The Little Rascals & George Washington: A Small Lift in the Great Depression

 

In honor of George Washington's birthday bicentennial, members of the Our Gang comedy troupe stand in awed attention at his bust in 1932.

In honor of George Washington’s birthday bicentennial, members of the Our Gang comedy troupe stand in awed attention at his bust in 1932. (oscar.com)

There they were, big names among Little Rascals: Wheezer, Stymie and Spanky, along with lesser known Sherwood, (third from left), Kendall and Dorothy (second and third from right), clothes pressed and antics still long enough to gaze with well-behaved awe at Number One Himself, George Washington for his Birthday Bicentennial, February 22, 1932.

Race and gender had no boundaries in the Our Gang comedy series.Although, admittedly, Pete the Dog looks a bit bewildered by the whole stunt.

Spanky, the Our Gang character depicted by actor George McFarland, became one of the Great Depression's most familiar and beloved celebrities.

Spanky, the Our Gang character depicted by actor George McFarland, became one of the Great Depression’s most familiar and beloved celebrities.

The trouble-making troupe of child actors who starred in what began as the “Our Gang,”series of comedy shorts created by Hal Roach Studios, were a mainstay of Great Depression era movie palaces.

They started as silents in 1922 and continued to be produced by Roach until 1938, who then sold the franchise to MGM which continued on until 1944, by which time the kids had really outgrown the tempo of the era.

The Our Gang kids in their goat-carts, 1934.

The Our Gang kids in their goat-carts, 1934.

With television, the series was repackaged as “The Little Rascals” and began its endless syndication runs.

Countless generations to come on how would learn to build a goat-cart, avoid eating mush in an orphanage, and outwit criminal midgets posing as babies stealing the diamond necklaces of rich ladies at luncheon.

The Our Gang kids were at the zenith of their popularity during the depths of the depression, their scrappy optimism and comic relief, despite hard-luck childhoods, showing how friendships among kids knew no boundary of race or gender.

A button sold in 1932 for the GW 200th birthday.

A button sold in 1932 for the GW 200th birthday.

A GW glass tumbler.

A GW glass tumbler.

And so, naturally enough, as the nation was gearing up for the onslaught of geegaws, publicity stunts, solemn ceremonies and other ways to mark the 200th birthday of the first President of the United States, by then a holiday, the Our Gang kids were cleaned and lined up by the studio to pose as role models for other American kids, holding their wisecracks for a minute to remember the Father of His Country.

It was hardly the demographic thought to be interested enough in honoring the Great One.

President Hoover accepts a copy of sheet music from the aged composer and Marine Band leader John Philip Sousa, written for George Washington's Birthday Bicentennial in 1932.

President Hoover accepts a copy of sheet music from the aged composer and Marine Band leader John Philip Sousa, written for George Washington’s Birthday Bicentennial.

The majority of those who were really getting into the Washington Bicentennial tended to be among the elite class at the time of severe economic downturn and overwhelming unemployment.

GW's 200th birthday prompted masquerade ball costumes of white powdered wigs and silk knee breeches.

GW’s 200th birthday even prompted a guide for costumes.

There was a special march written in honor of the First President by the elderly legend of band music himself, John Philip Sousa, and President Hoover came out of the White House from his workaholic efforts to resolve the woeful economic riddle, to hear the premier performance.

Among the privileged High Society circles along the eastern seaboard were lavish costume masquerade balls to mark that year’s February 22.

GW Bicentennial belt buckle.

GW Bicentennial belt buckle.

In white powdered wigs and silk knee breeches, however, most of the celebrants turned out looking more like King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette than George and Martha Washington.

The Washington Bicentennial stamp sries.

The Washington Bicentennial stamp series.

Amid a marketplace awash with GW Bicentennial pins, commemorative plates, belt buckets, tea-towels, there was something rather natural about the gang of scruffy bad kids from Southern California doing their part.

Perhaps it was the the seemingly incongruous matching of the poor little white and black girls and boys to the monumental George Washington which made the publicity still currency at the time. After all, if even just now allegorical, George Washington remains a potently unifying symbol for an ever-changing national culture, if his many attributes are interpreted for the times.

And in 1932, the image of George and the Gang was a small lift for the Great Depression. It was just the sort of unlikely homage that would surely have brought even a slight smile to the noble visage of even George Washington.

George Washington's dentures.

George Washington’s dentures.

 


Categories: Hollywood, The Washingtons, Washington's Birthday

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1 reply »

  1. Great angle on the gang in their relation to this Holiday. I remember reading that comedian Bill Cosby had bought up the rights of the Little Rascals or as originally known as Our gang and that’s why you can’t seem them on TV anymore. Don’t know if is an urban myth or not, but it’s a crying shame as it was at least in its earlier depictions was one of a
    great leveler in that all the kids of both races were in the same boat and played together. To be sure there were some racist gags on and off as was typical of that era, but predominantly it was the focus of kids being kids.

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