January 21

This Day in History

Crime

Jan 21, 1959:

Switzer of Our Gang murdered

Carl Dean Switzer, the actor who as a child played "Alfalfa" in the Our Gang comedy film series, dies at age 31 in a fight, allegedly about money, in a Mission Hills, California, home. Alfalfa, the freckle-faced boy with a warbling singing voice and a cowlick protruding from the top of his head, was Switzer's best-known role.

As a child, Switzer, who was born August 7, 1927, entertained people in his hometown of Paris, Illinois, with his singing. On a trip to California to visit relatives, Switzer's mother took Carl and his brother to the Hal Roach Studios, a film and television production company that launched the careers of comedy legends like Laurel and Hardy. The Switzer brothers were signed by Hal Roach and Carl was cast as Alfalfa in the Our Gang series, which Roach began producing as silent films in the early 1920s.

Our Gang revolved around a group of ragtag children and their adventures. Along with Alfalfa, other popular characters included Spanky, Buckwheat and Darla. Our Gang was considered groundbreaking in that it featured white and black child actors interacting equally. Switzer played Alfalfa from the mid-1930s to the early 1940s. In 1955, the Our Gang films were turned into a hugely popular TV series called The Little Rascals; however, Switzer never received any royalties from the show.

After Our Gang, Switzer found small roles in movies and on television, but his most successful days in Hollywood were behind him. He made money working odd jobs, including stints as a hunting guide and bartender, and had several run-ins with the police.

On January 21, 1959, Switzer and a friend went to the Mission Hills home of Moses "Bud" Stiltz, to collect a debt Switzer believed he was owed. A fight broke out, during which Stiltz shot and killed Switzer. A jury later ruled the incident justifiable homicide.

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