Behind the scenes: Capt. Sunshine’s Rainbow Gang

“Captain Sunshine’s Smile-Time Rainbow-Hour” was among the top-rated children’s programs for nearly a decade, and an entire generation of children delighted to the sunday-morning antics of Captain Sunshine and his ever-dancing “Rainbow Gang.” However, behind the smiles, the laughter, and the drugs… was a seedy underbelly of syndicated crime, moral depravity, and drugs.

What few realize, even to this day, is that Dewdrop, Twinkle-Bootys, Angel-O-Death and Teddy, the so-called “rainbow gang,” were in fact actual gang members of the ruthless SoCo Stabtackle-Squad. Watching the old reruns with this in mind, the gang undertones become obvious. “The Smile Sign,” the hand gesture used to greet friends in the series appears to be identical to the ‘flashing’ of a known west-coast gang sign. Additionally, cast members frequently made strange references in Ebonics to respect, allegiances and ‘promiscuous women’. Even more conspicuous, it is now obvious that the “Smile-Time Pistol” was an actual colt .45, and the “Rainbow-Gang Jolly-Jump-In”, where new members were ruthlessly beaten prior to entry into the “Funderful Smile Society,” were actual gang initiations. Several episodes featured visits from “HateBone da Bag-Man,” the show’s resident mail-man, who routinely delivered cocaine, pcp and angel dust. Even Smiley-Time Fortress was later determined to be located in an abandoned warehouse in the condemned St. Walburton shipyard 15 miles south of central LA.

Despite these subtle warning signs, the show remained enormously popular with children, and their parents happily shelled-out an estimated sixty-million dollars a year on Capt. Sunshine merchandising. Clothing, toys, videos, lunchboxes and 40oz Malt Liquor. Parents took their children to stand in line for hours in hopes of getting them on the show. Auditions were held regularly in parking garages all over Lower Los Angeles. Children were selected for the show based on their ability to blend in with a crowd, their ability to travel long distances wearing back-packs weighted with sandbags, and their ability to keep their cool when confronted with casting directors dressed as inquisitive police officers.

Few parents realized then the danger they were subjecting their children to. Most children who were cast ended up as coke-mules, and many met tragic deaths in the service of Capt. Sunshine. Hindsight is 20/20, of course. Today it is easy to recognize the show as unapologetic, televised gang-activity. Watching now, one realizes that there are no sets, no costumes, no story-lines, and no scripted dialog or music. In fact, if one watches very carefully these days, they will notice that nobody on the show actually mentions the words “Sunshine,” “Rainbow,” or even “Smile” in any of the 105 episodes that aired between 1982 and 1991. Looking back now, it’s hard to imagine just what the f*** people were thinking.

“I think we all just wanted to believe.” Rev. Timothy Cracken told SLAG magazine in 1995. “I think that deep down, all of us just wants to believe in a place where smiles are currency, and rainbows light our path to happiness.”


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