Hutchins as Wheezer in School's Out
|Born||Robert E. Hutchins
March 29, 1925
Tacoma, Washington, U.S.
|Died||May 17, 1945
Merced, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Plane crash|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch|| United States Army
United States Army Air Corps
|Years of service||1943–1945|
Robert E. "Bobby" Hutchins (March 29, 1925 – May 17, 1945) was an American child actor who was a regular in the Our Gang short subjects series from 1927 to 1933. A native of Tacoma, Washington, he was given the nickname of Wheezer after running around the studios on his first day so much that he began to wheeze.
Bobby Hutchins was born to James and Olga (Constance) Hutchins in Washington state. His father was a native of Kentucky and his mother a native of Washington.
Wheezer appeared in 58 Our Gang films during his six years in the series. For much of his run, "Wheezer" was portrayed as the perennial tag-along little brother, put off by the older children but always anxious to be part of the action.
Hutchins' first film in Our Gang was the 1927 short Baby Brother. Hutchins' tenure in Our Gang took him through both the silent and early sound periods of the series. He appears as the main character of several of the films, including Bouncing Babies, Pups is Pups, Big Ears and Dogs is Dogs. He left the series at the end of the 1932-33 film season after appearing in Mush and Milk; his only film work outside of Our Gang includes a handful of appearances in three outside features in 1932 and 1933. Hutchins was 8 when he left the series in 1933.
One of the enduring mysteries of the series is why Hutchins suddenly and drastically fell out of favor with creator/producer Hal Roach and/or chief writer/senior director/producer Robert F. McGowan: With the departure of all four regular members of the older "gang" in the series (Jackie Cooper, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Norman "Chubby" Chaney, and Mary Ann Jackson) at the end of the 1930-31 season, Hutchins, as hitherto leader of the younger, "shadow" gang (composed of him, Matthew "Stymie" Beard, and Dorothy DeBorba), seemed poised to become the star of the series, i.e., the gang's on-screen leader. Indeed, although only three more shorts were produced in the remaining months of 1931, Hutchins was the lead in each, the second was very well received, and the third one, "Dogs is Dogs", is regarded as one of the very best shorts of the entire series.
Thereafter, however, Hutchins's role was greatly diminished. In 1932's first short, "Readin' and Writin'", recently hired Kendall "Breezy Brisbane" McComas took over as the gang's ostensible on-screen leader. In the following episode, George "Spanky" McFarland made his debut, enthralling Roach and McGowan so much that they took the unprecedented step of giving him star billing in a couple subsequent shorts that year. By comparison, Hutchins was now relegated to being a minor member of the gang, receiving very few lines and close-ups. When newcomer Dick Moore, who was younger than Hutchins, took over as the gang's leader at the start of the 1932-33 season, Hutchins did not even appear in the first three episodes.
Just how far Hutchins fell from Roach and McGowan's grace is evident in his last episode, 1933's "Mush and Milk": He only received one quick close-up (and it is of him sleeping); his name was not mentioned by any other character; his only line of dialogue ("Don't drink the milk ... it's spoiled", which each of the children whispered in turn) was cut; and, in the few scenes in which he did appear, he was facing away from the camera or obscured by another child. An ignominious end for one of the series' brightest stars just two years earlier, who, it should be noted, was "put out to pasture" at an age (8) years younger than most other Our Gang regulars were.
Other members of the Our Gang troupe remember very little about Hutchins. Jackie Cooper said, "You’d go to play with Wheezer and his father would pull him away. Very competitive. I didn't get a satisfactory answer from my mother or grandmother as to why, but he was to be left alone." Other cast members reported that Hutchins was abused by his parents to keep him from outgrowing Our Gang. Hutchins's younger brother Dickie appeared in the short Forgotten Babies.
After Our Gang
After outgrowing the series, Hutchins and his family eventually moved back to Tacoma, where he entered public school. He joined the U.S. Army in 1943 after graduating high school and served in the infantry, Company C, 31st Tank Battalion, in the European Theater of Operations. He was awarded a Bronze Star for overrunning a Nazi gun emplacement in Chartres, France, in August 1944 and was later awarded the Silver Star for "gallantry in action" in Belgium in January 1945. Immediately thereafter, in early 1945, he enrolled to become an air cadet.
Hutchins was killed in a mid-air collision on May 17, 1945, while trying to land a North American AT-6D-NT Texan, serial number 42-86536, of the 3026th Base Unit, when it struck an AT-6C-15-NT Texan, 42-49068, of the same unit at Merced Army Air Field in Merced, California, during a training exercise. The other pilot, Edward F. Hamel, survived. Hutchins's mother, Olga Hagerson, had been scheduled to travel to the airfield for his graduation from flying school, which would have occurred the week after he died.
- 1930 United States Federal Census, California District 127, page 38.[permanent dead link] ancestry.com - Retrieved February 25, 2009
- Cooper, Jackie (1982). Please Don't Shoot My Dog: The Autobiography of Jackie Cooper. New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0-425-07483-8
- Maltin, Leonard and Bann, Richard W. (1977, rev. 1992). The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang, p. 253. New York: Crown Publishing/Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-517-58325-9
- "May 1945 USAAF Stateside Accident Reports". Aviationarchaeology.com. Retrieved January 21, 2016.
- Modesto Bee, May 18, 1945.