Friday, July 16, 2010

Hal Roach's Rascals...Well, one of them!

My wife and I live in a condo and in our development we are allowed to have pets.  (No farm animals!)  One of our neighbors has a small dog named Wheezer, so that got me thinking about Our Gang and Hal Roach.  My mind travels in funny circles, often revolving around my youth and the movies I've seen.

Back in the early 1920's, Hal Roach was auditioning children for a film.  They were all over prepared and over dressed by their mothers, and he was suffering through it.  He noticed some children playing in a lumber yard with pieces of wood, and that was the inspiration for the Our Gang series of shorts. 

Hal wanted to make short films with children being themselves, and it worked.  From 1922 to 1944, 220 short comedies and one feature were made, using about 44 children and a variety of animals over the years.  I was very privileged to know Dorothy DeBorba for a few years while I was a member of the Sons of the Desert.  Dorothy played Little Echo from 1930 to 1933, starting when she was only five years old.

Back to Wheezer.  Bobby "Wheezer" Hutchens was born on March 29, 1925 and started his acting career in 1927, only 2 years old.  That silent film was called Baby Brother and the cast included Oliver Hardy and another acquaintance of mine, Anita Garvin.  I don't remember seeing this one, but I intend to look for it.  It is included in the collection at left.

Wheezer continued making movies into the talkie era, until 1933, appearing 65 times.  Only a small handful of his films were without the rest of the Our Gang kids.  The truly sad thing about these talented children was that none of them made anything from these films except their salary at the time, which ranged from $40 to $200 a week.  It took later efforts, in part by Penny Singleton (Blondie), to force the studios to compensate talent for profits made after the release of their films and on promotional products.

The Our Gang series was syndicated for television under the name "The Little Rascals," and I remember watching them all as a child.  TV didn't show many of the silent films, though, so those are worth looking for.

In 1938, Hal Roach sold the Our Gang series, including the contracts of the cast, to MGM for $25,000.  MGM continued making some films until 1944, but the spontaneity was lost and popularity declined.  Mostly because MGM wanted the films to be scripted and the children just weren't up to the task of delivering lines written by others.

Bobby Hutchins' acting career didn't continue after he started getting older, and it ended when he was just 8 years old.  In fact, none of the Our Gang members had much of a continuing career in film. The only real exception was Jackie Cooper who went on to stardom. 

On May 17, 1945, when Hutchins was just twenty years old, he was finishing his basic training with the Army Air Corps and was killed in a plane crash. 

I must ask if that dog in our development was named after Bobby "Wheezer" Hutchins.


  1. What a fabulous writer you are !

    I was also a huge fan of all the Hal Roach shorts, and as well I always had a soft spot in my heart for Penny Singleton.

    It is truly a shame how many of the Our Gang cast met with tragic ends, and in many cases, at such an early age.

    So wonderful to see that their legacy is preserved through the efforts of people like you.

    1. Well, thanks, Doc! I don't claim to be that fabulous, but I enjoy bringing some of the lesser known actors to the public eye. They have added so much to our lives over the years. And I defy anyone to watch Pups is Pups (1930) and not enjoy it. That was Wheezer at his best.


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