George Robert Phillips "Spanky" McFarland (October 2, 1928 – June 30, 1993) was an American actor most famous for his appearances in the Our Gang series of short-subject comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. The Our Gang shorts were later popular after being syndicated to television as "The Little Rascals".
McFarland was born in Dallas, Texas, at Methodist Hospital in 1928 to Robert Emmett and Virginia McFarland. He had three siblings, Thomas ("Tommy," who himself appeared in a few Our Gang episodes as "Dynamite"), Amanda, and Roderick ("Rod").
Prior to joining the Our Gang comedies, Buddy, as he was called by his family, modeled children's clothing for a Dallas department store and also was seen around the Dallas area on highway billboards and in print advertisements for Wonder Bread. This established "Buddy" early on in the local public's eye as an adorable child model and provided experience before cameras.
In January 1931, in response to a trade magazine advertisement from Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, California, requesting photographs of "cute kids," Spanky's Aunt Dottie (Virginia's sister) sent pictures from Buddy's portfolio. An invitation for a screen test soon arrived, which happened that spring, leading to his acting career. Portions of Spanky's screen test are included in a 1932 Our Gang entry, aptly entitled Spanky.
McFarland's nickname "Spanky" is erroneously said to have arisen from warnings by his mother not to misbehave during one of the initial discussions with Hal Roach in his office. As the story goes, he had a habit of reaching out and grabbing things, and on doing so his mother Virginia would say, "Spanky, spanky, mustn't touch!" While this story has considerable folksy appeal, Spanky himself refuted the tale, saying that the name was given by a Los Angeles newspaper reporter. The term "a spanky child" was late 19th century-early 20th century slang for an intelligent, gifted toddler. If you see Spanky's earliest movies, a toddler who could act, the term had meaning to the movie-going audience of that era. Use of the "Spanky" name by McFarland for subsequent business or personal activities was expressly granted to McFarland in one of his studio contracts. In later years some in his family would affectionately refer to him as "Spank."
After his discovery at the age of three, he instantly became a key member of the Our Gang children's comedy movie series and one of Hollywood's stars. His earliest films show him as an outspoken toddler, grumpily going along with the rest of the gang. His scene-stealing abilities brought him more attention, and by 1935 he was the de facto leader of the gang, often paired with Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, and always the enterprising "idea man." Switzer's character became as much of a scene stealer as the young McFarland was, and the two boys' fathers fought constantly over screen time and star billing for their children.
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