Retro : Rascal Fever
“The Little Rascals” are hot.
Universal just premiered its new feature film based on producer Hal Roach’s beloved comedy shorts of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. And now there’s the release of Cabin Fever Home Video’s 12-volume collection of classic “Rascals” featuring the original “Our Gang” stars: Spanky, Darla, Alfalfa, Butch, Buckwheat and Pete the dog. (“When Roach sold 100 episodes of the “Our Gang” comedies to television in 1955, they were renamed “The Little Rascals” because MGM owned the rights to the title “Our Gang.”)
Each $15 volume in the video set contains four episodes. Included in the collection is the 1936 Oscar-winning short “Board of Education.”
Tommy Bond, who in the ‘30s played the bully Rascal called Butch, is thrilled fans can see the newly restored episodes on video. “They’re marvelous,” he says. “They’re perfectly preserved. They look like they did when they first came out in the theaters.”
Bond, 68, also recently published his autobiography “Darn Right It’s Butch” (Morgan Press). “It’s about Hollywood as seen through the eyes of a 6-year-old,” Bond says.
Bond was all of 6 and living in Dallas when he was spotted by a Hal Roach talent scout while walking down the street with his parents. “He said (to my parents): ‘He has got a great face, a terrific nose. I think Hal Roach would be interested in talking to him about being in the ‘Our Gang’ comedies. I can’t guarantee you anything, but if you bring him to California, I can guarantee a meeting with Hal Roach.’ ”
Because his parents couldn’t leave their jobs, Bond’s grandmother brought him to Hollywood for the audition.
“I guess I lucked out. I had natural talent. I was in 12 or 13 ‘Our Gangs’ as the character Tommy. But then for some reason or another they dropped my contract. I went to other studios and did other things and then three years later they brought me back as the new tough kid on the block, Butch. That’s the part most people remember.”
Being a member of the “Gang,” Bond says with a laugh, “was awesome. You know, to throw you into a sound stage with lights and cameras and all sorts of people. ... it’s a different life, but it was fun. I enjoyed it.”
While he was under contract, Bond attended school on the Roach lot. “If you were not working in the movies, you went to school every day for three hours. Mrs. Carter was our teacher. When you were on the set, you had to have three hours of school within an eight-hour day.”
When he wasn’t working or going to school, Bond would observe movies being made on the lot. “I saw them shoot ‘Topper’ with Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. They were also shooting ‘Babes in Toyland’ with Laurel and Hardy. I was fortunate enough to work with Laurel and Hardy in ‘Block-heads.’ Those were exciting times. Hollywood was an entirely different place then. It wasn’t the factory that it is today. Everything was fun and if they went over budget, they went over budget. They were interested in the finished product.
The late Spanky McFarland, who played the group’s pudgy leader Spanky, once told Bond why he thought the series had endured for so many decades. “Spanky made the statement: ‘We did it right.’ And when you think about it, I guess it’s true. We were kids in the age of innocence. We were in the Depression. We didn’t have a lot. I think part of the secret was that we were just simple kids doing our thing. Roach knew how to pick the kids. He had a real Midas touch as far as the type of kids he used in the ‘Gang.’ He even turned Shirley Temple down three or four times. The reason why was, he wasn’t looking for pretty boys or pretty girls. He was looking for characters.”
After his “Our Gang” days were over when he was 12, Bond attended public school. “I wanted a normal childhood. What I didn’t like were private schools. All the kids who were going to private schools, all they did was talk about the business. I just wanted to be an ordinary kid, so I went on to public school. I enjoyed it very much. Or course, I had to fight every day because they thought every kid in the movies was a sissy. So you had to prove that you weren’t. They were testing my toughness.”
As a young adult, Bond played Jimmy Olson in two 1948 “Superman” serials. “We made one serial in four weeks, which is equivalent to three features in four weeks,” he says. “We did as many as 103 scenes in Perry White’s office in one day. It was hectic!”
Bond, who attended Los Angeles City College and California State University, Los Angeles, quit acting in 1951. “It was my own choice. I went into television production so I was in the early days of TV. I stayed with TV until about two years ago, when I retired. I loved the business, but as an actor you wait for your agent to call. If you work two or three months out of the year, you are real lucky.!”