Sunday, February 15, 2009

Shirley Jean Rickert, RIP

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Shirley Jean Rickert, who starred in five "Our Gang" comedies as a child and later became a burlesque performer, has died at the age of 82.

Rickert appeared in the "Our Gang" films in 1931 with Jackie Cooper and other pre-Spanky and Alfalfa characters, playing a coquettish, Mae West-type character with a short blond bob. She later played Tomboy Taylor in five Mickey McGuire comedies alongside Mickey Rooney in 1933 and 1934.

Rickert - who later went by her married name, Measures - died Friday [Feb. 6] at a nursing home in Saratoga Springs after a long illness, said her daughter, Melody Kennedy.

She had roles in several other films, including "Neath Arizona Skies" with John Wayne and "Singing in the Rain" with Gene Kelly. After her movie career Rickert worked in burlesque in the 1950s as "Gilda and Her Crowning Glory," named for her long blond hair. As Gilda, she performed in theaters and nightclubs across the United States and Canada.

She left burlesque in 1959, going on to work a variety of jobs, including bartender, secretary and sales director for a regional theater in Springfield, Mass. In the mid-70s she launched a career as a traveling industrial hardware saleswoman.

"I walk in, and they say, 'Not another nuts and bolts salesman,'" Rickert told The Associated Press in 1993. "And then I open my sales folder and show them an 8-by-10 of me in 'Our Gang.' I say, 'You grew up with me.' Then they do a 360."

She remained active late in life, performing in local theater productions, helping maintain a Web site for her fans and even doing occasional appearances at film festivals and conventions.

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