Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hal Roach and His Gang

Tomorrow is the birthday of Hal Roach, born January 14, 1892, he would be 118 years old today...not so far-fetched since he actually lived to 101.

Roach was born in Elmira, New York and as a young boy saw a presentation by the great Mark Twain. Almost immediately Hal knew that comedy would be the life for him.

He spent his young manhood adventuring around from Alaska and all the way down the west coast, doing everything from gold prospecting to what-ever came his way. When he made it to southern California in the early 1910's he became an extra in western films.

After receiving a small inheritance, Hal partnered up with young film comedian Harold Lloyd and began producing comedy films for him as the character "Lonesome Luke".

He wanted to expand his work to a full-fledged studio, and bought some land from Harry Culver in what is now Culver City and the rest is history.

Hal Roach produced and directed films for Lloyd, Will Rodgers, Charley Chase, Harry Langdon, Zasu Pitts and others...but most famously it was Roach who first teamed Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and created the Our Gang series.

Hal Roach Studios:

Hal Roach and Harold Lloyd:

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy:

YouTube is a little sparse on good Laurel and Hardy footage...but here's a nice medley of stuff from 3 of their films. Not always remembered, the musical pieces they performed are some of my favorites:

Hal Roach and his Our Gang kids including at far right, Sunshine Sammy Morrison, the original star of the series:

The Our Gang series can be held up to history as the first ever film series to star and be centered around an African-American. Sunshine Sammy was the original inspiration for the films and starred from the beginning in 1921.

With each succession of the kids (they got older and left and younger kids were brought in) there were usually a representation of certain types in the microcosm of the world of kids. The freckle-face boy, the fat kid, the cute girl etc. You can generally tell the year the short is from by who the little black boy is. Here they are in 1925 with Farina front and center...the fat kid is Joe Kobb:

1929 with Joe Kobb and Farina again...current star Wheezer down front with Pete the Pup:

Here's 1930 and the beginning of the sound era. Stymie is the kneeling kid in the bowler (given to him by Stan Laurel incidentally) and Wheezer mugging for the camera. Standing in the center looking distainfully at Wheez is the new star Jackie Cooper and next to him is the new fat kid Chubby and next to him Farina:

Jackie and Chubby at odds in 1931:

1933 with Stymie and a very young Spanky front and center:

1934 has Spanky driving a run away toy fire truck with Stymie driving the hook and ladder rear seat:

Here's 1937, the just a couple years before Roach sold the series to MGM. The cast most of you probably know best. Alfalfa, Darla, Spanky, Buckwheat and Porky:

After Roach sold the series to MGM, the quality went downhill quite a bit. Unfortunately a lot of these are what is in mass know, the ones with Froggy and Mickey Gubitosi (Robert Blake) at the forefront.

Here's a nice tribute to the Gang:

These are just some of the things Roach was responsible for bringing us, there were many years in the television industry too. An amazing aggregation of work from the mind of one man. And all with a huge impact on us.

Thanks Hal, for seeing the humor and bringing it to us!


Jimbo said...

Stymie was the most awesome Rascal and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise. ;)

It was was good seeing a picture of him. Remember his sister (I think) Farina?

Jimbo said...

Ah a further look - I see Farina in another picture. Pretty sure they played bro-sis on the show; not sure if they really were in real life though..

Jeff Overturf said...

I won't argue the Stymie point, he certainly DID have the coolest hat (given to him by Stan Laurel, no less).

You make a common mistake with Farina, though...Farina was a boy...his "Pickaninee" hair fooled a lot of people. As each generation of kids came up, they usually DID portray siblings with their older counterpart though. For the Afro-American contingent(presumably all brothers in certain stories) "Sunshine" Sammy, Farina, Stymie and Buckheat.

Jimbo said...

WHAAAAAAAAAT. I was just a kid. I sho member Farina bein' a girl. D'oh.

Jimbo said...

BTW, Spanky was really cute as a lil kid, wasn't he?

Jeff Overturf said...

Spanky was extra cute. And unlike a lot of kids, never went through that awkward-dorky stage...he stayed cute clean up till he was an old man.

As for Farina, remember a the shorts he starred in were filmed between the 1920's and very early 1930's...fashions change and are often lost on we of future generations. I imagine most people who first see Farina assume he's a girl.

Jimbo said...

I know my brother and cousin (who was practically a brother) sure thought Farina was a girl...

And what was with the naming the kids after cereals?

Jeff Overturf said...

I'm sure that if the series would have continued there would have been a "Wheatina" and that one probably WOULD have been a girl.

Jimbo said...

hehe I'm STYMIED by your answers...

Even as a very lil kid, I was wondering how she (HE) got a name like "Farina." And of course I knew Buckwheat too... ah memories.

BTW, love Laurel and Hardy and the Stooges as well. (I am sure that's not a surprise.)

Jimbo said...

BTW what was the other fat kid's name on Our Gang? There was Chubby and then there was the fat kid who looked like he was like 45 years old.

Jeff Overturf said...

Joe Cobb...again you have your counterpart Our Gang lineage...Joe Cobb, Chubby, Spanky and Porky.

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