Our Gang / The Little Rascals were a group of poor neighborhood children that starred in a series of comedy short films from 1922 to 1944. Hal Roach was the creator of the Our Gang series. A total of 220 shorts and the feature film "General Spanky" (1936) were produced. About forty-one child actors co-starred in the films and others had smaller parts or cameos. Our gang was notable for including boys and girls, whites and blacks together as equal parts of a group. Quite unusual for its time. However it did not avoid the use of stereotypes. For example the black characters mentioned having fathers who were coming and going from jail.
The original main cast included Ernie Morrison under the alias "Sunshine Sammy", Mickey Daniels, Mary Kornman and Allen Hoskins, nicknamed "Farina" after his main character. Both Morrison and Hoskins were African Americans. The supporting cast included Jack Davis, Jackie Condon, Joe Cobb, Eugene Jackson, Andy Samuel, Johhny Downs and Jay R. Smith. While Hoskins stayed in the series for years, most of the others left the series by the middle of the 1920s. Replacements included Bobby Hutchins, Harry Spear, Jean Darling and Mary Ann Jackson.
The series switched from silent film to sound film in 1929. The cast underwent another change at this point. The star of the period was Jackie Cooper while the other major roles were played by Norman Chaney, Dorothy DeBorba, Matthew Beard and Donald Haines. Adult actress June Marlowe was casted as their teacher and the object of crushes for the boys. Lesser players included Buddy McDonald, Bobby Young and Shirley Jean Rickert. The period ended in 1931 when Cooper left the series to start a career in feature films. At about the same time (1930-1932) the spin-off film series "The Boy Friends" featured Mickey Daniels and Mary Kornman portraying teenage versions of their older characters.
With other child stars growing a bit too old and leaving the series, new cast members included Sherwood Bailey and Kendall McComas. The decision to add three-year-old George McFarland as new character "Spanky" proved a hit. He would stay with the series to 1942, making Spanky one of the most recognizable characters. In 1932 veteran child actor Dickie Moore joined the cast for a year, becoming the intended lead. Dickie Jackson, John Collum (portraying character "Uh-huh") and Tommy Bond.
With most of the main stars leaving in 1933, the shorts started focusing on Spanky for a while. New recruits to the cast included Scoty Becket and Wally Albright. Boy actor Billie Thomas portrayed female character "Buckwheat". Carletta Beard had played this part for one short and Willie Mae Taylorbut the drag act was considered funnier. Semi-regular additions included Jackie Lynn Taylor, Marriane Edwards and Leonard Kibrick. However most of them left the series by 1935.
In 1935, siblings Carl and Harold Switzer joined the cast. Harold was soon de-emphasized but Carl's character "Alfalfa" would become a mainstay. Buckwheat switched from a female to male character at this time since the other black boys left the series. Darla Hood and Eugene Lee were the last major additions that year. However by that time movie theaters started dropping comedy shorts in favor of double-feature programs. The producers promoted the first "Little Rascals" feature film to sattisfy the new demands of the market but it flopped. Getting the series into a slow decline.
From 1936 to 1939, the main characters were Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Buckwheat, and Porky and few others had recurring parts. A new production team took over in 1938 and insisted on keeping the cast to their early teens instead of replacing them. However the series was in decline anyway and the characters Butch, Waldo, and Alfalfa were written out in 1940, Darla in 1941 and Spanky in 1942. By the end only Buckwheat remained of the 1930s cast. Replacements such as Billy Laughlin (portraying "Froggy") and Janet Burston failed to revive interest in the series. The final short of the series was released on April 29, 1944. The series was cancelled due to poor box-office showings in its last two years. While interest in the classic films remains, attempts at revivals have faired poorly.