Curses. Nothing strikes our curiosity more than when tragedy strikes several people who all have a common connection. Soon we speculate as to the reason why such a dark cloud descended upon them. Is it karma? Is it a curse?
Curses that surface from the entertainment industry are much more common, simply because the public is engulfed in entertainment every day. One “curse” that is particularly disturbing is that of Hal Roach’s Our Gang series. Personally, I remember watching the show as a child and I enjoy them just as much as an adult. The talent of the young actors of that time made the Our Gang series fiercely popular which resulted in 221 films that were made in a span of 22 years from 1922-1944.
Throughout that time, 176 children starred in the series. Some actors, such as Spanky, Alfalfa, and Darla became the cornerstones of the series, while many other characters came and went. Banking on the popularity of Our Gang, many thought their careers would flourish, and, as many child actors realize, breaking into films as an adult, is much more difficult.
These are the stories of some of the actors of the Our Gang series and their unfortunate ends that have led many to call it The Our Gang Curse.
|Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer|
Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer – Switzer found bit parts as an adult actor which included the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Failing to make any substantial money as an adult actor, Switzer took many odd jobs to make a living such as a bartender, dog trainer, and hunting guide. Switzer was shot and killed at the age of 31 while involved in a fight with his business partner over $50. His death was ruled justifiable homicide because his partner acted in self defense.
Harold Switzer – Harold is Carl’s older brother and also appeared in the Our Gang series. He committed suicide in April 1967 after murdering his girlfriend.
|William "Buckwheat" Thomas|
William “Buckwheat” Thomas – Thomas became a film technician for Technicolor Corporation. A neighbor, concerned when he didn’t see Thomas for several days, entered his home and found him dead. Thomas died of a heart attack at the young age of 49.
|Robert "Wheezer" Hitchens|
Robert “Wheezer” Hitchens – Hitchens became a cadet in the Army Air Corps. A few days shy of his 20th birthday, he crashed while landing his plane during a training exercise and was killed.
|Matthew "Stymie" Beard|
Matthew “Stymie” Beard- Beard dropped out of high school and soon found himself in and out of prison for the next several years. Beard wrestled with a heroin addiction for 20 years and reportedly became clean in the 1970’s. Developing pneumonia following a stroke claimed his life in 1981 at the age of 56.
Darla Hood – Hood contracted acute hepatitis during minor surgery. She died suddenly of heart failure due to the hepatitis in 1979 at the age of 47.
|Norman "Chubby" Chaney|
Norman “Chubby” Chaney – Chaney suffered from a glandular problem that resulted in him gaining more than 300 pounds by the age of 17. He underwent surgery that corrected the problem and brought his weight down to approximately 130 pounds. The surgery proved to be too late. Chaney never regained his health and died in 1936 at 18 years of age.
Scotty Beckett –A history of violence, drug and alcohol abuse, trouble with the law, and two failed marriages plagued Beckett’s adult life. He checked himself into a Hollywood nursing home in 1968 when an unknown person or persons physically assaulted him. Beckett died two days later. A suicide note and an empty bottle of pills were found by investigators, but the coroner never stated whether it was the beating or the pills that ended his life. He was only 38 years old.
|William "Froggy" Laughlin|
William “Froggy” Laughlin – Laughlin’s life ended at the tender age of 16 when a truck struck the back of his motor scooter while he was delivering newspapers.
|Richard "Mickey" Daniels|
Richard “Mickey” Daniels – Daniels, estranged from his wife and children, died alone at the age of 55 in a San Diego hotel room in 1970 of cirrhosis of the liver. At the time of this death, Daniels was labeled a John Doe due to lack of identification. His family identified his remains 21 years later and Daniels is now buried in an unmarked grave.
Bobby Blake (Mickey Gubitosi) – Blake may be best known for starring in the 70s show Barretta as an adult. Blake found trouble when he met Bonnie Lee Bakely in the 1990s. Bakely, an alleged con artist, wanted to have a child with a famous actor and apparently hooked Blake. Bakely gave birth to their daughter in 2000 and five months later Blake and Bakley married. A year later, on May 4, 2001, after having dinner at a restaurant, Bakely was shot and killed while waiting for Blake in their car. Blake, arrested for the murder, was found not guilty in March 2005. Many believe Blake got away with murder. He says, because of his legal trouble, he is now destitute.
|Robert "Bonedust" Young|
Robert “Bonedust” Young – In 1951, Young fell asleep in bed while smoking a cigarette which led to the fire that claimed his life. Young was 33.
|Jay "Pinky" Smith|
Jay “Pinky” Smith – Smith bought a paint store upon returning home from serving in World War II and was able to retire to the islands of Hawaii. Smith soon found his way to Las Vegas and befriended a homeless man. In 2002, at the age of 87, Smith’s body was found in the desert outside Las Vegas. The homeless man stabbed Smith to death and then dumped his body.
Dorothy Dandridge – Dandridge starred in the “Teacher’s Pet” episode of Our Gang. She went on to become a famous actress and singer, but she cut her life short in 1965, when she committed suicide by overdosing on drugs. Her death came after losing all of her money in a phony investment scheme.
|Kendell "Breezy Brisbane" McComas|
Kendell “Breezy Brisbane” McComas- McComas became an electrical engineer and worked at the U.S. Naval Weapons Center in China Lake California. He committed suicide in 1981 at the age of 64, two weeks before being forced into retirement.
|Darwood "Waldo" Kaye|
Darwood “Waldo” Kaye – Kaye, a Pastor, died in 2002 at the age of 72 when he was struck and killed while walking on a sidewalk.
|Pete the Pup|
Pete the Pup – An unknown assailant poisoned the first dog that played Pete in 1930.
Several other Our Gang cast members lost the fight to cancer:
|Johnny Downs – Age 81|
|Mary Kornman – Age 58|
|Jackie Condon – Age 59|
|Harry Spear – Age 84|
|Allen “Farina” Hoskins – Age 59|
Many Our Gang cast members were never touched by the “curse” and others passed away of natural causes. Whether their demise resulted from their own hand, their bad choices, forces beyond their control, or their carelessness, it is unsettling that a group of children who brought so much joy to so many, had such tragic events touch their lives.
Do you believe in the Our Gang Curse?
Kerri L. Schultz