Classic Movie Travels: Bobby Hutchins

Classic Movie Travels: Bobby Hutchins

Bobby Hutchins
Bobby Hutchins

Robert Eugene Hutchins was born on March 29, 1925, in Tacoma, Washington, to James and Olga Constance Hutchins. As a child, Hutchins was extremely outgoing and family friends persuaded his parents to take him to Hollywood to be photographed. The photographer was so impressed by Hutchins’ personality and asked to screen test him, with the resulting footage ultimately making its way to Hal Roach Studios. Roach thought that Hutchins would be an ideal addition to the Our Gang series and offered Hutchins a five-year contract.

As was typical of the Our Gang children, Hutchins soon received a nickname: “Wheezer.” Reportedly, on his first day at the studio, Hutchins was running around so excitedly that he began to wheeze. The nickname would remain his throughout his tenure in the series, typically portraying a tag-along brother in silent and sound shorts.

Hutchins’ first appearance in the series was in Baby Brother (1927), playing Horatio. He portrayed a main character in many other installments in the series. His character wore a trademark beanie and corduroy vest.

The Little Rascals, Our Gang

Behind the scenes, Hutchins’ father was particularly competitive and overbearing. Co-star Jackie Cooper once shared the following in an interview:

“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. I guess his father was trying to make him a star or something. Obviously it never happened as it did for Spanky or some of the other kids.”

When not filming, Hutchins’ father isolated him from the other children and malnourished him, deliberately underfeeding him to keep him small and employable. This also held true for Hutchins’ brother, Richard Rae “Dickie” Hutchins, who also spent time in the series. His plan backfired; while Hutchins photographed well, he lacked the energy and commanding screen presence of his leading co-stars. Hutchins fulfilled the rest of his contract as a background player.

Once his contract was up for renewal in 1933, Hutchins’ parents walked out on Roach, demanding higher pay for Hutchins. As a result, Hutchins missed the final four episodes of the 1932 season, with the new gang leader being portrayed by child star Dickie Moore. Roach ultimately terminated Hutchins’ contract when Hutchins was eight years old. His final appearance in the series was in Mush and Milk (1933).

Beyond his time in Our Gang, Hutchins made appearances in three other featurettes. His parents divorced and Hutchins, his mother, stepfather, and brother moved to Tacoma, Washington. There, he enrolled in Parkland Grade School and, later, Lincoln High School. He eventually worked as a gas station attendant in 1942. After his high school graduation, he joined the U.S. Army Air Forces by 1943, enrolling in the Aviation Cadet Program to become a pilot.

Tragically, Hutchins was killed as a result of a mid-air collision on May 17, 1945. He was trying to land a plane during the last 30 minutes of his basic training when it struck another plane of the same unit at Merced Army Air Field in Merced, California, later to become Castle Air Force Base. Edward F. Hamel, the other pilot, survived. Hutchins was close to graduating from this training program and his mother was scheduled to travel to the airfield the following week for the commencement ceremony. He was 20 years old.

Following his funeral at Trinity Lutheran Church, Hutchins was laid to rest at Parkland Lutheran Cemetery in Tacoma, Washington. His grave is honored with a flag each Memorial Day.

In 1930, Hutchins and his parents lived at 9036 Gibson Los Angeles, California. His father worked as an artists’ manager at this point, presumably for Hutchins. The home stands.

9036 Gibson Los Angeles, California
9036 Gibson Los Angeles, California

In 1940, Hutchins lived with his mother, stepfather Russell Hagerson, brother, and grandmother, in the Brookdale neighborhood of Tacoma, Washington.

The scene of his crash still exists near Castle Air Force Base and is inaccessible to the general public.

Trinity Lutheran Church’s “Old Gray Church” no longer stands but Parkland Lutheran Cemetery is located at 510 136th St. E., Tacoma, Washington.

–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.

Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.

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