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Brad’s Musings and Meanderings

random acts of quoting

"Roses are red
Violets are blue
Milk, eggs, coffee."
- Leo, "That 70's Show"

1harry2.jpgI’ve been anxious to get this tale told again. I, as one of only three known Our Gang buffs ever to talk to Harry Spear in person, often get asked the question “What’s the deal with Harry Spear?” and its a big, long deal so I’ll be glad to finally have a place to refer interested parties. The tale begins at the New York ’94 Sons of the Desert where I first met Bill Cappello. We had many lively discussions with the theme “whatever became of…?” After finding out how great he was at tracking down long-lost celebrities, I immediately remarked, “you should try and find Harry Spear” to which he responded “I did!”

This excited me greatly because Harry was really the ONLY MAJOR Our Gang member (appearing in 31 of the films – both sound and silent) who had never been accounted for. Dick Bann and Leonard Maltin cited in their Our Gang: The Life and Times of the Little Rascals book that information on Harry ended way back in the 1950’s when the Our Gang’s former real-life teacher Fern Carter reported that the last she had heard of Harry he was working in a bank in San Pedro.

Bill had tried another approach to finding Harry Spear, by tracking the guardians who had signed his Hal Roach Studios contract: Louise Nolan, his mother, and Bertha Spear, his grandmother. From there, it was smooth sailing. Louise Nolan, which was her name after re-marriage, had had a child with Joseph Bonner on December 16, 1921. Thus their child’s name was actually Harry Sherman Bonner. In the 1920 census, just before Harry’s birth, all of these parties were living in the same household.

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The signatures on Harry Spear’s Hal Roach contract

This left only two remaining mysteries. The first was why Louise and Bertha chose to use the name “Harry Spear.” Could the divorce between Louise and Joseph have been ultra-nasty and they refused to acknowledge the name “Bonner” during this time? That could be a likely scenario.

The second was: why did Harry Bonner refuse to acknowledge that he was one and the same with Harry Spear? They shared the same parents, the same birthday, and even the same eye color: blue. Furthermore, an interview by Bill with the Bonners’ current neighbor Robert Drewett yielded the fact that Bonner’s wife Thelma had confided in them that Harry was a former member of the Our Gang.

Which brings me to our visit with Harry. Thus far, he had answered no inquiries as to his association with Our Gang. Bob Satterfield, Steve Cox, and I hoped that a personal visit might prompt him to come clean. Boy, were we wrong! On Wednesday, June 28, 1995, the three of us headed to San Diego to pop in on Harry at his home. The first time we went there, we were greeted with a security gate blocking off the driveway. We almost gave up then and there. We headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe (my first one) and had lunch . We also ran into actor Hank Jones near the restaurant. He is the ex-husband of our friend Lori Jones. Then we made one our last-ditch effort and headed back to the Bonner residence.

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Bob, me, and Steve have lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe – my first in long string of Hard Rock visits – ready to pay a visit to Mr. Bonner

This time, the security gate and garage door were open. Inside the garage we spotted a variety of fishing paraphanalia, consistent with another fact that Bill had discovered about Harry. He had written several articles for various fishing magazines. We approached the door and rang the bell. We were there under the guise of personally inviting him to the next Way Out West Tent banquet. Harry himself answered the door but only spoke to us through a gold security screen, so we could see nothing but his silhouette. Bob did most of the talking and after he got through his entire spiel, Harry calmly said “I think you’ve got the wrong person.”

He went on to explain that his Grandmother had taken in a youngster off the streets and that it was this kid who was in fact the guy that was in the Our Gang films. He had no idea whatever had become of him. We weren’t professional inquisitors by any means, so we had no choice but to stand there dumbfounded staring at each other, making the briefest of small talk…and finally leaving. Once we were back in the car, I grasped at the last straw possible and suggested we ask for his autograph as the last living relative of Harry Spear. I was voted down. We knew that this was the right guy, but how could we force him to admit it?

In subsequent years, I tried sending him certified letters asking for him to sign a photo (which he returned unanswered – also certified!), I tried hinting that I would not expose his whereabouts if he would sign for me, and Bob tried offering him $1000 to sign some photos and give an interview.

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Bill Cappello’s signed certified letter card

On September 22, 2006, the secret died along with Harry Bonner. He had escaped unscathed. His secret was never revealed to the world with any degree of certainty. I gave his wife Thelma time to mourn before trying to pounce on her. I sent her a very well-versed letter asking if she would now submit to an interview. I offered to meet with her during my February 2007 trip to California. She never answered.

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Info from Harry Bonner’s death certificate, retrieved by Bill Cappello

It’s hard to say just what had gotten into Harry Spear. From all accounts from his co-workers, he was not a very nice person. From accounts by his neighbor, he remained not-so-nice during his adult years. But it is still a crying shame that we never got the opportunity to really let Harry know how much his work was appreciated and pay him tribute while he was still around.

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In 2002, I asked Jean Darling to comment on the photo of them together as to what she thought of Harry Spear. Note what she wrote on his pants.

My story is done. That’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And that’s all I know.

Hollywood ’95 will continue

26 Responses to “The Strange Tale of Harry Spear”

  1. Wow! I remember Bill and the beginnings of this story very well. But I didn’t know about Harry’s passing in September 2006. Many thanks for the valiant effort on your part as well as for getting it all down and sharing it. (The stories just get more and more interesting!)

    Peter

  2. Thanks for sharing your story. I’d heard bits and pieces of it in different places, but it’s good to hear the real deal.

    Now that we know exactly where Harry is today, any idea where Scooter Lowry might be?

    Pat

  3. No. At one point I had a lead on Scooter Lowry, but unfortunately it didn’t pan out.

    Brad

  4. Interesting story. Certainly sounds like you found your man. Have to wonder if either Harry’s Our Gang experience or his life at the time was so negative, that he just wanted to forget it all. And it was, after all, a job he was fired from at age 7 all the way back in 1929!

    G. Ochs

  5. My cousin lived across the street from this man.They said he never smiled,never talked to anyone.
    There were rumors that he was a former CIA agent,someone hiding from the mob or an old time actor who hated everyone in Hollywood.
    Needless to say they never knew it was Harry Spears until after he died.As the wonderful Jean Darling said,”phoey”.70 years later she still felt the same way..says a lot.

    Raul Moreno

  6. I’m dead now. Leave me alone.

    Harry Spears

  7. It has been said that Hollywood is not very kind to child actors. Maybe Mr. Bonner was treated this way, and so decided to forget his past and deny his identity. If that was indeed the case, then he was perfectly within his rights, and people should respect that…but I do agree that it is a shame that no one was able to give him a tribute while he was still alive. Do you know if he has any other relatives? Maybe you could ask them.

    Chris

  8. I’m not surprised his widow didn’t answer you. Allowing less than 4 months for her to mourn was probably not enough. And she probably had nothing to say to a virtual stranger, anyway.

    Anon

  9. mighty cool, brad!

    Ashleigh Heath

  10. Besides Jean Darling’s comment, what did other Rascals say about him? Do we know?

    Greg

  11. I’ve never heard any other gang members speak of him. Aside from Jean, the only other surviving member who met him at a time when he would have been old enough to remember him is Jackie Cooper, but he was only in a couple of shorts with Harry.

    Anon

  12. Have you tried to speak to his widow in recent years? She may be more amenable to talking about him now. It would be great to get the truth behind his silence.

    Douglas

  13. ps- did Jean Darling ever say what was so objectionable about him?

    Douglas

  14. Jean was not specific about his issues. I have not tried the widow again.

    Brad

  15. Well, I live in Los Angeles. So if you’re ever down here and there’s any way I can be of assistance let me know. I’d really like to know what Harry’s Our Gang experience was like and why he shunned all connection to it in his post-movie years. If anyone knows the whole story it would be her and she may just be wanting to talk about it. I guess one approach would be to ask a neighbor or two if she is friendly or sociable.

    Douglas

  16. Elmer “Scooter” Lowry passed away on June 6, 2008 in Ashton, West Virginia.

    Chris

  17. The Elmer Lowry who died in WV in ’08 was not Scooter. I know it keeps getting repeated again and again, but all you have to do is look up Dr. Lowry’s obit for proof that he was not in Our Gang. And he was born in Guam; Scooter in NYC. Scooter would be 92 now so he’s likely not with us, but no one has reported either finding him or a record of his death.

    PaulG

  18. My mother was Peggy Eames who played in the Our Gang silent movies. I have a signed picture of Harry Spears with Pete the dog. Would like to talk with anyone interested in this. Lots of photos of her movies on set. She was in 7. 503-846-0550

    Paul Schwiegeraht

  19. When I was a boy, I met a Harry Spear who was the M.C. at Grossinger’s in their night club. This must have been around 1954. He let me try out my comedy act on the Grossinger’s stage with Mike Lobell and he was a pal to me. Later I met him for lunch at a hotel in New York. The following month, I learned he had skipped out on his bill. Could this be the same person?

    David Evanier

  20. Anything is possible, but I don’t think that he ever used the name “Harry Spear” after his days in Our Gang, nor did he remain in show business of any sort.

    Brad

  21. Harry Spear left showbiz when he was about 12 or 13 and as an adult served in the Navy for three wars under his real name, Harry Bonner.

    TedT

  22. It sounds like you’ve done the footwork to try and close the story on one of the Rascals. Even Robert Blake called his experience as “forced child labor,” and Carl Switzer listed his Rascals experience as “an unnamed Hal Roach” project. I’ve heard a few stories that a.cting as a Rascal was not a positive experience for many of the kids

    William

  23. I know that by all accounts, he was not a very nice person, but what was his demeanor like when you talked to him during that brief time? Was he morose and/or standoffish?

    Chris

  24. No, he was not standoffish or rude. He answered our questions…dishonestly, but he answered them. He did not step out from behind his security screen, so we could not see his face. But he was polite. We were also very polite to him. Had we not, I’m sure we might have seen some of that ‘not nice-ness’.

    Brad

  25. I love the fact that you searched so long and hard to find a living rascal because i absolutely loved and found them so facinating as a child..im in my early 50s..and if most all of them have died it will be the end of an era..i have their whole DVD collection and the life and times book ..i would purchase other things within reason..i was reading life and times again thats how i ran across your site..thank you.Your site has Been the best so far!!Alexis

    Alexis

  26. Harry wasn’t a particularly memorable gang member, even if he was a primary member for a time, but I think the reason so many are interested in him stems from the fact that he denied being a rascal when so many others were pretending they’d been in the gang. People are entitled to their privacy and I’m actually glad Harry maintained his as that’s clearly what he wanted. But I do wonder what he found so distasteful about his past.

    Nicky

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