Friday, April 14, 2006

You Asked For It: The Our Gang Reunion

I once worked with a gentleman, retired from the business, who began his career as a production assistant on this show. He had a few stories to tell about Art Baker and producer Cran Chamberlain, which I'm sorry to say I've long forgotten, and he lamented the loss of a 16mm "blooper reel," which reportedly included some quick shots of Mr. Baker downing a few quick shots of his own from an ever-present flask, while off-stage.

On one slow afternoon, I brought in the You Asked For It tape available from Shokus Video (now offered on DVD as well), and we watched it. My friend remembered that, like the big money quiz shows later in the decade, this little series was also partially "controlled" - or fixed, if you prefer. Unusual acts or stunts would be submitted to the producers, who would fabricate letters requesting these things, and it would be the faces of the production or clerical staff (including that of my friend, "more than once") that would appear on the Skippy Peanut Butter jars, representing these non-existent viewers.

The first episode on the tape was the one that closed with the reunion of the Our Gang kids from the silent era. First, a few pictures of the original Gang were shown.

From left to right, Jackie Condon, Joe Cobb, Mary Kornman, Mickey Daniels, Johnny Downs and Allen "Farina" Hoskins. Then came the reunion.

Ugh. Beanies and short pants. Baker announced that Mary Kornman was ill and unable to attend. That was our loss; a pretty face would certainly have been welcome among this motley bunch!

I asked my friend if the gang had been difficult to round up. He said no, but added that Farina was the easiest to locate: "He was working as a janitor for the building across the street from our studio."

At the time, Johnny Downs was the only one still in show business - he'd just begun hosting his own children's show in San Diego.

Mickey Daniels gave out his trademark horse laugh, displaying more than a few missing teeth. After this, none of the gang would ever see him again.

Joe Cobb and Jackie Condon had both left the business, although Jackie was still seeking work as an actor, without much luck. Not long after this, he'd give it up and join Joe in the aeronautic defense industry.

Then there were some surprises for the "kids":

Mrs. Fern Carter, the gang's private teacher...

cinematographer Art Lloyd...

and Robert F. "Uncle Bob" McGowan, who directed the very

best Our Gang Comedies for over 15 years.

In their book The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang, Richard K. Bann and Leonard Maltin refer to the You Asked For It reunion as "a slapdash affair... but a nostalgic treat nonetheless." Watching it over 50 years later, it seems more of the latter. Seeing Farina Hoskins and Johnny Downs respectfully greet Bob McGowan - their long-time director/father figure - is touching. Here was the man who shaped the template for all of the Gang incarnations to come. Look at the wagon photograph, and simply replace Joe with Spanky, Mickey with Alfalfa, Mary with Darla, Jackie with Porky, Johnny with Butch, and Farina with Buckwheat.

Silent Our Gangs can be found on DVD from dealers such as Grapevine and Finders Keepers Video.

And so we leave Art Baker to close out this fond reminder of a classic group of films (which would not reach TV until about four years later), and some of the people who made them. Thank you, You Asked For It... whether or not any real viewer actually did.


John McElwee said...

Fabulous story! --- and all those images from the show --- I'd seen it before on DVD, but had forgotten how many of the "Our Gang" kids actually appeared. Bravo on a very imaginative choice for posting!

DENNIS L. LARK said...

OUTSTANDING ARTICLE! I really enjoyed it.

Paul Duca said...

Did this air before OUR GANG/THE LITTLE RASCALS entered syndication?

Michael J. Hayde said...

Paul: Yes, by about 3 years.