Frederic Ernest (Sunshine Sammy) Morrison, one of the original Little Rascals--the mischievous gang of street-smart kids that entertained several generations in films and on television--has died at the age of 76. Morrison, believed to be the first black actor to sign a long-term film contract, died of cancer at St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood last week.
Born in New Orleans, Morrison began his career in 1917 at the age of 3 when he appeared in Baby Marie Osbourne silent film features. He was an instant success and earned the name Sunshine Sammy.
At age 4, a feature was created for him, called “The Sunshine Sammy Series,” but only one segment was produced. Some critics believed, however, that the Sunshine Sammy episode provided comedy producer Hal Roach with the idea for the “Our Gang” film shorts, later shown on television and known by several other names, including the “Little Rascals.”
Roach signed Morrison to a contract in 1919.
The oldest member of the original comedy gang, Morrison appeared in 28 episodes between 1922 and 1924 before accepting an offer to perform full time in New York vaudeville shows.
After living and performing for 16 years in New York, Morrison returned to Los Angeles where he was a regular in the “Dead End Kids” and “East Side Kids.” During World War II, he appeared as a singer-dancer-comedian for troops stationed in the South Pacific.
For several years after the war, Morrison turned down a series of offers to return to show business, saying that he had fond memories of the movies but no desire to be part of them again.
Instead, he accepted a job as a quality control inspector for an aerospace company in Compton, where he worked for 17 years.
After his retirement, Morrison was rediscovered by film buffs who had learned of him after the revival of the Little Rascals in the 1970s. He made guest appearances in several television situation comedies, including “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons.”
Morrison, who appeared in 145 motion pictures, was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1987.
Morrison is survived by four sisters.
Funeral services will be 1 p.m. today at Grace Chapel, Inglewood Cemetery.