1/21/1959 - Fame and then tragedy, the short life (only 31 at the time of his demise) of Carl Dean Switzer comes to a bloody end in Mission Hills, California, over an argument about $50. So someone named Switzer died 56 years ago, why should you care about that? The answer is that Switzer might have entertained you many times when you were young, for once upon a time, Switzer was known as Our Gang's (renamed the Little Rascals for TV) beloved cowlick goofus, Alfalfa.
On a Hollywood tour with his brother and parents while visiting relatives in California, Switzer is discovered at the tender age of only six when he starts an impromptu singing performance while having lunch in the studio of comedy producer Hal Roach (on hand for the show). Impressed, the producer signs the child (and his older brother Harold) to a contract and in less than a year, Switzer as Alfalfa, is one of the stars of the long running series. Five years of money and fame, the role comes to an end in 1940 when Switzer is only 12-years-old (full of himself, he is known for having a huge ego, an inclination for poorly received pranks, and a very bad temper).
Spanky, Darla, and Alfalfa
And then the scramble for finding work, acting or otherwise, begins.
Once Upon A Time
Augmenting the handful of acting roles that come his way (he is the Donna Reed scorned teenager that opens the floor over the hidden pool in It's A Wonderful Life, the Army brother of the two sisters in White Christmas, and appears very briefly in the Ten Commandments as a Hebrew slave), to make ends meet, Switzer as an adult also puts money in his pocket by trying his hand at farming, bar tending (and sampling the stock), breeding and training hunting dogs, and guiding hunting and fishing expeditions for Hollywood celebrities (among his clients are Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Henry Fonda, and James Stewart). And he also manages to get himself into trouble ... his marriage to the heiress of a grain elevator empire, Diantha Collingwood, ends in 1957 after only three years (and one child), getting into his car outside a Studio City bar he is mysteriously shot in the upper right arm (the gunman is never caught) in 1958, and he is sentenced to one year of probation and fined $225 for cutting down 15 pine trees in the Sequoia national Forest.
The Adult Version
It all ends in 1959!
Insanity piled on insanity, Switzer's life finally unravels when he agrees to train a dog for Moses Samuel "Bud" Stiltz. The pooch is lost chasing a bear during a training session with Switzer, who then offers a $35 reward if anyone can find the dog. Days later the dog is indeed found and returned ... with Switzer giving the canine's savior the promised monetary reward, along with $15 in thank you drinks at a nearby bar ... $50 that Switzer stupidly believes should be payed back to him by Stiltz, though the dog was totally his responsibility during its hunting lessons. Drunk and short on funds, several days later, with his friend, 37-year-old still unit photographer Jack Piott, Switzer goes to Stiltz's home for his money ... what he receives instead are a bullet to his groin and a DOA ambulance ride.
Justifiable homicide or murder, in Stiltz's version of the killing, Stiltz defends himself when Switzer comes at him with a switch blade knife and screams, "I'm going to kill you!" Piott's take on the shooting is that Stiltz gets upset when the men argue, goes in his room and arms himself, then shoots an unarmed Switzer (and is about to kill Piott too, stopped only by the arrival of paramedics and police on the scene). And in the tale Stiltz's stepson, Tom Corrigan, finally tells in 2001, pissed that he has been hit over the head with glass-domed clock during the money dispute, Stiltz grabs a pistol from his room and shots Switzer as the actor is walking out the front door (he also verifies that killing threats were then made to Piott). Whatever happened (an unopened pen knife is found under Switzer's body), a coroner's jury finds the killing justified and Stiltz walks away from the shooting without even a slap to his wrists.
Rest In Peace
Adios Alfalfa, Switzer is buried at Hollywood Memorial Park, but lives on in the enjoyment that is still received by new generations discovering the comedic antics of Our Gang.
An Our Gang that also suffered much of the same bad luck (curse?) that seemed to have plagued Switzer during his brief life:
*Pete the Pup ... poisoned to death by an unknown assailant
*Wheezer (Robert Hutchins) ... dead at the age 19 in an airplane crash
*Froggy (William Robert Laughlin) ... died at the age of 16 in a bicycle accident
*Bonedust (Robert H. Young) ... dies in the hotel fire he starts by smoking in bed in 1951
*Dorothy (Dorothy Dandridge) ... commits suicide after going bankrupt due to an investment scheme gone wrong in 1965
*Slim (Harold Switzer) ... killed in 1967 like his brother after getting into a money dispute
*Scotty (Scotty Beckett) ... dies at the age of 38 in a California nursing home after being savagely beaten two days before ... the slugger is never found
*Darla (Darla Hood) ... under "suspicious circumstances" that are never identified, dies of hepatitis in 1979
*Breezy (Kendall McComas) ... forced to retire from his position at the China Lake U.S. Naval Weapons Center, commits suicide on his 65th birthday
*Mickey (Robert Blake) ... found not guilty of the murder of his wife, found guilty by a civil jury of being responsible for the death
*Waldo (Darwood Kaye) ... killed while walking on the sidewalk by a hit-and-run driver
*Buckwheat (Billie Thomas) ... dead of a heart attack at the age of 49
*Jay R (Jay R. Smith) ... stabbed to death and left in the desert by a homeless man he had befriended
*Chubby (Norman Chaney) ... dies of a glandular disease at the age of 21
*Speck (Donald Haines) ... killed in action at the age of 23 in North Africa during WWII
*Stymie (Matthew Beard, Jr.) ... after kicking heroin, dies at the age of 56 after suffering a stroke, falling down a flight of stairs that injury his head, and then going to the hospital for his wounds and catching a fatal case of pneumonia