Actor Stymie Beard

Matthew Beard Jr. (January 1, 1925 – January 8, 1981) was an American child actor, most famous for portraying the character of Stymie in the Our Gang short films from 1930 to 1935. The role was so high-profile that he adopted the name Stymie Beard, credited with this for some later roles, such as his 1978 appearance in The Buddy Holly Story. He was a native of Los Angeles, California.

Early life

Matthew Beard Jr. was born near Los Angeles, California. His father was Matthew Beard, and his mother was Johnnie Mae Beard (née Clay). His father was the founding pastor of Beloved Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles.

Our Gang years

Beard previously played baby parts in many films, then signed a five-year contract to play in Our Gang. In contrast to Farina, the character he replaced, Stymie was a slick-tongued con-artist who always was self-assured, nonchalant, and ready with a sly comment as well as clever ideas to solve the problems he faced. Stymie could offer sound, common sense that helped resolve the dilemmas of his playmates. The character’s trademark was a bald head crowned by an oversize derby hat, a gift to Beard from comedian Stan Laurel, who had worked under Our Gang creator Hal Roach. Stymie is the only member of Our Gang who both replaced one of the original gang members (Allen “Farina” Hoskins) and was in turn replaced by one who stayed until the series disbanded: Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas.

The name Stymie was provided by Our Gang director Robert McGowan, who always was frustrated (stymied) by little Matthew’s curious wanderings around the studio; the character originally was to be named Hercules]]. McGowan later recalled that Stymie was his favorite of all the Our Gang kids. The then five-year-old Beard came to the series a year after the transition from the silent/early sound era. He had the distinction of being with the gang from the sound movies of the early 1930s through the transitional period in the mid-1930s.

In 1934 Beard was loaned out from Hal Roach Studios to Samuel Goldwyn Productions for Eddie Cantor’s Kid Millions. He and other Our Gang kids appear in the “ice cream fantasy sequence”.

Family

Beard’s paycheck help supported his family in East Los Angeles, including 13 brothers and sisters. After Beard renamed his younger brother Bobbie “Cotton” (which was used as the name of one of the Our Gang characters), his parents allowed him to name all of the rest of his siblings as they were born. He named one Dickie after Dickie Moore, another member of Our Gang. Four other members of the Beard family appeared in the Our Gang comedies:

  • His younger sister Betty Jane Beard preceded Stymie in the gang, playing Farina’s little brother Hector in Moan & Groan, Inc. and When the Wind Blows (even though she was a girl).
  • His younger sister Carlena Beard appeared as Stymie’s younger sister in Shiver My Timbers, Readin’ and Writin’, and For Pete’s Sake!.
  • His younger brother Bobbie Beard appeared in six Our Gang shorts from 1932 to 1934 as Stymie’s younger brother “Cotton.”
  • His mother Johnnie Mae Beard had a cameo as Stymie’s mother in Big Ears and Free Wheeling.
  • Beard’s younger brother Renee Beard appeared in Hal Roach’s featurettes of the 1940s Curley and Who Killed Doc Robbin.

    Later years

    After Beard left the series in 1935 at the age of 10, he acted in minor roles in feature films, such as Captain Blood (1935) and Jezebel (1938). At the age of 15, he made an appearance as Mose the bellboy in the 1940 The Return of Frank James. By the time he was in high school, he had retired from acting.

    Falling into drug use and street life, Beard became addicted to heroin. He spent most of his early adult life in and out of jail on drug and theft charges.

    In the 1960s, he checked himself into Synanon, a drug rehabilitation facility and cult in Los Angeles and successfully ended his heroin use. After leaving Synanon, he made a small comeback, appearing in small roles in feature films and episodes of television shows such as Sanford and Son and The Jeffersons as a guest star (including two episodes of Maude as a resident of an apartment complex where the title character’s husband temporarily lived) and Good Times where he had a recurring role (1974–1977) as Monty.

    In 1978, he appeared in the film The Buddy Holly Story as a member of the backstage crew at the Apollo Theatre, wearing his trademark bowler hat.

    Beard traveled around the country, giving lectures on drug-abuse awareness.

    Death

    Beard suffered a stroke on January 3, 1981 (two days after his 56th birthday), sustained head injuries from falling down a flight of stairs, and died of pneumonia on January 8, 1981. He was living in Los Angeles at the time of his death.

    He is interred in the Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles, buried with the famous derby hat he wore all his life.

    Filmography

    Year Title Role Notes
    1927 My Best Girl Child Uncredited
    1927 Uncle Tom’s Cabin Child Uncredited
    1929 Hearts in Dixie Child Uncredited
    1929 Show Boat Child Uncredited
    1929 Hallelujah Child Uncredited
    1930 Mamba Native Boy Uncredited
    1934 Kid Millions Little Boy in Ice Cream Number Uncredited
    1935 Captain Blood Governor’s Attendant Uncredited
    1935 The Littlest Rebel Black Boy Uncredited
    1936 The Prisoner of Shark Island Boy Seeking Dr. Mudd Uncredited
    1936 Grand Jury Marshmallow Uncredited
    1936 Rainbow on the River Lilybell Jones Uncredited
    1937 Penrod and Sam Buzz Uncredited
    1937 Slave Ship Black Boy on Pier Uncredited
    1938 Jezebel Ti Bat
    1938 The Beloved Brat Pinkie White
    1938 Two-Gun Man from Harlem Jimmy Thompson
    1938 Kentucky Black Child Uncredited
    1939 The Great Man Votes Davy’s Friend Uncredited
    1939 Outside These Walls Penny Uncredited
    1939 Way Down South Gumbo
    1939 Swanee River Black Boy Uncredited
    1940 The Return of Frank James Mose
    1941 Belle Starr Young Jake Uncredited
    1942 Broken Strings Dickey Morley
    1943 Stormy Weather Stagehand Uncredited
    1944 The Bridge of San Luis Rey Pancho Uncredited
    1945 Fallen Angel Shoeshine Boy Uncredited
    1947 Dead Reckoning Bellboy Uncredited
    1947 The Burning Cross Shoe Shine Boy Uncredited
    1953 The Vanquished Dr. Colfax’s Stableboy Uncredited
    1974 Truck Turner Jail Guard
    1974 Good Times Monty
    1977 Disco 9000 Harold Jackson
    1978 The Buddy Holly Story Luther
    1980 Pray TV Willie Washington, Usher

    Legacy

    The book series Captain Underpants has one of the kids named George Beard. The author Dav Pilkey loved Our Gang, so he named the said character’s last name after Beard.

    External Links

    Actor Stymie Beard – Wikipedia

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