No not the the vocal group from the 1960s. The comedy shorts by Hal Roach filmed from 1922 through 1940 then by MGM from 1940 through 1944. They were the first films to depict blacks and whites as equals and it is said that Hal Roach was color blind.
The shorts there were the most well known were the talkies filmed by Roach from 1929 to 1940 as these were the ones that most notably made it to television stations. Mostly local stations and introduced by some local kids TV personality.
I remember watching them from the time I was about 3 or 4 and like many baby boomers saw them as films about people like me – my contemporaries. Even though they were made much before my time. They were kids being kids, not some adults idea of how kids should be. Of course I got the usual “don’t try this at home” from my parents. HA
The fact that they have lasted so long is a testament to Hal Roach’s genius of limited direction and letting the kids be themselves in the situation. I still enjoy watching them. They are timeless.
Some interesting aspects of these shorts I have noticed is that the kids themselves were always of the lower economic classes. Not dirt poor but far from well off. In fact those times that they had interaction with so called “rich,” the rich were often portrayed in a negative light. More so I would say than minorities of the day (who were often typecast and cliche’ ). As greedy and mean and insensitive and cold or spoiled. Such as in the episodes Hi Neighbor or Helping Grandma or Lucky Corner or Fly My Kite (a sequel to Helping Grandma). Or as in a few episodes as pampered or isolated or out of touch but not beyond help. Such as the rich boy Dicky in Free Wheeling. Or the old lady in Second Childhood.
The Our Gang comedies had a big influence on me and my view of the world and I think it is a shame that there has not been anything like them in the portrayal of kids having to deal with the world of adults in a typical kid way.
After around 1970 or so a lot of the Our Gang shorts were pulled from TV or highly edited because of how they had portrayed various minorities or women or such. But I tend to agree with the black cast members, Morrison, Beard and Thomas.
In their adult years, Morrison, Beard and Thomas became some of Our Gang’s staunchest defenders, maintaining that its integrated cast and innocent story lines were far from racist. They explained that the white children’s characters in the series were similarly stereotyped: the “freckle-faced kid,” the “fat kid,” the “neighborhood bully”, the “pretty blond girl,” and the “mischievous toddler.” “We were just a group of kids who were having fun,” Stymie Beard recalled. Ernie Morrison stated that “when it came to race, Hal Roach was color-blind“. Other minorities, including Asian Americans (Sing Joy, Allen Tong, and Edward Zoo Hoo) and Italian Americans (Mickey Gubitosi), were also depicted in the series, with varying levels of stereotyping – commonplace in the stylized, slapstick comedy tradition in which the Our Gang films are firmly rooted.
These shorts do show up on youtube from time to time but are generally taken down for copyright purposes since MGM still holds the copyright. This is a shame IMHO since there really is no good collection of all of them available on DVD.
Here is one that has remained however. Considered one of the best done, it launched the career of Jacky Cooper. Teacher’s Pet.
Don’t we all wish we had a teacher like Miss Crabtree.