Hand color tinted photo of George McFarland “Spanky” & Scott Hastings Beckett “Scotty”, The Little Rascals Our Gang
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.
Scott Hastings Beckett “Scotty” (October 4, 1929 – May 10, 1968) was an American child actor. He starred in the Our Gang and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger series.
Born in Oakland, California, Beckett got his start in show business at age 3 when the family moved to Los Angeles and a casting director heard him singing by chance. Beckett was in a hospital visiting his father who was recovering from an illness, and was entertaining him by singing songs. A studio casting director who happened to be nearby noticed the child, and told his parents he had movie potential. Beckett auditioned, and landed a part in Gallant Lady(1933), alongside Dickie Moore. The same year, his father died. In 1934, Beckett and Moore both joined Our Gang.
Beckett appeared as a regular in the Our Gang short subjects series from 1934-1935. In the gang, Beckett played George “Spanky” McFarland’s best friend and partner in mischief. His trademark look was a crooked black baseball cap and an oversized black sweater, exposing one shoulder. His role was taken over by Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer in 1935, and Beckett left the series for features after that year.
Beckett became a prolific child and young adult actor from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. In 1939, he returned to Our Gang briefly as Alfalfa’s cousin Wilbur in Cousin Wilbur and Dog Daze. He appeared as one of the unborn children in Shirley Temple’s The Blue Bird (1940). He also played Al Jolson as a teenager in The Jolson Story (1946), with his singing voice being provided by fellow child actor Rudy Wissler. His performance as Jolson was described as “touching, enchanting, and to all indications, accurate”.
Life After Our Gang
After his Our Gang days were over, Scotty won increasingly prominent roles in major Hollywood films, usually playing the star’s son, or the hero as a boy. Among his major credits are Dante’s Inferno with Spencer Tracy, Anthony Adverse with Fredric March, The Charge of the Light Brigade with Errol Flynn, Conquest with Greta Garbo, Marie Antoinette with Norma Shearer, and Kings Row, playing Robert Cummings as a child.
Scotty attended Los Angeles High School and took time off from filming to try his luck on the stage. Adolescence didn’t seem to hamper his career, as he won such important roles as that of young Al Jolson in The Jolson Story, and Junior in the long-running radio show The Life of Riley. In 1947, he appeared alongside Dickie Moore in Marilyn Monroe’s first film, Dangerous Years.
He attended the University of Southern California, but dropped out when the combined work load of school and movies became too great. Although he was working steadily at MGM, his life grew increasingly tumultuous in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1948 he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. The following year he eloped with Beverly Baker, a tennis star, but their marriage dissolved within a period of months. A second marriage produced one son, Scott Jr., and this alliance seemed to last, but in 1954 he ran afoul of the law again, once for passing a bad check and once for carrying a concealed weapon.
Ironically, that same year Scotty’s career took an upward turn as he was cast as Winky, the comic sidekick in the popular TV show Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. This was to be his last major role. He made only a few subsequent TV and film appearances, some uncredited bit parts, before leaving show business forever.
Post acting life and death
The last ten years of his life were filled with unpleasant stories of divorce, violence, drugs and arrests. After more or less giving up show business, he tried selling real estate, then cars, and twice enrolled at universities with the intention of becoming a medical doctor. On May 8, 1968, he checked into a Hollywood nursing home, needing medical attention after suffering a serious beating. He died two days later at the young age of 38. Although pills and a note were found, no conclusion was made by the coroner as to the exact cause of death, however some speculate he overdosed on barbiturates or alcohol.
Ernie “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison (1922–1924)
Mickey Daniels (1922–1926)
Mary Kornman (1922–1926)
Jackie Condon (1922–1928)
Allen “Farina” Hoskins (1922–1931)
Joe Cobb (1922–1929)
Jay R. Smith (1926–1929)
Jean Darling (1926–1929)
Bobby “Wheezer” Hutchins (1926–1933)
Mary Ann Jackson (1927–1931)
Pete the Pup (1930–1938)
Norman “Chubby” Chaney (1929–1931)
Jackie Cooper (1929–1931)
Shirley Jean Rickert (1931)
Dorothy DeBorba (1930–1933)
Matthew “Stymie” Beard (1930–1935)
George “Spanky” McFarland (1932–1942)
Tommy Bond (1932–1934 as Tommy, 1937–1940 as “Butch”)
Scotty Beckett (1934–1935)
Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas (1934–1944)
Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer (1935–1940)
Darla Hood (1935–1941)
Eugene “Porky” Lee (1935–1939)
Jerry Tucker (1931–1938)
Mickey Gubitosi (Robert Blake) (1939–1944)
Billy “Froggy” Laughlin (1940–1944)
Janet Burston (1940–1944)