July 5 is the natal day of Billy “Froggy” Laughlin (1932-1948).
Though he was a Johnny-Come-Lately to the Our Gang/ Little Rascals series of film comedies (he was a member of the cast 1940-1944), he has always made one of the biggest impressions on me, and has always been one of my favorites. He’d have been distinctive enough visually: with his slightly crossed eyes and thick-lensed glasses, he’s always reminded me a little of Brandon de Wilde, the kid from Member of the Wedding. But over and beyond this — he had this incredible, hilarious voice, he almost sounds like a victim of demonic possession. It’s not his real one of course, he’s doing a funny voice, but it was really Laughlin doing it (some have theorized that he was dubbed, but he wasn’t). Though he was one of the main characters, his voice was used sparingly for obvious reasons. It would lose its power to provoke laughs if you overdid it. But it was a great gimmick; essentially he gets a laugh every time he talks.
When Our Gang ceased production he had a role in the 1944 film Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, with Simone Simon, Robert Mitchum, Grady Sutton and Dorothy Granger. That was his last film. He retired as an actor at age 12.
Sadly, he was killed at age 16 when he was riding two to a scooter with a friend delivering newspapers. His friend had made a surprise u-turn directly into the path of an oncoming truck. The friend survived; Froggy didn’t. This is how he looked as a teenager. Looks like he was shaping up to be quite the James Dean. He no doubt would have made an excellent Bowery Boy.
For more on Our Gang, please check out my 100th anniversary podcast episode here.
For more on comedy film history, including Our Gang, don’t miss my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, available from amazon.com etc etc etc