Tuesday, June 12, 2018

With his stuck-up hairstyle and endearing off key singing, Alfalfa of the hit comedy series “The Little Rascals” was adored by audience through out generations, thus cementing him into pop culture history. Even to this day this character, as well as the rest of rag-tag group of kids, is fondly remembered. The origional boy to play this iconic role Carl Switzer. With a combination of good comedic timing, pushy stage parents, and pure luck, Switzer became one of the most popular child actors of the 1930’s. As it often is in Hollywood, his star would fall just as quickly as it rose, leading him to a troubled adult life of drinking and irrational decisions. It would be Switzer’s infamous bad temper that would lead to his tragic demise.
Carl Dean Switzer was born on August 7th, 1927. He lived in parents, George and Gladys Switzer, and three siblings in Paris, Illinois. The Switzer parents were determined to make at least one of their children a star. Carl and his brother, Harold, would dedicate much of their early childhood to learning different songs and instruments. By no means was little Carl a talented singer, but his humorously, exaggerated expressions won over audiences. The brothers had managed to gain some hometown fame for their performance. Still, it was not enough.
In 1934 the Switzer family packed up their bags, and headed off to California. The trip was meant to be a family vacation, but Gladys did not plan on returning to Illinois until at least one of her children had a contact signed. During some sightseeing, they made a stop at Hal Roach Studios. The studio would not allow the Switzer family to enter. While their parents discussed how to move forward, the Carl and Harold wandered off. The boys found their way into an open cafeteria that sat right at the edge of the lot. The room was packed, and the Switzer boys thought it would the ideal place to start an impromptu show. Their audience loved it. Carl and Harold were in the right place at the right time; amongst the people in the cafeteria was producer, Hal Roach. He was quite impressed by the boys’ performance, and quickly signed them on to one of the studio’s most popular projects; “Our Gang”, or more commonly known as “The Little Rascals”. After this day, Carl Switzer would be transformed into his most iconic character: Alfalfa.
With each release of a Little Rascals film, Switzer’s popularity grew. By the age of ten he was one of the most widely recognized celebrities. Alfalfa was funny and sweet; the typical boy next door. The fans adored him. Off screen, however, Carl Switzer was just the opposite. He was rude, obnoxious, and had a stubborn streak that not even the director could break. Switzer relentlessly teased his fellow cast mates, and would often play cruel jokes on them. Director, George Sidney, remembered reprimanding Switzer on many occasions for sticking the other children with large nails. Productions would come to a halt while they attempted to appease this tiny terror. Switzer lived by his own rules and ran on his own time. It was a trait that would follow him into adulthood; one that would that would cost him both his career and ultimately his life.
After starring in thirty installments of the Little Rascals, Carl Switzer finished his role as Alfalfa. This would be the beginning of the downfall of his career. Carl was only thirteen, but he was considered the breadwinner of the family. There were five mouths to feed, and it was up him to provide the food, as well as maintain the luxury lifestyle that his parents had become accustomed to. As it is with many child stars, Switzer found himself struggling to secure new roles. He would never be taken seriously as an adult actor; all anyone could see was Alfalfa. Switzer’s reputation of being difficult did not help his cause either. He managed to snag a few small parts in movies, including playing Mary Hatch’s date in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. As much as he tried, Switzer would not take up a starring role again. The world had once loved Alfalfa, but now it seemed no one wanted anything to do with Carl Switzer.
By the late 1950’s, with his acting career over and no education to fall back on, Switzer decides to find a new calling. He took on a job as a bartender, and in his spare time worked as a hunting guide. Switzer also began a well established dog breeder. He obtained several famous clients, including James Stewart and Henry Fonda. In 1959 Carl Switzer borrowed a dog from a friend named Moses Samuel Stiltz for a hunting trip. Unfortunately, during the expedition the dog ran off after a bear, and became lost. Switzer did his best to track it down, but after some time called off the search. He posted flyers of the missing dog throughout town, offering $35 reward for its return. A few days later, a man showed up to a bar Switzer was currently working at. With him was the dog; alive and well. The former child star thanked him, and then paid him the reward. He even bought the man a few drinks to further express his gratitude. At the end of the ordeal Switzer ended up paying a total $50 for the borrowed dog. Despite the happy ending, Carl’s infamous temper began to stew.
For a period of several days, Switzer brooded over is poor luck. Why should he have to pay so much for a dog that wasn’t even his? Fueled by fury and large quantities alcohol, he called up Moses Stiltz and demanded his $50 back. Stiltz, of course, disagreed. It was Carl who lost the dog, and it was Carl who should have to pay for it. Switzer was not ready to give up. He went to Jack Piot, another friend of his, and ranted to him about the situation. Piot agreed with Carl; the whole thing was ridiculous. Something had to be done. The two decided the best course of action would be to confront Moses Stiltz, in person, at his home in Mission Hills. If Stiltz saw who he was dealing with, surely he would relent and hand over the cash.
It was 7 PM on January 21st, 1959 when Moses Stiltz heard someone furiously knocking at the door. Carl Switzer could be heard shouting from the other side. “I want my $50!,” he continuously bellowed. “I want my $50!”
Switzer and Piot managed to push their way into the house. Lost in his rage, Switzer began ranting at Stiltz, demanding that his money to be returned immediately. When Stilt once again refused, a fight ensued. The former child star grabbed a hold of a glass domed clock, and smashed it over the other man’s head. Stiltz, with his left eye bleeding, retreated to a bedroom where he grabbed his .38-caliber revolver. Switzer followed right behind him. Undeterred by this new danger, he continued the fight. He grabbed a hold of the hold of the gun, and while the two men fought for control, the gun shot off. There was a brief moment of peace while they recovered from shock. Then, Switzer pushed the other man into the closet. He pulled a switch blade out of his pocket. If he wasn’t give his money now, Switzer screamed, he would kill him.
Fearing for his life, Stiltz quickly retaliated by shooting at Switzer. The bullet hit him in the groin. An ambulance was called, but by the time he arrived at the hospital, there was nothing doctors could do for the internal bleeding. At the age of thirty one, Carl Switzer had bled to death.
Moses Stiltz was charged with murder. However, five days after the former child star’s death, Stiltz was sent to stand before a coroner’s jury. It was there that the shooting was ruled to be in self defense. All criminal charges against Stiltz were dropped.
January 21st, 1959 brought about another celebrity death. Hollywood icon, Cecil DeMille passed away at the age of seventy-seven after heart failure. For much of his life, DeMille entertained the masses. His career began on Broadway staged, until he moved to silent film. He worked alongside of the most famous actors of his time, and would later go on to direct them. His last completed project with the 1956 epic film, “The Ten Commandments.” In both career and personal sides, Demille’s life was filled with success. His obituary would reflect that, as it spread over several pages throughout newspapers. Carl Switzer’s obituary took up a small box at the bottom of the page.

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