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Darla Hood Died from Post-op Complications in 1979 – Billie 'Buckwheat' Thomas Was Heartbroken & Died the Next Year

Busayo Ogunjimi
Sep 23, 2021
09:00 A.M.
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Despite living a happy life and enjoying a successful career, Darla Hood died in tragic circumstances due to a heart failure caused by a doctor's mistake, leaving her co-star Billy "Buckwheat" Thomas so sad that he died the next year.

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On November 8, 1931, a banker named James Claude Hood Jr., and his wife, Elizabeth Davner Hood, gave birth to their daughter, Darla Hood, in the small town of Leedey, Oklahoma.

The proud parents prodded their daughter's musical talents by enrolling her in singing and dancing lessons in Oklahoma City. Her singing debut came when she was four years old and was unscheduled and impromptu.

A picture of Darla Hood and Billie 'Buckwheat' Thomas | Photo: Getty Images

A picture of Darla Hood and Billie 'Buckwheat' Thomas | Photo: Getty Images

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While at Edison Hotel in Times Square, a bandleader invited her onto the stage, with the crowd roaring in appreciation. She stole the show and earned the admiration of Joe Roach, an agent of Hal Roach.

Roach screen-tested Darla and signed her to a long-term contract of seven years, for which she received $75 weekly. She went on to perform as the leading "Rascals" actress in 51 of the popular short films and a television movie.

Being surrounded by boys, Darla found her off-camera time on set lonely because the boys usually grouped together and indulged in boys' games like football and baseball.

A portrait of child star Darla Hood in the "Our Gang" series circa 1935 | Photo: Getty Images

A portrait of child star Darla Hood in the "Our Gang" series circa 1935 | Photo: Getty Images

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Her association with "The Little Rascals" began with her appearing alongside Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in a handful of their feature films.

When the series was revived in 1945, Darla had outgrown her role and had challenges.

Her tenure as the most popular "Little Rascals" actress started in 1935's "Our Gang Follies of 1936," with her finale coming in 1941's "Wedding Worries."

A portrait of child star Darla Hood in the "Our Gang" series , circa 1935 | Photo: Getty Images

A portrait of child star Darla Hood in the "Our Gang" series , circa 1935 | Photo: Getty Images

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Almost 40 years after "Wedding Worries," she voiced her "Little Rascals" character in the 1979 animated off-screen special, "The Little Rascals' Christmas Special," which she did not live to see televised.

Only a few of the "Our Gang" shorts were made during the Second World War. This was as a result of the scarcity of films, with most of them saved for feature-length wartime propaganda films.

Hence, when the series was revived in 1945, Darla had outgrown her role and had challenges dealing with the inevitable transition into a teenage actress. This caused her career to falter badly.

Picture of Darla Hood and rest of the cast of "Our Gang/Little Rascals" TV show | Photo: Getty Images

Picture of Darla Hood and rest of the cast of "Our Gang/Little Rascals" TV show | Photo: Getty Images

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Darla attended and graduated with honors from Fairfax High School in Hollywood. She worked with Ken Murray's trendy "Blackbirds" variety show on the Los Angeles stage. In addition, she also did some behind-the-scenes work in the years after the war.

At 17, Darla tied the knot for the first time with Robert W. Decker. Together, they formed the group "Darla Hood and the Enchanters."

Darla's death was untimely and came in tragic circumstances.

Portrait of the actors of the TV show "Our Gang," circa 1930 | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of the actors of the TV show "Our Gang," circa 1930 | Photo: Getty Images

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The group provided incidental background music for classic movies like 1949's "A Letter to Three Wives." She also appeared in nightclubs and on television variety shows like "The Ken Murray Show," and "The Paul Whiteman's Goodyear Revue."

Besides those, she performed on some of Merv Griffin's radio shows. She was also successful doing voice-over work in cartoons and commercials, with "Chicken of the Sea," in which she was the mermaid, being her longest-lasting commercial tenure.

Darla also did some "Campbell's Soup" commercials during this time, although they were fewer. With time, she became an experienced trick voice artist and impressionist.

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A portrait of child star Darla Hood in the "Our Gang" series, circa 1935 | Photo: Getty Images

A portrait of child star Darla Hood in the "Our Gang" series, circa 1935 | Photo: Getty Images

In 1957, Darla and Decker divorced after eight years of marriage. They shared two children, a son named Bret and a daughter named Darla Jo.

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A year after the divorce, she married her former manager and musical publisher, Jose Granson, with whom she shared three children. They remained married until her death.

A scene from the show "Our Gang" in the '1920s | Photo: Getty Images

A scene from the show "Our Gang" in the '1920s | Photo: Getty Images

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Darla's death was untimely and came in tragic circumstances. She died on Wednesday, June 13, 1979, at 47. Her death resulted from congestive heart failure.

George "Spanky" McFarland attributed the cause of his death to a broken heart over Darla's demise.

Before her death, she had an appendectomy at Canoga Park Hospital. The procedure required her to receive a blood transfusion.

The cast of Our Gang/The Little Rascals singing, circa 1930 | Photo: Getty Images

The cast of Our Gang/The Little Rascals singing, circa 1930 | Photo: Getty Images

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During the transfusion, she contracted acute hepatitis because the blood given to her was contaminated with the disease. This led her to have the heart failure that killed her.

Following her passing, Billy Thomas, who portrayed Buckwheat in the "Our Gang" films, expressed his displeasure at her death. He said he hated to hear it and added that it was a shock.

Thomas described Darla as a nice person and a fine woman. He also said they got along very well as kids and that he spoke to her occasionally via phone calls.

A portrait of child star Darla Hood in the "Our Gang" series, circa 1935 | Photo: Getty Images

A portrait of child star Darla Hood in the "Our Gang" series, circa 1935 | Photo: Getty Images

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Thomas further said that Darla appeared with him and other original members of the "Our Gang" cast on a television talk show about four years before her death.

Thomas died a little over a year after Darla's passing. His "Little Rascals" co-star, George "Spanky" McFarland, attributed the cause of his death to a broken heart over Darla's demise.

Carl Switzer (as Alfalfa), Darla Hood and George McFarland (as Spanky) on "The Pinch Singer" | Photo: Getty Images

Carl Switzer (as Alfalfa), Darla Hood and George McFarland (as Spanky) on "The Pinch Singer" | Photo: Getty Images

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Darla's death marked the end of a superstar, who lived a happy life, enjoyed a successful career, but still met her end in tragic circumstances.

In her lifetime, she granted several interviews, where she reflected on her career. In one such interview, she spoke about the problem of child stars.

She said many child stars think they are better than anyone else and do not learn to give to others. She explained that they are always on the receiving end of many adulations, which rob them of any humility they had.

Darla Hood and fellow "Our Gang" kid stars celebrate Easter outdoors, circa 1935 | Photo: Getty Images

Darla Hood and fellow "Our Gang" kid stars celebrate Easter outdoors, circa 1935 | Photo: Getty Images

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Darla credited her mom for keeping her well-grounded. She described her mom as being every inch a stage mother. She explained that although her mom pushed her, she never forced her down producers' throats like other mothers and always had her best interest at heart.

Not long before her death, Darla watched a big-screen revival of "Our Gang" and found it amusing in a way. She confessed the little girl on the screen was a total stranger, and it felt as though she had never seen her before.

Darla could have lived longer were it not for medical negligence. Though she lived a short life, the impact she had on the world will never be forgotten.

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