Leonard Landy, the child actor best known as one of the Little Rascals on “Our Gang,” died July 26. He was 84.
Landy, with his trademark freckled face and big ears, appeared in 21 “Our Gang” episodes from 1938 to 1941, reports Variety.
The series of short comedic films began in 1922 during the silent era, and included audio beginning in 1929.
The show was about a group of poor neighborhood children and their adventures. Landy, who had a supporting role to the better-known characters "Alfalfa," "Spanky," and "Buckwheat," was known for delivering the occasional one-liner as the action unfolded.
In the 1950s, the series was syndicated for television and re-titled “The Little Rascals.”
In total, “Our Gang” featured over 41 child actors. The only survivors are Lassie Lou Ahern, Margaret Kerry, Sidney Kibrick, Mildred Kornman, and Robert Blake.
Blake went on to have success as an adult actor, starring in the highly-acclaimed 1967 true crime film "In Cold Blood," and became a household name as star of the TV cop show "Baretta" in the late 1970s.
In 2001, he was accused of killing his second wife, Bonnie Lee Bakely, but was acquitted after a high-profile court trial. Now 83, he announced in March his engagement to 55-year-old Pamela Hudak, reports TMZ.
A 2015 book, "Our Gang: A Racial History of The Little Rascals," explores the historical significance of the series, as noted by the University of Minnesota Press. Written by Julia Lee, a professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, the book "shows us how much this series, from the first silent shorts in 1922 to its television revival in the 1950s, reveals about black and white American culture -- on either side of the silver screen," as plugged by the book's publisher.
As Lee notes, the series began at the height of Jim Crow. "You have the Ku Klux Klan undergoing a period of resurgence," she explained in an interview with NPR. "You have lynchings going around across the country. And so race relations were at an incredible low, and yet you have this series that's so popular that shows black and white children playing together as if there's no such thing as race at all."
Although the series did contain plenty of racial stereotypes that made it controversial in later years, it was also racially progressive. Lee continues: "The gang also made fun of the Ku Klux Klan in one short called 'Lodge Night,' and that created some pushback from some theater owners in regions where the Ku Klux Klan was very strong." The name of the Little Rascals' club was "Cluck Cluck Klams," notes The Atlantic.
Regarding the African-American kids in "Our Gang," Lee explains that they were "absolute stars" at the time among black audiences. "They were considered saviors in many ways. In the early or mid-1920s, they were actually the most popular black stars in the United States."
The most prominent black member of the gang was "Buckwheat," whom Eddie Murphy famously satirized on "Saturday Night Live" in the 1980s.