For the ceremonial welcome, the police and the gang each chose their best man. Inspector George Matowitz, 23-year veteran of the Cleveland Police Department, greeted Joe Cobb, the 10-year-old actor who'd appeared in 70 silent shorts as a member of Our Gang. Behind Cobb on the train from Detroit stood the rest of the kid-comedy troupe, also known as Hal Roach's Rascals, each renowned for their own blend of sweetness and mischief: Allen "Farina" Hoskins, 8; Harry Spear, aka "Freckles," 6; curly-haired dream daughter Jean Darling, 6; fun-loving Bobby "Wheezer" Hutchins, 3; and gossipy Mary Ann Jackson, 5. (Pete, the dog, was also 6.)
A thousand orphans filled the State Theatre that Saturday morning, Sept. 1. They cheered the show-opening Buster Keaton film and roared when the gang appeared. All week, the child actors headlined the State's vaudeville bill, re-enacting their latest film, Growing Pains. Mary Ann played the pest, convincing Wheezer to drink cod liver oil in hopes it would turn him into a giant.
By 1935, Matowitz was Cleveland's police chief, talkies had succeeded silents, and all the 1928 members of Our Gang had aged out of their roles. Their replacements, including Spanky, Buckwheat and Alfalfa, went on to decades of fame in TV syndication as The Little Rascals.
12:00 AM EST
May 15, 2012