Ernie 'Sunshine Sammy' Morrison Interview

By Steve Wichrowski

Text by Mike David and Dean McKeown

Sunshine Sammy Morrison, one of the earliest stars in the Our Gang series, talks with Nutty Nut News Network reporter Steve Wichrowski in a 1989 audio interview. His "Sunshine" nickname derived from his broad smile and Sammy's friendly demeanor is evident as he speaks.

He notes that he first started working with Hal Roach even before the Roach studio was built.

Sammy recalls his experiences in vaudeville and cinema with interesting facts such as his work with the first child star in motion pictures.

Finally, he discusses his involvement in The East Side Kids series in the 1940s and his life after leaving show business.

This is an enjoyable interview with one of the most popular characters from the early Roach years.

"The picture business was great. Our Gang? We all got along. No Problems. And when we weren’t working, we were playing. And when we were working, we were playing! Hal Roach, Harold Lloyd, Bob McGowan- they didn’t make it a job, they made it fun. It was a beautiful childhood.”

Ernie' Sunshine Sammy' Morrison

(Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann, ‘The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang’ (revised edition), Three Rivers Press, 1992, page 244)

Ernest Fredric Morrison was born in New Orleans on December 20th, 1912. Ernie was the son of a chef, Joseph Morrison, who moved to Beverly Hills to work for the oil magnate Mr Peter Cucumber…erm….I mean Mr Edward Laurence Doheny. A young Ernie was subsequently spotted by fellow child star Baby Maria Osborne’s father on a visit to Mr Doheny’s home. Mr Osborne took Ernie with them to the studio were Ernie quickly started work. It is said Ernie was given the nickname ‘Sunshine’ due to his warm smile and infectious charm and his father gave him the ‘Sammy’ tag. Thus at the age of five Sunshine Sammy was appearing alongside stars such as Roscoe Arbuckle.

Hal Roach signed Sunshine Sammy on the recommendation of his wife Margaret who had previously worked alongside him. After signing for Hal Roach Sunshine Sammy initially appeared in Harold Lloyd and Snub Pollard films and proved to be a very popular mischief maker. Quickly recognising Ernie’s talent Hal made him the star of his own series of films; however these films didn’t prove to be very successful. Undeterred Roach then built the Our Gang Series around the child actor. Therefore as well as being the first black performer signed to a long term Hollywood contract Ernie was also the first and oldest member of the original Our Gang.

From the Hal Roach Studios Sunshine moved into vaudeville where his father/manager believed he could make more money by singing and dancing. Billing himself as ‘Sunshine Sammy from Our Gang’, Ernie was a show stopper and frequently appeared on the same bill as the up and coming comics Abbott and Costello and Jack Benny. Ernie returned to the movies in 1940 before being signed by Sam Katzman to appear in the East Street Kids series where he stayed for three years.

Ernie served in World War Two as a USO entertainer and after the war he left the movie business taking a job in an aircraft part making plant. In later life Ernie made a return to show business, this time to the small screen making cameo appearances on TV series such as The Jeffersons. In 1987 Ernie was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

Ernie sadly passed away on July 24th, 1989, shortly after this interview was recorded and was interred in Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood California.

The Savannah Tribune, 19th January 1922

From the Internet Movie Database:

- "American Masters: Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius" (1989) TV Episode [Actor .... Himself]

- Passion and Memory (1986) (TV) [Actor .... Himself]

- "Good Times: The TV Commercial (-1.11)" (1974) TV Episode [Actor .... Messenger]

- Greenwich Village (1944) [Actor .... One of the Four Step Brothers] (uncredited)

- Follow the Leader (1944) [Actor .... Scruno in Dream] (as Sammy Morrison) aka "East of the Bowery" - , USA (original script title)

- Ghosts in the Night (1943) [Actor .... Scruno] (as Sammy Morrison) aka "Ghosts on the Loose" - USA (original title)

- Clancy Street Boys (1943) [Actor .... Scruno] (as Sammy Morrison)

- Hit Parade of 1943 (1943) [Actor .... Heaven Air Pilot] (uncredited) aka "Change of Heart" - USA (reissue title)

- Lock Your Doors (1943) [Actor .... Copyboy] (uncredited) aka "The Ape Man" - USA (original title)

- Kid Dynamite (1943) [Actor .... Scruno Jackson] (as Sunshine Sammy)

- 'Neath Brooklyn Bridge (1942) [Actor .... Scruno] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Smart Alecks (1942) [Actor .... Scruno] (as Sammy Morrison) [Soundtrack] (performer: "When You and I Were Young, Maggie" (1866))

- Let's Get Tough! (1942) [Actor .... Scruno] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrisson)

- In This Our Life (1942) [Actor .... Black Man in Jail] (uncredited)

- Mr. Wise Guy (1942) [Actor .... Scruno] (uncredited)

- Spooks Run Wild (1941) [Actor .... Scruno] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Stand and Deliver (1941) [Actor .... Scruno] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison) aka "Bowery Blitzkrieg" - USA (original title)

- Flying Wild (1941) [Actor .... Scruno] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Pride of the Bowery (1940) [Actor .... Scruno] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Fugitive from a Prison Camp (1940) [Actor .... Chuckles]

- That Gang of Mine (1940) [Actor .... Scruno] (as Sunshine Sammy) [Soundtrack] (performer: "All God's Chillun Got Wings")

- Boys of the City (1940) [Actor .... Scruno] (as Sunshine Sammy) aka "The Ghost Creeps" - USA (alternative title)

- I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby (1940) [Actor .... Joe] (as Sammy Morrison)

- Gang War (1940) [Actor .... Gang Member] (uncredited) aka "Crime Street" - USA (reissue title)

- Soft Pedal (1926) [Actor .... Wary] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Don't Butt In (1926) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Between Meals (1926) [Actor .... In Need] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Fast Company (1924) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- Battling Orioles (1924) [Actor .... Our Gang Member] (uncredited)

- It's a Bear (1924/I) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- Rupert of Hee Haw (1924) [Actor .... Boy at Palace Gate] (uncredited) aka "Coleslaw" - USA (alternative title)

- Cradle Robbers (1924) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- Commencement Day (1924) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- Seein' Things (1924) [Actor]

- The Fraidy Cat (1924) [Actor .... Member of the Gang] (uncredited)

- The Buccaneers (1924) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- Big Business (1924) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- Tire Trouble (1924) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- Sunday Calm (1923) [Actor]

- Derby Day (1923/I) [Actor .... Ernie/Sunshine Sammy]

- Stage Fright (1923) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- No Noise (1923) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- July Days (1923) [Actor .... Ernie]

- Lodge Night (1923) [Actor]

- Dogs of War (1923) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- Back Stage (1923) [Actor .... Ernie/Sunshine Sammy]

- Giants vs. Yanks (1923) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- Boys to Board (1923) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- A Pleasant Journey (1923) [Actor .... Ernie]

- The Big Show (1923) [Actor .... Booker T.]

- The Cobbler (1923) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- The Champeen (1923) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- Christmas (1923) [Actor .... Sambo] (as Smiling Sambo)

- A Quiet Street (1922) [Actor .... Booker T.]

- Saturday Morning (1922) [Actor .... Sorghum]

- Young Sherlocks (1922) [Actor .... Ernie]

- Our Gang (1922) [Actor .... Sunshine Sammy]

- Fire Fighters (1922) [Actor .... Booker T. Bacon]

- One Terrible Day (1922) [Actor .... Booker T.]

- The Sleuth (1922/I) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Many Happy Returns (1922) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- The Non-Skid Kid (1922) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Stand Pat (1922) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- High Tide (1922) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Penrod (1922) [Actor .... Herman]

- Rich Man, Poor Man (1922) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Loose Change (1922) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Try, Try Again (1922) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- The Pickaninny (1921) [Actor .... Little Casino] (as Sunshine Sammy)

- Sweet By and By (1921) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- The Chink (1921) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- At the Ringside (1921) [Actor .... The Lookout] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- High Rollers (1921) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Big Game (1921/II) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- No Children (1921) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Rush Orders (1921) [Actor .... Narcissus] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Make It Snappy (1921) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Pinning It On (1921) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Whirl o' the West (1921) [Actor .... Sammy] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Number, Please? (1920) [Actor .... Little Boy with Whisk Broom] (uncredited)

- Park Your Car (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Cash Customers (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Insulting the Sultan (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- When the Wind Blows (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Fellow Citizens (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Doing Time (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Rock-a-Bye Baby (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Get Out and Get Under (1920) [Actor .... Small Boy] (uncredited)

- Go As You Please (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Money to Burn (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Run 'Em Ragged (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Call a Taxi (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- The Home Stretch (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- You're Pinched (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Don't Rock the Boat (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Any Old Port (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- All Dressed Up (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Nearly a Maid (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Drink Hearty (1920) [Actor .... George Washington Tarfoot Lee] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Trotting Through Turkey (1920) [Actor]

- Cracked Wedding Bells (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Find the Girl (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- The Dinner Hour (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Cut the Cards (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Haunted Spooks (1920) [Actor .... Little Boy] (uncredited)

- Raise the Rent (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Waltz Me Around (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Getting His Goat (1920/II) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- All Lit Up (1920) [Actor .... The Kid] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- The Dippy Dentist (1920) [Actor .... Messenger boy] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Why Go Home? (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Red Hot Hottentotts (1920) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- The Floor Below (1919) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Tough Luck (1919) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Giving the Bride Away (1919) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Call for Mr. Caveman (1919) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Start Something (1919) [Actor] (as Sunshine Sammy Morrison)

- Baby Marie's Round-Up (1919) [Actor] (as Little Sambo)

- The Little Diplomat (1919) [Actor .... George Washington Jones Jr.] (as Little Sambo)

- Peggy Does Her Darndest (1919) [Actor .... Snowball Snow]

- Dolly's Vacation (1918) [Actor .... Ebenezer Eczema Abraham White] (as Sambo)

- Winning Grandma (1918) [Actor .... Smiling Sammy] (as Sambo)

- Dolly Does Her Bit (1918) [Actor] (as Sambo)

- Milady o' the Beanstalk (1918) [Actor .... The janitor's son] (as Sambo)

- The Soul of a Child (1916) [Actor] (uncredited)

Ernie "Sunshine" Sammy Morrison, Mickey Daniels, Mary Kornman, Joe Cobb, Jackie Condon, Ernie "Farina" Hoskins

The East Street Kids

Sunshine Sammy with Eddie Boland and Tiny Ward in a Roach production.