Pimping Our Gang At Metro
To say the 52 MGM produced Our Gang comedies are a scurvy and miserable lot would be to state the obvious. They had few defenders then and less now. Kids used to blanch at the sight of them on TV. In anticipation of writing this piece, I took down a laser disc and watched three --- Aladdin’s Lantern, Alfalfa’s Aunt, and Clown Princes. Now these are supposed to be among the better Metro gang-ers, but I found them torturous going. They took me back to Fred Kirby programs (our local singing cowboy Little Rascals host, and subject of a previous Greenbriar posting) where these shorts polluted otherwise good selections from among Hal Roach originals. I understand why Hal had to sell the Gang unit to MGM --- it was 1938 and short subjects were finished for him, but what Metro did to this venerable series was beyond shameful. The kids now lived among interchangeable Andy Hardy households (as opposed to the grinding poverty often depicted in the Roach depression era subjects), and each child respected his/her elders and minded parents at all times. Spanky, Darla, Alfalfa, Porky, and Buckwheat made the transition, but forfeited whatever was left of their spontaneity back at the Roach lot. Polished performers yes, but that was never what we wanted from these kids, and new cast members of the Mickey Gubitosi /"Froggy" Laughlin/Janet Burston variety could set teeth further at edge. Mickey (later Robert Blake) wept and whined endlessly. Froggy had a frighteningly coarsened voice that caused me to wonder if they’d made him drink bleach prior to each day’s shooting, and Janet was --- well, let’s just say there have been no efforts to track her latter-day whereabouts, only the hope that wherever Miss Burston is, she will stay there.
Metro liked to collect awards for their civic-minded outreach toward the betterment of communities, and weren’t above using Our Gang toward those ends. On this occasion, "The National Motion Picture Traffic Safety Council" crawled into bed with MGM and lent its expertise toward production of an Our Gang "comedy" (I use that term sparingly, as it applies to so few of these things) entitled 1-2-3 Go, which was a Spring 1941 release. The idea was to enlighten children (and their parents!) about the hazards of pedestrian walkway carelessness, and wouldn’t you know blubbering little Mickey’s the one that gets run over chasing his ball into the street. From here, the short degenerates into a litany of speeches about intersection safety and the need for greater caution on our nation’s street corners. Sheer agony. The Metro suck-up to civic responsibility continued apace with this ceremony in which distinctly uncomfortable Our Gang members (look at poor Froggy) were obliged to appear before an audience of "school traffic officers and faculty advisors from more than six hundred elementary, junior, and senior high schools." There were also city officials, church leaders, and officers of prominent women’s organizations. These were all catnip for Metro PR staffers, who saw a golden opportunity to emphasize all the good and positive aspects of motion picture patronage. That peculiar idol being presented to Mickey Gubitosi looks like something Eddie Robinson and his followers might have worshipped in The Ten Commandments, but it's actually an award MGM collected for having made 1-2-3 Go. Note the Our Gang kids receiving on-stage instruction from uniformed police --- the program included a segment wherein "student traffic officers" instructed the Gang on "the proper procedure for conducting people across the street." Can you imagine how insufferable those student officers must have been? Talk about institutionalized tattle tailing! Still I wish I’d been there. This had to be one stomach-churning afternoon of mutual backslapping, award whoring, and child manipulation. It shouldn’t have happened to dogs, let alone Our Gang kids --- even if they were MGM Our Gang kids.