As a "Rascal,' she had a ball

Published Aug. 20, 1993|Updated Oct. 9, 2005

With all the "former child actors" using the TV talk show circuit complaining about their bad show business experiences, it's refreshing when a Dorothy DeBorba comes along.

If the name Dorothy DeBorba doesn't ring any bells, perhaps you've seen her in one of the old Our Gang comedies (later retitled Little Rascals). Over a three-year period, the curly-haired 5-year-old child actor starred in 23 Our Gang episodes as "Echo," Chubby's younger sister. The name (actually a nickname) referred to her character's compulsion to repeat everything her brother said.

"There were so many pleasant memories," said DeBorba in a recent phone interview, "I wouldn't take any of it back."

In her three-year Our Gang span, DeBorba worked alongside many of the cast's most famous stars, including George "Spanky" McFarland, Matthew "Stymie" Beard Jr., Bobby "Wheezer" Hutchings, Norman "Chubby" Chaney and Jackie Cooper.

"It was like we had the biggest playhouse in the world," said DeBorba. "We were always playing when we weren't workingor going to school. (Our Gang director) "Uncle' Bob McGowan had a real terrific way with children."

Although the 68-year-old former actor still gets to see some of her fellow Rascal stars at occasional conventions, many others have died. That list includes many of the series' most memorable stars, including Spanky, Alfalfa (Carl Switzer), Buckwheat (William Henry Thomas Jr.), Darla Hood, Farina (Allen Hoskins), Hutchings and Froggy (Billy Laughlin). She replaces McFarland, who died in June, as one of the main guests at this weekend's TNT/Sun Con convention.

DeBorba, like only a handful of former Rascals, found much show-business success in the post-Our Gang years. Although playing "no big parts," she since worked with Jean Harlow in Bombshell, Claire Trevor and Spencer Tracy in Dante's Inferno and as a "little angel" opposite Al Jolson in Going to Heaven on a Mule.

Other former Rascals, who have found later success, have included Jackie Cooper (with a long line of film and television credits over the years (one his more recent roles was as Perry White in the Christopher Reeve-Superman series), Robert Blake (TV's Baretta), "Stymie" (small roles on TV's Good Times, Maude and Sanford and Son) and Tommy "Butch" Bond (as Jimmy Olsen in a pair of Kirk Ayln-Superman movie serials).

DeBorba would go on to become a senior clerk in the School of Journalism at the University of California-Berkley and raise two children (one of whom served in Vietnam). She is now retired.

The popularity of Hal Roach's Little Rascals continues today. Many of the 221 Our Gang/Little Rascals adventures can still be caught on television from time to time, a syndicated television series is in the works, and Wayne's World director Penelope Spheeris has been signed to direct a big screen adaptation of The Little Rascals for Universal Pictures.


TNT Collectible Show

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sun Con 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday at Holiday Inn, 4500 W Cypress, Tampa. The TNT event will include a variety of collectibles, including movie posters and toys, and appearances by formerAutomatic kerning canceled Little Rascals star Dorothy DeBorba, Andrew Wildman (X-Men Adventures, G.I. Joe) and actor Conrad Brooks ("Jamie the cop" from Plan Nine from Outer Space). Sun Con will focus more on the comic book collectibles market with 90 dealer tables. Guests include Wildman, Michael Gallagher (Guardians of the Galaxy), David Matthews (Satin Steele, Lorelei), Steve Roman (Lorelei) and Brad Vancata (Deathlok, Lethal Foes of Spider-man). Admission is $2.50 a day or $4 for both days. For information, call Borderline Productions at 932-0494.