Categorized | Editorial, Local Perspectives

Editorial: The Little Rascals – A Precursor?

(From left to right) Ernie "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, Andy Samuel, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Mickey Daniels and Joe Cobb in a 1923 still from one of the earliest "Our Gang" comedies.

(From left to right) Ernie “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison, Andy Samuel, Allen “Farina” Hoskins, Mickey Daniels and Joe Cobb in a 1923 still from one of the earliest “Our Gang” comedies.

“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., I Have A Dream.

Hal Roach (born 1892 – died 1992) was an American Film and Television Producer, Director and Actor from the 1910’s – 1990’s. He was best known for producing, “Our Gang” later known as “Little Rascals” film comedy series.

“Our Gang” or later, “The Little Rascals” featured little boys and girls of all colors and different ethnic backgrounds  playing together as equals. This broke new ground in its debut in 1922 (silent shorts). One of the child actors (Ernie Morrison when he became an adult) said that he never once considered the role he played as racist. All he and his fellow child actors remembered was having fun. Morrison played in
“Our Gang” from 1922-1924. Roach paid the child actors a standard $50 per week back then, which is equivalent to around $678.64 a week by today’s standards.

Ernie Morrison was the first African-American actor signed to a long term contract in Hollywood history and was the first major African-American actor in American History.

The information we gathered came from Wikipedia. In that time frame, I don’t know if The Little Rascals were shown in all the states and if there was any kind of backlash to it, especially from the Southern States. All I know is that when I would see the Rascals, (in reruns during my childhood in the mid-60’s) and it never crossed my mind about black kids playing with white kids. It was just a group of kids who got into mischief, which I thought was hilarious.

Recently I was able to view a couple of the early series on DVD’s. There were three particular episodes that had me in stitches. In the one “Little Rascals” were putting on the play of Romeo and Juliet. The character Alfalfa with his cowlick played Romeo. Darla, the little white girl played Juliet. Buckwheat, who had a large afro played a guard. During intermission, Darla got  angry and left. Alfalfa had a brilliant idea and slapped the blonde wig on Buckwheat so he could play the part of Juliet. The kids in the audience didn’t notice that the actress playing Juliet originally had left and a little black boy that was now cast in the role. During the balcony scene, Alfalfa accidently pulled off the blonde wig and the kids in the audience noticed it wasn’t Darla but Buckwheat. They said, “That’s Buckwheat,” and applauded. Buckwheat smiled and acknowledged that they were happy with his performance.

As I was talking about the scene, as the editorial was written, I was laughing hysterically.

In another episode, the story took place in school where the children were performing in a musical dance number. At one point Buckwheat and Darla were dancing together. No one batted an eyebrow.

The last episode that I want to mention was when Darla invited the boys to her house for her birthday party. As the party concluded, a rainstorm occurred and the boys had to spend the night at Darla’s house. Darla’s father had all the boys sleeping with him and the boys were making so much noise the father had a hard time falling asleep. Every time it would thunder and lightning the boys would scream and drove the father crazy. Finally the father went to sleep on the sofa.

I think today, what we need is a good dose of The Little Rascals which is available on DVD. Here’s to Hal Roach for having the foresight and vision to see how the world should be. As an adult he was able to see the world through the eyes of a child.

I think that Dr. King and Hal Roach were alive today, they would have been great friends. Hal Roach had that dream first and made it come true, although it was in a fictional series. We have this world now. C.M.

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