Harry Spear and Jean Darling switch genders
in “Crazy House,” a 1928 Our Gang comedy.
When I was a kid, I was a big fan of the Our Gang/Little Rascals comedies. Would you believe that I am so old that I saw my first Our Gang comedy, "Hook and Ladder," in a movie theater as a short inserted between the newsreel, cartoons, coming attractions, second feature and main feature?
Anyway, after my first taste of Spanky and his gang on the big screen, I sought out the series on television and over the years, I probably viewed every episode including the early silent episodes.
One silent episode left a big impression on me. I only saw it two or three times, but I will never forget it. For years, I tried to track it down without much success. Even the Internet was not much help.
Now that a lot of Our Gang episodes are on YouTube, I decided to renew my search and, Eureka! --- I found what I was looking for.
The episode I sought was titled "Crazy House," a silent two-reeler from 1928. Here is the plot description from Matinee Classics:
"In this Our Gang film, Jean Darling is a rich girl who invites the gang to her elegant home for a party. The gang is allowed to go anywhere in the mansion since her parents and servants are not home. Little do they know her father has set traps throughout the mansion for an April Fool’s Day party which scares off the gang. The police end up coming to the house with a surprise at the end of the movie."
That sounds innocuous: just your typical Our Gang plot, but there was a sub-plot that made an impact on my very impressionable pre-teen mind.
The rich girl wants to be a boy. After the gang arrives, she convinces one of the male gang members (Harry Spear) to switch places with her and they crossdress in each other's clothes. After the girl and boy switch clothes, the girl became aggressive and fights with the boy in the dress and tries to start a fight with other gang members to prove her masculinity.
I will always remember seeing the boy in the little girl's short dress and thinking that he looked just like a little girl with short hair. Also, I will always remember how the girl in drag pushed around the boy in drag.
I identified with the boy in drag. As a kid, I was not aggressive and other kids (boys and girls) bullied me and pushed me around. I was a poster child for a sissy and it was inevitable that I would wear a dress.
And so it goes.
Artist Steven Arnold and beat poet Ruth Weiss switch genders for Halloween in 1965.