Today is the birthday of Ernest “Ernie” Morrison (1912-1989), a.k.a. “Sunshine Sammy”. He was drafted into the film business at the age of three when there was an emergency need on a film set for a sweet-natured child. (Thus his nickname “Sunshine Sammy”). In 1919 he started out playing roles in Hal Roach comedies, supporting Harold Lloyd and Snub Pollard in dozens of comedy shorts. His popularity in these was the genesis for Hal Roach’s launching the Our Gang series in 1921 (which later morphed into The Little Rascals).
In 1924, Morrison left the series to tour vaudeville for several years. In 1940 he returned to the big screen to be part of the East Side Kids with Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, etc (which later morphed into the Bowery Boys). In 1944, he left the series to perform with the Four Step Brothers. He served briefly in the army (drafted), after which he retired from show business. Morrison was the first African American actor signed to a long-term movie contract, one of the first to star in an integrated cast.
To find out more about vaudeville consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent comedy, including Our Gang films with Sunshine Sammy, see Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media