Gordon Lee, 71, Child Star in 'Little Rascals,' Dies

posted 2005-10-23 12:14:22 by DaveM

MINNEAPOLIS -- Gordon Lee, who as a chubby child actor played Spanky McFarland's little brother, Porky, in "Little Rascals" comedies, died on Sunday in Minneapolis. He was 71.

Mr. Lee died in a nursing home after battling lung and brain cancer, said Janice McClain, his partner of 13 years.

Mr. Lee played one of the younger members in the "Our Gang" shorts in the 1930's, appearing in more than 40 of them from 1935 to 1939. The comedies, produced by Hal Roach, became known as "The Little Rascals" when shown on television in the 1950's.

Among the films Mr. Lee appeared in were "Bored of Education," which won the Oscar for best one-reel short subject in 1937; "Our Gang Follies of 1936"; "The Awful Tooth"; and "Roamin' Holiday."

In an interview in 1998 with The Minneapolis Star Tribune, Mr. Lee said he was 2 when his mother sent his picture to the studio executives who were looking for an actor to play McFarland's brother.

"We were on the next train to L.A., and I had a contract within a few days," Mr. Lee said. "Fat kid got lucky."

"My memories are not about making movies," he said. "We played with our toys, and the adults played with theirs (the cameras)."

He and Billie Thomas (Buckwheat) teamed up against the older boys Spanky and Alfalfa in many of the comedies. The Porky character is credited with originating the catchphrase "O-tay!," also used by the Buckwheat character and later revived by the comedian Eddie Murphy.

In the interview, Mr. Lee recalled that he had a warm friendship with his black co-star when they were children and praised their interracial relationship on screen, saying, "Buckwheat played an absolute equal part in the Gang."

Mr. Lee told friends that his career ended when a growth spurt made him thinner. "They wanted Porky to be a chunky fellow, so they looked for someone else," Ms. McClain said. He was succeeded by Robert Blake, then using his original name, Mickey Gubitosi.

Mr. Lee was born Eugene Lee in Fort Worth in 1933. His adoptive parents began calling him Gordon, after Gordon Douglas, who directed many of the films Mr. Lee appeared in. He kept the first name as an adult.

Mr. Lee was a schoolteacher, living in Colorado for a time. He moved to Minnesota after he retired to be closer to his only son, Douglas, said a friend, Tracy Tolzmann.

In recent years, Mr. Lee sold autographed photos of himself as Porky, Ms. Tolzmann and Ms. McClain said.

"Before that he felt like he was forgotten," Ms. McClain said. "It really made him feel good about himself."