Ernie Weckbaugh. Twelve Big Lessons Learned as a Little Rascal. Best-Seller Books, 2009.
Director William McGann and Warner Brothers, observing the success of ShirleyTemple movies, sought to create more films with children. McGann hired Weckbaugh and remaned him Ernie Lewis, and Lewis is his middle name. The author was signed for 12 “Our Gang” movies, also known as the “Little Rascals” movies.
The author was “christened” as “Stinky” in these movies. The author recalls how his classmates didn’t like that he would take time away from school to work at a studio. Plus, he was ridiculed when he was to attend class with his hair in curlers and a hairnet in preparation for a role. Weckbaugh notes how this all affected him as a young boy, also as he knew with his father unemployed with a Depression underway that he had the duty of supporting his family.
Weckbaugh had a five year acting career. He was also in “Sons of Liberty” with Claude Rains, which won as Best Short Subject in 1940. He writes he has no bad feelings that the career did not last longer.
The author attended Hollywood Children’s School which taught acting, dancing, and singing. The author became interested in art in high school. He realized that art, not acting, was his passion.
Acting as a child with African American children Ernie Morrison (“Sunshine Sammy”), Billy Thomas (“Buckwheat”), Matthew Beard (“Stymie”), Allen Hoskins (“Farina”), and Eugene Jackson (“Pineapple”) allowed the children to not think of race. This sensitized the author to racism later on in life.
The author writes a weekly column for the Los Angeles Daily News and produced Trodent, a University of Southern California Dental School Alumni publication.
Weckbaugh notes there are three reasons an actor is hired. The most important reason is the actor looks like what is needed for the role. The second more important reasons is that the actor is able to follow direction. The third most important reason is that the actor is talented. Another criteria is the actor has to be available for the role.
A problem arises when actors, even child actors, are provided drugs or alcohol in an effort to improve their acting. This can lead to long term psychological problems.
Weckbaugh observed some bad behaviors from some of the mothers of child actors. They placed too much worry onto their child or were extraordinarily overbearing. The children often became very upset and developed problems in the long run. He is glad his mother was not a stage mother.
Weckbaugh believes “Little Rascals” was popular because children would see themselves in the characters. This was an empowering experience.
Weckbaugh explains how faith and inspiration got him through his performances and through much in life.