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Sidney Kibrick left Hollywood when he was only 11 years old. But, thanks to “Our Gang,” his popularity has endured decades later.
The Hollywood Museum has officially kicked off its newest exhibition, “Our Gang,” which celebrates the 100th anniversary of Hal Roach’s comedy collection. The film shorts about a group of ragtag neighborhood kids, were first presented in movie theaters in 1922 and continued through 1944. Writers on the series included Frank Capra, Walter Lantz, Leo McCarey and Roach himself. In the 1950s, “Our Gang” was syndicated for television and retitled “The Little Rascals.” Roach produced both.
“Hal Roach’s comedy shorts, ‘Our Gang’ or ‘Our Gang Comedies,’ has developed an unprecedented rapport with children as well as adults for over a century,” Donelle Dadigan, founder and president of The Hollywood Museum, told Fox News Digital in a statement.
“The antics portrayed by Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla and Buckwheat are a part of American history that will never be erased. Clearly, after a century of entertaining generations of film fans, the ‘Our Gang’ shorts have had an influence and effect on the public that has no equal and may never be matched in the century to come.
“The exhibit at the Hollywood Museum has been a century in the making,” she added. “The anticipation by friends of the museum and fans of the genre and the museum staff has been extremely high. I’m proud to say the exhibit does not disappoint.”
Kibrick, who starred as “Woim,” is one of few surviving cast members who’s determined to keep the legacy alive. The 94-year-old spoke to Fox News Digital about how he was discovered, what it was like bringing the series to life and whether he thinks “Our Gang” is cursed.
Fox News: How does it feel to know that “Our Gang” is celebrating its 100th anniversary? That’s quite the achievement.
Sidney Kibrick: It is! But I think people can relate to little kids acting out and doing all kinds of interesting things at an early age. I bonded with so many of the kids over the years. After show business, I went on to become a successful builder. I built a development in Palm Springs. In 1981, I decided to have a reunion, and so many folks from “Our Gang” came together. Thousands of people came to that event. Leonard Maltin was the master of ceremonies that weekend. It was just amazing to see how many people still remembered and loved the show.
Fox News: How were you discovered as a child actor?
Kibrick: Well, I have an older brother who was also in the movies. He’s four years older than me. I also have a sister who’s eight years older than me. We used to go to the movies as a family. Well, one day after one movie, a man came over to my mother. He said, “I could use that little kid for a movie. I’m an agent” and pointed at me.
My mother didn’t think it was all that important, but she did discuss it with my father that evening. He said, “Well why don’t we try it?” These were difficult times during the Great Depression, so they thought it could be a good opportunity for us. My mother agreed, and I joined general casting. Soon after, I was working with Shirley Temple on my first movie.
Fox News: What was it like working with Shirley Temple?
Kibrick: Well, as a five-year-old, I can only tell you it was all fun.
Fox News: How did you end up appearing in “Our Gang?”
Kibrick: Hal Roach, who owned the “Our Gang” comedies, saw me working with Shirley Temple. He immediately signed me up. I was under contract for Hal Roach from 1933 until 1941. Myself and Butch [Tommy Bond] were the two tough kids who picked on Alfalfa [Carl Switzer] and Darla [Darla Hood]. My character’s name was Woim or “The Woim.” That was pretty much the basis of the show. And it went on for years.
Fox News: What was a typical day like for you on set?
Kibrick: We had two hours of schooling before we would go to work. And work would be anywhere from six, eight hours until 16. They would not stop shooting until they accomplished what they wanted to do that day. So there was a lot of work involved. But we all had a lot of fun doing it.
Fox News: It sounds like child actors have it better today.
Kibrick: I think it’s much more structured today than it was in my day. And I think having more structure means having fewer problems with kids in the motion picture business.
Fox News: How were you treated as a child actor back then?
Kibrick: I was treated very well. I was treated like somebody special working in the movies. It was something that I enjoyed doing. Hal Roach sold the “Our Gang” comedies to MGM. There was a new, fresh director named George Sidney. He took over “Our Gang,” which was then renamed “Little Rascals.” They couldn’t use “Our Gang” because Hal Roach kept that name. So I was at MGM from 1937 until 1941. And I had a wonderful time.
Fox News: What’s your favorite memory from filming?
Kibrick: I was very close with Spanky [George McFarland]. Even as adults, we would see each other all the time. He lived in Dallas and I lived in Beverly Hills, but we would still spend time with each other. That friendship lasted for many, many years. So a lot of my memories involve Spanky and the great times we had together as friends. But, you know, many of the kids developed good friendships. Most of them enjoyed working with each other. That’s what made the experience fun.
Fox News: Your parents must have been thrilled that you were earning good money.
Kibrick: Yes, it was very helpful during those Depression years. The money I earned helped my parents a great deal. I was making $750 a week, which was a lot of money in those days. It was certainly helpful to them.
Fox News: It’s been reported that you found Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa, disagreeable. Is that true?
Kibrick: Yes, he was a difficult kid. I didn’t bond with him. I don’t think a lot of the kids did. He created problems for everybody on set. He often wouldn’t do the job the way he was supposed to. It got to a point where he only wanted to do things the way he wanted to do them. He wouldn’t listen to the director Gordon Douglas all that much.
Nobody really got along with him. Spanky was very popular with the kids. He was really friendly. And Darla was a gem. She was terrific. But Alfalfa really had a chip on his shoulder. He created problems for the rest of the kids. He treated me the same way he treated a lot of the other kids. He tried not to get along and ignored me. He picked on me. Now, I’m talking about him as a kid, you know? But he was difficult.
Fox News: Why did “Our Gang” end? Was it because all the kids grew up?
Kibrick: That’s basically it. I know, in the beginning, “Our Gang” and “Little Rascals” were very popular in the theaters. But as time went on, it became less popular. And we kids started growing up. It was the right time to end it.
Fox News: Were you typecast afterward?
Kibrick: Yeah. I really felt that I was finished by age 11. I worked very hard and, then, that was it. My mother really wanted me to continue because the money was important, and it was good. But I really had enough. I had a good experience and made some lifelong friends, but I wanted to have a normal life again. I convinced my parents that I didn’t want to do it anymore and that was it.
Fox News: At any point, did you miss Hollywood?
Kibrick: You know, I don’t miss it because I’m still getting tons of fan mail, even to this day. It’s amazing how much fan mail I get. It keeps me busy, and I feel like I’m still a part of Hollywood because of it. My fans now are not the little kids that used to send me letters. These are adults and their children, even their grandchildren, that still enjoy “Our Gang” and “Little Rascals.”
I get a tremendous amount of fan mail from all around the world, not just from the United States. A lot of it comes from Germany and Japan. So staying connected with the fans makes me feel like I’m still very much a part of Hollywood. So I don’t miss it. And I had a wonderful life [after show business]. I became a successful developer contractor. I built many apartments and commercial buildings in the San Fernando Valley. I was also the original developer in Thousand Oaks for a corporation. I built a thousand homes there. I was a very active developer builder.
Fox News: Several cast members have had tragic endings. Some fans have insisted the show must be cursed. What do you make of this claim?
Kibrick: I’ve certainly heard the stories, but I don’t really buy that the show was cursed. It’s very unfortunate that there’s been a lot of tragedies with some of the kids. I believe the most famous one was Carl Switzer. Alfalfa got into a fight, and he was killed at age 31. Even though we didn’t get along, I still felt bad naturally. It was a tragedy and a very short life. But many of the other kids had happy lives after the show. Spanky, for example, worked for Westinghouse in Dallas. He would come over with his family here in Beverly Hills, and I would do the same with mine. A lot of the kids stayed in touch and, of course, we got together whenever we had reunions.
Fox News: You’ve had a normal childhood, in comparison to a lot of other child stars. No tragedies, no scandals. What’s your secret?
Kibrick: I think I just had a level head and I didn’t want to get into those kinds of problems. Most child actors can’t seem to handle their success. They go off in different directions and create problems for themselves. I never felt that way. I enjoyed “Our Gang,” and I enjoyed working. I also enjoyed going to school. I liked studio life, but I got tired of it because it is work. And, at age 11, I just felt like I had enough. I didn’t want to continue anymore. And I think I was successful in getting out at the right time.
Fox News: During your time in Hollywood, did you or your parents ever get to meet a celebrity that you were a fan of?
Kibrick: Certainly, we’ve met a lot of celebrities. Laurel and Hardy were big fans of “Our Gang.” They used to come to the set and watch us perform all the time. I became friendly with them as a kid, and they were always so nice to me. A lot of different stars would stop by and watch us perform on set. They really enjoyed it.
Fox News: What’s life like for you today?
Kibrick: I’m retired. I stopped building about 12 years ago. I have a big family, and I still keep very active. I love reading and responding to the fan mail I receive. I also have a lady friend who was married to a very important songwriter, and we’ve traveled all around the United States and Europe together. Life is very good.
Fox News: How would you like “Our Gang” to be remembered?
Kibrick: I think people, even today, could identify with being a child and being mischievous when life was simple. It was fun, and it made people laugh. From ages five to 11, I was living the studio life. Those are memories I will never forget. It was a wonderful experience. I had fun.