The Harry Spear Centennial

Born 100 years ago today, child star Harry Spear (Harry Sherman Bonner, 1921-2006).

Harry’s professional surname came from his maternal grandmother Bertha Spear, who was his agent. At the age of four Bonner began appearing in a series of Jack White “Juvenile” shorts, starring in some of them as a boy named “Ginger”. In 1927 Spear made the easy transition to being one of the leading kids in Our Gang, appearing in about 3 dozen of the Hal Roach shorts through 1929. With the arrival of sound he was replaced by Jackie Cooper. He is also known to have appeared in at least one feature film, the 1926 Buck Jones western The Flying Horseman. After being dropped from Our Gang at the age 8, Bonner performed briefly in vaudeville. He joined the navy in World War Two, attained the rank of Chief Petty Officer, and remained in the service into the Vietnam era. He retired to San Diego, where there is of course a major naval base.

Spear was a bit of a mystery for many years. Once he retired into private life he never maintained any connection with his old colleagues, and to his dying day denied he was the same person who had been in the movies. My natural assumption is that he was bitter about having been dropped, and consequently didn’t want to promote the series in any way. It took fans a half century to track him down in 1995, and even then, he disclaimed any association.

For more on Our Gang, please check out my 100th anniversary podcast episode here.

For more on vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent and slapstick comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.