When Robert Blake was arrested in 2002 and charged with the murder of his wife, a lot of people began to look back and wonder if the kids who starred in the Our Gang films were under some kind of cloud.
According to Our Gang producer Hal Roach, 176 kids played in the 221 Our Gang films made between 1922 and 1944. Only a few of these became major stars in the series.
It's not unusual for child stars to have a difficult time as they move into adulthood, and if anything life in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s was even tougher. Children who worked in the series typically started out earning less than $100 a week, and they never earned residuals-when the Our Gang films made their way to television in the early 1950s, the kids didn't get a penny. Result: when their fame ended, they didn't have any money to fall back on like child stars do today.
When you consider how many kids cycled through the Our Gang series, it stands to reason that quite a few of them would have problems later in life. Even so, the number of kids who suffered misfortune over the years is startling. You can't help but wonder: Are the Little Rascals cursed?
LOSS OF INNOCENCE
*Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer: Like many of the Little Rascals, Switzer had trouble finding movie roles as he grew older. He landed bit parts in films like It's a Wonderful Life and The Defiant Ones, supporting himself at such odd jobs as bartender, dog trainer, and hunting guide between acting gigs. He was shot to death in 1959 following an argument over $50. He was 31. (Carl's older brother, Harold, also appeared in the Our Gang series; in April 1967 he murdered his girlfriend and then killed himself. He was 42.)
*William "Buckwheat" Thomas: When his career in front of the camera ended, Thomas became a film technician with the Technicolor Corporation. In October 1980, a neighbor who hadn't seen Thomas in several days entered his home and found him dead in bed. Cause of death: heart attack. Thomas was 49.
*Robert "Wheezer" Hitchins: A cadet in the Army Air Corps, Hitchins was killed in 1945 while trying to land his plane during a training exercise. He died a few days shy of his 20th birthday.
*Matthew "Stymie" Beard: A high school dropout, Beard fought a heroin addiction for more than 20 years and was frequently in and out of prison. He beat the habit in the 1970s, but passed away in 1981, at age 56. Cause of death: pneumonia, following a stroke.
*"Darla" Hood Granson: Contracted hepatitis while in the hospital for minor surgery and died in 1979 at the age of 47.
*Norman "Chubby" Chaney: Chaney's weight was due to a glandular problem; by the time he was 17 he weighed more than 300 pounds. In 1935 he had surgery to treat his condition; that dropped his weight down to 130 pounds, but he never regained his health. He passed away in 1936 at the age of 18.
*"Scotty" Beckett: Scotty was the kid who wore a cap turned to the side of his head. A classic case of troubled former child star, Beckett slid into alcohol and drug abuse when his acting career petered out. He had two failed marriages, a history of violence, and numerous run-ins with the law. In 1968 he checked into a Hollywood nursing home after someone beat him up; two days later he was dead. Investigators found a bottle of pills and a suicide note by his bed, but the coroner never ruled on whether it was the beating or the barbiturates that killed him. He was 38.
*William "Froggy" Laughlin: Rear-ended and killed by a truck while delivering newspapers on his motor scooter in 1948. He was 16.
*Richard "Mickey" Daniels: Long estranged from his wife and children, Daniels died alone in a San Diego hotel room in 1970. Cause of death: cirrhosis of the liver. Years passed before his remains were identified and claimed by his family. Daniels was 55 when he died; he is buried in an unmarked grave.
*Bobby Blake: (He used his real name, Mickey Gubitosi, in the Our Gang films until 1942.) If you're charged with murdering your wife and you beat the rap, does that count as being cursed or beating the curse? In the 1990s, Blake took up with a woman named Bonnie Lee Bakley. He didn't know it at the time, but she was a celebrity-obsessed con artist who wanted to have a baby with a Hollywood star. Blake took the bait, and in 2000 Bakley gave birth to Blake's daughter. Five months later they were married.
On May 4, 2001, Bakley was shot in the head and killed while sitting in her car outside a restaurant where she and Blake had just eaten dinner. In April 2002, Blake was arrested and charged with Bakley's murder; in March 2005, a jury found him not guilty. He beat the rap, but the media continues to doubt his innocence. Blake says that as a result of the ordeal, he's now destitute.
OTHER RASCAL'S FATES
*Robert "Bonedust" Young. Fell asleep while smoking in bed in 1951; he died in the ensuing fire at the age of 33.
*Jay "Pinky" Smith (aka the freckle-faced kid). Stabbed to death in 2002 by a homeless man he'd befriended, who then dumped Smith's body in the desert outside of Las Vegas. He was 87.
*"Dorothy" Dandridge. Committed suicide in 1965 after losing all her money in a phony investment scheme. She was 41.
*Kendell "Breezy Brisbane" McComas. Committed suicide in 1981, two weeks before being forced into retirement as an electrical engineer. He was 64.
*Darwood "Waldo" Kaye. Waldo was the rich kid with glasses who competed with with Spanky and Alfalfa for Darla's affections. In 2002 he was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver while walking on the sidewalk. He was 72.
*Pete the Pup. The first dog to play Pete was poisoned by an unknown assailant in 1930.
VOICE OF REASON?
Hal Roach, who outlived many of his child stars and died in 1992 at the age of 100, never believed that the kids were cursed. "Naturally, some got into trouble or had bad luck," he told an interviewer in 1973. "They're the ones who made the headlines. But if you took 176 other kids and followed them through their lives, I believe you would find the same percentage of them having trouble later in life."
See also: The Little Rascals
The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Fast-Acting Long-Lasting Bathroom Reader.
Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.
If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!