By Steve Crum
HAS IT REALLY BEEN nearly 22 years since "SPANKY" McFARLAND spoke to a packed house of 1,000+ students and faculty members at J.C. Harmon High School in Kansas City, Kansas? Sure enough. It was mid-morning on Monday, Sept. 12, 1988, when I introduced Spanky at a special assembly in the auditorium. (I was teaching journalism, mass media and English at Harmon then.)
Earlier that morning, I had driven to the Doubletree Hotel in Overland Park to pick up Spanky, along with his golf clubs and luggage. He was in town as one of the celebrity players at the Peter Marshall (The Hollywood Squares) Celebrity Golf Tournament in K.C. Spank was drinking a cup of coffee, and waiting on the hotel sidewalk when I drove up.
On the drive to Harmon, Spanky complimented me on my safe driving in between talking about Alfalfa, his growing up in Texas, fellow "Rascal" Scotty Beckett, and show business in general. Regarding his memory of Scotty Becket, with whom he was paired in numerous Our Gang shorts, Spanky said, "Oh God, Scotty Beckett. Poor, poor Scotty. What a sad story. What a talent. So sad. He left us far too soon." (Beckett had a relatively brief but illustrious career in film, radio and TV, but died at age 38 in a nursing home. Drugs, alcohol, martial problems and depression factored into his tragic circumstances.)
So Spanky introduced clips (on 16mm) of vintage Our Gang/Little Rascals to an appreciative audience. At that time, the students were very aware of Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Darla and the gang thanks to repeated showings on TV. Spanky talked and fielded questions about himself and other cast members for an hour. Then he was off to do likewise at Eisenhower. (Jim then drove him to the airport so Spanky could fly home.) He received $500 for each gig; students paid $1-$2 per admittance. Both Spanky and our schools profited. It was absolutely a very cool experience. Before the show, I introduced Spanky to the principal and his secretaries. All were thrilled.
After 95 film shorts, Spanky retired in 1942. Typecast forever, and always looking very much like he always did in movies--thanks in part to his shortness, Spanky could not get work in Hollywood. He worked at various businesses, finding success as National Sales Director of Philco-Ford in Texas. For a time, he hosted a local kids' TV show (featuring Little Rascals movies) in Texas, and participated in celebrity golf tournaments (as well as his own). On June 30, 1993, Spanky died of a heart attack at age 64 in Grapevine, Texas. The more recent photo of Spanky was taken at the Harmon assembly in 1988. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]