By Richard W. Bann

Read Part I first

Question: Tell me about making the two Thelma Todds, SEAL SKINS, and ON THE LOOSE, which features a cameo by Laurel & Hardy.

Bud McDonald: Both were directed by Hal Roach, himself. In the one called SEAL SKINS, we used a live seal Roach got from the nearby Long Beach Amusement Pier. That is, near where I live now. And we shot the picture right next to the appropriately named Seal Beach, where I live today in the retirement community named Leisure World, sometimes known as Viagra Village. ...The ratio down here of women to men is eleven to one. You should see the casserole parade going by, trying to seduce you with home cooking!

Anyway SEAL SKINS was funny because Mr. Roach let the gals use their own nicknames -- one was Toddy and the other was Pittsy. That's what they really called each other, too. Those were two great friends, it seemed to me. They played girl reporters on a newspaper, and I was a "printer's devil," which meant an office boy. Billy Gilbert was in that. He liked to smoke big cigars, and he was as big as Oliver Hardy.

Question: And ON THE LOOSE?

Bud McDonald: That's the one where I came down the slide in the fun house. That was great. We were on location over in Venice for a week, shooting the fun house scenes at the Venice Pier. We had the whole place to ourselves and I was the only kid there! The police department detailed scores of cops to keep all the crowds and sightseers out of this huge amusement park. Merry-go-rounds, roller coasters, shoot-the-chutes, ferris wheels, mechanical airplanes, the fun-house -- I did all that stuff every day. Think of that. I got skinned and plenty of bumps and bruises. What fun.

I had a ball, with all those rides to myself, but Hal Roach wouldn't let me go down that one slide until the last minute when they were ready to film it. The assistant director came down the slide head first, while the cameraman was hooked to the back of him and had a huge camera. So he was going down backwards in order to face me! Then I followed them down the slide for the first time so they could capture the surprised expression on my face. It was a long, bumpy ride and slide, I dropped the sucker, and I had big eyes all the way down. That was a thrill worth waiting for.

 After it was all over, and I saw the scene, I understood why I couldn't get on the slide until they were ready to shoot it. They wanted the very first and wide-eyed expression that I had racing down that slide. And it was a one-shot deal, we only did it once. That was the way Mr. Roach liked to work -- fast. He seemed to be a busy guy! He had figured it all out beforehand, raced through the directions he gave us, and we all had to execute the scene.

I think he was a little impatient. He would say, "That's good," and it meant we got it right. As I say, on the first take. Everyone applauded in congratulations. It was a complicated shot; even as a kid I knew that much. They were all gleeful, applauding themselves. Roach just smiled. He never got excited. I got pats on the back, "You did good, Buddy, you did good."

And then I could ride the slide all I wanted to.

Comment: The man at the top of the slide, the actor playing the attendant who got you going, was then doing bit parts and working in the Hal Roach Studios casting office -- Gordon Douglas. He later directed Our Gang, Laurel & Hardy, and something like seven big feature pictures with each of Alan Ladd, Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra.

Bud McDonald: Well, I'll be damned. I never knew who that was.

Comment: The first picture he directed with Our Gang was called BORED OF EDUCATION, it was a slick remake of TEACHER'S PET, and won an Academy Award as the best short subject of 1936.

Question: Since it was shot back in the studio, I don't imagine you were there when Laurel & Hardy filmed their cameo to conclude ON THE LOOSE, were you?

Bud McDonald: No, I don't recall the bit about Laurel & Hardy in ON THE LOOSE.

Question: What else do you remember about Hal Roach directing Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts in ON THE LOOSE (which up until the very last minute was going to be released under its working title of HOT DOGS)?

Bud McDonald: He put the sucker up Thelma Todd's dress! I saw that!

Thelma Todd was a gorgeous, gorgeous woman, and sweet, both of them were; Zasu Pitts was as nice as could be.

I was supposed to have this sucker when I got on at the top of the slide. It was actually made of wood, it wasn't a real lollipop. Then I came down the slide, all shook up, and I dropped the sucker. I lost it. So next when Thelma Todd came down the slide it got caught up, it ran up inside her dress, her skirt, and got stuck there. At the end of the slide she realized she had picked up something on the way, but she had to look to see what it was. Roach was the one who put the sucker up there where he wanted it, and outlined the thing with chalk on her skirt. He did it himself, so you could better see the imprint the sucker made underneath the dress. Then while they used a closeup of her face, I supposedly reached up her skirt to pull my sucker out, and so she screamed, turned around, and I said, "I paid a nickel for that!"

 She screamed, like she'd been goosed or something. Roach was actually the guy who also pulled the sucker out from under the dress. She just stood there, I suppose she was a little embarrassed, I can't remember that, we are talking about events of a long time ago! Anyway, somebody had to get in there and pull my sucker out, and Roach was the boss! But Thelma Todd ... what a beautiful woman.

Hal Roach was a little aloof, I would say. Not like McGowan, who was really into we kids and vice versa. McGowan was a wonderful, wonderful man. And as I say, I liked Jack Roach. I was sort of a pet of his, and got to spend time with him, even in his office. Their father was there too on the lot -- C.H. "Pop" Roach, they called him. He signed our checks, and I think Jack Roach gave them to us. Sometimes we got paid daily, other times at the end of the shooting or the end of the week. And God, that was a lot of money for those days. My dad would've worked for five dollars a week in those days.

But Thelma Todd, I never forgot her. She was as nice and as sweet as she looked. And she was absolutely gorgeous. To a little kid's eyes, or anyone's. The only other one who could compare, was Marion Davies, whom I saw one time down at M-G-M. She had an angelic look, a glow about her that was something special. Thelma Todd had that same aura about her. Just those two.

Now, I was a child, but you only had to spend a short time with her to see she was pretty, and also learn she was pretty inside, as well. Because she was so nice to us kids wherever we would see her around the studio. Just a wonderful person.

Comment: Hal Roach said there was no one, ever, better liked at his studio than Thelma Todd.

Bud McDonald: I'll tell you who else was nice to the kids in the Gang: Oliver Hardy. He was another one who showered us with attention. We kids used to roam all over that studio, what a great playground, and when we weren't busy filming we could sneak onto the stages where Laurel & Hardy or Thelma Todd or Charley Chase were working. We knew to keep quiet. We had to keep quiet on our own sets.

It was fun to watch Laurel & Hardy doing their stuff. Laurel was the more energetic one, always laughing, entertaining. He seemed to be having such a great time. Oliver Hardy had more of an affinity for me. He liked me. He would swing me up and I could ride around on his shoulders. I was a big shot then, riding around atop Oliver Hardy! He'd carry me around from the backlot, or the stage, right up front to the Our Gang Cafe. You can't imagine the good times we had being a part of all that.

Question: We have a shooting script and one still photograph to document the scene you filmed with Laurel & Hardy for an ending sequence of PARDON US, which was cut. Not used.

Stan and Ollie were shown as old men, with beards, fishing by a picturesque river stream. It was actually the Ballona Creek in Culver City, not far from Hal Roach Studios and the same spot where scenes from SCHOOL'S OUT (1930), FISH HOOKY (1933), and FORGOTTEN BABIES (1933) were shot.

Ollie is shown in a wheel chair, Stan is fishing -- of course it was his true favorite pastime. You are one of the two boys they advise in their old age about their misspent youth and lives. Stan concludes, "It all goes to prove that you can't be too careful." At least that is what the script calls for. Then he moves the stone acting as a break holding Ollie's wheelchair. Down the incline Ollie careens into the river as you and Stan and the other Our Gang kid, Bobby Mallon, watch in stunned silence. Presumably, Ollie flails around in the creek, or maybe drowns!

It is not the kind of climax Hal Roach liked, which probably explains it's excision. Unless you saw the rushes, which seems unlikely, you are the only one around today who might possibly have seen this footage, because we don't have it.

We did a reconstruction using all the 35mm elements we could find, and there are some different versions of PARDON US extant, but not with this ending. We know it was shot, but there isn't even a perpetual inventory vault record that shows it was saved beyond the day somebody, and probably Roach himself, decided that ending was not going to be satisfactory.

Bud McDonald: No, I never saw that, and I can only vaguely remember what you are describing. We are talking about a long time ago.

Laurel & Hardy were both nice men. Stan Laurel was the first person I knew with a British accent. He was certainly different than others, odd I thought, but fun to be around. The truth is, I wasn't that impressed. No one at that place was self-important. Everyone made you feel at ease. To begin with, anyone who had a job during the Depression was happy about it, and then to spend every day in an atmosphere like Hal Roach Studios, it was fun, it was games. Everyone was good to you. The greatest life experience any kid could have.

Question: You made several films with Charley Chase. Did you know he had a severe problem with alcohol too?

Bud McDonald: I did not.

I remember in the Charley Chase film called ONE OF THE SMITHS, as I said before, Cactus Mack and the Texas Rangers was the band that they had at the barn dance. I gained a great love for country music at that time because of them. Not long after that I got a job singing on an hour long radio program called JUVENILE REVIEW on KFWB. The "WB" was for Warner Bros. Still is. And Jane Withers was on that show.

Immediately following us was a half-hour program down the hall. We kids would scoot down there to listen to the Sons of the Pioneers, with Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer, and Leonard Slye, before he changed his name to Roy Rogers. We kids loved to see them perform. They were wonderful musicians.

Comment: In 1935 Hal Roach directed another Thelma Todd short subject, again like SEAL SKINS without taking credit, entitled SLIGHTLY STATIC, which was set in a radio station and featured the Sons of the Pioneers, with Roy Rogers.

Bud McDonald: Many years later I ran into Bob Nolan playing with the Sons of the Pioneers in Las Vegas. It was a lounge show, and after it was over, people were crowding around talking to him. I told him, as a kid I'd been on KFWB the same year he was. He looked at me for a moment, and said, "You're Buddy! I remember you." So I got a kick out of that.

Another radio show I did every afternoon when I wasn't at Hal Roach Studios was called MOLLY MALONE'S FAMILY, an early soap opera. I played the youngest son, Terry Malone.

Question: What else can you recall about seeing Hal Roach around the lot? Did you ever visit his office for any reason?

Bud McDonald: No, I didn't. Hal Roach, as I remember him, he was the boss. We all knew he was the big boss. Bob McGowan was the director. Jack Roach was the one who paid us. Don Sandstrom was the assistant director. Art Lloyd, I think, was the cameraman, wasn't he? We were directly involved with them. But when Mr. Roach was around ... by the way we didn't call him Hal, he was Mr. Roach, you see, big respect. To distinguish Mr. Roach's brother, because naturally we couldn't call him by the same name, the brother was "Mr. Jack," or sometimes "Dr. Jack."

Comment: There had been a very popular Hal Roach feature film with Harold Lloyd by that name.

Bud McDonald: With Hal Roach, as a matter of common courtesy and respect, I think everyone addressed him as Mr. Roach, at least as far as I knew.

Question: Were you afraid of him?

Bud McDonald: No. Just respected him.

He had a hands-on approach throughout the studio that people liked and respected him for. He might show up anywhere and just quietly watch something for a few minutes. You might see him, you might not. He did that. He didn't want or need to call attention to himself. Looked that way to me. Or he might take over somebody's job who was having trouble, or maybe take somebody away to solve a problem somewhere else. He was a decisive man; that was apparent even to a little kid. He was Mr. Roach, and he was the boss, and nobody could fool him.

He was impatient once directing one of the Thelma Todd pictures; they needed a prop-maker for something. He wasn't going to wait. He grabbed a hammer and some nails. While these other guys ran around trying to find the prop-maker, Roach did the job himself. Just did it. I can remember that happening like it was this morning.

Comment: I never did ask Roach about this, because I didn't get the pressbook for ON THE LOOSE till after he died, but it carries a story about how they needed a certain car for a scene on the studio's New York street in the backlot. The car had been ordered from a rental service in Hollywood, but didn't arrive in time. I can picture Roach losing his patience over this and saying, "Well what the hell, here's the car keys, there's my car, use that." I think it was the scene where Thelma and Zasu get splashed and covered with mud when the car races through a puddle.

Bud McDonald: Right. Well, Roach owned the whole operation; he could and did do whatever he liked. This was before the unions got in, slowed everything down. But I think Hal Roach, his studios were special, he was special.

Question: Apart from Our Gangers, who was the favorite adult that you remember from all the units then shooting at the Hal Roach Studios?

Bud McDonald: Jack Roach. All of us kids adored Jack Roach. I used to have some great photos with him. My youngest daughter has what's left of the scrapbooks. I had three scrapbooks with still photos from Roach's and other studios. My older brother went in the navy in World War II. And he was up in the Aleutian Islands. And he was bragging to these guys, "My kid brother used to be in the Our Gang comedies."

Nobody believed him, and so he got my mother to send him these photo albums with the great shots I had showing Jack Roach, Bob McGowan, Laurel & Hardy, Charley Chase, Billy Gilbert, Thelma Todd, Miss Crabtree, Mickey Daniels, Mary Kornman, and the Gang. They got their fan tail blown off in battle and had to be towed back to the navy dry dock at Mare Island. He lost those priceless photographs.

Question: Describe your average day at Hal Roach Studios.

Bud McDonald: We might get there at 7:30 in the morning. That is, my mother and me. The guard at the gate knew us and would wave us in. It wasn't much of a gate! We parked the car, went to the stage where they told us to report. Or maybe we'd shoot way out on the backlot, maybe we'd take the bus to the ranch. Maybe we'd do scenes, maybe we'd play while the crew worked out some problem with the sets or the cameras.

At lunch we'd go to the Our Gang Cafe. There you would see everybody else at the studio, and of course since it was open to the general public there would be a lot of "looky-lous," the tourists, they'd come to see us and the other people they knew from the movies. People were polite. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were always gracious, so it wasn't a problem for anybody.

Dorothy DeBorba's mom and my mom got to be friends, and once in a while they'd take us across the railroad tracks that bordered the east side of the studio over to a diner that had real good fried chicken. But mostly we went to the Our Gang Cafe.

At some point every day we had classes. We had summer vacation like everybody else, but during the school year you had to perform well. The studio was always anxious to prove to the board of education that these kids were not being neglected and in fact were doing well. Actually the teaching was a little more stern and severe than in the L.A. public school system. In fact they crammed more schooling into us than you got in regular school.

Question: So you think you received a good education?

Bud McDonald: Well, yes, as far as my education went. Eventually I got kicked out of Bell High School and went to Jacob August Riis High School in Los Angeles, a school for incorrigible boys.

If we were out on location, like at the studio ranch there on Robertson Boulevard, we got our lessons on the bus -- the Our Gang school bus. On the back of each seat we had a desk that folded up. The teacher, Mrs. Carter, sat where the bus driver would.

Question: Why wouldn't they use the one-room schoolhouse there to teach the kids?

Bud McDonald: I don't think they could, because its converted purpose was then for filming. They had to be able to move around with their cameras and have access to everything without breaking down walls and doors. You take all these things for granted until you see how it's down. Lots of tricks.

I saw my first camera trick on PUPS IS PUPS. We were acting out at the ranch and they've got a camera and a mirror and a miniature set showing a huge building, and they're all hooked up together. I guess it was what they call a glass shot or a matte shot or something. All I know is we did our scenes without those other buildings, but when we saw the rushes, there they were up on the screen! You couldn't tell the buildings were not real.

Question: McGowan let you see the rushes?

Bud McDonald: Oh yeah. You looked at what you did, and the kids would kind of tease each other, playfully, saying, "Look at Chubby," or whatever line we might fire off at the screen.

It was so amazing to me that you got paid to go off and play like this every day. The Hal Roach Studio was like an amusement park to me, and the ranch was like a great picnic place. I can remember seeing Hal Roach and Will Rogers practicing on the polo grounds they had out at the ranch, sort of a field below where the old buildings were, the barn and the schoolhouse and the storage places.

Later on, after I was out of the movies, we got caught sneaking into the rodeo over at the Union Stock Yards in Vernon, in Los Angeles. Hal Roach and Will Rogers were there and Rogers was the one who stopped the guys from having us arrested. He recognized me and then they took us in their box with two other kids! Instead of going to jail we stayed there and watched the rodeo with these two big shots!

A funny thing happened one day. We were supposed to work out at the ranch on an Our Gang. Down home, in the summer time, I went barefoot, like everyone else.

Comment: Sounds like a TOM SAWYER anecdote.

Bud McDonald: Well, we weren't so far removed from that time. One day I showed up at the studio barefoot. I didn't put any shoes on and my mother never noticed. She had to drive all the way back to Bell to get my shoes, and in the meantime they went and bought a new pair of shoes for me at the studio. They had to scuff 'em up real bad.

Funny thing about the shoes -- watch the films with Farina. He had another pair of shoes on inside those big shoes he wore to make his feet look extra large.

Question: What else do you recall about making PUPS IS PUPS? Because the Our Gangs you are in are really some of the key entries in the entire series.

Bud McDonald: They handed me a toothbrush and told me to brush the goat's teeth. I was scared to death of that god-damned goat. I had never been around a goat, and it really frightened me.

 Question: And HOOK AND LADDER?

Bud McDonald: I was on the back of the hook and ladder trying to drive the thing and they had to pull me off of there. Don Sandstrom had to take over. I was supposed to steer from back there, but it was difficult for me and also a little dangerous. Scary, too. I allowed the contraption to get away from me, and it scared us all, so the assistant director took over. I just didn't know how to steer it. The thing wasn't meant to swing side to side; I couldn't keep it running straight. It must have looked funny because even after Don Sandstrom took over steering, it continued swaying back and forth. This time on purpose. I was lucky I didn't kill somebody on the city streets!

Question: How does it strike you now to look back and see something like that you filmed more than seventy years ago?

Bud McDonald: When I reflect on all this now, the times gone by, it's all part of living. Look back a hundred years. In 1901 only fourteen per cent of all the homes in the United States had indoor plumbing. I can remember using outhouses, and especially when we were picking fruit. In 1901 there were but 800 miles of paved road in the U.S. I remember a lot of those times.

A guy in our neighborhood flew a biplane around. He'd land in a vacant lot where Florence and Atlantic is now, in Bell. He'd fly in, land, then walk to his mother's house. He'd buzz the house a couple times first before he landed, to let his mother know he was coming home to fix dinner! You don't see anything like that nowadays.

A kid and I had a paper route in Bell after we came back from Oregon. The movie days were finished for me, and my earnings had all gone to my parents. I had nothing. The kid and I pooled our resources and saved our money until we had enough to buy a 1921 model-T Ford. That car cost $5! F-i-v-e dollars. We bought four used tires from the wrecking yard, and by golly, we were in business. I didn't have a driver's license, I wasn't even old enough to have a license. But cops didn't bother us, as long as we were behaving ourselves. It was a whole different time and era.

Comment: Time travel is part of the appeal of these films; some little fragment of what you're talking about was captured in Hal Roach comedies. Particularly since, unlike big budget features, they were filmed out of doors, using actual, authentic locations. Showing real people doing real things. No one intended to document a particular time and place -- how people looked and what they did and said -- even as it was vanishing from the scene, but it's a happy consequence of this kind of filmmaking.

Question: Did you ever come back to visit Hal Roach Studios?

Bud McDonald: Never did. I drove by there one time to show my wife where it was. I told her about the fun we used to have, because not only was it fun being in the pictures themselves, but we spent the rest of the time entertaining ourselves. We invented games to play, and did a lot of prowling.

God, if we weren't shooting a scene, bingo, we headed for a stage where something else was going on. So we'd snoop -- search for adventure. We got to know every nook and cranny of the lot. Where to hide. Where the fun props were. Where something good was shooting that day. As I say, we knew to be quiet. "Silence!" they would yell, then start filming. So you could sneak in and see what Laurel & Hardy were doing, or anybody. I was surprised to see those two smoked, because they didn't in their movies.

Question: Do you recall anything personal about Charley Chase? You had bit parts when they needed a kid in several of his films.

Bud McDonald: He was a funny, funny man. His humor was droll. In one of the pictures, my line was, "Help! I swallowed twenty-five cents!"

He said, "You mean you swallowed a quarter?"

I said, "No, it was two dimes and a nickel." I think he was playing a druggist.

Question: Maybe the way to conclude this is where we began, where you were called upon as "Buddy O'Donnell" in SCHOOL'S OUT.He said, "You mean you swallowed a quarter?"

I said, "No, it was two dimes and a nickel." I think he was playing a druggist.
Question: Maybe the way to conclude this is where we began, where you were called upon as "Buddy O'Donnell" in SCHOOL'S OUT.
One older kid has given everyone trick answers out of a joke book, to aid in their assignment that day. You guys are still innocent enough not to know they're making a mockery out of the day's lesson. Miss Crabtree is getting angry, and warns, as stern as she could be, "Somebody's in for a real trouncing." She calls on you to recite, and asks, "On Paul Revere's night ride, what did he say as he stopped his horse in front of the colonial homes?" You glance down at your desk to find the answer....

Bud McDonald: He said, "Whoa!"

-- by Richard W. Bann --

FOUND! LOST OUR GANGSTER -- IN 2 L&H PIX copyright by Richard W. Bann 2001 -- All photos copyright CCA

close window