The amount of talent that stems from our neighborhood may be unparalleled
Quite amazingly, Oak Cliff has been the home, and sometimes the starting point, of numerous Hollywood stars. Here are the stories of three.
George Robert Phillips “Spanky” McFarland was born in 1928 at Methodist Hospital. With his face well recognized around the Dallas area, due to his many appearances in local ads and as a child model, the young local celebrity already had a substantial portfolio of adorable toddler and early childhood images, which McFarland’s aunt sent to Hollywood producer Hal Roach when she learned of the producer’s search for new child talent.
Calling the 3-year-old to California and immediately recognizing the youngster’s talent, Roach placed McFarland into the “Our Gang” short comedy movies, where McFarland quickly became one of Tinseltown’s most popular ’30s and ’40s child actors. He continued in the entertainment business, playing smaller roles in 14 feature films, appearing with, among others, Henry Fonda, Fred McMurry and Edward G. Robinson.
In 1954 McFarland entered the U.S. Air Force, then held a variety of retail and odd jobs, then hosted a children’s television program in Tulsa, Okla., launched the Nostalgia Channel, and then found success as a national sales trainer for Philco-Ford.
With the “Our Gang” series re-labeled as “The Little Rascals” and shown on television in the 1950s, McFarland again became a huge favorite with an entirely new generation. He spent years donating his name and time to a string of charity fundraisers while also continuing to make personal appearances, guest appearances and cameo roles in film and on television, with his final acting performance in a 1991 episode of “Cheers.”
McFarland moved back to the Dallas area but died of a heart attack in 1993. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In the late 1950s, McFarland’s parents lived at 407 N. Lancaster, and in the 1930s, his grandparents lived in a rent house located behind the Texas Theatre.
Wimberley Calvin Goodman, 1936 Sunset graduate, lived at 331 S. Rosemont. He played football and basketball, ran track, was in the all-city chorus, was a cheerleader, was on both the Sundial and Stampede staffs, and sang in his local church choir. After graduating from SMU, he moved to New York and appeared in several Broadway productions, most notably his 1953-1955 run in the musical “Kismet” and in its 1966 Kennedy Center revival.
The rotund actor, now known as Henry Calvin, then moved to Hollywood and nabbed a recurring role on television’s “The Howdy Doody Show” but came to the public’s attention when he co-starred as Sgt. Garcia on the 1957-1959 Disney TV serial “Zorro.” He made other TV episodes for Disney and also the movies “Toby Tyler” and “Babes in Toyland,” and he sang for the Disney Studios. His voice is on two selections in “Babes in Toyland,” and his rendition of “Never Smile at a Crocodile” was later added to Disneyland Records’ “Peter Pan” CD re-release. Calvin appeared on (among others) television’s “Petticoat Junction,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” and in films “Ship of Fools” and “Broken Star.” Calvin passed away in 1975, in Dallas, and is interred at Grove Hill Cemetery.
Louise Latham, 1940 Sunset graduate, was her class’s Most Popular Senior Girl, a Bison cheerleader, secretary for the Thespians, All Around P. E. Girl, National Honor Society member and (not surprisingly) in the senior play and the one-act-play group. Latham began her professional acting career on Broadway but found an ongoing source of roles when she moved to Hollywood, where she appeared in well over 150 television programs (some in multiple episodes) that included “Perry Mason,” “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke,” “Hawaii Five-0,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “ER,” “The X Files” and a long string of others. Playing most any part, from nuns to murderers, she holds a résumé rich in character roles and co-starring appearances.
Latham appeared as Mrs. Perky Sugarbaker, the mother of Suzanne and Julia Sugarbaker, on “Designing Women” and, quite oddly, appeared in the first episode of “Family Affair” and the final episode of “The Fugitive,” where she was featured as the first person to learn the real circumstances of the death of Dr. Richard Kimble’s wife. However, her most notable role was as Bernice Edgar in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie” (1964), playing the role of Tippi Hedren’s mother, although Latham was actually only eight years older than Hedren. In 1991 Latham appeared in “Crazy From the Heart,” a movie that also included another Oak Cliff actress, Belita Moreno.
Latham, who was twice her high school class secretary and recipient of the Linz Pin, is retired and lives in Santa Barbara, where, according to classmates, she still reads her Sunset High School newsletters.
It would be interesting to know if any other area of the country could match the amount of talent Oak Cliff has sent to Hollywood over the years. Next month’s column will continue the story, a story that just keeps growing …