Hand color tinted photo of Darla Jean Hood & George “Spanky” McFarland, The Little Rascals, Our Gang
Darla Jean Hood (November 4, 1931 – June 13, 1979) was an American child actress, best known as t”Spanky”he leading lady in the Our Gang series from 1935 to 1941. She was born in Leedey, Oklahoma, the only child of James Claude Hood and Elizabeth Davner. Her father worked in a bank and her mother was a music teacher.
Hood’s mother began her in singing and dancing at an early age, taking her to lessons in Oklahoma City. Just after her third birthday, she was taken to New York City, where she was seen by Joe Rivkin, a casting director for Hal Roach Studios, who arranged a screen test. She was then taken to Culver City, California, to appear in the Our Gang movies.
Hood played Darla in Our Gang. She made her debut at age four in the 1935 film Our Gang Follies of 1936 and was soon given a role in The Bohemian Girl with Laurel and Hardy. From 1935 to 1941, she continued to play in Our Gang. She is well remembered for her coquettish character, typically the love interest of Alfalfa, Butch, or (usually) Waldo. One of her most memorable moments was singing “I’m in the Mood for Love” in The Pinch Singer.
After Our Gang
When she outgrew her role in Our Gang, Hood appeared in a couple of other movies and attended school in Los Angeles. While at Fairfax High School, she organized a vocal group called the Enchanters with four boys. Shortly after graduation, the quartet was booked by producer and star Ken Murray for his famous “Blackouts”, a stage variety show. The group remained with Murray’s Blackouts during its long run in New York and Hollywood.
Hood then went out on her own with singing engagements in nightclubs and guest appearances on TV. She was a regular on The Ken Murray Show from 1950 to 1951. In 1955, she was a leading lady in the act of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. She had a hit record in 1957, “I Just Wanna Be Free”, and appeared in the movie Calypso Heat Wave (1957) singing a duet with Johnny Desmond. She also recorded two songs with the Ray Whitaker Orchestra, “Only Yours” and “Silent Island”, for RayNote Records.
In January 1959, Hood released a new record, Quiet Village. Joe Rivkin, who discovered her as a child, saw the cover and cast her in her final film role, which was also her first adult role in a movie. She played a secretary in the suspense drama The Bat with Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead.
Hood was a guest on such TV shows of the early 1960s as Tell It to Groucho and The Jack Benny Show, where she appeared on 30 October 1962 as “Darla” in a spoof of the Our Gang comedies with Jack Benny (who appeared as Alfalfa). She did singing and voice-over on TV commercials, which included Campbell Soup and Chicken of the Sea tuna. She appeared in her own nightclub act at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles, the Copacabana in New York, and the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Hood attended many Our Gang/Little Rascals festivals and conventions, meeting and greeting various generations of fans.
Hood was busy organizing the 1980 Little Rascals reunion for the Los Angeles Chapter of The Sons of the Desert when she underwent a relatively minor operation at a North Hollywood hospital. Following the procedure, Hood contracted acute hepatitis and died suddenly of heart failure on June 13, 1979. The circumstances of her untimely passing remain unknown and somewhat mysterious. Hood was 47.
The Our Gang community was stunned at Hood’s unexpected passing. Fellow Our Gang member Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas said, “I hate to hear it. It’s a shock. She was an awfully nice person, a fine woman. We got along real good as kids.”. A little over a year later, Thomas died as well.
Darla Hood is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood.
Hood had two marriages, insurance salesman, Robert W. Decker (1949 to 1957), and record company executive, Jose Granson (married 1957). She and Granson had three children. Tommy “Butch” Bond mentioned that her marriage to Granson was difficult because Granson had been confined to a wheelchair following a stroke.
George Robert Phillips “Spanky” McFarland (October 2, 1928 – June 30, 1993) was an American actor most famous for his appearances in the Our Gang series of short-subject comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. The Our Gang shorts were later popular after being syndicated to television as “The Little Rascals”.
McFarland was born in Dallas, Texas, at Methodist Hospital in 1928 to Robert Emmett and Virginia McFarland. He had three siblings, Thomas (“Tommy,” who himself appeared in a few Our Gang episodes as “Dynamite”), Amanda, and Roderick (“Rod”).
Prior to joining the Our Gang comedies, Buddy, as he was called by his family, modeled children’s clothing for a Dallas department store and also was seen around the Dallas area on highway billboards and in print advertisements for Wonder Bread. This established “Buddy” early on in the local public’s eye as an adorable child model and provided experience before cameras.
In January 1931, in response to a trade magazine advertisement from Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, California, requesting photographs of “cute kids,” Spanky’s Aunt Dottie (Virginia’s sister) sent pictures from Buddy’s portfolio. An invitation for a screen test soon arrived, which happened that spring, leading to his acting career. Portions of Spanky’s screen test are included in a 1932 Our Gang entry, aptly entitled Spanky.
McFarland’s nickname “Spanky” is erroneously said to have arisen from warnings by his mother not to misbehave during one of the initial discussions with Hal Roach in his office. As the story goes, he had a habit of reaching out and grabbing things, and on doing so his mother Virginia would say, “Spanky, spanky, mustn’t touch!” While this story has considerable folksy appeal, Spanky himself refuted the tale, saying that the name was given by a Los Angeles newspaper reporter. Use of the “Spanky” name by McFarland for subsequent business or personal activities was expressly granted to McFarland in one of his studio contracts. In later years some in his family would affectionately refer to him as “Spank.”
After his discovery at the age of three, he instantly became a key member of the Our Gang children’s comedy movie series and one of Hollywood’s stars. His earliest films show him as an outspoken toddler, grumpily going along with the rest of the gang. His scene-stealing abilities brought him more attention, and by 1935 he was the de facto leader of the gang, often paired with Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, and always the enterprising “idea man.” Switzer’s character became as much of a scene stealer as the young McFarland was, and the two boys’ fathers fought constantly over screen time and star billing for their children.
Spanky McFarland’s only starring feature-film vehicle was the 1936 Hal Roach film General Spanky, an unsuccessful attempt to move the Our Gang series into features. He also appeared as a juvenile performer in many non-Roach feature films, including the Wheeler & Woolsey comedy Kentucky Kernels and two Fritz Lang features of the 1940s.
Following the 1938 Our Gang short Came the Brawn, McFarland “retired” from Our Gang, beginning a personal appearance tour. In mid-1938, Hal Roach sold the Our Gang unit to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who began casting for a new “team leader” character in Spanky’s vein and ended up rehiring McFarland himself. He remained in the MGM Our Gang productions until his final appearance in the series, Unexpected Riches, in 1942 at age thirteen.
In 1952, at age 24, McFarland joined the U.S. Air Force. Upon his return to civilian life, indelibly typecast in the public’s mind as “Spanky” from Our Gang, he found himself unable to find work in show business. He took less glamorous jobs, including work at a soft drink plant, a hamburger stand, and a popsicle factory. In the late 1950s, when the Our Gang comedies were sweeping the nation on TV, McFarland hosted an afternoon children’s show, “Spanky’s Clubhouse,” on KOTV television in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The show included a studio audience and appearances by other celebrities such as James Arness, and it ran Little Rascals shorts.
After that stint, he continued at odd jobs – selling wine, operating a restaurant and night club, and selling appliances, electronics and furniture. He was selling for Philco-Ford Corporation, where he advanced to national sales director. After his self-described “semi-retirement,” Spanky loaned his name and celebrity to help raise money for charities, primarily by participating in golf tournaments. Spanky also had his own namesake charity golf classic for 16 years, held in Marion, Indiana.
McFarland continued to make personal appearances and cameo roles in films and television, including an appearance on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. His final television performance was in 1993 in an introductory vignette at the beginning of the Cheers episode “Woody Gets An Election”.
McFarland died suddenly of cardiac arrest on June 30, 1993 at age 64. His remains were cremated shortly thereafter.
In January 1994, McFarland posthumously joined fellow alumnus Jackie Cooper to become one of only two Our Gang members to receive a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.