Classic Movie Journeys: George “Spanky McFarland”
George “Spanky” McFarland portrayed the legendary leader of the Our gang Cast of children, popular for his role as Spanky. He was born George Philips McFarland on October 2, 1928 at the Methodist Hospital in Dallas, Texas, to Robert and Virginia McFarland. His father worked as a manager for a credit company and later as an auto broker. He had three siblings: Tommy, Amanda and Roderick or “Rod”.
Initially nicknamed “Sonny” by his parents, McFarland modeled children’s clothing in department stores throughout the Dallas area. He could also be seen in print ads and highway billboards promoting Wonder Bread. By 1930, McFarland was comfortable and recognizable on camera.
In 1931, Hal Roach Studios ran an ad for a trade magazine inviting submissions of photographs of “cute children.” In response to the ad, McFarland’s aunt sent various images from McFarland’s modeling days. He was then invited to a screen test, which opened the door to an acting career. In fact, parts of his initial screen test have been incorporated into this Our gang Short film “Spanky” (1932). In later interviews, McFarland shared that the nickname was given to him by a reporter. Per his studio contract, McFarland was granted permission to use the Spanky name in all subsequent business and personal activities.
McFarland became a core member of the Our Gang cast at the age of three. Despite being very young, he was gorgeous in front of cameras, laughing and babbling through his earliest scenes. His character became more outspoken as the series progressed, eventually making him the leader of the group. As a contract player at Hal Roach Studios, he socialized with many other studio stars, including Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Laurel taught him how to perform double takes, and many of his mannerisms were further inspired by Hardy.
Although McFarland has appeared in numerous short films, his only starring role has been in films Gen. Spanky (1936), produced by Hal Roach. While the film was trying to make the transition Our gang Converting series into feature films was unsuccessful. Despite this, McFarland appeared in many other films alongside Hal Roach Studios. His younger brother Tommy was also seen in some shorts.
In 1938 McFarland retired Our gang and participated in several personal appearances. The Our gang The unit was sold by Roach to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and McFarland was rehired to reprise his role. McFarland returned to him Our gang and carried out his spanky character until his last appearance on the series in 1942 at the age of fourteen. McFarland then attended Lancaster High School in Lancaster, Texas.
As McFarland entered adulthood, he was serving in the United States Air Force. Upon his return, he struggled to get roles in films because he was so closely associated with the spanky character. As a result, he pursued other careers, including working at a soft drink factory, a popsicle factory, and a hamburger stand. In the 1950s, the Our gang Short films were syndicated on television and McFarland began hosting a children’s show called the spanky show, Broadcast in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The show was broadcast Little rascals Shorts – like that Our gang Short films were now being named in syndication – but the network discouraged McFarland from expanding his show, prompting him to quit in 1960.
McFarland continued to take on a variety of odd jobs, including selling wine, appliances, electronics, and furniture. He also once ran a restaurant and nightclub. He successfully sold products for Philco-Ford Corporation, eventually working his way up to National Sales Training Director.
McFarland married twice – first to Paula Jeanne Wilkinson and alongside Doris Taulman McFarland. He and Doris had three children: George Gregory McFarland, Verne Emmett McFarland, and Betsy McFarland.
All the while, he was still making personal and cameo appearances in films and on television — affectionately dubbed “Spank” up until then — with his former Our gang peers. In 1985, he also helped launch The Nostalgia Channel, a Texas-based channel that showed classic films.
By the 1990s, McFarland was semi-retired. He participated in numerous fundraisers and golf tournaments, including the annual Spanky McFarland Celebrity Golf Classic, held in Marion, Indiana for 16 years in the 1970s and 1980s. McFarland’s final television appearance would be a walk-on role for applauseas himself, in the episode “Woody Gets an Election”.
McFarland died of a heart attack on June 30, 1993. He was 64 years old. He was cremated soon after, and plans were made to erect a cenotaph in his honor at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas. Although these plans have been approved, they are yet to be executed at the time of writing this article.
Today, few landmarks remain related to McFarland. In 1928, McFarland and his family lived at 836 ½ N. Madison Ave., Dallas, Texas, which no longer exists. By 1930, his family boarded at 233 Jefferson Ave., Dallas, Texas, which was also razed. In 1940 he and his family resided at 4626 Morse Ave., Sherman Oaks, California, which still stands today.
McFarland also lived at 1711 Lakewood Blvd., Euless, Texas, which also stands.
He also resided at 8500 Buckner Ln., Ft. Worth, Texas. The house list also noted that this was McFarland’s former estate. This house is still standing.
Today McFarland and Jackie Cooper are the only ones Our gang Members with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. McFarland received his star posthumously in 1994 at 7095 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California.
–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub
Annette Bochenek writes our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. Here you can read all articles from Annette’s Classic Movie Travel.
Annette Bochenek, from Chicago, Illinois, is a graduate student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the blog Hometowns to Hollywood, where she writes about her travels exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the Hometowns to Hollywood film series in the Chicago area. She has appeared in Turner Classic Movies and is the President of the Chicago chapter of TCM Backlot. Not only does she write for Classic Movie Hub, but also for Silent Film Quarterly, nostalgia digestAnd Magazine of the Chicago Art Deco Society.