Saturday, April 18, 2020

A Rascal to the End

Carl Dean Switzer, aka Alfalfa, was born in Paris, Illinois, on August 7, 1927.  He was the third of four children to Scottish and German immigrants.  Like his older brother Harold, Carl loved to perform and was adept at several musical instruments.  The two often performed together in their local community.

In 1934, the family came to Hollywood on vacation.  While there, they toured Hal Roach Studios, which had been producing the Our Gang series of shorts for nearly a decade.  The series featured "real kids" as Roach described them, and included several who would go on to enjoy lucrative careers in Hollywood, including Jackie Cooper and Robert Blake (the less said about the latter the better).

While dining at the studio cafeteria, the Switzer brothers began an impromptu performance, which immediately caught Roach's eye.  He signed both brothers on the spot.

Carl and Harold Switzer.
Carl of course, was cast as "Alfalfa," and would enjoy great success in the role, eventually surpassing series lead George "Spanky" McFarland in popularity.  Harold wasn't as successful however, being cast first as "Slim" then "Deadpan," before finally being relegated to the background.

Carl played Alfalfa for six years, finally retiring from the role in 1940.  At age 12.  He continued acting in Hollywood, but like many in his profession, he found himself typecast, and good roles were hard to come by.  For the next decade, he took uncredited bit parts.  He looked for other moneymaking ventures, and turned his love of dogs into a profession.  He bred and trained hunting and guide dogs and often led guided hunting expeditions.  His clients were nothing short of Hollywood royalty, and included Roy Rogers, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda.

One of his other clients was Moses Samuel Stiltz.  Switzer agreed to train a hunting dog for Stiltz, but he lost the dog when it took off after a bear.  Switzer offered $35 of his own money as reward for the dog's return.  A few days later, a man claimed the reward, when he brought the dog to a lounge where Switzer tended bar.  Switzer also thanked him by buying $15 worth of drinks for the good Samaritan.

Moses Samuel "Bud" Stiltz.
After thinking and drinking about it for a few days, Switzer decided that Stiltz owed him the $50.  Accompanied by his friend Jack Piott, Switzer went to the home where Stiltz was staying and skipped past all the pleasantries.

"Let me in, or I'll kick in the door," Switzer declared, without even so much as a hello.  "I want that $50 you owe me and I mean now!"

Once inside the house, Switzer attached Stiltz with a glass-domed clock, causing him to bleed from his eye.  Stiltz retreated to his bedroom and retrieved a .38-caliber revolver.  After a brief struggle for the gun, Switzer pulled a knife and screamed "I'm going to kill you" at Stiltz.  Fearing for his life, Stiltz shot him in the groin, causing massive internal bleeding.  Switzer was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The shooting was ruled self-defense, and Stiltz was never charged.  However, 42 years later, on January 25, 2001, a new version of events was presented by Stiltz's stepson, Tom Corrigan, who as a child had been present on the night of the incident.

According to Corrigan, Stiltz's wife opened the front door for Switzer, after he jokingly said "Western Union for Bud Stiltz."  Corrigan stated that although Switzer was drunk and demanded the $50, it was Stiltz who had been the aggressor, grabbing his gun when there was no immediate threat from either Switzer or Piott.  Corrigan also claimed that it had been Piott who had smashed the clock over Stiltz's head, which in this version, was done only after Stiltz had brandished his weapon.  Finally, Corrigan stated that as he left the house, he heard Stiltz fire the gun and turned to see a stunned Switzer slide to the floor.  Stiltz then allegedly grabbed Piott and shoved him against a kitchen counter, but stopped short of shooting him as police sirens were heard outside.  Although fascinating, Corrigan's claims have never been validated and the case remains closed.

Switzer was interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Garden of Memory
Grave 6
Lot 26

  • Switzer was not well liked by his co-stars, as he often played practical jokes on them, which held up production.  Ironically, his best friend from the series was actor Tommy Bond, who played Alfalfa's antagonist "Butch."

  • Switzer's final acting role of note was in the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life.  Watch him annoy Jimmy Stewart in this clip.  He comes in at the 40 second mark.

  • The house where Switzer died is located at 10400 Columbus Street in Hollywood.  Join Big Bill Anderson's tour of the house in this video.

  • In a final indignity, Switzer died on the same day as celebrated Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille, who's death stole all the headlines.  Ironically, the two are buried in the same cemetery.

  • Author Olivia Watson investigated the case for her book The Murder of Alfalfa.  Pick up a copy here.

  • Switzer's co-star Darla Hood, who died in 1979, is also interred at Hollywood Forever, just a short distance from him.

  • While its natural to assume that the dog on Switzer's marker is a reference to Our Gang's Petey, it isn't.  It's a nod to his later profession.

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