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‘Spanky’ McFarland; Star of ‘Our Gang’ Films

TIMES STAFF WRITER

George Robert Phillps McFarland, better known as “Spanky,” the plump Little Rascal in the baggy pants and two-toned beanie who appeared in 95 “Our Gang” comedies over 11 years, died Wednesday. He was 64.

McFarland, who lived in Grapevine, Tex., died an hour after being rushed to the emergency department of Baylor Grapevine Hospital, according to spokesman Steve Tatum. The cause of death was not immediately determined.

Well-groomed and prosperous-looking as an adult, McFarland at 5-feet-5 remained stocky but was seldom recognized. He occasionally made guest appearances on college campuses to talk about his days as a child star but mostly regarded his past career as “dust.”

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Appearing in Hickory, N.C., at Lenoir-Rhyne College in 1986, McFarland defended Hal Roach’s “Our Gang” comedies against charges that the films had racist overtones.

“In 1931, there were no integrated neighborhoods in America,” he said. “But on ‘Our Gang,’ we had blacks in our neighborhood.”

He said at that time that his legendary baggy pants and beanie had been stolen in 1985.

“I had a ball,” McFarland said of his life as a child star, long after he had abandoned show business to become a commercial contract manager at Philco-Ford television.

He remained content although he never received residuals for television reruns of the popular series.

“I have no regrets. Even though it was a job, we had a pretty good time making those comedies,” he said in a 1977 book about the grown-up “Gang.” “As a kid I had most everything I wanted, and we had a good life. When it was over it was over.

“I wouldn’t take a million dollars for the experience,” he said then, “and I wouldn’t take a penny to do it again. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it. I would have finished school and gone to college, and by now I’d be the president of some corporation.”

Born Oct. 2, 1928, in Dallas, the chubby little boy began modeling baby clothes when he was 3. He came to Roach’s attention when he made an ad for Wonder Bread.

“Spanky” made his first short, “Free Eats,” in 1931 when he was 3 and his last, “Unexpected Riches,” in 1942.

McFarland also appeared in feature films, including “Day of Reckoning” in 1933, “Kentucky Kernels” in 1935, and “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” with Henry Fonda and Fred MacMurray in 1936. His last role was in “Johnny Doughboy” in 1943.

After moving home to Texas, McFarland served briefly in the Air Force, worked at a soft-drink plant and a hamburger stand, made Popsicles, sold wine and cars and appliances, started a barbecue restaurant, and in 1958 briefly was host of a television show running “Our Gang” films in Tulsa, Okla. But his only television job was to be with Philco-Ford in commercials, which he began in 1966.

“You’d think, with a name like mine, I’d be a natural for a network kiddie show emcee,” he said in 1977. “But uh-uh.”

Like others in the Roach series, McFarland was plagued over the years by impostors and often resorted to lawsuits to protect his name. He was not the “Spanky McFarland” listed in the cast of the 1974 film “Moonrunners,” and he had nothing to do with the late 1960s rock group “Spanky and Our Gang.”

McFarland is survived by his wife, Doris, and three children.


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