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Matthew Beard Jr.
*Matthew Beard Jr. was born on this date in 1925. He was a Black child actor.
Beard was born near Los Angeles, California, to Matthew Beard Sr. and Johnnie Mae Beard (née Clay). His father was the founding pastor of the Beloved Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles. 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 con artist who was self-assured, carefree, and ready with a sly comment and clever ideas to solve the problems he faced. He could offer common sense that helped resolve his playmates' dilemmas. His character's trademark was a bald head worn with 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 replaced one of the original gang members (Allen "Farina" Hoskins) and was replaced by one who stayed until the series disbanded: Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas. The character, then five-year-old Beard, came to the series a year after the transition from the silent/early sound era and had the distinction of being with the Gang from the sound movies of the early 1930s through the transitional period of the mid-1930s. In 1934, Roach Studios loaned Beard and other Our Gang kids to Samuel Goldwyn Productions for Eddie Cantor's Kid Millions, where they appeared in the "ice cream fantasy" sequence.
Beard's paycheck helped support 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 the rest of his siblings as they were born. After Beard left the series in 1935 at age 10, he played minor roles in feature films such as Captain Blood (1935) and Jezebel (1938). At age 15, he appeared 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 a drug rehabilitation facility and cult in Los Angeles and successfully ended his heroin use. After leaving, he made a small comeback, appearing in small roles in feature films and guest-starring in episodes of television shows such as Sanford and Son, Emergency, and The Jeffersons. He appeared in episodes of Maude as a resident of an apartment complex where the title character's husband temporarily lived and on 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 backstage crew member at the Apollo Theatre, wearing his trademark bowler hat. He also lectured around the U.S. on drug abuse awareness. Beard suffered a stroke 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. He is in the Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles, buried with the famous derby he wore all his life.