Our Gang (1924) 🇺🇸
“Hi, you, get off’r that football. How kin we play if you lay on it all the time, anyway?”
by Mary Winship
“Well, it’s my football, I guess. Whose football is it, anyway? I’m goin’ to kick it this time myself. You want to kick it all the time. You needn’t think you’re so fresh.”
“Oh, gee, Fat says he’s goin’ to kick the football. Hey, Sammy, Fat says he’s goin’ to kick the football. Ole Fat can’t get his leg up high enough to kick no football. Too fat.”
“I can too.”
“Aw, Fat, you better let me kick it. I can kick swell.”
“Aw, no, Freckles, you kicked it last time. Let me kick it this time.”
I peeped around the end of the big glass stage and discovered “Our Gang” in a moment of relaxation. All of them — Sunshine Sammy, Freckles, Fat, Jacky Condon and pretty little Mary Kornman were concentrated on their stomachs around a football. When the scenery shifted a bit, I likewise discerned Farina, very small and dark.
Instantly, it seemed that twenty years or more slid from my shoulders.
Because “Our Gang” — well, it’s just exactly like any other Gang. It’s like your gang, or my gang that lived in the vacant lots and the dusty old barns, and drove a previous generation of respectable parents to despair. Even on the screen, when you take your own descendants to see them, you slip back to the days when you used to hop wagons, and climb trees, and play in newly-dug sewers. When you meet them off the screen, you positively feel well acquainted with them as though they were merely re-incarnations of your youth.
That’s (the secret of the success of their comedies, and when I met Bob McGowan [Robert F. McGowan], who directs them, and roamed about for a day with the young members of the company — all of whom are under long term contract — I understood why.
The kids in “Our Gang” aren’t actors. They’re just kids. They don’t act. Bob McGowan simply suggests ideas for new and fascinating games and, while they play them, he turns on thee camera. The lot isn’t a studio, it’s a playground. They’ve never had a scenario or a story in their lives — they develop it in the natural course of events as they go along.
More than that, they’ve practically selected their own company, by a well-organized process of elimination. Because even “Mac” can’t keep a kid on the lot if he isn’t regular. They’re all scrappers, in the troop. Every kid in the Gang is a fighter from the word “go.” It doesn’t matter how clever a kid is, if he isn’t regular he can’t stay, that’s all. What’s more, he doesn’t want to. They don’t gang him, either. They begin on each new kid and take him one at a time, as it comes. If a newcomer stands the test, he stays. If not, he goes. A simple and primitive method which will be envied by older players, I doubt not.
There were three members, to start with. Sunshine Sammy, the colored boy with the million dollar grin, was the first. Mickey Daniels, better known as Freckles, was the second, and Jacky Condon, the Towhead, was the third. They’re still a sort of triumvirate. And it amused me to notice in them the world-old conditions that prevail in all trios. First, Freckles and Sammy would have their heads together, with young Jacky as the rather sulky minority member, and a few minutes later Jacky and Sammy would be leaving Freckles to sneer in true Penrod fashion upon their united ideas. You remember how that was, don’t you?
Sunshine Sammy gets the largest salary in the troop — $250 a week. But he isn’t a bit proud. The only way in which he shows his superiority is in keeping a private tutor. By the way, Sammy’s real name is Frederick Ernest Morrison, and his father is a power on Central Avenue, which is the Broadway of the colored district in Los Angeles. He owns ice cream parlors, a candy factory, and a string of groceries, in that neighborhood. Sammy has four sisters, but they aren’t “in the profession.”
Freckles came all the way from Rock Springs, Wyoming, just to go into pictures. His father was a tank town actor of the old school and when he saw Freckles Barry on the screen, he decided that his son had more freckles than Freckles Barry had. So he packed up forthwith and came to Hollywood. Hand in hand, he and young Freckles tramped the streets for many a long day looking for work. The peculiar beauty of his son’s face seemed to be unappreciated. One day they happened to stop on the Roach lot just as Harold Lloyd was coming out of the gate. With a whoop of real delight, Harold grabbed the youngster and took him to Bob McGowan. Ten minutes later he had signed a contract to appear in “Our Gang” comedies.
McGowan picked Jacky Condon because he was what Mac calls a typical trailer. “Always got to be a kid trailing along in a gang,” said the director, pensively watching his small charges sand a place on the sidewalk for Sunshine Sammy to skate over.
To the original, have been added three more.
Fat Joe Cobb’s father was a successful lawyer practicing somewhere in Oklahoma. But he’d always had a yearning to come to California to live. One day he saw one of the kid comedies in his small town theater. Afterwards, he went home and looked long and lovingly at his son’s face, reposing on the pillow. Ten days later the family sold out and brought “Fat” direct to the Roach studio. He’s been there ever since.
The only trouble with him was that when he arrived he was so fat he couldn’t even laugh. Director McGowan had to take his face, like a piece of putty, work it into various expressions, and have him hold it while the camera worked. Since then he’s taught the youngster to use his facial muscles.
Fat is the hero of the only accident the company ever had. In “Derby Day” he fell off a cow and bumped his head so hard he was out of the picture for a week. He is six years old, weighs sixty-five pounds, is one of the few people in Hollywood who isn’t interested in fat reducers, and has to have a new suit of clothes every two weeks, he grows so fast.
Next came Farina, the small colored person who is usually referred to on the lot as “It.” Sunshine Sammy’s father discovered Farina. And it must be admitted that Farina has — well, at least, a “disposition.” Yes, Farina has his likes and dislikes. He was fourteen months when he “joined up” and now he is nearly three.
Farina has been kidded by the “Gang” so much about wearing skirts in the pictures and playing girl parts, that he’s on the verge of a revolt. Valentino [Rudolph Valentino] has nothing on him for temperament. He can’t talk much, but he has very expressive ways of indicating his feelings. When everything is going all right and he’s happy, he keeps yelling, “Hot Dog — Hot Dog,” but when somebody else has the star part, Farina has an annoying way of kicking Mac on the ankles. He can’t kick any higher than that. When Farina is wearing heavy boots, such as he’s wearing in the bicycle picture shown on the first page of this article, Mac always has his eye open. More than once, when he has been absorbed. Farina has come up in back of him with his diabolical purpose written all over his dusky little face. Then one of the “Gang” warns him by yelling, “Look out, Mac — Farina.”
Jacky Davis, Mildred Davis’ kid brother and consequently Harold Lloyd’s brother-in-law, was the next member, but this year Mildred insisted that he go to military school, much to his and the gang’s disgust.
And the last regular member to be added is little Mary Kornman, the only girl who has ever “stuck.” She is the eight-year-old daughter of Harold Lloyd’s still photographer. McGowan saw her lunching in the studio cafeteria one day and finally persuaded her family to let her go to work.
The most wonderful thing on the lot is McGowan’s handling of the children. They adore him. When he appears on the scene they let out a war-whoop of delight. And yet they respect his authority to an amazing degree. His methods are of the simplest.
He only tries to make them natural He told me that he tried showing them just what to do and then rehearsing them. When it appeared on the screen he just had a lot of little Bob McGowans grimacing around.
“Children are such mimics, you daren’t show them anything,” he said with a grin.
So he just decided to turn them loose. He says to them, for instance: “Now kids, we’re going to make a wild west picture. How’d you like to hold up a stage coach?” They yell with glee and immediately begin to fight over who’s going to be the bandit and who’s going to drive the stagecoach. When they’ve settled this, he makes them build the coach.
NO prop man or carpenter goes with the company. Everything the kids use. they build themselves, exactly as real kids would have to build it if they wanted it. This is one of McGowan’s own ideas. He says it adds to the realism not only of the scenic effects, but of the way in which the kids handle things. They also paint their own signs.
McGowan gives fifty cents for every “gag” a kid supplies. Freckles gets most of the gag money. He rather likes to hold up the action with the remark: “Now just a minute, Mr. McGowan. I got an idea for a good gag there.” Freckles is double-jointed, and many of his gags are based upon this anatomical fact.
It never takes more than two days to break a kid of looking at the camera. Mac always scolds them in front of the other children, and he does it well and thoroughly. None of them are ever punished in any other way. but Mac reserves the right to give any of them a good “bawling out” at any time.
And no parents are allowed on the lot! That is absolute and final. Mac says he can handle the children, but not the parents. All the trouble, insubordination, jealousy, and strife that cause any real trouble arise, not from the kids, but from the grown-ups’ influence.
Parents bring their offspring to the studio, turn them over to McGowan, and return for for them when the day is over. Most. of them have cars, but they are unostentatious — with the possible exception of Farina’s. Farina’s father bought a second hand flivver and repainted it himself. Farina was intensely interested in the job and when papa left it to dry. Farina made the fascinating discovery that he could make small handprints wherever he laid his black palm. Consequently, Farina’s gray limousine is ornately ornamented with a fresco of handprints around its base.
The children have to go to school four hours a day, and a regularly accredited public school teacher is employed. She goes on location with them, and conducts regular educational exercises wherever they are and with whatever children are nut working at the moment.
McGowan himself was originally a Denver fireman. Between fires, he used to write scenarios. He sold several to the old Essanay companies and finally decided to come to Hollywood and become a regular scenario writer. It took exactly two months to get inside a studio and by that time he was putting cardboard in his shoes. His first job was sweeping a stage at Universal City. A year later he became an assistant director, finally went to the Roach [Hal Roach] lot as a director and demonstrated his marvelous ability to handle children.
He says the kids have never fallen down on him yet. He never asks them to do anything they are afraid to do. and he always tells them exactly what may happen if they do certain things. Their confidence in him is such that any of them would jump off a ten-story building if he said he’d catch them.
Sunshine Sammy has never hut once refused to go through with a stunt. Mac explained the action to him like this. He said:
“Now Sammy, you’re going to be just casually strolling across the stage, just walking along, and the bear is going to be walking right after you.”
“What’s that you say, Mr. McGowan?” asked Sammy, rolling an eye at the director.
“I said the bear would be walking right along behind you.’’
“You got that one word wrong, Mr. McGowan,” said Sammy. “If’s any bear behind me when I come across that stage, he’s going to be running.”
Next to McGowan, the idol of “Our Gang” is Harold Lloyd. When he comes to visit them, they stage a special rough house for his benefit, of which he is usually the center. They regard him as the greatest man on earth and their own special patron. They have never yet allowed him to depart upon or return from a trip without going down en masse to the station. And since Mildred is his wife and Jacky’s sister, they have adopted her as their favorite screen actress.
Altogether, it must be pretty good fun to be a kid and belong to “Our Gang.”
Here is “Our Gang” in action. At the top of the heap — Farina — of course. Immediately beneath him, Jacky Condon’s manly form. Under Farina’s heel lies “Freckles” Daniels, holding to the arm of “Fat” Joe Cobb. And, looking longingly at the football clasped by “Fat,” is “Sunshine Sammy”
Farina is an athlete of sorts, but there are times when his balance trill not permit of bicycle riding. So Jacky Condon takes a hand as instructor
All hands rally to the defense of the stage and of pretty Mary Kornman, who sits inside. Jacky Condon, the heroic driver, has faith in the aim of “Freckles” and “Fat,” while Director McGowan directs the fight
Bob McGowan is guide, philosopher, friend, and hobby-horse for “Our Gang” as well as being the much-loved director. Here he is playing horse for “Freckles.” Note the “chaps” on the rider. They are made of bagging, bottle tops and the rubber band from a pickle jar
Collection: Photoplay Magazine, March 1924
- “Mac”: Robert F. McGowan (1882–1955)
- “Fat”: Joe Cobb (Joe Frank Cobb) (1916–2002)
- “Towhead”: Jackie Condon (John Michael Condon) (1918 –1977)
- “Freckles”: Mickey Daniels (Richard Daniels Jr.) (1914–1970)
- Jack Davis (John H. Davis) (1914–1992)
- Mary Kornman (Mary Agnes Evans) (1915–1973)
- “Farina”: Allen “Farina” Hoskins (1920–1980)
- “Sunshine Sammy”: Ernest Morrison (1912–1989)