A NUTTY NUT
NEWS NETWORK EXCLUSIVE
Cipriani and Mike David
(Text by Mike David)
We thought it would be
timely to now release this 1984 audio interview with Our Gang star
Shirley Jean Rickert as she passed away earlier this year and also
since she talks about celebrating Christmas at the Hal Roach
The audio is introduced
by From Soup to Nuts Grand Sheik Guido Cipriani, founder of the
Nutty Nut News Network Show. In looking through our files I noticed
this was our first ever interview. Amusingly, when Guido did the
tape transfer it accelerated the speed such that our voices sound
higher than normal.
Shirley was very pleasant
that evening and happily discussed her film experiences beginning
with the 1930 comedy short "How's My Baby" with vaudeville actor T.
Roy Barnes. She recalled going to school on the Our Gang sets and
we were able to jog her memory of 1931's "The Stolen Jools".
You'll also hear Shirley
talk about her appearances in the Mickey McGuire series and how she
enjoyed working in such films as "Neath the Arizona Skies" in 1934
with veteran actor John Wayne and as a chorus girl in "Singing in
Our interview was
conducted after a meeting of the Night Owls Tent of the Connecticut
Valley headed by the popular Grand Sheik Hal Stanton.
Very few people have
heard it since in 1984 the Nutty Nut News Network Show was in its
infancy and only a few tents traded audiotapes. So we are pleased
to make this rare interview available now to everyone on its 25th
Gilda and Her
"Born Shirley Jean
Rickert, this blond bombshell began her show biz career at the
tender age of three when she appeared in her first Hollywood
picture. Then it was on to the Hal Roach "Our Gang" comedies as the
little vamp in the platinum pageboy. It was in one of those comedies
she got her first taste of Burlesque, when in 1931 she and Stymie
did a version of the "Watt Street" sketch. As a child actor she
worked in films starring with John Wayne and Joan Crawford. As she
grew and "blossomed" into more adult roles she danced in such films
as Best Foot Forward, Good News, Royal Wedding, and the immortal
classic Singing in the Rain. When musicals went out of favor what
was a young, vivacious dancing girl to do? Well, this one went down
to "The Follies" Burlesque house in Hollywood and trained with
Lillian Hunt, the mentor of Tempest Storm and others. Then with gold
tresses flying she toured the U.S and Canada in Burlesque.Eventually
playing the at top name in Burly-Q, Minsky's."
(Back row): Lee Aaker,
Ralph Hodges, Harry McKim, Robert Scott, Brett Halsey and David
Hedison. (Seated): Suzanna Leigh, Gloria Marlen, Shirley
Jean Rickert, Joan Evans, Jean Porter and Jacqueline White.
(Front row): Dallas McKennon and Gary Gray
Photo courtesy of Tom
Shirley Jean Rickert
Shirley Jean Rickert, who
died on February 6 aged 82, was to a legion of Depression Era fans
the cute girl with the platinum blonde curls in the Our Gang
comedies filmed during the early 1930s; to the same fans, some 20
years later, she was Gilda, a burlesque stripper who was in the same
league of notoriety as Bettie Page and Tempest Storm.
She was born on March 25
1926 at Tacoma, Washington state. In 1927 her mother entered her
18-month-old daughter in a local baby beauty contest. When Shirley
won, her mother moved the family to Hollywood.
"We spent our mornings
standing in line waiting outside the studio gates hoping to be
selected by a casting agent," Shirley Jean Rickert recalled in 1999.
"We tried the major studios like Paramount and MGM, then Poverty Row
[a series of minor B-movie studios off Hollywood Boulevard] before
getting a tip-off that Hal Roach was looking to cast a new series of
kids for his Our Gang comedy shorts."
Shirley was five when she
made her Our Gang debut in Helping Grandma (1931), appearing with
Jackie Cooper, Bobby "Wheezer" Hutchins, Matthew "Stymie" Beard,
Dorothy deBorba, Allen "Farina" Hoskins and Norman "Chubby" Chaney.
"We were just kids
playing together. We had fun and enjoyed ourselves", she remembered.
"It didn't seem like work. The mothers, on the other hand, were
awful. Vile women who craved the adoration and the pay cheques far
more than their offspring ever did. Stardom was my mother's dream.
It was never mine. I can remember at 20th Century Fox Shirley
Temple's mother in particular standing just out of shot tempting the
curly-haired cutie with a bar of candy: 'Sparkle, Shirley, sparkle
and the candy is yours!'"
After a dozen or so Our
Gang shorts, Shirley left the troupe to play Tomboy Taylor in the
rival Mickey McGuire comedy series, with Mickey Rooney in the title
role. Certain that her daughter was a star in the making, Shirley's
mother negotiated her way out of the series contract after Shirley
had made just five short films in 1934.
Out on her own and
without a studio contract to protect her, finding work was hard.
She played Humility
Crakstone in The Scarlet Letter (1934), and donned a black bobbed
wig, styled by Max Factor, to play a native American oil heiress in
the early John Wayne western Neath the Arizona Skies, released in
But fame eluded her. By
the mid-1930s, she was reduced to playing a series of bit parts.
During the war years she was briefly under contract with Columbia
Pictures, then worked as an uncredited dancer in a number of film
musicals, including The Pirate (1948) with Gene Kelly; Royal Wedding
(1951), starring Fred Astaire; and Singin' in the Rain (1952). It
was during this period that her path crossed with that of James
Dean. "We didn't date", she said, "we were friends, and to be honest
he had very few of those." He found Shirley Jean grounded and
honest, perhaps because she had survived the rigours of childhood
fame. The pair remained close until Dean's death in 1955.
scandal magazines linked her romantically to a bevy of unmarried
male heart-throbs, including Scott Marlowe, Anthony Perkins,
Montgomery Clift and Tab Hunter. Away from Hollywood, she became a
burlesque dancer in an act called Gilda and Her Crowning Glory,
appearing in New York and Las Vegas, and performing alongside
Tempest Storm, Jean Carroll and Jane Briggerman in theatres and
night clubs. She later toured Canada.
When the old Our Gang
comedies resurfaced in television syndication across America in the
mid-1950s as The Little Rascals, Shirley Jean Rickert found herself
a new generation of fans.
Recently she wrote on her
website, in response to a fan from Detroit: "Detroit was one of the
towns where I would appear on a kiddie TV show on Saturday morning
as Shirley Jean of the Our Gang/Little Rascals and disrobe on stage
at night for the little kiddies' parents. Fame's a weird thing!"
She hung up her furs and
feathers in 1959, subsequently working as a barmaid, secretary,
saleswoman and as a lorry driver for the American Air Force.
Shirley Jean Rickert was
twice married and divorced, and is survived by a daughter.
Shirley Jean Rickert
dies at 82; child star of 'Our Gang' comedies
Shirley Jean Rickert, a
former child actress who was the cute little blond with the spit
curls in "Our Gang" comedies in the early 1930s and later became a
long-haired burlesque stripper known as Gilda and Her Crowning
Glory, has died. She was 82.
Rickert, who in recent
decades went by her married name of Measures, died Friday after a
long illness in a nursing home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., said her
daughter, Melody Kennedy.
Born in Seattle on March
25, 1926, Rickert won a local baby beauty contest when she was 18
months old. Her mother, confident she had a budding star on her
hands, eventually moved the family to Hollywood.
Rickert was 4 when she
went for an interview for a part in an "Our Gang" comedy short at
the Hal Roach Studios.
She was in five "Our
Gang" comedies in 1931, appearing with Jackie Cooper, Bobby "Wheezer"
Hutchins, Matthew "Stymie" Beard, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Norman
"Chubby" Chaney and other pre-Spanky and Alfalfa gang members.
They were all "just kids
playing together," Rickert told the Albany Times Union in 1999.
"We had fun," she said.
"The mothers on the other hand, were awful. Stage mothers are just
vile women, including my own."
Stardom, she said, was
her mother's dream, "but it wasn't mine."
She left the "Our Gang"
troupe to do the competing Mickey McGuire comedy series starring
Playing Tomboy Taylor,
Rickert appeared in five of the McGuire comedies in 1933 and '34.
She also donned a black
wig to play a young half-Indian oil heiress in the 1934 John Wayne
B-western " 'Neath the Arizona Skies."
But stardom eluded her.
She spent the rest of the
'30s playing bit parts. And in the '40s and early '50s, she was an
uncredited dancer in a number of movie musicals, including the MGM
classics "Royal Wedding" and "Singin' in the Rain."
Rickert then became a
With flowing blond hair
down to her waist, she was dubbed Gilda and Her Crowning Glory by
her manager. She performed in burlesque theaters and nightclubs
across the United States and Canada in the 1950s.
When the old "Our Gang"
comedies resurfaced in television syndication in the mid-'50s as
"The Little Rascals," Rickert found that her "Our Gang" stint gave
her a certain off-stage cachet.
As she later wrote in
response to an e-mail from a Detroit fan to her website: "Detroit
was one of the towns where I would appear on a kiddie TV show on
Saturday morning as Shirley Jean of the Our Gang/Little Rascals and
disrobe on stage at night for the little kiddies' parents."
But stripping then was
much different than today, she told the Albany Times Union in 2005.
"I see more flesh in
television commercials today than I used to see in burlesque," she
After quitting burlesque
in 1959, Rickert worked a variety of jobs, including bartender,
secretary and sales director for a regional theater in Springfield,
While living in
Connecticut in the mid-'70s, she launched a long career as a
traveling industrial hardware saleswoman, for whom her "Our Gang"
tenure proved to be an ideal entree for making sales.
"I walk in, and they say,
'Not another nuts and bolts salesman,' " she told the Associated
Press in 1993. "And then I open my sales folder and show them an
8-by-10 of me in 'Our Gang.' I say, 'You grew up with me.' Then they
do a 360."
But, she said: "That was
way back then, and this is now." She was, she said, "very happy with
my life the way it is."
In addition to her
daughter, the twice-divorced Rickert is survived by two grandsons
and two great-grandchildren.
to read Shirley's IMDb page