Classic Movie Travels: Harry Spear
Harry Spear was born Harry Sherman Bonner on December 16, 1921, in Los Angeles, California, to Joseph Bonner and Louise Spear. He was born at French Hospital in Los Angeles and initially resided at 5619 Fernwood Ave., Hollywood, California. His father served in the Navy and his mother was a homemaker. After his parents divorced, his last name was typically listed as Spear.
Spear worked as a child actor and vaudevillian, appearing in Educational Pictures shorts in the mid-1920s, including the Tuxedo Comedies and Smith Family shorts. His grandmother, Bertha Spear, managed his career. He performed in Juvenile Comedies as a character named Ginger, leading to his nicknames of “Ginger,” “Freckles,” and “Hard-Boiled Harry.” He also acted in the Buck Jones western, The Flying Horseman (1925).
Spear’s most notable work was in the Our Gang series, making his appearance at age five in Chicken Feed. He initially worked as an extra until he essentially replaced actor Scooter Lowry, taking over the tough character’s former role. He typically wore an oversized bowler hat during the silent era of the series and appeared as a gang leader. When the shorts started to be produced in sound, actor Jackie Cooper took over the role of the leader, ultimately replacing Spear. However, Spear did appear in some of the sound shorts. His final Our Gang appearance was in Bouncing Babies (1929).
Next, Spear worked in vaudeville and performed a dancing and monologue routine. He traveled frequently and studied dance, even performing anecdotes while on the circuit. Though he was offered a contract to work in a series that paralleled Horatio Alger’s tales, the project did not come to fruition. By the 1940s, he left the entertainment industry and did not stay in touch with his Our Gang cohort members.
Spear’s whereabouts were a mystery to his peers and fans for decades. In the mid-1990s, he was traced down as living in San Diego, California, under his legal name of Harry Bonner. Nonetheless, he continually denied being Harry Spear of Our Gang fame.
In between his time in entertainment and this rediscovery, he served as a Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and was discharged in 1947. In 1947, he married Roberta Althea Moseley, and the marriage ultimately ended in divorce. According to the marriage certificate, this was a second marriage for both him and Roberta. In 1957, he married Thelma May Yamamoto Boner. He spent his later years freelance writing articles about fishing, a favorite hobby of his.
Spear passed away from kidney cancer on September 22, 2006, and consistently denied any connection with the entertainment industry. He was 84 years old. Spear and his wife are at rest in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California. His epitaph initially read, “Forever in Our Hearts.” Since his wife’s passing, the epitaph now reads, “Together Forever.”
Today, very few tributes to Spear remain, however his final residence stands at 5369 Vergara St., San Diego, California.
–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.