Emerson Treacy

Active - 1930 - 1961  |   Born - Sep 7, 1900   |   Died - Jan 10, 1967   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Action

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Emerson Treacy is best remembered for his work in a pair of Little Rascals/Our Gang shorts from the year 1933, portraying the father of Spanky McFarland. In point of fact, he was a successful, light leading man and character actor on-stage, in movies, and on radio and television, with a career that lasted more than 30 years, and took him from comedy on Broadway to roles in the movies of such directors as George Cukor, Joseph Losey, and Alfred Hitchcock. Of slightly diminutive size and with a ready smile, he could also do a good slow burn and turn comically pugnacious, and he had a gift for slapstick comedy as well, all attributes that went into his most well-remembered role, as Spanky's father in the Little Rascals/Our Gang shorts Bedtime Worries and Wild Poses. As the well-meaning but harried husband and father, he was teamed in both films with Gay Seabrook, the dark-haired, mousy-voiced, zany actress who played Spanky's mother. Treacy and Seabrook were actually a well-known double-act on radio and in theater during the early '30s, and their casting as Spanky's parents would have been something of an "in" joke at the time. Together they comprised a kind of slightly lower-rent version of George Burns and Gracie Allen. Onscreen, they made a delightfully goofy couple, like a slightly twisted Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead; and Treacy was superb as Spanky's father, indulgent and enthusiastic at the start of both films, but slowly showing ever more annoyance and impatience over his son's incessant chatter ("Why does he have to ask so many questions?" he asks, in convincing fatigue about four minutes into Bedtime Worries, as his son inquires as to the nature of his job as a shipping clerk). And in Wild Poses, Treacy found his perfect screen nemesis in Franklin Pangborn, playing a prissy, nervous portrait photographer (named Otto Focus) who spends an entire day trying to get one picture of Spanky, while the latter's parents attempt to help. Treacy played in dozens of other feature films, including small roles in Adam's Rib and The Wrong Man, as well as on television programs such as Perry Mason. In Elliott Nugent's rural drama Two Alone (1934), he's sinister as Milt, the smirking, brutish son-in-law to A. S. Byron's lecherous, taciturn Slag, threatening to maim the fleeing young couple as he confronts them, holding a monkey wrench; and in Joseph Losey's The Prowler (1951), Treacy is almost a comically tragic figure as the good-natured brother of a murder victim who unwittingly helps his killer initially escape justice. But those two Little Rascals shorts - in which his character was named Emerson Treacy and Seabrook used her real first name - are what he is remembered for, thanks to 40 years or more of their being steadily re-shown on television.

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