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Little Rascals Back In Action

My wife and I love tchotchkes—little knickknacks that remind of us favorite movies or cartoon characters—but we’ve tried to restrain ourselves in recent times because we’ve used up all the shelf space in our house. (My desktop has no room for actual desk work like signing papers; it’s full of figurines.) Still, every now and then, we just can’t resist. That’s how Alice felt when she walked into our local drugstore, which doubles as a gift emporium, and found brand-new salt-and-pepper sets featuring the Our Gang kids, better known today as the Little Rascals. They’re made by Westland Giftware and they’re actually quite nice; the product line also includes two ceramic cookie jars.

The photos are somewhat deceptive because the salt-and-pepper shakers are only—

—a few inches high and aren’t meant to be stared at in macro-closeup. The modeling on the faces may not be perfect, but looking at them as they sit on my night table makes me smile.

I find it heartening that in the year 2011 someone realizes the enduring charm and popularity of Hal Roach’s comedy creation. It breaks my heart that their longtime owner, King World Productions, pulled them out of television release so many years ago and stubbornly refused offers to air them again except in their colorized versions (which, I’ll admit, weren’t bad) and their edited form for political correctness (which, in many cases, rendered them senseless).

Thank goodness for home video…and for Turner Classic Movies, which brought them back as part of a Hal Roach tribute early this year.

But the TCM airing was a one-off, intended to please nostalgic grownups, and these films were made to be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. When I was young they ran every single day on television; that’s how I (and so many other baby boomers) got to know and love them. And I know from first-hand experience that they still delight kids today, in spite of the enormous changes that have taken place since they were made.

In any case, I’m happy to see their likenesses out and about on store shelves across the country. (Westland’s website provides a list of local dealers, and you can find some of their products on ebay and elsewhere online).

Interestingly enough, the Our Gang series was heavily merchandised as early as the mid-1920s, before Walt Disney got into the licensing business. There were dolls, walking stilts, tabletop games, gum cards, clothing, play sets, and more, all of them highly collectible today. I don’t think brand-new items will ever achieve the same status in the future, because today everybody saves these goodies, instead of playing with them!


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Matthew “Stymie” Beard demonstrates one of the bakelite pencil sharpeners that came out in the early 1930s, each one with a closeup photo of one of the Rascals (including Pete).

A department store display window features “Our Gang Junior Sweaters,” and makes use of promotional stills and lobby cards from the series, circa 1935.

Here’s Pete the Pup, surrounded by figurines in his likeness. Wouldn’t I love to find one of these intact! (photo courtesy George Eastman House)

3 comments

  1. Kristine A. Cimmy says:

    Leonard :
    I like the story about Our Gang -Little Rascals knick knacks. How about a story
    on Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday celebration in August at The Lucy-Desi
    Museum, Jamestown, N.Y., also stories on Ann Sothern, and Mario Lanza(The
    Great Caruso is out on DVD). I’ve read your books. Always informative.
    Best always, Kristine.

  2. Jeff Heise says:

    How I wish Time Warner would just buy or take a long-term lease on the Roach library from Artisan and the Our Gangs from King World and have them under one umbrella again. Then one company would control them and have both the means and the desire to restore them and make them available to the public again. Glad to hear that the Gangs will be out again later this year properly. The book that you and Richard Bann co-wrote is still one of the cornerstones of my cinema library and has been for over 30 years.

  3. Phil Spangenberger says:

    Hi Leonard,
    Great seeing you at Arthur Gardner’s 101 party! Enjoyed the Little Rascals write up and especially those rare photos of the merchandise. My brother Bruce, who unfortunately passed away in December, had a pit bull that looks like Petey and he is named that. Cool, very friendly dog, and still lives with my late brother’s wife. Several years ago, Bruce gave me a CD of Little Rascals music. Fun stuff. Take care and keep those interesting columns coming.

    Phil

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