Carl Switzer

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Carl Switzer
Alfalfa gip.jpg
Born Carl Dean Switzer
(1927-08-07)August 7, 1927
Paris, Illinois, U.S.
Died January 21, 1959(1959-01-21) (aged 31)
Mission Hills, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Gunshot wound
Resting place
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Nationality American
Other names Alfalfa Switser
Occupation Actor, dog breeder, hunting guide
Years active 1935–1958
Known for Portraying Alfalfa in Our Gang
Spouse(s) Diantha M. Collingwood (m. 1954–56)
Children 1
Relatives Harold Switzer (brother)

Carl Dean Switzer (August 7, 1927 – January 21, 1959) was an American actor, professional dog breeder and hunting guide.

Switzer began his career as a child actor in the mid-1930s appearing in the Our Gang short subjects series as Alfalfa, one of the series' most popular and best-remembered characters. After leaving the series in 1940, Switzer struggled to find substantial roles due to typecasting. As an adult, he appeared mainly in bit parts and B-movies. He later became a dog breeder and hunting guide.

Switzer married in 1954 and had one son before divorcing in 1956. In January 1959, he was fatally shot by an acquaintance over a dispute about money.

Early life and family[edit]

Switzer was born in Paris, Illinois, the second son, fourth and last child of Gladys C. Shanks and George Frederick Switzer, of German heritage.[1] He was named Carl after the Switzer family and Dean after many relatives in his grandmother's family. He and his older brother, Harold, became famous around their hometown for their musical talent and performances; both sang and played a number of instruments.

Career[edit]

Our Gang[edit]

Switzer (right) as "Alfalfa" in Our Gang Follies of 1938, with fellow Our Gang cast members George "Spanky" McFarland and Darla Hood.

In 1934, the Switzers took a trip to California to visit with family members. While sightseeing they eventually wound up at Hal Roach Studios. Following a public tour of the facility, 8-year-old Harold and 6-year-old Carl entered into the Hal Roach Studio's open-to-the-public cafeteria, the Our Gang Café, and began an impromptu performance. Producer Hal Roach was present at the commissary that day and was impressed. He signed both Switzers to appear in Our Gang. Harold was given two nicknames, "Slim" and "Deadpan," and Carl was dubbed "Alfalfa."[2]

The Switzer brothers first appeared in the 1935 Our Gang short, Beginner's Luck. By the end of the year, Alfalfa was one of the main characters in the series, while Harold had more or less been relegated to the role of a background player. Although Carl Switzer was an experienced singer and musician, his character Alfalfa was often called upon to sing off-key renditions of pop standards and contemporary hits, most often those of Bing Crosby.[2] Alfalfa also sported cowlicks.

By the end of 1937, Switzer had supplanted George "Spanky" McFarland, the series' nominal star, in popularity. While the two boys managed to get along, their fathers fought and argued constantly over their sons' screen times and salaries.[3] Switzer's best friend among the Our Gang kids was Tommy Bond, who played his on-screen nemesis "Butch". In Bond's words, he and Switzer became good friends because "neither of us could replace the other since we played opposites." Switzer was known for being abrasive and difficult on the set. He would often play cruel jokes on the other children and would hold up filming with his antics.[2]

The production rights for Our Gang were sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1938, and the first two years' worth of MGM-produced series entries focused heavily on the Alfalfa character and his family.

Adult years[edit]

Switzer's tenure on Our Gang ended in 1940, when he was twelve. His first role after leaving the series was as co-star in the 1941 comedy Reg'lar Fellers. The next year, he had a supporting role in Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. Switzer continued to appear in films in various supporting roles, including in Johnny Doughboy (1942), Going My Way (1944), and The Great Mike (1944). Switzer had an uncredited role as Auggie in the 1943 film The Human Comedy. Switzer's last starring roles were in a brief series of imitation-Bowery Boys movies; he reprised his "Alfalfa" character, complete with comically sour vocals, in PRC's Gas House Kids comedies of 1946 and 1947. By this time in his career Switzer was downplaying his earlier Our Gang work; in his 1946 resume he referred to the films generically as "M-G-M short product."[2]

In 1946, Switzer had a small part in the 1946 Christmas film It's a Wonderful Life as Mary Hatch's (Donna Reed) date at the high school dance in the beginning of the film. In the 1954 musical film White Christmas, his picture is used to depict an Army buddy (named "Freckle-Faced Haynes") of lead characters Wallace and Davis (played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye), and also the brother of the female leads the Haynes Sisters (played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen).

In the 1950s, Switzer turned to television. From 1952 to 1955, he made six appearances on The Roy Rogers Show. He also guest-starred in an episode of the American science fiction anthology series Science Fiction Theatre, and The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. In 1953 and 1954, Switzer co-starred in three William A. Wellman-directed films: Island in the Sky and The High and the Mighty, both starring John Wayne, and Track of the Cat starring Robert Mitchum. In 1956, he co-starred in The Bowery Boys film Dig That Uranium, followed by a bit part as a Hebrew slave in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments. Switzer's final film role was in the film drama The Defiant Ones.

In addition to acting, Switzer bred and trained hunting dogs and guided hunting expeditions. Among his more notable clients were Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (Switzer's son's godparents), James Stewart and Henry Fonda.[2]

Personal life[edit]

In early 1954, Switzer was set up on a blind date with Diantha (Dian) Collingwood (November 19, 1930–November 29, 2004), the heiress of grain elevator empire Collingwood Grain. Collingwood had moved with her mother and sister to California from Hutchinson in 1953 because her sister wanted to become an actress. Switzer and Collingwood were married in Las Vegas three months later. In 1956, with money running dry and Dian pregnant, her mother offered her and Switzer a farm north of Pretty Prairie Kansas, west of Wichita. A son, Justin Lance Collingwood Switzer[4] (now Eldridge),[5] was born early that year in Garden City.[4] The couple was divorced in 1957.[2]

In 1987, former Our Gang co-star Spanky McFarland recalled a meeting with Switzer concerning the farm:[2]

The last time I saw Carl was 1957. It was a tough time for me—and him. I was starting a tour of theme parks and county fairs in the Midwest. Carl had married this girl whose father owned a pretty good size farm near Wichita. When I came through town, he heard about it and called. He told me he was helping to run the farm, but he finally had to put a radio on the tractor while he was out there plowing. Knowing Carl, I knew that wasn't going to last. He may have come from Paris, Illinois, but he wasn't a farmer! We hadn't seen each other since we left the 'Gang.' So we had lunch; we talked—about all the things you'd expect. And then I never saw him again. He looked pretty much the same. He was just Carl Switzer—kind of cocky, a little antsy—and I thought to myself he hadn't changed that much. He still talked big. He just grew up.

— George McFarland

In January 1958, Switzer was getting into his car in front of a bar in Studio City when a bullet smashed through the window and struck him in the upper right arm.[6] The perpetrator was never caught. In December of that year, Switzer was arrested in Sequoia National Forest for cutting down 15 pine trees. He was sentenced to a year's probation and ordered to pay a $225 fine.

Death[edit]

Grave of Carl Switzer on August 7, 2012, the 85th anniversary of his birth.

Prior to a hunting guide job, Switzer agreed to train a hunting dog for Moses Samuel "Bud" Stiltz. After the dog was lost, having run after a bear, Switzer offered a $50 reward for the dog's return. A man found the dog a few days later and brought it to the Studio City bar where Switzer was working. Switzer paid the man $35 and bought him $15 worth of drinks from the bar. Several days later, on the evening of January 21, 1959, Switzer and his friend, 37-year-old unit still photographer Jack Piott, came to the conclusion that Stiltz owed Switzer the $50 paid to the man who found the dog. Shortly before 7:00 p.m. that evening, the pair arrived at Rita Corrigan's home in Mission Hills, where Stiltz was staying, to collect the money Stiltz "owed" Switzer.

According to Stiltz's testimony, he banged on his front door, demanding, "Let me in, or I'll kick in the door." Once Switzer was inside the home, he and Stiltz got into an argument. Switzer informed Stiltz that he wanted the money owed him, saying "I want that 50 bucks you owe me now, and I mean now." When Stiltz refused to hand over the money, the two engaged in a fight. Switzer allegedly struck Stiltz in the head with a glass-domed clock, which caused him to bleed from his left eye. Stiltz retreated to his bedroom and returned holding a .38-caliber revolver, but Switzer immediately grabbed the gun away from him, resulting in a shot being fired that hit the ceiling. Switzer then forced Stiltz into a closet, despite Stiltz having gotten his hands back on the gun. Switzer then allegedly pulled a switchblade knife and screamed, "I'm going to kill you" and was attempting to stab him with it, but just as Switzer was about to charge Stiltz, Stiltz raised the gun and shot Switzer in the groin. Switzer suffered massive internal bleeding and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.[7]

Carl Switzer is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. Switzer died on the same day as Cecil B. DeMille. Switzer received only minor footnotes in most newspapers, while DeMille's obituary dominated the columns.

Controversy[edit]

The killing was ruled to be a justifiable homicide.[8] Switzer had allegedly pulled a knife; therefore, the shooting was judged to be self-defense. During the inquest regarding Switzer's death, it was revealed that what was originally reported as a "hunting knife" was in fact merely a penknife. It had been found by crime scene investigators under his body, but with no blade exposed.

On January 25, 2001, a third witness came forward and gave his version of the events of January 21, 1959. The witness, 56-year-old Tom Corrigan, son of Western movie star Ray "Crash" Corrigan and stepson of Moses Stiltz, was present the night Switzer was killed.

"It was more like murder," Corrigan told reporters. He said he heard the knock on the front door and heard Switzer say "Western Union for Bud Stiltz". Corrigan's mother, Rita Corrigan, opened the door to find a drunk and demanding Switzer complaining about a perceived, months-old debt. Switzer entered the house followed by Jack Piott and stated that he was going to beat Stiltz. Stiltz greeted Switzer with a .38-caliber revolver in his hand. Tom Corrigan claimed to witness Switzer grab the revolver and the two began struggling to gain control over it. Piott broke a glass-domed clock over Stiltz's head, then Stiltz's eye swelled shut. During the struggle the gun fired into the ceiling and Tom Corrigan was struck in the leg by a piece of fragmentation. After the initial shot, his two younger sisters ran to a neighbor's house to call for help. "Well, we shot Tommy, enough of this," he remembers Switzer saying before Switzer and Piott started to retreat. Corrigan had just stepped out the front door when he heard a second shot go off behind him. He did not see his stepfather shoot Switzer, but when he turned around he saw Switzer sliding down the wall with a surprised look on his face—shot in the groin. Corrigan said he spotted a closed penknife at Switzer's side which he presumed fell out of his pocket or his hand. He then witnessed his stepfather back Piott into the kitchen counter and threaten to kill him, but as the man begged for his life, they heard emergency sirens, which is why Corrigan believed Stiltz did not shoot him. Corrigan recalled that his stepfather lied in his account of the event to the authorities.[9]

Following the shooting, Corrigan claims a now-deceased Los Angeles Police Department detective, Pat Pow, interviewed him and asked him if he would testify before a judge. Corrigan claims to have agreed, although for unknown reasons he was never called before the coroner's jury. "He didn't have to kill him," Corrigan said.[10]

Selected filmography[edit]

Film
Year Title Role Notes
1935 Beginner's Luck Alfalfa Short film
1935 Teacher's Beau Alfalfa Short film
1935 Sprucin' Up Alfalfa Short film
1935 Our Gang Follies of 1936 Alfalfa Short film
1936 The Lucky Corner Alfalfa Short film
1936 Arbor Day Alfalfa Short film
1936 Kelly the Second Boy with Stomach Ache Uncredited
1936 Spooky Hooky Alfalfa Short film
1937 Reunion in Rhythm Alfalfa Short film
1937 Rushin' Ballet Alfalfa Short film
1937 Mail and Female Alfalfa/Cousin Amiela Short film
1937 Our Gang Follies of 1938 Alfalfa Short film
1938 Canned Fishing Alfalfa Short film
1938 Came the Brawn Alfalfa Short film
1938 Hide and Shriek Alfalfa, alias X-10 Short film
1938 Football Romeo Alfalfa Short film
1939 Duel Personalities Alfalfa Short film
1939 Clown Princes The Great Alfalfa Short film
1939 Captain Spanky's Show Boat Alfalfa Short film
1939 Time Out for Lessons Alfalfa Short film
1940 Alfalfa's Double Alfalfa/Cornelius Short film
1940 Good Bad Boys Alfalfa Short film
1940 Goin' Fishin' Alfalfa Short film
1940 I Love You Again Leonard Harkspur Jr.
1940 Kiddie Kure Alfalfa Short film
1941 Reg'lar Fellers Bump Hudson
1942 My Favorite Blonde Frederick Uncredited
1942 Henry and Dizzy Billy Weeks
1942 There's One Born Every Minute Junior Twine Credited as Alfalfa Switser
1942 The War Against Mrs. Hadley Messenger Boy
1943 The Human Comedy Auggie Uncredited
1943 Dixie Boy in Street Uncredited
1944 Rosie the Riveter Buzz Prouty
1944 Going My Way Herman Langerhanke Uncredited
1944 The Great Mike Speck
1944 Together Again Elevator Boy Uncredited
1946 It's a Wonderful Life Freddie Othello Uncredited
1946 Gas House Kids Sammy Levine
1947 Gas House Kids Go West Alfalfa
1947 Gas House Kids in Hollywood Alfalfa
1948 On Our Merry Way Leopold "Zoot" Wirtz Alternative title: A Miracle Can Happen
1948 State of the Union Bellboy
1948 Big Town Scandal Frankie Snead Alternative title: Underworld Scandal
1949 A Letter to Three Wives Leo, Second Messenger Uncredited
1950 House by the River Walter Herbert Uncredited
1951 Two Dollar Bettor Chuck Nordlinger
1951 Here Comes the Groom Messenger Uncredited
1952 Pat and Mike Messenger
1952 I Dream of Jeanie Freddie Credited as Carl Dean Switzer
1953 Island in the Sky Sonny Hopper
1954 The High and the Mighty Ensign Keim
1954 Track of the Cat Joe Sam
1955 Not as a Stranger Unexpected Father Uncredited
1955 Francis in the Navy Timekeeper Uncredited
1956 Dig That Uranium Shifty Robertson Uncredited
1956 The Ten Commandments Slave Uncredited
1956 Between Heaven and Hell Savage Uncredited
1958 The Defiant Ones Angus
Television
Year Title Role Notes
1952-1955 The Roy Rogers Show Various roles 6 episodes
1954 The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show Victor the Delivery Boy Episode: "George Gets Call from Unknown Victor"
1955 Lux Video Theatre Mailer Episode: "Eight Iron Men"
1955 Science Fiction Theatre Pete Episode: "The Negative Man"

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Contemporary Notables of the name Switzer"
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Maltin, Leonard and Bann, Richard W. (1977, rev. 1992). The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang, p. 268-271. New York: Crown Publishing/Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-517-58325-9
  3. ^ Maltin, Leonard and Bann, Richard W. (1977, rev. 1992). The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang, p. 178-180. New York: Crown Publishing/Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-517-58325-9
  4. ^ a b Bickel, Amy (October 13, 2012). "Pretty Prairie's 'Rascal':Carl Switzer, best known as Alfalfa on and off the "Little Rascals" set, had Kansas connection.". The Hutchinson News. Retrieved December 20, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Obituary:Diantha M. Collingwood Eldridge". Hutchinson, Kansas: The Hutchinson News. December 2, 2004. p. 16. 
  6. ^ "ALFALFA OF FILMS SHOT BY SNIPER". The Los Angeles Times. January 28, 1958. p. B1. 
  7. ^ L.A. Mirror News, Jan. 22, 1959 Accessed online January 24, 2009.
  8. ^ Cason, Colleen. "Death of a Little Rascal: After 40 years, eyewitness tells how Alfalfa died." Ventura County Star. January 21, 2001.
  9. ^ Cason, Colleen. "42 Years Ago: A friend recalls the death of Our Gang's Alfalfa." Winston-Salem Journal. January 28, 2001. p. E9.
  10. ^ "Alfalfa's Mysterious Death". Tvparty.com. Retrieved December 28, 2012. 

External links[edit]