On January 21, 1959, Carl Dean Switzer, the actor who is best known for a role he played as a child, dies at age 31 in a fight. He was “Alfalfa” in the Our Gang comedy film series. We watched these old movies or shorts on television in the 1960s and 1970s and always referred to them as the Little Rascals. The incident that ended his life took place in Mission Hills, California and was allegedly over money.
Carl Dean Switzer started in show business with the production company, Hal Roach Studios. He had been born August 7, 1927 and spent his early years entertaining people with his singing in his hometown of Paris, Illinois. On a trip to California to visit relatives, Switzer’s mother took Carl and his brother to the Hal Roach Studios, a film and television production company that launched the careers of comedy legends like Laurel and Hardy. The Switzer brothers were signed by Hal Roach and Carl was cast as Alfalfa in the Our Gang series, which Roach began producing as silent films in the early 1920s.
Our Gang (The Little Rascals) was about the many adventures of a ragtag group of children. Along with Alfalfa, other popular characters included Spanky, Buckwheat and Darla. Our Gang was considered groundbreaking in that it featured white and black child actors interacting equally. Switzer played Alfalfa from the mid-1930s to the early 1940s. In 1955, the Our Gang films were turned into a hugely popular TV series called The Little Rascals; however, Switzer never received any royalties from the show.
After Our Gang, Switzer found small roles in movies and on television, but his most successful days in Hollywood were behind him. You can read his entire filmography on IMDB here. He made money working odd jobs, including stints as a hunting guide and bartender, and had several run-ins with the police.
On January 21, 1959, Switzer and a friend went to the Mission Hills home of Moses “Bud” Stiltz, to collect a debt Switzer believed he was owed. A fight broke out, during which Stiltz shot and killed Switzer. A jury later ruled the incident justifiable homicide. You can read more background about the incident here.
You can read more about what happened to other Our Gang stars here.
I’ll end my post with what I believe to be his most famous performance.