The Golden Age short film series Our Gang, also known as The Little Rascals, featured a rotating cast of over 40 different child performers during it’s two decades in production. However, one of the most memorable of those child performers has proved to be Darla Hood. After filming over 50 films in the Our Gang series, Darla went on to have a nice life. However, she died tragically from a mistake during a medical procedure. Join Facts Verse as we explore the tragic life and death of Darla Hood from Our Gang.
Darla Hood was born on November 8, 1931, in Leedey Oklahoma. She was the only child of a bank worker named James and a mother named Elizabeth, who taught music. Given her mother’s predilection for musical teachings, Darla took to music at an early age. Seeing her daughter’s potential, Elizabeth began taking Darla to expensive singing and dancing classes at the age of only 3. That teacher ended up seeing great potential in Darla as well, and was able to convince Elizabeth to take her daughter out to New York City to try and see if she could become a child star.
Elizabeth took Darla to New York City, where her daughter began singing and dancing in front of the band at the Edison Hotel. The young girl began drawing quite a crowd night after night, and eventually caught the eye of a notable casting director. That casting director was Joe Rivkin, the casting director for the Our Gang series of short films.
As the casting director for Hal Roach Studios, Joe Rivkin was the man in charge of procuring talent for the Our Gang series of short films. When he saw Darla performing in front of the band at the Edison Hotel, he knew that she would be a perfect addition to the rotating cast of child performers featured on the then-established short film series. Joe invited Darla to come screen test for Hal Roach Studios, and she impressed the producers there just as much as she had impressed him. At the age of only three years old, Darla was given her first contract with a production studio.
Upon her successful screen test with Hal Roach Studios, Darla and her family moved out to Culver City, California, where the studio was located. From that point forward, Darla became a staple in the Our Gang series of short films. She made her debut in 1935, playing a character by the name of Cookie. However, the name of her character was changed to her own name of Darla in subsequent short films.
Darla was only four years old when she made her 1935 debut in the Our Gang series of short films. She continued performing in the series until 1941. Over the course of this time, her character became the love interest of many of the male children, most famously Alfalfa. One of Darla’s most memorable moments from the short films that she was featured in include the moment when she sang Frances Langford’s 1935 hit single “I’m in the Mood for Love”. This occurred during the 1936 short feature The Pinch Singer.
Darla’s final appearance in an Our Gang film was in the 1941 short feature Wedding Worries. After over half of a decade spent acting in the popular short film series, Darla no longer fit in amongst the show’s increasingly younger cast members that were being brought in to replace old ones.
During the same time that Darla had worked on the Our Gang series of short films, she had also work with beloved Golden Age comedians Laurel and Hardy in their feature The Bohemian Girl. After leaving the Our Gang series, Darla worked with MGM for a few more years and appeared in several feature films before attending high school and deciding that she’d rather be a singer than an actress.
The Our Gang series of short films had also been known as The Little Rascals, or Hal Roach’s Rascals. The latter name was taken from Hal Roach Studios, which produced the series. The series of short films was centered on a group of poor children from the same neighborhood that spent their time playing together. It was known for it’s progressive depiction of society, including the portrayal of white and black children together. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! As well, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Although Darla hadn’t even been born at the time, the Our Gang series got it’s start in 1922. Hal Roach, the owner and founder of Hal Roach Studios, created it. Hal had previously been credited for putting together the comedic duo of Laurel and Hardy, which makes it no surprise that Darla showed up in one of their features soon after making her debut.
The Our Gang series originally started out as silent short films. The concept of the series was to portray children behaving in a naturalistic way, which Hal Roach believed would be intrinsically comical to the audience. Children had rarely been depicted accurately on film up until that point, with most child performers being trained singers and dancers that could accurately mimic their adult counterparts. Although Darla was certainly a skilled singer and dancer, Our Gang utilized her for her childish charm more than for her ability to mimic older singers and dancers of the time.
In 1929, the Our Gang series of short films changed from being silent features to features with sound. After this, the series became more popular than ever. This led to the series’ most popular period, which Darla would come in during and eventually help define with her character. New short films in the series were produced until 1944, though Darla had left the series by 1941. Over 200 films were produced in the series, and over 50 featured Darla.
MGM was the distributor for the Our Gang series, and Darla found continued work with them up until deciding to leave the industry to pursue her education as a teenager. After having been a Hollywood star for a decade, Darla became just another high school girl when she attended Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. While Darla appreciated this break into normalcy, she eventually decided that she wanted to find her way back into stardom. However, this time, she wanted to do it in a new way that didn’t involve any acting.
Although Darla memorably sang in the Our Gang series of short films, they didn’t truly utilize her musical chops like she had wanted. As a teenager, Darla decided to start her own musical group in order to finally fulfill her musical promise. The group was named Darla Hood and the Enchanters. Although the group may not have risen to the heights of the most popular pop groups of the era, their music was modestly successful, and was featured in several movies.
Darla went on to record over a dozen albums, and also became a regular on the radio show of DJ Merv Griffin. At some point, Darla resumed her early career as a nightclub performer, where she found a good deal of success. Another career avenue that Darla explored during her adult years was performing commercial jingles. Although the job may not have brought the former child actress much prestige, it did allow her to make some pretty hefty amounts of money.
Darla also made some memorable appearances alongside the likes of such notable figures as Jack Benny and Groucho Marx. In regards to the former, Darla performed in a recurring series of sketches on The Jack Benny Program that parodied the Our Gang series of short films. Darla could no longer get away with playing a little girl, so she was cast as Alfalfa instead. Darla had known Jack since her days of filming the Our Gang series, and the two had developed a close friendship in the years since that initial meeting.
Darla was married two times over the course of her life. Her first husband was Robert W. Decker, an insurance salesman that was attempting to moonlight as a singer. Darla was married to Robert from 1949 until 1957. The same year Darla divorced Robert, she married another time. This time, the man she married was Jose Granson, a successful executive at a record company. Darla and Jose stayed together until the event of the former’s tragic death, and they had three children during that period.
On June 13, 1979, Darla had been brought to the hospital for a routine appendectomy. It seemed that all had gone well with the procedure, but Darla died of a surprise and sudden heart attack shortly after it’s completion. As it turns, the blood that had been given to Darla in the transfusion had been contaminated with hepatitis. The exposure caused the ensuing fatal heart attack, and Darla was pronounced tragically dead at the age of only 47.
Over the course of it’s two-decade production run, the Our Gang series of short films featured over 40 different child performers in it’s constantly rotating cast. Many believe that there has been a curse amongst the former Our Gang cast members, and the tragic death of Darla is often held up as an example. However, people that don’t believe in superstitious theories routinely scoff at this notion.
Among the other former Our Gang cast members that met tragic ends include Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa. Carl was shot to death at the age of only 31. While most other former Our Gang actors and actresses have certainly passed away since their time appearing in the series, that fact has likely been due more to time than to any curse.
Over the course of her early career, Darla Hood appeared in over 50 short films in the Our Gang series. Comment down below to share what your favorite Our Gang moment featuring Darla is, or if you are planning on revisiting the classic Golden Age series of short films anytime soon! As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!