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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.