat in 1959.
In the late ’70s, Darla was busy organizing a Little Rascals reunion when she underwent an appendectomy. Sadly and in theme with most of the rascals’ fate, Darla contracted hepatitis from the surgery and died of heart failure in June 1979 at the age of 47.
Eugene “Porky” Lee
Porky reminds most viewers of a young Spanky, He’s best friends with Buckwheat and joined the same time as Darla in 1935.
He had to depart the show in 1939 after a massive growth spurt, even outgrowing McFarland when he was just 10 years old. As a result, he was replaced on the show by Robert Blake, aka ‘Baretta’.
Eugene retired from show business after Our Gang and became an alternative school educator at Broomfield High School in Colorado. To escape his previous gang affiliation, he changed his name to Gordon Lee after his favorite Little Rascals director, Gordon Douglas.
Eugene died at age 71 in 2005 after a battle with cancer.
What a gang! It’s no wonder so many spinoffs and revivals happened through the years, including the 1994 feature film. Not to mention the incredible gags, and slapstick comedy. It was and probably will forever be unmatched. So, tell us, who was your favorite rascal? Is there a particular Our Gang short that you used to watch over and over?