Reel Reviews

The Death of Our Gang's Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer

Carl "Alfalfa" SwtzerOur Gang's Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer Killed over $50 and a Hunting Dog

Carl Switzer was born in Paris, Illinois in 1927. He would later become known as "Alfalfa", a character he played on the Hal Roach produced series of film shorts called Our Gang, known later in syndication as The Little Rascals. He died on January 21, 1959, the victim of a killer's bullet as he and another man argued over a lost hunting dog.

In 1935 Switzer was added to the already successful Our Gang comedy series when he was only seven years old. Although he appeared in nearly 75 of the comedy shorts over the next five years, he didn't receive a single dime from the show. At the time Our Gang was filmed, television was still in its infancy, and many considered it to be a temporary novelty. No one even considered the concept of royalties and syndication. As a result, everyone knew Switzer, but he never profited from his fame.

Switzer was the tall, skinny, freckle-faced kid with the uncontrollable cow-lick and the 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 which appeared in the episode The Pitch Singer in 1936.

Carl "Alfalfa" SwitzerAfter Our Gang

As he grew older, Switzer found himself in a series of odd jobs: tour guide, shoeshine boy, bartender, to name a few. But he still had to make a living while he stayed involved in Hollywood. After his Our Gang days ended in 1940, Switzer appeared (often uncredited) in small parts in nearly sixty films, including My Favorite Blonde (1942), The Human Comedy (1943), Going My Way (1944), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), State of the Union (1948), Pat and Mike (1952). Switzer even played a slave in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956).

Legal Troubles

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 and injured by an unknown assailant in front of a bar in the San Fernando Valley.

But by 1958, Switzer seemed to be back on the Hollywood fast track, having landed a plum comic relief role in Stanley Kramer's, The Defiant Ones. But until its release, he still needed to earn a living.

Carl "Alfalfa" SwitzerTending Bar and Hunting Bear

Between acting jobs, Switzer worked as a bartender, and because the pursuit never really worked out, he masterminded a part-time scheme as a bear hunting guide. His customers included, among others, Roy Rogers and Henry Fonda. Before one particular hunting expedition, Switzer borrowed a hunting dog from a friend, Moses "Bud" Stiltz. Unfortunately, the dog ran away during the hunting trip, urging Switzer to put out a $50 reward for its return. A few days later, a man found the dog, and brought it to the bar where Switzer worked. Switzer paid the man the fifty dollar reward and threw in $15 worth of free drinks. Several days later, after a night of drinking, Switzer concocted the booze-fueled idea that Stiltz (the owner of the dog) owed him the $50 he had spent to get the dog back. Figure that logic!

Drunk Knocking

On January 21, 1959, a drunken Switzer and his pal, Jack Piott headed over to Stiltz's home in Mission Hills to get his money. They banged on the front door. When the door opened, Switzer flashed a fake police badge and loudly yelled through the open door at Stiltz to let him in.

Things Go Horribly Wrong

Once inside, Stiltz and Switzer became involved into a heated argument. Switzer informed Stiltz that he wanted the owner of the dog to pay him the 50 bucks he spent on reward money. Stiltz told him he was "crazy" and to get the hell out of his house at which point all massive holy hell apparently broke loose. Stiltz claims Switzer then hit him over the head with a large lamp (some say it was clock), causing Stiltz to retreat to his bedroom, battered and bleeding from a cut over the eye.

Never Bring A Knife to a Gun Fight

Stiltz emerged from the room with a pistol, which Switzer immediately grabbed out of Stiltz's hand. A shot was fired but neither man was hit. The gunshot caused Stiltz's fiancee and her three children (who were huddled with her in the bedroom) to flee to a neighbor's house. Switzer then forced Stiltz into a closet and shut the door. Even though Stiltz had gotten his hands on the gun, Switzer drew a hunting knife on Stiltz and yelled that he was going to kill him. He charged the man and Stiltz fired the gun. Swizter was hit in the abdomen. He died on the way to the hospital.

Note: During the trial it was revealed that the hunting knife was actually a jacknife and it was found under his body with no blade exposed by the crime scene investigators.

Hollywood Memorial ParkHollywood Memorial Park

Carl was buried at Hollywood Memorial Park. Other celebrities buried there are Mel Blanc, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Rudolph Valentino. His marker bears his name, a profile drawing of Petey (the Our Gang dog), two Masonic symbols and the inscription "Beloved father, son and brother".

Justifiable Homicide?

At the trial, Bud Stiltz broke into tears while reciting the facts of the case. A coroner's inquest lead the jury to rule that the shooting was justifiable homicide. When Carl Switzer's father died in 1960, he was buried next to Alfalfa - the boy who couldn't take it when Hollywood turned its back on him.

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

Even More Bad Luck

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. You be the judge.


More Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer Stuff:

 Carl Switzer's grave marker
Carl Switzer's grave marker

 

Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer was killed in this Mission Hills home
Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer was killed in this Mission Hills home of famous cowboy star "Crash" Corrigan's ex-wife.

 

Map showing location of 10400 Columbus Avenue, Mission Hills, California where Carl Switzer was killed. (click image for interactive map)
Map showing location of 10400 Columbus Avenue, Mission Hills, California where Carl Switzer was killed. (click image for interactive map)

 

The House as it appears today at 10400 Columbus Avenue in Mission Hills, California.
The House as it appears today at 10400 Columbus Avenue in Mission Hills, California.

 

 Aerial photo showing the house at 10400 Columbus Avenue, where Carl Switzer was killed.
Aerial photo showing the house at 10400 Columbus Avenue, where Carl Switzer was killed.

 

Former child actor Carl Switzer.
Former child actor Carl Switzer.

 

The following is from TVparty.com reporting that Switzer had many enemies.

"Alfalfa" abused a lot of people during the filming of the Our Gang!/Little Rascals Comedies at The Hal Roach Studios and later at The MGM Studios. Before they died, "Spanky McFarland" and Darla Hood told me of the cruel pranks that "Alfalfa" played on them.

"Alfie" put sharp fish hooks in "Spanky's" back pants pockets and poor "Spanky" had to have stitches placed on his tush.

"Alfie" put an open switchblade knife in his pocket and tricked Darla into putting her hand into his pocket on the pretense that he had a ring for her from a crackerjack box. She almost lost her fingers.

According to a story on E! Entertainment "Mysteries and Scandals", some of the surviving "LR Kids": Rev. Waldo Kaye, Jerry Tucker, Tommy (Butch) Bond and Sidney (Woim) Kibrick stated that "Alfie" would not pay attention to his school lessons at Mrs. Fern Carter's class. He'd be kept after school and keep everyone waiting for him on the set of the film(s).

Spanky told me of "Alfie's" worst and most stupidly dangerous stunt. When Our Gang was filming a scene for the short film comedy "The Big Premiere" at MGM, the scene was the kids showing their own movie on a process screen. The set up of the rear projection system and the lights (a thousand watts per bulb) was taking a long time to set up. "Alfie" decided to use his time by going behind the screen and peeing on the bulbs. This is dangerous. For even spitting on those bulbs is tantamount to setting off series of bombs. The lights exploded and filled the studio with a hideous stench. Everyone was taken off the set, as the crew and the director had to replace the bulbs and clean up the mess that "Alfalfa" had created that day.

Because of his obnoxious behavior, the authorities and the press probably decided not to tell the truth about "Alfalfa's" death as a form of revenge for this former movie kid actor's cruel and stupid pranks that he played on everyone. Even though he may have died tragically?

As is the case with almost any Hollywood murder, there is a conspiracy theory founded by LA Scandals that Switzer was actually killed during a drug deal gone awry. You can read about the theory on TVparty.com's web site.


Is there an OUR GANG Curse?
There has long been speculation of the existence of a curse on those involved with the Our Gang television program that caused undue hardship and even death under suspicious or unusual circumstances. Following are some of the more curious events that raise speculation. But you be the judge:

Pete the Pup (? 1930) - An unknown assailant poisoned the original Pete.

Robert Hutchins "Wheezer" - (3/29/25 - 3/17/45) - Died in an airplane accident at the age of 19.

William Robert Laughlin "Froggy" - (7/05/32 - 8/31/48) - Died in a bicycle accident at the age of 16.

Robert H. Young "Bonedust" (9/15/17 - 9/10/51) - Died in a hotel fire, which started when he fell asleep smoking in bed.

Harold Switzer "Deadpan" or "Slim" - (1/16/25 - 4/14/67) As was the case with his brother, Harold was also killed following a dispute with another man.

Scotty Beckett "Scotty" - (10/04/29 - 5/10/68) Died in a Hollywood nursing home after being severely beaten two days prior to his admittance. A bottle of pills and a note were found at the scene, however the coroner never determined the exact cause of death. He was just 38 years old.

Darla Hood "Darla" - (11/08/31 - 6/13/79) - Hospitalized for hepatitis in 1979, she soon died under what was later ruled to be "suspicious circumstances."

Kendall McComas "Breezy Brisbane" - (10/29/16 - 10/15/81) - Two weeks before his 65th birthday and apparent forced retirement from the U.S. Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, California, he committed suicide.

Robert Blake "Mickey" - (9/18/33 - present) - On April 18, 2002, he was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakely.

Darwood Kaye "Waldo" - (9/08/29 - 5/15/2002) - Killed by a hit and run driver while walking on the sidewalk.

Jay R. Smith "Jay R" - (8/29/15 - 10/05/2002) - Stabbed to death and left in the desert by a homeless man he had befriended.


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