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The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang Paperback – November 24, 1992
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My first introduction to this book was in the late '80s when I wanted to know how some of the talent had fared after being part of the popular shorts in the 1920's and '30s and I can remember that some of them unfortunately had died under some tragic circumstance or have gotten involved with drugs or died penniless. The book was recently updated via a new and enlarged version in 1992 courtesy of film critic/film historian/writer Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann and to this day, the book continues to be the definitive source for any fan of the Little Rascals.
But for many of us, our memories of Mickey, Jackie, Stymie, Chubby, Farina, Joe, Mary, Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Buckwheat, Porky, Waldo, Froggy and other children were during those good times when these kids brightened our days with their comedic performance were of those good times we watched them on television and for others, the big screen where they were originally shown.
And now, many are discovering (or re-discovering) them through DVD's, the Internet or via public domain.
Unfortunately as of August 2010, many fans are still awaiting a release of the earlier silent episodes as many dozens of them have yet to appear on DVD (and were never released on VHS or LD). But there are solid collections now available and for some, many have wondered what ever happened to those children but also what took place behind-the-scenes of those episodes. And if you loved the episodes, more than likely you wanted to find out what happened to the children playing those well-known roles and also have made you wanting to look for these episodes not on your collection.
And this is where "The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang" is an excellent resource.
The book goes into the early history of the formation of "Hal Roach's Rascals" and what took place behind-the-scene on the development of the series. And then we are given an episode guide starting with the first episode "Our Gang" from 1922 up to episode 221, "Tale of a Dog" from 1944.
Maltin and Bann do a wonderful job in providing us the staff credits but also an episode synopsis and behind-the-scenes information on the making of the episodes and interviews with some of the cast members and also touching upon a few controversies of certain episodes and also episodes that may have struck a chord with viewers today.
For example, although the Little Rascals were instrumental on having Caucasian and Black actors and actresses working together, and even in class together while most schools in America were segregated at the time, Hal Roach cared for these children and made sure these children were taken care of financially while they were part of the show.
For episode 154 titled "Three Smart Boys", there was a scene when Buckwheat had white paintings painted on him ala measles. When Spanky McFarland asked Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas if he felt that was demeaning to him, Thomas answered, "They have to do something, so white measles was white measles. Moneywise, it felt pretty good. It was a job and it was a nice living."
Also, included in the book are original shooting scripts. For example, in the summer for episode 162 titled "Our Gang Follies of 1938', the original script is shown for a scene and the script shows how every little mannerism is detailed on the script and the kids followed that script rather closely.
Another example of how informative the book is when going through each episode is for episode 122 titled "The Kid from Borneo" and the actor playing the tribal man from Borneo is John L. Johnson and also going into detail about Johnson's life as a boxer and fighting against Jack Dempsey and breaking several of his ribs. Each episode is loaded with information about the characters, the talent and more. So, as a resource guide book for episode listings, "The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang" is magnificent.
But along with the episode guide, it's the personal history of each of the major players of "The Little Rascals" and this is where the book becomes very interesting but also sad as some of these talents had tragic endings to their life. Most notably, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer. It was one thing to learn how he was actually quite difficult and mischievous on the set but to learn how at the age of 31, Switzer was shot and killed after a dispute in trying to get his $50 owed to him by his former hunting business partner but also finding out that it was justifiable homicide as Switzer was holding a knife to his business partner.
Another tragic ending was for actor Scotty Beckett, known to be the other young child that was paired with a young Spanky. Scotty had a drug addiction and dealt with arrests and failed businesses and at a young age of 38, Beckett checked into a nursing home after being beaten and died two days later.
Of course, not all Rascals lives were tragic like Switzer's as some lived very good lives and it was good to see that throughout the decades, fans have shown their love to these characters and the show.
Overall, "The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang" is hands down the best resource and episode guide book on "The Little Rascals" series and the characters out there. The 1992 version features much more detail than the earlier version I read before and you can find it online for an affordable price. Also, a lot of photos and stills are included in this book. It's an entertaining and informative book that never gets boring nor tedious. I absolutely love this book!
If you are a big fan of The Little Rascals, this is the definitive book to own. Highly recommended!
Getting this book in the early 1990s was like manna from Heaven. It was completely updated in all the right places but kept the same user-friendly format for those who'd missed out on the earlier editions (BTW, all three versions of the book have slight differences, so a true collector needs all three!).
But now 12 years and counting, I hope that Maltin will not just update the book for the sake of including the cast members who died since 1992, but clear up a lot of the insipid rumors about curses on the Gang (and Petie) that have lately been so much in the tabloid media (including a ridiculously speculative special on the E! network a couple years back).
I wrote to Leonard Maltin in the early 1980s when he was still at "Film Fan Monthly" about some of the urban myths and rumors I'd heard about OG when I was growing up. He was kind enough to reply with a short letter that dismissed literally all of the rumors I asked him to clear up, including Pete being poisoned or killed by someone (It never happened, folks). Anyone notice that Maltin did not appear on the E! special? Why would THE authority on OG not even be asked to give at least a sound byte? Go figure.
In the meantime, buy this book if you are just getting into the Gang or if you're looking for an exhaustive yet fascinating book of reference and film criticism about this immortal film series.
These shows are strange to watch realizing that the great percentage of the characters have long since not only grown up, but also passed on to the hereafter. My mom was born in the early 1920s and, although her life was not scripted or taped, Our Gang gives me a glimpse of her childhood.