Oh No. “Fats” Of The Little Rascals Is Dead

“Fats” Is Reported Dead And Little Rascals Fans Scratch Their Heads In Confusion.

The Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, Philadelphia Inquirer were among the dozens of newspapers reporting the sad news of the passing of Don Law aka “Fats.” The Associated Press photo shows a rather glum grown-up Don.

You remember “Fats” from Our Gang a.k.a. The Little Rascals, right? Even serious fans of Our Gang may not exactly be sure which one Fats was. Probably the big fat kid.

Search your memory. You’ll come to the conclusion that you don’t remember anyone named ‘Fats’ in Our Gang.

But there were some big kids, right?

Joe Cobb

Chubby Chaney

True, there was Joe Cobb who played “Joe’ and and Norman “Chubby” Chaney who replaced Cobb and played…Chubby. Not too much work coming up with nicknames. Norman and Joe were the large children who played “fat” kids.

But Our Gang creator Hal Roach never named any of his rotund child actors “Fats.”As a matter of fact in its 22 year run from 1922 -1944 there is no record of anyone called Fats.

But Everyone Called Don “Fats”

So how did Don Law get identified as a former Our Gang Comedy star known as Fats?

The truth is hard to determine. Over the years a handful of people claimed to have been part of the Our Gang films who were not. Some people were simply charlatans. But most were just misguided.

When you are a youngster and have a brief movie appearance, your memory may not be the best barometer of accuracy. Many of the non-Our Gang child actors were told by their parents that they were part of Our Gang, In fact they may have been in motion pictures but were not in Our Gang.

So the fact checkers back in 1959 just didn’t do any checking when it came to Don Law. Possibly Don Law was in some kiddie film as child, but was told he was in Our Gang.

In a longer obituary in the New York Herald Tribune it says Law appeared in 20 Hal Roach comedy films. After his film career Law’s family moved to Meadville. PA in 1934. He later managed a clothing store and worked for Greyhound – Harmony  Shortline Bus Companies. Law left behind a wife and three children. Who provided the information about Law appearing in Our Gang is unsourced. Family and friends probably spread the word from Law himself. Don was Fats in the Our Gang series. That’s what Don always told us.

Then there’s the outside chance that someone close to Law saw an opportunity to create a hoax on an anonymous death.  Just two weeks previous to Law’s death one of the biggest Our Gang stars did die.

Carl Switzer, better known as “Alfalfa: was shot to death on January 21, 1959. An argument over a dog and a reward was the cause. Eclipsing Alfalfa’s death that same day was the passing of legendary director Cecil B. DeMille. One month after Alfalfa died, Helen Parrish another real Our Gang alumus died of cancer at age 35 on February 22.

Leonard Maltin’s authoritative book about Our Gang makes no mention of Don Law. Neither does IMDB.

Our Gang Survivors

Today there are only nine surviving cast members of the scores of kids who appeared in the Our Gang films. The most significant living cast member is Sidney Kibrick who played “Woim,” the sidekick of tough kid Tommy “Butch” Bond. The other big name appearing in many shorts is Robert Blake (real name Michael Gubitosi) who was the annoying, constantly crying Mickey in the 1940s series of Our Gang films.

The other seven surviving cast members are: Donnie Smith, Mildred Kornman, Margaret Kerry, Betta St. John, Annie Ross, Daryl Hickman and Dwayne Hickman.

UPDATE 2023 –  Annie Ross died in 2020 (age 89)  Donnie Smith died in 2022 (age 97); Mildred Kornman died in 2022 (age 97); Dwayne Hickman died in 2022 (age 87); and Robert Blake died in 2023 (age 89), leaving four surviving cast members

9 thoughts on “Oh No. “Fats” Of The Little Rascals Is Dead

  1. Rob

    There was a rare instance of actors being “swapped out” in relation to an Our Gang character. Both Carlena Beard and Willie Mae Taylor played Buckwheat (as a girl) before Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas took over the role and made it his own. However, the only person who played Joe Cobb was Joe Cobb, unless there was a stand-in or stunt double. There was no “Fats”. The other “fat boy” in the Our Gang comedies was Bobby Dean, who appeared in 4 shorts in 1928 before leaving the group. He died in 1931 at the age of 9.

  2. Mike

    It would be relatively easy to find proof of the Don Law claim. Richard Bann, and I believe others, have had extensive access to the Hal Roach Studio records, which include payroll evidence. You can see several good examples of this at http://www.theluckycorner.com. To see a specific one, scroll to the bottom of this page: http://theluckycorner.com/kids/deborba.html

    Unless Don Law worked for free (rather unlikely, don’t you think?), his name would be found among those records. If he’s not there, then it never happened.

  3. Marc

    Chloe Law writes:

    “the true story is that he Joe Cobb were pretty undisguisable and often swapped out for the role of Chubby, but Don was mostly never credited. Therefore, he was never the one recognized for the role and left uncredited and pretty much forgotten.”

    Utterly false. The reason he was never the one recognized, was uncredited and forgotten, because he was never a little rascal to begin with. It’s POSSIBLE he was a background extra in one or more of them. It’s possible he was in a similar ripoff series produced by a different studio, of which there were several as I understand it. But he was never a little rascals who occasionally was “swapped out” with one of the main characters. And there was NO “Fats” in the series.

    The clipping puts Don Laws death at the age of 38 in Feb 1959. That means he was born about 1920-21.

    The Our Gang series began in 1922. Joe Cobb (born November 1916) was one of the originals. His first film with the series was The Champeen. Filmed in late 1922 and released in January 1923. Clearly Joe Cobb wasn’t a 1-2 year old infant in that movie. Joe remained as a regular up until 1929. He would put in a couple of cameo appearances in the Little rascals films as a teen-young adult in the 1930s. Joe Cobb passed away in 2002.

    And Joe Cobb’s name in the series was never “Chubby”. There was no “Chubby” in the series until 1929. Norman Chaney was “Chubby” (born 1914). Chubby’s first rascals short was in 1929. He would be with the series for only 2 years. From 1929-1931. Joe and Chubby did a little rascals short together (as rivals for the hand of Jean Darling) in the classic “Boxing Gloves”. Chubby was Joe’s replacement in the series. When they replaced a kid, that new kid was a different character with a different name. Norman “Chubby” Chaney passed away in 1936.

    There was NO SUCH THING as swapping out the roles, using different actors to play one and the same character. There was only one actor who played the role of Joe, and that was Joe Cobb. He was never swapped out. There was no swapping out for the role of Chubby, because Joe wasn’t Chubby. Norman Chaney was the only “Chubby” and they NEVER swapped him out for any other actor as well. They never, EVER “swapped out” any of the kids throughout the 22 years run of the series.

    Neither Norman or Joe were force fed to be kept fat. In Norman’s case, he had a glandular ailment that made him fat.

    Since photos and videos cannot be posted in this comments section, I sure would love for Chloe Law to post her proof and media evidence on the internet somewhere. Like on Facebook or on twitter. And then provide the links here. Same way she’s mistaken about Joe being “Chubby” and being swapped out, I’m pretty sure she is mistaken about what she thinks is her evidence.

    1. Mike

      Well said, Marc. You nailed every aspect of this.

      It kind of amazes me that, in this day and age where nearly everything you could ever want to know is accessible on the internet, people continue to post so-called “facts” from their family lore that could easily be proven or disproven by a little research.

      This is also true of the history of the Our Gang series — including the characters and the actors who portrayed them. It is quite well-known and thoroughly documented. Anyone who says his or her relative was “Fats” or “Stinky” or some other name in Our Gang has been sadly misled. It’s an immediate clue that whatever follows will be false.

  4. Chloe Law

    This is my grandfather. My dad’s dad. Yes, he was ‘fats’ in Our Gang. He was born and raised in California where he filmed these. However, the true story is that he Joe Cobb were pretty undisguisable and often swapped out for the role of Chubby, but Don was mostly never credited. Therefore, he was never the one recognized for the role and left uncredited and pretty much forgotten. I grew up with stories about this and he was left pretty traumatized by his experienced working in Hollywood, mostly with being force-fed to remain chubby. This is an interesting article, but I fully have proof and old bits of media from back in the day to show the truth of it. 😀

    1. Karen

      I believe Don’s daughter, Rhonda, was in my elementary school class. I think she even attended one of my birthday parties. I believe her family moved from Meadville after her father’s death. I have seen his grave in our area cemetery. Does this make sense? Is Rhonda a membet of your family?

  5. William Byron

    Bill English was the name of the guy who was the Fake Buckwheat. 20/20 did a story on him and then had to apologize- this would have been around 1992, I believe- and a Producer had to resign.

    But I’ve read a very probably and intriguing theory about these supposed fake Our Gangers based on something that happened throughout the 1920s that I didn’t know of: these adults weren’t lying per se but had fuzzy memories based on something that was regular event back then, especially in small towns.

    Essentially, a small directing unit would come to a town and film a local/regional “Our Gang” short film using local children and then, a few days later, show the film in the town hall. Back then it was an assured sell out as people never had the novelty of seeing themselves on film, especially projected in a movie house. This might make a great entry for this blog, actually.

    Look up ‘Anderson Our Gang’- there’s some other film like this that I saw 7 different versions of from the early 30s’ with the same script and different kids from different towns acting it out. From another site:

    “Beginning in the 1910s and lasting into the early 1970s, there were a group of individuals known as itinerant filmmakers. These folks would travel to the smaller cities and towns across the country with a distinctive proposition: they would recruit locals to appear in short films that would be screened at the neighborhood theaters. These filmmakers would make money by negotiating a fee from local businesses to have their stores featured in the films, and often movie-mad folks would pay to appear on camera. Since the localities targeted by these itinerant filmmakers were never included in Hollywood movies, the residents would flock to the local bijou to see their friends and neighbors up on the big screen – with the filmmakers pocketing the profits from the show.”

    SO… it’s possible ol’ Fats here participated in one of these regional things and his understandably vague memory of being 5 years old made him think he was in the actual Our Gang series. Not like they had access to the complete seasons, right?

  6. Anthony

    Great article. It reminds me of when Eddie Murphy played the character Buckwheat on SNL in the 80s. I think around that time there was some guy who got on TV and claimed to be the original Buckwheat but I think the real one had died sometime previous.


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