Nickname of George Robert Phillips McFarland, known to the rest of the world as Spanky, the cherub-faced leader of a group of all-American kids featured in Hal Roach’s OUR GANG comedy shorts in the 1930s. His catchphrase: “Okey-dokey!”
Spanky joined the Gang in 1932 at the age of 3. When he retired at the age of 16, he had completed some 95 adventures with his costars Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, Darla Hood and Billy “Buckwheat” Thomas.
McFarland revealed that his “Spanky” nickname came from a Los Angeles newspaper reporter who commented that George was a “spanky child” – a turn of the century slang term for an intelligent, gifted youngster. However, many still believe his nickname originated from the little boy’s tendency to touch things he should not. When his mother caught him doing such a thing, she warned, “Spanky, spanky, mustn’t touch!”
In later years, Spanky left the Hollywood scene and labored as a hamburger flipper, soda bottler and appliance sales manager. His cute baby face became popular again when the Our Gang films were repackaged for TV as THE LITTLE RASCALS in the 1950s.
From 1955 to 1960, McFarland hosted his own daily kids TV, “The Spanky Show,” which aired on KOTV in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1985, McFarland, while an executive at Philco, helped launch The Nostalgia Channel.
Before his death, Spanky made a cameo appearance at the bar “where everybody knows your name” on the April 22, 1993 (Episode: “Woody Gets An Election”) of the TV sitcom CHEERS where postal worker Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) meets his childhood star, George McFarland. Here is a excerpt from the show:
Cliff: Hey-holy guacamole, Norm, I think that might be Spanky Mcfarland from the old Little Rascals.
Cliff: I’ll go ask him, I’ll check it out.
[Cliff hums the Little Rascals theme as he approaches.]
Cliff: Hey, how you doing, sir? My name’s Cliff Clavin.
George: Hello, Cliff.
Cliff: I know you probably heard this a thousand times before, but you do resemble that child actor Spanky McFarland from The Little Rascals.
George: That’s cause I’m…
Cliff: [cutting off George] I’m one of the biggest Little Rascals fans there ever was. I got every episode on tape… well, except “Free Eats” and “Captain Spanky’s Show Boat”…
George: That’s great.
Cliff: [reminiscing] Yeah, Spanky, Darla, Buckwheat… I gotta confess. I had the biggest crush on Darla. You know, if you were Spanky, I could sit here and chew on your ear for hours about Happy Birthday, Dr. Hood, the He-Man Woman-Hater’s Club… Hey, remember the sound the cake made coming out of the oven. [Cliff makes the cake-foghorn noise from Birthday Blues’ So, uh, are you Spanky?
Cliff: Take care. Take care. [Cliff leaves]
Norm: [approaches] You are Spanky, aren’t you?
George: Oh yeah….
Note: Born on October 2, 1928 in Denison, Texas, George “Spanky” McFarland died of a heart attack on June 30, 1993 (age 64) in Grapevine, Texas.
The 1960s musical group “Spanky and Our Gang” derived it’s name from George McFarland’s character. The female singer in the group was Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane.