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Matthew Beard (American actor)

Matthew "Stymie" Beard
Born January 1, 1925(1925-01-01)
Los Angeles, CaliforniaDied January 8, 1981(aged 56)
Los Angeles, CaliforniaOccupation Film, televisionactor

For the English film actor (born 1989), see Matthew Beard (British actor).

Matthew Beard, Jr. (January 1, 1925January 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. In contrast to the character he replaced, Farina, Stymie was a slick-tongued con-artist who was always self-assured, nonchalant, and ready with a sly comment as well as clever ideas to solve the problems he faces. The character's trademark was a bald head crowned by an oversize derby hat, a gift to Beard from comedian Stan Laurel, who had also worked under Our Gang creator Hal Roach. Stymie is the only Our Ganger to both replace one of the original gang members (Allen "Farina" Hoskins) and be replaced by one that would stay on until the series disbanded (Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas).

Our Gang Years

The name "Stymie" was provided by Our Gang director Robert McGowan, who was always frustrated ("stymied") by little Matthew's curious wanderings around the studio; the character was originally to be named "Hercules". McGowan would later recall that Stymie was his favorite of all the Our Gang kids. Stymie came to the series a year after the transition from the silent/early talkie era Our Gang. He had the exclusive distinction of being with the gang from the "Miss Crabtree/Jackie Cooper/Farina/Chubby/Wheezer/Dorothy/Mary Ann Jackson era through the early Spanky/Dickie Moore/older Wheezer/Sherwood/Dorothy/Breezy/Tommy/Jerry/Scotty period to the more familiar group of Spanky, Alfalfa, and Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas, who would ultimately replace him in 1935.

Stymie's paycheck was used to help support his East Los Angeles family, including his 13 brothers and sisters. After Stymie renamed his younger brother Bobbie "Cotton" (which was also used as Bobbie's Our Gang character name), his parents allowed him to name all of the rest of his siblings as they were born. He named one "Dickie" after his best friend, child actor and Our Ganger Dickie Moore. Four other members of the Beard family would appear 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, For Pete's Sake! and The First Round-Up. In The First Round-Up, her character was called "Buckwheat", a role which would eventually be converted to a male character and given to Billie Thomas.
  • His younger brother Robert "Bobbie" Beard appeared in six Our Gang shorts from 1932 to 1934 as Stymie's younger brother, "Cotton."
  • His mother, Johnnie Mae Beard, has a cameo as Stymie's mother in Free Wheeling (1932). She was the only other Beard family member besides Stymie to have a speaking part in the Our Gang series.

Stymie's younger brother Renee Beard would appear in Hal Roach's Our Gang-derived featurettes of the 1940s: Curley and Who Killed Doc Robbin.

After the gang

After Stymie left the series in 1935 at the age of ten, he went on to score some minor roles in feature films. By the time he was in high school, he had retired from acting. Falling into drug use and street life, Stymie became addicted to heroin, and spent most of his early adult life in and out of jail because of it. In the 1960s, he checked himself into Synanon, a drug rehabilitation facility 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 Good Times; he had a recurring role as "Monty" on the latter series. In 1978, he appeared in the movie The Buddy Holly Story as a member of the backstage crew at the Apollo Theatre. He wears his trademark bowler hat in the film.

Beard also traveled around the country, giving lectures on drug-abuse awareness. From the mid 1960's until the very early 1980s, Stymie indeed led a vibrant life. His outlook had been very positive.

Stymie Beard appeared to be healthy and celebrated his 56th birthday on New Years Day of 1981 with family and friends. But fortunes suddenly changed when he suffered a stroke a mere two days later. He died several days later of pneumonia on January 8, 1981 in Los Angeles, California. He was 56.

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Preceded by
Allen "Farina" HoskinsOur Gang
1930-1935 Succeeded by
Billie Thomas
Categories: 1925 births | 1981 deaths | African American actors | American child actors | American television actors | Our Gang kids | Fictional African-Americans

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