Obituary: George McFarland
Saturday 03 July 1993
GEORGE McFARLAND was known to millions of filmgoers throughout the world as 'Spanky' McFarland, the chubby youngster of the 'Our Gang' comedies.
Although McFarland became one of the most popular child stars of the pre-war era, his career faded rapidly as he grew out of the baby stage, until finally he 'retired' into normal business life, on more than one occasion saying of his juvenile stardom 'That's dust]' Perhaps it was, to George McFarland, area manager of Philco- Ford contracts division, Fort Worth, Texas, but to those who recall the 'Our Gang' shorts, and their recent revival on Channel 4, Spanky was and always will be a star.
McFarland was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1928; three years later he was starring with the 'Our Gang' team in Free Eats. It was the beginning of an 11-year career which took in 95 'Gang' two-reelers, one of which, Bored of Education (1936), won the Academy Award for the Gang and their mentor and producer, Hal Roach. McFarland had a soft spot for his old employer, frequently referring to him as his 'father figure'.
McFarland also appeared in a good many feature films, the first of which was actually named after him: General Spanky (1936). This burlesque melodrama of the war between the States was devised by Roach as his answer to the successful Shirley Temple features The Little Colonel (1935) and The Littlest Rebel (1935). The film was a success, mainly due to McFarland's supportive personal appearance tour: 'He literally wowed 'em]' the Motion Picture Herald said. However, it remains the only 'Our Gang' feature- length film, running 71 minutes.
From the first film in 1922, which was actually called Our Gang, to the last in the series, Tale of a Dog (No 221, directed by Cy Endfield in 1944), there were, of course, many changes in personnel. Some became stars (Jackie Cooper, Johnny Downs, Tommy Bond, Dickie Moore, Dickie Jones), others met with tragedy (Alfalfa Switzer, murdered; Scotty Beckett, suicide). Others like Porky Lee and McFarland wisely realised their appeal was as precocious kiddies and retired into business lives. The occasional comeback, however, was hard to resist when offered, and McFarland and Switzer teamed up as teenagers in Republic's Johnny Doughboy (1943).
Later came television appearances in chat shows such as one hosted by Mike Douglas. In 1973 McFarland and his former Gang girlfriend Darla Hood guested together in a memorable moment.
McFarland in recent times made a number of personal appearances at film fan festivities such as the Laurel and Hardy 'Sons of the Desert' conventions. He appeared with Stan and Ollie in Wild Poses (1933) and frequently encountered the popular pair at the Hal Roach studio. McFarland was often likened to Hardy, both physically and in his overemphatic acting style, and indeed Roach planned to co-star them as father and son (with Patsy Kelly as mother) in a series entitled The Hardys, to be produced during Laurel's absence from the studio. Unhappily this did not come to pass, as certainly McFarland and Hardy would have proved a wonderful combination.
Although Spanky enjoyed these nostalgic come-backs among his now grown-up fans, at heart he regretted his years as a film star: 'If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have done it. I would have gone to college and by now I'd be the president of some corporation.' But he would not have made the whole world a happier place.
- 1 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 2 'Do not give them a reason': Baltimore man divides police and rioters in hope of avoiding violence
- 3 X Factor in crisis as numbers of people auditioning plummets
- 4 Baltimore riots: Furious mother marches her son home live on TV
- 5 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
General Election 2015: Tories suspend candidate who said she would never support 'the Jew' Ed Miliband
Bali Nine executions: Indonesia confirms killings of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran will go ahead
The four utterly contradictory polls that tell the story of this election and why it is pointless trying to predict the outcome
General Election 2015: Prospect of Labour-SNP coalition makes one in four voters less likely to support Ed Miliband, says survey
Baltimore riots: Furious mother marches her son home live on TV
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...
£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...