FAIRHOPE, Ala. (BP)–Anyone familiar with Spanky, Porky, Alfalfa, Darla and Pete the Pup can probably recall their favorite episodes from the 1920s movie comedy series, the “Little Rascals.”
For Mollie Barron of Fairhope, Ala., however, those names mean much more. In 1926, the then-5-year-old Barron assumed the role of Darla, which she played for a year while Minnie Ruth, the other actress who portrayed Alfalfa’s girlfriend, was on sick leave.
Barron’s Hollywood heyday soon came to a close, however, when she lost her hearing after a bout with chicken pox shortly after Ruth’s return.
“That’s what did my career in,” said Barron, who now lives with her son, Don, and his family in Fairhope.
Barron signed her comments through Cheryl Prine, director of the deaf ministry at the First Baptist Church of Robertsdale, which Barron attends.
“The chicken pox left these huge sores in my ears,” Barron recounted, “and when the doctors operated to relieve the pressure, they must have cut some nerves, because I’ve been deaf ever since.”
She said she often wonders what might have been if not for the chicken pox.
“Who knows, maybe if I had been able to hear I would have continued to try and make it in Hollywood,” said Barron, who quickly added, “But in looking back I see what a happy life I’ve had, even with its tragedies.”
She was speaking of the recent loss of both her husband, Tennyson, and her daughter, Ethelyn Hayes. She said without her faith — which might not be so strong had she made it big — she wouldn’t have been able to overcome the grief and turn to Christ.
“Maybe if I had made it in Hollywood I wouldn’t have become a Christian or been able to be a part of the deaf ministry in my church,” Barron said.
Today, Barron assists Prine with the deaf ministry at First Baptist Church, where Barron is getting back into the swing of teaching Sunday school.
“I moved to Baldwin County last year after my husband died,” she said. “We had lived in Mobile for 10 years and were members of Cottage Hill Baptist. Before moving to Mobile, we lived in Pascagoula, Miss., for more than 45 years.
“At First Baptist Church, Pascagoula, I taught an adult Sunday school class for the deaf and was active in the Woman’s Missionary Union. My husband became one of the first deaf men to be elected a deacon at First Baptist Church.”
Barron was born Mollie Mae Gottschalk. Her parents played the vaudeville stages of New York City during her childhood.
Some of their show business friends included Jimmy Durante, Charlie Chaplin and Sophie Tucker, all of whom influenced Barron’s brief movie career.
When Barron was 5, a woman who was associated with the “Little Rascals,” or “Our Gang,” as the comedies were also known, asked if she could play Darla while Minnie Ruth was off with an illness.
The next thing Barron remembers is going over scripts, having makeup applied and stepping before the cameras as the director called for action.
“It was such fun,” she said. “The other actors were wonderful kids and so talented. I remember how rough and tumble they were when we played together between takes.”
A favorite memory for Barron is playing Alfalfa’s girlfriend and having him sing to her in that special way of his. She said Alfalfa’s cowlick was held in place with a lot of wax so it wouldn’t droop.
The “Our Gang/Little Rascals” concept was developed by Hal Roach in the early 1920s while watching a group of children play and argue. What came of the concept was one of the most successful series in the history of Hollywood as the movies began in the silent era of 1922 with “Our Gang” and concluded 221 films later, in 1944, with “Tale of a Dog.”
When Minnie Ruth returned to the “Little Rascals” set, the producers alternated her with Barron, before trying the two together as twin sisters. Shortly thereafter, Barron came down with the chicken pox, which was also complicated by a high fever.
Following her illness, Barron returned to Mobile, where she was raised by her fraternal grandmother while her parents were on tour. Barron went on to graduate from the Alabama School for the Blind and Deaf in Talladega.
Later, while on a July picnic at a Mobile park, she met a boy who would later become her husband for 55 years. He had lost his hearing due to spinal meningitis at age 14, but he could still speak well.
Today, Barron enjoys the fellowship of her church, the Bible studies and trips to the Alabama Baptist Conference for the Deaf, the Southern Baptist Conference for the Deaf and mission trips to Ohio and Mexico. Barron said she loves music and has even signed solos in church on several occasions.
“I became a Christian as a result of a church fellowship when I was about 20 years old,” she said, noting that life became so different after that because it had become brand new.
“Being deaf is no handicap when serving the Lord,” Barron said. “I know my own heart is still stirred when I think of Jesus.”
Sims is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist newsjournal.