Backstage Blogathon: Our Gang Follies of 1936 (1935)

Our Gang Follies of 1936

When considering the Backstage Blogathon, as to whether or not to participate in the first place, there was very little to consider. As it comes to wanting to choose topics that allow me a more personal approach than most this theme does well.

Being the Backstage Blogathon it allows me to talk about my relationship with one of the performing arts. In this case, it is the theatre. This history is one with deep infatuations and long absences.

My first exposure to theatre really was in grade school, where, as most children have been, I was involved in two school plays. First, there was a version of Peter Pan, where despite my willingness and desire to be Pan, the older, predicted actor was chosen. Later, I was in something called The Wishing Well. Though I have since found cast pictures I have not as of yet tracked down which play this is and who exactly is the playwright.


These sojourns in grade school were the only ones until after I was in college where by chance I got involved in a community theatre, and over the course of four years did sort of a self-run education in theatrical arts where I eventually wrote and directed some plays of varying lengths

My stage work may be one of the next projects I tackle in my aims to self-publish a great number of my works. More about these shows can be read here and even seen in part here.

This more or less brings us to the present and my selecting Our Gang Follies of 1936 as my title for this blogathon. It was the second time, where I signed up for one of Movies Silently’s great blogathon’s and saw something on the wishlist worth nabbing. In this insistance one motivation was the opportunity to see another title off the Little Rascals box set, while jumping chronologically and also scratching off one curiosity.


The curiosity being that I got to put to bed any misconstrued notion I still carried with me from childhood over what follies were in this sense. My first exposure to the phrase as a child were the NFL football follies – so, I knew of it as a euphemism for a mistake. When ads for revivals of the Ziegfeld Follies and the like came around I was confused. Eventually, I got it by osmosis but onky recently confirmed it’s merely another way to describe a theatrical revue.

So, on to the version by Hal Roach’s Rascals…


MGM’s series of short subjects were, of course, popular for years. These 2-3 reel comedies were later repackaged for television where their longevity was prolonged. This was one of the series of shorts I seem to remember getting some exposure to on Saturday mornings via TCM. That was some time ago and more recently I’ve been wading my way through a large, yet not complete as it claims, box set.

This particular short is later down the line than I’d gotten, and thus, the first of Gus Meins’ directed shorts that I was privy to viewing. In brief, the short deals with the Gang, starting with Spanky as the barker, seeking to gather an audience to watch “6 Acts of Swell Actin’”.

The cast is large and wholly made up of kids. The tale is musical, yet more more enjoyable than most could expect.

Some of the acts include: tap-dancing bellhops, Alfalfa singing “She’ll be comin’ Around the Mountain”, hula girls, a kickline, a trio of singing sisters, Darla singing (sounding better than she has any right to. Voices as young as hers, especially for girls, are usually quite piercing even when in tune), a skeleton dance that hearkens back to silent film days, and the oft-delayed Flory-Dory Sixtett number.

As a side note this was my first time watching the actual Buckwheat in a short. My first exposure to him was Eddie Murphy’s version.

The gags in this short, unlike some of their shorts, are varied and plentiful: there is a monkey shoeshining, cross-dressing, animal hiding in a bodice, things go wrong and it’s live, hiding in hay, running skull, gunshots at boots, and animated eyes.

It’s no wonder there was a sequel was a sequel to this short a few years later. This version is well done and allows great variety in scenes, different talents to be displayed and many jokes.

In Memoriam: Jackie Cooper

Jackie Cooper

As is my usual policy when deciding to write an in memoriam piece I don’t like to rush it to strike while the news cycle is hot. Part of the reason why is that I like to give the people I choose to write about their due rather than being short and sweet to the point of being curt.

Jackie Cooper’s was a long and extensive career that can not be summed up in a few short and sweet sentences. I’ll try and give it better perspective here.

From 1929-1931 Cooper made about 13 shorts as part of Hal Roach’s legendary Little Rascals troupe. Hal Roach being one of the legendary producers of Hollywood and the Rascals being one of his longest lasting legacies.

Below in two parts you’ll find one of their shorts where Cooper features prominently.

1931 turned out to be a watershed year for the young actor who in that year went most of the way to establishing his Hollywood immortality. First, there is his participation in the film Skippy, which earned him a nomination as Best Actor. A film which is mysteriously unavailable on DVD in the US.

However, in that year he also delivered what is likely his most memorable performance in The Champ, a film for which Wallace Beery captured Best Actor.

Another fine and more mature performance from Cooper can be found in the film Peck’s Bad Boy, which is a wonderful example of classic filmmaking because the story is so simple but so emotive. It also features two outstanding antagonistic performances by Dorothy Peterson and Jackie Searl. The film can be seen in its entirety here:

Mickey Rooney, Freddie Batholomew and Jackie Cooper in The Devil is a Sissy (MGM)

Surprisingly Cooper never did capture the Juvenile Award, a special Academy Award that was awarded to a deserving young actor from 1934 to 1960. However, he did have another memorable performance with two of the other finest actors of his generation Freddie Bartholomew and Mickey Rooney in The Devil is a Sissy in 1936. His character being the most hardened of the lot.

While like many child actors Cooper found the work to be not as good or as consistent as he transitioned to adulthood he did keep working and with the advent of television he transitioned mediums and started building a long and impressive resume of guest appearances on the small screen.

Jackie Cooper with Emmy

Eventually he made his way behind the scenes as a director and producer. Some of his directorial credits include episodes of M*A*S*H for which he won an Emmy for the episode “Carry on, Hawkeye,” Mary Tyler Moore, The Rockford Files, The White Shadow for which he won an Emmy for the Pilot episode, Magnum, P.I., Cagney & Lacey, The Adventures of Superboy and Jake & the Fatman.

Between 1948 and 1971 there was but television work, he also garnered consecutive Emmy nominations as an actor in 1961 and 1962 for his work on Hennesey, but then there was the occasional blip of a film until he was cast as Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet, in the Superman films, the initial wave. It is in this capacity that he is known and remembered by many today as I have mentioned before many are lucky to be known by all for one film or project, even more fortunate are those who are known by many.

Jackie Cooper had many incarnations as an entertainer but in all of them he entertained audiences and endeared himself to them. He will be dearly remembered and sorely missed. He left an indelible mark on film and left innumerous memories behind. Let us take a moment and reflect on them.

Jackie Cooper in Superman (Warner Bros.)