Jay R. Smith (1915-2002) might have understandably considered himself to have outlived the famous Our Gang curse. He’d made it to the 21st century, whereas so many of the famous crop of child stars had died either prematurely or by violent means: Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, his brother Harold “Slim” Switzer, Norman “Chubby” Chaney”, Bobby “Froggy” Laughlin, Bobby “Wheezer” Hutchins. But Darwood “Waldo” Kaye’s death by hit-and-run just a few weeks earlier should have given him the tip-off: No Rascal Unruns the Reaper.
Smith had not been one of the main members of the Gang. He was hired at age 10, the age at which most of the other Our Gang members were retired for being too long in the tooth. He’d gotten cast on account of his densely freckled face, to replace Mickey Daniels, who was prized for that attribute. As an older boy, Smith was kept a bit on the periphery. He was a supporting player with occasional little moments, not one of the key players in the stories. Starting with Boys Will Be Joys (1925), Smith was featured in three dozen Our Gang shorts through 1929. His stint in the series coincided with the last days of the silent era; only his last couple of films were talkies. His younger brother Donnie “Beezer” Smith also appeared in some Our Gang shorts.
Smith retired from acting when he left Our Gang. He later served in World War Two and opened a paint store. In later decades he participated in fan conventions, signed autographs, and so forth. By 2002, he was an 87 year old widower, living in a small community 25 miles north of Las Vegas. He’d hired a homeless man, Charles “Wayne” Crombie to be his handyman, and let him stay in a shed on his property. In October of that year, Crombie repaid Smith’s kindness by stabbing him to death and stealing some loot from the house. Crombie was later apprehended and convicted of the crime in 2005, dying in jail nine years later. And thus it was that Jay R. Smith, like all those who had gone before him, got his “Free Pass to the Circus”.
For more on classic film comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.