The One and Only Alfalfa

carl_alfafa_switzer___came_the_brawnAs a kid, some of my favorite TV shows included The Honeymooner’s, The Abbott and Costello. Show and The Little Rascals. The Rascals were on in the afternoon, and I was religious in watching them unless my mother forced me to do my homework which she always did. I would tell her, “the show’s almost over!” That was always my official reply even if the show just began.

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The Rascal’s series began life as Hal Roach’s Our Gang back in 1922. Roach eventually sold the Our Gang series to MGM who continued to produced the series of shorts. In 1955, MGM sold the TV rights however, they had to change the name to The Little Rascals since MGM continued to hold the right to the Our Gang trademark.

The series of shorts began to hit its peak with the advent of sound in the late 20’s/early 30’s. As the first wave of kids (Joe Cobb, Chubby, Farina and others) became too big, they were replaced by other kids. In 1934, Carl Switzer and his older brother Harold with their family were on vacation in California. One of their stops was the Hal Roach studio. They stopped to eat at the Our Gang commissary while touring the studio. The two kids began fooling around as kids do. Hal Roach happened to be eating there at the same time and was impressed. Very impressed. He signed both boys up baptizing Carl, as Alfalfa and Harold as Slim. Their first film was Beginner’s Luck.

Alfalfa quickly became one of the most popular members of the Rascals. Instantly identifiable with his face full of freckles, large expressive eyes as well as his dress; clothes that were always a size or two too small. Then there was his greasy slicked down hair, and the most impressive cowlick in the history of cinema. Finally, there was his voice, a squeaky and Southern rural combination you cannot forget. His voice was no threat to recording artists of the day yet his versions of I’m in the Mood for Love, I’m Through with Love, and I’m the Barber of Seville are memorably etched in the mind of all fanatical Rascals fans. Other than Spanky McFarland, Alfalfa was The Little Rascals biggest star.

Like most child stars, Carl post-Little Rascals career was a struggle though he fared better than most child stars. One of his earliest non-Rascal roles was a small part in the Bob Hope comedy, My Favorite Blonde. Other films, always small or bit parts included Rosie the Riveter, Going My Way, Pat and Mike, State of the Union, Cause for Alarm, Track of the Cat, Motorcycle Gang, and The Ten Commandments, among others. His last film was The Defiant Ones. He also had a few TV roles, most notably on The Roy Rogers Show. He reprised his role as Alfalfa in two of three Gas House Kids films his appeared in (Gas House Kids in Hollywood and Gas House Kids Go West).

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All of these post Rascals roles did not generate much money. Carl needed to supplement his income by training and breeding hunting dogs. Among his clients were Roy Rogers and James Stewart. The decision to train and breed dogs would unknowingly turn out to lead to his death. Carl was shot, in the groin, by Moses Samuel Stiltz, one of his clients. An argument ensued over a $50 payment. The shooting was considered self-defense at the time but has been questioned since. Carl Switzer was 31 years old.

 

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17 comments on “The One and Only Alfalfa

  1. The Lady Eve says:

    Memories…”The Little Rascals” on TV in the 1950s. We were just kids when “Alfalfa” met his demise, the first child star I knew of to meet a grisly end. Thanks for giving Carl Switzer a well-deserved nod, John, though he’s now and will forever be Alfalfa to me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Eve, I remember hearing when I was kid that he was sho to death, but never knew the circumstances. Like you, he will always be Alfalfa!

      Like

  2. Wendy says:

    Hi, I wonder if you realize it was only called “The Little Rascals” when the rights were syndicated for television in 1955. Carl Switzer was in, what was always known as, the “Our Gang” comedy series which was shown in movie theaters across the nation in the 1930s (and earlier with other kid actors). It says “Our Gang” comedies in the newspaper article you posted about his death. I like your article on the whole – thanks.

    Like

  3. Ah, the memories of watching them in the 50s. Your video above had me chuckling out loud remembering! What a tragic ending. I wasn’t aware of that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jay says:

    Outstanding article

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “The show’s almost over!” If I had a nickel…

    It is with a mixture of joy and sadness that I spot Alfalfa in his later roles. It’s good to see him. I wish he had more to do. (Island in the Sky is a nice part.) And we know he will be gone too soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. John Charet says:

    Great post 🙂 Interesting story about Carl Switzer. Sad story about he died though. You loved The Little Rascals growing up I see. On TCM a few months ago, they played the Blondie movies. I love those. If you have never watched them, try seeking them out because they are in the public domain. You can watch some on youtube as well. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jay Kanter says:

    John, I would like your readers to also remember the child actor Clifton Young who played Bonedust in the Our Gang comedies and had a very important role in the film “Dark Passage”.Clifton died in 1951 in a fire which he caused by smoking in bed at 33 years old.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Margaret Laredo says:

    How did you manage to leave out *It’s a Wonderful Life* as one of his later credits? He plays a key scene at the dance — hello — the famous swimming pool fiasco!

    Like

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