These days, the Our Gang shorts are frowned upon in part because the actions of the young black characters can tend toward stereotype. In their day, people were concerned that the shorts showed black kids and white kids playing together at all. It’s an established pattern; what was once progressive no longer is because progressive progresses. Unfortunately, people’s careers often fall into that gap, and they are forgotten themselves, only to be brought back in cameo in later decades by people who recognize the quality of the performances.
Rene Beard is one of fourteen children who lived in East LA, children of the founding pastor of the Beloved Church of God in Christ. His older brother was “Stymie” of the series. When Stymie aged out, Rene was introduced. He did considerably fewer of the comedies than his older brother, but then the Our Gang comedies were on their way out. Beard spent a few more years in Hollywood, including making a movie with Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge, and then left the industry.
What did he do then? I can’t find out. He’s still alive, so I suppose in theory it’s possible to track him down and ask him, but I did not. He doesn’t have his own Wikipedia page. There’s a little information about him on his brother’s, but only a little. His IMDb page is scanty. Searching him on Google brings up a lot of pages that repeat that scanty information and a woman named Renee who is a medical sociologist studying aging. Which we can all agree is a worthwhile profession but is not the same as our actor. But what with one thing or another, decades went by.
His first returning role to the industry was in Diggstown in 1992, nearly a full forty years since his one episode of Captain Midnight. He then did five more uncredited cameos in two years, ranging from Poetic Justice to Pulp Fiction to North. And then he vanished from film again. Why? Again, I don’t know. He’s not a young man, as he will turn 83 later this year, but why that brief return to film and then a continued disappearance? These are questions that, if anyone else has asked, they don’t appear to have put on the web anywhere easy to find.
And, naturally, I did not write myself a note about why he’s on the schedule. It’s entirely possibly I found out what he did in those years and felt it was worth noting and then couldn’t find it now I come to write about it. That happens. Still, his handful of years as a child actor are worth remembering, even if the only one of them I’m certain I’ve seen is Pinky. Apparently his older brother was helping to support the family with his salary, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Rene was as well. Fourteen kids is a lot on a minister’s salary. And whatever he did in the intervening years, he clearly survived them.