Seattle child radio star Patsy Britten's contract to join Hollywood's Our Gang rascals is reported by The Seattle Times on September 20, 1931.

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 12/23/2014
  • Essay 10978
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On September 20, 1931, her hometown newspaper, The Seattle Times, reports that seven-year-old radio and stage star Patsy Britten (1923-2013) has earned a contract to join the famous Our Gang "Little Rascals" crew to film the next movie in the comedy series. Britten, living temporarily in Hollywood, will start filming her first Our Gang movie days later, and over the next few months will act in two more. Returning to Seattle she will continue performing for a decade before retiring from showbiz while still a teenager.

Talented Tyke 

Patsy Britten, a talented tyke from Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood, made her radio debut singing nursery rhymes on KOMO before she was two years old. Within a few years she had moved over to KFOA and then, when that station changed call letters, became known as the "Sweetheart of KOL" ("She's Envy of Many…"). Her local notoriety also led to modeling jobs at the Rhodes and Bon Marche department stores in downtown Seattle. An entertainment industry prodigy, Britten was trained in dance by Mortimer Merrick's Merrick Dance Studio, on piano by Edna Howard, and later on accordion by Frank Iacolucci.

In time she would perform on most all of Seattle's premier stages including the Orpheum Theater, Pantages/Palomar, Metropolitan Theatre, Music Hall, the Coliseum, and Paramount Theatre. Coming up during the waning years of the vaudeville era, Britten appeared on many multi-act shows, sharing the stage with plenty of the Northwest's top talents including the Vic Meyers Orchestra and Seattle's hit songwriter Harold Weeks (1893-1967).

All this exposure led to her being discovered by Hollywood in 1931. At the time famed producer Hal Roach (1892-1992) was looking for young talents to bring aboard his mega-successful long-running comedy short-film series, Our Gang. Jessie Danz, wife of a Seattle theater magnate, had spotted Britten at a Rhodes store event and later alerted an MGM manager who recruited Britten into the "gang."

Hollywood and Beyond 

Signed contract in hand, Britten and her mother Lois M. Britten headed to California by passenger steamship. Upon arrival they rented a home, Patsy joined the Actors' Equity union, was introduced to her young Our Gang co-stars (the Little Rascals), and was prepped with her comedic speaking lines. On Sunday, September 20, 1931, The Seattle Times reported on the young star's contract, noting that she would start her film work on September 28. That was for what would be Britten's first of three Our Gang films, 1932's Readin' and Writin.' On the big silver screen the youngster was, as in real life, just about too cute for words.

That December mother and daughter returned home to Seattle and the little star carried on performing around town. But Hollywood wanted more of Britten, and the duo soon traveled back to California, this time by train. Over the next few months two additional films were produced -- Free Eats and Choo-Choo! -- both also released in 1932. Along the way Britten appeared on the prestigious Lux Radio Theater live shows and on Al Jolson's radio program. The Brittens returned to Seattle, where Patsy enrolled in school, while continuing years of touring and performing in theaters in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and California.

But as time went on Britten grew tired of the showbiz lifestyle. She enrolled at Queen Anne High School, then attended the University of Washington, served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1946, got married, had children, was widowed, and married again. Finally, after many years of relative anonymity, she resurfaced publicly in Tacoma on July 21, 2000, participating in a convention sponsored by an organization of old-time-movie fans, the Sons of the Desert, as she did again in 2001 at another local convention, this one of the Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound.

Sources: Patsy Britten, "Dear Children," handwritten manuscript dated December 15, 1988, copy in possession of Peter Blecha, Seattle, Washington; "She's Envy of Many: Six-Year-Old Joins Films -- Patsy Britten, Youthful Radio Singer, Signs Contract with Hal Roach's 'Gang,'" The Seattle Times, September 20, 1931, p. 9; Bill Parker, "Pat 'Patsy Britten' Bell," Aircheck newsletter, November 2001, pp.1, 11; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Britten, Patsy (1923-2013)" (by Peter Blecha), http:/ (accessed December 23, 2014).

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