Alfalfa, the lovable little kid with the unfortunate cows’lick (that weird hair thing) hit his stride as a kid. He and his peers were members of the Little Rascals brat pack (the originals). When Our Gang comedy series was cancelled, it was all downhill from there. Sad what happens to showbiz children isn’t it? Carl Switzer’s (his real name) early stardom quite ruined his entire life. His childhood was adventuresome but in later years took a downward spiral.
The Switzers, like most families of the era, were victims of the Great Depression. Money was short, and Fred Switzer had difficulty finding work because of an accident that left him with only one foot. The Switzers often came up with innovative ways to make ends meet, which included having Harold, Carl’s brother and Carl perform popular songs at local agricultural fairs. In 1934, the Switzers traveled to California to visit with family members. The family took in the sights and wound up at Hal Roach Studios, where they paid a visit to the studio cafeteria. Eight-year-old Harold and six-year-old Carl Switzer jumped up on one of the tables and began singing. Wouldn’t you know old Roach happened to be in the cafeteria himself. Their act caught his attention and the boys were offered a role in an episode of Our Gang. I guess some careers are just made that way. Following his first episode, the show directors bestowed the name “Alfalfa” upon Carl. Harold also remained on the show, playing the part of “Deadpan” or “Slim,” but he was eventually relegated to occasional appearances. Silly fool. Hal Roach was forced to rename his series The Little Rascals because MGM owned the Our Gang name after the studio took over the series in 1938. Before running it on television the renamed series had their original titles and credits removed and replaced with updated ones, with The Little Rascals printed on all of them. Much cuter than Our Gang if you ask me. Over the next six years, Carl Switzer acted in more than 60 episodes of Our Gang. He also appeared in a dozen or so unrelated films before leaving the series in 1940, at the age of 13. Switzer then appeared in several films. Most notable were his roles in It’s A Wonderful Life and Going My Way. Slick kid. Almost as slick as his alfalfa sprout hairdo. As Carl Switzer got older his money began to dwindle. Film contracts in the 1930s and ’40s were not generous and he wasn’t entitled to the residuals for his many appearances as the character Alfalfa. Not fair. Switzer never saw any of the millions the Our Gang series earned from endless syndication. In between acting jobs, he found work as a bartender, dog trainer and fishing and hunting guide. What a humiliation.
During 1954, Switzer married a woman named Dian Collingwood. The couple had one child together, a boy, whose name remains well guarded to this day. Few details are known about the couple but the marriage quickly came to an end and the couple divorced within four months. Not exactly a fairytale. Switzer’s luck did not get better with time. He had difficulty securing meaningful acting jobs. In January 1958, some jerk shot poor Switzer in the arm while he was getting into his car. The assailant was never identified. Several months later Switzer was arrested in Sequoia National Forest for chopping down 15 pine trees. I guess that was his brief and , as usual, foray into the lumber industry.
By the end of 1958, things were beginning to look up. Switzer was given a supporting role in the film The Defiant Ones (man, was that fitting). The film was not due to release until the following year and Switzer would have to continue earning a living. During January 1959, Switzer borrowed a hunting dog from a friend, Moses ‘Bud’ Stiltz, for a hunting expedition. However, the damned dog ran off. Switzer couldn’t get a break. He posted a reward of $35 dollars for the animal’s return and a man called to claim the money. The man delivered the dog to the tavern where Stiltz was tending bar. Switzer paid him the reward money and bought the man several drinks, which in the end totaled $15. That was big money in the day, more than Switzer made in a week. Idiot. Switzer began having financial problems. No dope. He was not receiving checks for his last film and he was broke. As so many former child stars do, he began drinking heavily and eventually decided to confront Stiltz and demand he pay him the money for recovering the lost dog. Either heavy drinking or faulty logic prevented Switzer from accepting that he was solely at fault in the dog’s running away. Seriously.
On the night of January 21, 1959, Carl and a friend, Jack Piott, went to Stiltz’s girlfriend’s home in San Fernando Valley, California. Stiltz refused to pay and an argument ensued. In the end, Switzer lay dying on the floor from a single gunshot wound. One version of events states that Stiltz claimed, “Let me in.” Stiltz claimed Switzer demanded, “or I’ll kick in the door.” Stiltz opened the door and Switzer and Piott stepped inside. “I want that 50 bucks you owe me now, and I mean now,” Switzer told him. How rude. Stiltz said he refused to pay and a violent argument ensued, during which Piott hit him over the head with a glass-domed clock. Stiltz, who was bloodied and had a blackened left eye from the impact of the clock, said he grabbed a .38-caliber revolver from a dresser drawer and Switzer made a lunge for it. Naturally Stiltz claimed the “gun went off“. On its own? Why is it that guilty people always say that? I mean, get original at least. Switzer was pronounced DOE at hospital.
Tommy Bond (Butch), hung out with Switzer on a regular basis for many years. “He had a violent temper,” Bond said. “But if he liked you, he loved you, and if he disliked you, he really hated you. Alfie and I were very close. I could calm him down when he blew up.” Regarding his death, however, Bond had this to say about his old friend: “I believe, like his family did, that he was unarmed. He never carried weapons. He would use his fists, because he was an old country boy, but even when we went coon hunting, I never knew him to carry a weapon.”
George McFarland (Spanky), had little to say, but did feel that Switzer’s problems were a result of his upbringing. “Alfalfa just didn’t have any direction from his parents,” McFarland said. “They were not educated people, and he really didn’t have a strong understanding of right and wrong.” Sure, blame Mom and Dad. Everyone does.
“The next time it was an arrogant director harping on him. Alfalfa urinated on the lights. They had to open the doors of the stage and run the big fans through there the rest of the day to get the smell out. He could be a devil.” Of course he could and it had nothing to do with poor Mom and Dad. He was a brat, a child star, a product of the Hollywood studio. While most of Switzer’s former cast members had their own mischievous stories to relate about him, none felt he deserved to die and the majority doubted he would have pulled a knife on anyone. Stiltz was called to testify about Switzer’s murder before a coroner’s jury. Stiltz broke into tears while on the stand. He said he knew Switzer for about a year and a half and that the two men had worked together on occasion. Stiltz said Switzer also wanted him to cover the cost of drinks he bought for the man who found the dog. Stiltz then went on to describe the scuffle and then summed up his testimony with a description of the shooting. “Alfie charged me with a jackknife,” he explained. “I was forced to shoot.” I dare say I don’t know about believing that story but I do believe Stiltz was truly remorseful for shooting Switzer.
Following Stiltz’s testimony, the coroner’s jury ruled Carl Switzer’s death a justifiable homicide and all charges were dismissed. Stiltz was a free man. In yet another twist, Switzer’s bad luck seemed to follow him to the grave. His death occurred on the same day as that of famed Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille, so most coverage was given to DeMille’s passing and Switzer was only vaguely mentioned. Following his funeral, Switzer was buried at Hollywood Memorial Park. His tombstone bears his name, a drawing of a dog, (nasty) two Masonic symbols and the inscription: “Beloved father, son and brother.” While Carl Switzer certainly had his own share of bad luck, problems plagued the cast of Our Gang.
Was there a curse that followed the Little Rascals?Many suffered problems with alcohol, drugs, arrests and severe health problems. Meh, that’s Hollywood child stars as grown-ups for you. There aren’t too many Jody Fosters on the silver screen. Norman “Chubby” Chaney died at the age of 21 of an ailment at his lowest weight, 110 lbs. Bobby “Wheezer” Hutchins died at the age of 20 during a training exercise, trying to land a North American Texan, at Mercey Army Airfield. Billy “Froggy” Laughlin was the youngest Rascal to die at the age of 16 when a bus hit him while he was delivering newspapers. Clifton “Bonedust” Young died at the age of 33 in a hotel fire he started with a lit cigarette as he slept. Carl’s brother Harold committed suicide at the age of 42, after killing a customer over a dispute involving his business Speed Queen Company Franchise. Scott Hastings “Scotty” Beckett died at the age of 38 after a serious beating. Oddly, it is speculated that he too committed suicide. Kendall McCormas “Breezy Brisbane” committed suicide at age 64. Mickey Daniels died of liver disease at55. Matthew ‘Stymie” Bear led a life of drugs and crime. He died of a stroke at 56. Pete the Pup was allegedly known to have been poisoned by an unknown stranger. William Buckwheat Thomas died of a heart attack at age 49. Darla Hood contracted meningitis and died at the age of 47. Carl is the only known member of Our Gang to have been murdered in a dispute over 50 bucks.
Oh, Carl. You rascal.