Carl Switzer has one of the most recognizable faces in America. As a child, this beloved actor played the role of Alfalfa in the short film series, Our Gang. These comedic short films followed a group of young, poor children and their many misadventures. Alfalfa, with his freckled face and iconic cowlick, was just one member of this gang, also known as the Little Rascals. The gang also featured characters such as Spanky, Buckwheat, Darla, Porky, Froggy, Waldo, Woim, and Butch.
Between 1922 and 1938, Hal Roach created a total of 220 short films centered around these characters. The series was then produced by Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and continued until 1944.
One of the first directors of the short films, Robert F. McGowan, was greatly praised for his directing style. Up until this point in American film, child actors were expected to behave like little adults. McGowan, however, wanted to capture the natural essence of children. Because many of the children were too young to even read the scripts, he simply explained what was expected to happen in each scene, and let many of the young actors improvise. Sadly, Robert F. McGowan stopped directing in 1933, and the new directors took a more streamlined approach. Still, McGowan’s directing style would greatly influence film and television for years to come.
While the show did feature a large cast of characters, all of whom were incredibly hilarious and charming to watch, Alfalfa was a fan favorite. He was played by the young actor Carl Switzer, who would earn fame for the iconic role. Even decades after the show has ended, he is fondly remembered by much of America for the role. There have been many new iterations of Our Gang since the original short film series ended in 1936, featuring different actors, directors, and writers. Still, it seems no other actor has been quite able to capture Alfalfa’s essence as well as Carl Switzer.
Unfortunately, even the sweetest of children have to grow up someday, and after young Carl Switzer left behind the role of Alfalfa, he fell into a rather troubled life. In today’s video, we’re going to take a look at the shocking and tragic life that befell him after his role in Our Gang, as well as some behind the scenes facts about the beloved short film series. Make sure you stick around until the very end, because we’re also going to reveal the horrifying circumstances surrounding Switzer’s gruesome and untimely death.
Carl Switzer Had a Troubled Life After Our Gang
For many child stars, Our Gang was the perfect lifting-off point to begin their long and prolific careers. However, not all of the stars who appeared in Our Gang were so successful. In fact, many of the actors found themselves typecast into the same kinds of roles they originally portrayed in the short film series. Their characters were so easily recognized that directors and producers had a difficult time envisioning them as portraying any other kind of character! Sadly, Carl Switzer was just one of these unfortunate young actors. Believe it or not, Carl Switzer only joined the cast of Our Gang in 1935, and his tenure on the show ended in 1940. But after just five years of playing the role of Alfalfa, he was already too recognizable.
He found a little success immediately after leaving the show, gaining a small role in the film I Love You Again. He won a few supporting roles, but as an adult, he had a hard time finding work. His roles were usually small and unmemorable. In the 1950s, he attempted to find success in television, but after a few more guest-star and minor roles, he gave up. His final role as an actor was in the 1958 film The Defiant Ones. Finally, he decided to spend more time involved in his hobby as a hunting dog breeder and trainer.
Carl Switzer’s Tragic Death
Having such difficulty finding film and television roles, Switzer was plagued by financial troubles. In 1958, he cut down 15 pine trees in Sequoia National Forest, with the illegal plan to sell them as Christmas trees. He was caught, however, and was sentenced to a year’s probation, and further had to pay a fine of $225. However, those who knew Switzer as a child were not at all surprised to find out that he was a criminal.
On the set of Our Gang, he was notoriously troublesome. In one incident, he hid fish hooks in Spanky’s trouser pockets, causing the poor boy to get stitches in his backside. He was also the mastermind behind several other dangerous and irresponsible pranks. While you can expect most children to outgrow these destructive tendencies, it seems Switzer did not.
As an adult, after divorcing his wife Diane Collingwood, Switzer fell into alcoholism out of depression. Aside from the Christmas tree incident, he had many other run-ins with the law.
In 1959, his troublesome nature would eventually catch up to him. He had promised to train the hunting dog of an old friend, Samuel Moses Stiltz. However, while the dog was in Carl Switzer’s possession, the dog ran off. Stiltz insisted he pay him back for the price of the dog, but Switzer simply didn’t have the money.
He offered a reward for anyone who could find the dog. When a local eventually found and returned the mutt, Switzer paid $50 as a reward, which is equivalent to about $450 today. A few days later, and after a night of drinking, Switzer marched over to Stiltz’s house with a friend named Jack Piott. He insisted that Stiltz at least reimburse him for the reward, but Stiltz refused.
The men began fighting one another, and Stiltz later accounted that Switzer hit him over the head with a clock. Finally, Stiltz retreated to his room and returned with a gun. More fighting ensued, and then Switzer allegedly pulled out a knife and shouted “I’m going to kill you!” Stiltz fired the gun, fatally shooting Switzer. He died before he even reached the hospital on January 21st, 1959, when he was just 31 years old. He was buried in Hollywood, California in the Hollywood Forever Cemetary. Later, both his brother and father would be buried next to him.
For the longest time, the death of Carl Switzer was supposedly in self-defense. But decades later, a new witness came forward, offering evidence that changed the long-told story of Switzer’s death. Make sure you stick around until the very end of the video, because we’re going to reveal the testimony of one surprising witness! And if you’re enjoying this video so far, please take a moment to like this video, and don’t forget to subscribe to Facts Verse for more!
How Carl Switzer Landed the Role of Alfalfa
When Carl Switzer was cast as Alfalfa in 1935, he was incredibly lucky. The show was a favorite across the nation, and many parents were dying to get their own children to appear on the show. Shockingly, both Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney attempted to get onto the show, but they both failed.
Carl Switzer and his brother, Harold, however, both made it on. The two loved to sing and perform together, and became favorites in their hometown. The studio behind Our Gang, Hal Roach Studios, opened a cafeteria called Our Gang Cafe. Both Carl and Harold were sightseeing in California while visiting family, and happened upon the cafe. While inside, they began performing and singing together. It just so happened that, at the time, Hal Roach himself was present. He was impressed by the performance, and eventually requested that they audition. Both made it onto the show, although Carl Switzer’s brother only performed as a background character. Carl, however, was granted the coveted position of a lead character, and continued to charm the hearts of his American audience for five years!
A Shocking New Testimony
Decades after Carl Switzer’s death, in 2001, new information came to light. Samuel Moses Stiltz’ stepson, Tommy Corrigan, had been present the night of Switzer’s death. In fact, during the altercation, he had nearly been shot by a misfire of his stepfather’s gun!
While Samuel Moses Stiltz had claimed that Switzer had hit him over the head with a clock and also pulled a knife on him, Tommy Corrigan claimed that neither of these accounts were true. He said that it was actually Switzer’s friend, Jack Ciott, who had hit Stiltz with the clock. Furthermore, Corrigan insisted that Switzer had never pulled a knife on Stiltz. Tommy Corrigan may have only been 14 at the time of Switzer’s death, but he remains resolute in his testimony; Switzer was not shot in self-defense, but out of anger.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know exactly what transpired on that fateful night, except that it resulted in the tragic death of a once-beloved star.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding Carl Switzer’s tragic death, and a few different accounts of the incident. Do you think Switzer was mostly to blame for his own death, or do you blame his old friend, Samual Moses Stiltz, more? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to Facts Verse for more!