You may recognize the title The Little Rascals, but there is so much you may not realize about the films. You might recognize a few character names like Darla, Alfalfa, and Froggy. However, did you know that the kids that played those characters were essentially first-time actors with little to no professional training?
There is a groundbreaking history behind Hal Roach’s Our Gang. We’re going to expose some of the fascinating details that brought these beloved films to life.
History of The Little Rascals
In 1921, Hollywood producer Hal Roach was struggling to come up with new material to bring to the public. That was until several days in a row he took notice of how his and other children were playing together.
Finding himself interested in the imagination and creativity that these kids were exhibiting, he thought others might enjoy it as well. Roach, tired of seeing child stars matured beyond their years, wanted to portray the innocence and naivety that children held.
Others in the industry weren’t sure that this would be a successful idea, but Roach didn’t care. He was committed to giving viewers an accurate depiction of childhood and paved a historic way while doing so.
In the middle of the Jim Crow Era, The Little Rascals took a dagger to racial segregation. Roach had taken note that kids didn’t regard skin color in the same way that adults did.
His Little Rascals became one of the very first film series to depict American black and white children connecting and playing with each other. In fact, Ernie Morrison became the first black actor to land a Hollywood long-term contract in 1919.
This was a stark contrast to the black-face-painted white actors of the era. Here, hidden in childish pranks and lovable characters, was a highway for future actors of color to drive.
It has to be said that some disagree with the writing of the children of color. While seemingly taking some steps forward, critics don’t appreciate the racial stereotyping.
Roach’s shorts often highlighted the differences in class systems. Many of the children in the films were written as though they were from poor, lower-class families.
The rascals frequently clashed with the snobby, elitist upper-class children or their parents. This garnered natural interest because the storylines were based on real-life situations instead of fantasy.
Silent to Sound
Originally beginning as silent shorts in 1922, Roach made a shift to MGM in 1927. It was in 1929 that the franchise switched to sound, which popularized the show.
Eventually sold to MGM, production carried on until 1944 and before its completion featured forty-one plus child actors! You can read more about where they are now at doyouremember.com.
Remains in Syndication
To this day, The Little Rascals continues to be syndicated through Turner Entertainment and distributed by Warner Brothers. From becoming a television package to releasing as videos and DVDs, even becoming a comic strip in the UK, Our Gang lives on. Read more about television show history like this one continued on our blog.