Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer
1927 - 1959

Hollywood Forever

Though he was perhaps the best known of the young stars of the "Our Gang" comedy series, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer had trouble finding work after the series ended, and was shot to death during an argument over $50 when he was 31.

Switzer first appeared in the "Our Gang" comedies in 1935, when he was only 7 years old, and appeared in nearly 75 of the comedy shorts over the next five years. Switzer was the tall, skinny, freckle-faced kid with the uncontrollable cowlick, and equally uncontrollable singing voice. One of Alfalfa's most memorable "Our Gang" performances was his spectacularly off-key rendition of "I'm in the Mood for Love" in "The Pitch Singer" (1936).

After his "Our Gang" days ended in 1940, Switzer appeared in small, often uncredited parts in nearly 50 films, including "My Favorite Blonde" (1942), "The Human Comedy" (1943), "Going My Way" (1944), "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), "A Letter to Three Wives" (1946), "State of the Union" (1948), "Pat and Mike" (1952) and "The Defiant Ones" (1958). Switzer even played a slave in Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" (1956).

When the "Our Gang" shorts were broadcast on television, beginning in the 1950s as "The Little Rascals," Switzer and the rest of the performers gained fame with a new generation of fans, but didn't enjoy any financial benefits. Their contracts didn't include any consideration of residuals for the re-broadcast of their films on television.

Switzer had several run-ins with the law during the 1950s. He was once arrested for cutting down trees in Sequoia National Forest and, in 1958, he was shot by an unknown assailant in front of a bar in the San Fernando Valley.

Between acting jobs, Switzer worked as a bartender and part-time hunting guide, where his customers included Roy Rogers and Henry Fonda, who attempted to help Switzer by finding small parts for him in films. Before one of his hunting expeditions, Switzer borrowed a hunting dog from a friend, Moses "Bud" Stiltz. The dog ran away, and Switzer offered a $35 reward for its return. A few days later, a man found the dog, and brought it to the bar where Switzer worked to claim the reward, which Switzer paid him, along with giving him $15 worth of free drinks. Several days later, after a night of drinking, Switzer decided that Stiltz owed him the $50 he had spent to get the dog back, so he went to Stiltz' home in Mission Hills to retrieve the money.

Stiltz and Switzer got into a heated argument. Stiltz claimed Switzer hit him on the head with a large clock, then pulled a knife on him. Stiltz grabbed a gun, and shot Switzer in the stomach. He died on the way to the hospital, at the age of 31. A coroner's inquest ruled that the shooting was justifiable homicide. Even in death, Switzer had unfortunate timing. He had the bad luck of dying the same day as legendary director Cecil B. DeMille, and the primary news coverage the next day concerned DeMille's passing.

There is some question about the significance of the dog on Switzer's grave stone. Though many "Our Gang" fans insist it's supposed to be Petey, the dog who appeared in the comedies, it is more likely a hunting dog, to signify Switzer's long-time interest in hunting.

Switzer was born Aug. 7, 1927 (some sources say 1928) in Paris, IL. He died Jan. 21, 1959, in Mission Hills, CA.

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