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Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer
Alfalfa gip.jpg
Born
Carl Dean Switzer

(1927-08-08)August 8, 1927
DiedJanuary 21, 1959(1959-01-21) (aged 31)
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery,
Los Angeles, California
NationalityUSA
Other namesAlfalfa Switzer
Occupation
  • Singer
  • child actor
  • dog breeder
  • guide
Years active1927–1959
Spouse(s)
Dian Collingwood
(m. 1954; div. 1957)
Children1
RelativesHarold Switzer (brother)

Carl Dean Switzer (August 8, 1927[1] – January 21, 1959) was an American singer, child actor, dog breeder and guide. He was best known for his role as Alfalfa in the short subjects series Our Gang.

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 owing 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 his wife in 1957. He was fatally shot by an acquaintance in a dispute over money in January 1959.

Early life and family

Switzer was born in Paris, Illinois, the youngest of four children born to Gladys Carrie Shanks (1904–1997) and George Frederick "Fred" Switzer (1905–1960). The oldest brother died in 1922. A sister Janice was born in 1923 and a brother Harold was born in 1925. Of Scottish and German ancestry,[2] he was named Carl Dean after a member of the Switzer family and many relatives on his grandmother's side (respectively). He and his brother Harold became famous in their hometown for their musical talent and performances. Both sang and could play a number of instruments.

Career

Our Gang

Switzer (right) as "Alfalfa" in Our Gang Follies of 1938, with fellow Our Gang cast members George "Spanky" McFarland and Darla Hood
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 traveled to California to visit family. While sightseeing, they went to Hal Roach Studios. Following a public tour, 8-year-old Harold and 6-year-old Carl entered the Hal Roach Studio's open-to-the-public cafeteria, the Our Gang Café, and began an impromptu performance. Producer Hal Roach was present and was impressed. He signed both brothers to appear in Our Gang. Harold was given two nicknames, "Slim" and "Deadpan", while Carl was dubbed "Alfalfa".[3]

The 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, while Harold had been relegated to the background. Although Carl was an experienced singer and musician, his character Alfalfa was often called upon to sing off-key renditions of popular songs for comic effect, most often those of Bing Crosby.[3] Alfalfa also sported a cowlick.

By the end of 1937, Switzer's "Alfalfa" had surpassed the series' nominal star, George "Spanky" McFarland, in popularity. While the boys got along, their fathers argued constantly over their sons' screen time and salaries.[4] Switzer's best friend among the Our Gang actors 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." However, Switzer was known for being abrasive and difficult on the set. He would often play cruel jokes on the other actors and hold up filming with his antics.[3]

Adult years

Brothers Harold Switzer and Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer
Brothers Harold Switzer and Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer

Switzer's tenure on Our Gang ended in 1940, when he was twelve. His first role after leaving the series was as a Boy Scout in I Love You Again (1940) starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. He then co-starred 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 in 1946 and 1947. By this time Switzer was downplaying his earlier Our Gang work. In his 1946 resume, he referred to the films generically as "M-G-M short product".[3]

Switzer had small parts in both the 1946 Christmas film It's a Wonderful Life as Mary Hatch's (Donna Reed) date at a high school dance in the film's beginning and again in the 1948 film On Our Merry Way as the mayor's son, a trumpet player in a fixed musical talent contest. In 1952, he played a busboy in the film Pat and Mike starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. In the 1954 musical film White Christmas, his photo was used to depict "Freckle-Faced Haynes, the Dog-Faced Boy", an army buddy of lead characters Wallace and Davis (played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) who was also the brother of the female leads the Haynes Sisters (played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen).

In the 1950s, Switzer turned to television. Between 1952 and 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 1958 drama The Defiant Ones.

Besides acting, Switzer bred and trained hunting dogs and guided hunting expeditions. Among his notable clients were Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (Switzer's son's godparents), James Stewart, and Henry Fonda.[3]

Personal life

In early 1954, Switzer went on a blind date with Diantha Collingwood (1930–2004), also known as Dian or Diana, the daughter of Lelo and Faye Collingwood and heiress of grain elevator empire Collingwood Grain. Collingwood had moved with her mother and sister to California in 1953 because her sister wanted to become an actress. Switzer and Collingwood got along well and married in Las Vegas three months later. In 1956, with his money running out and Diantha pregnant, his mother-in-law offered them a farm near Pretty Prairie, Kansas. Their son, Justin Lance Collingwood Switzer[5] (later Justin Lance Collingwood Elridge)[6] was born that year.[5] They divorced in 1957 and Diantha married Richard Rosswell "Ross" Elridge (1933–2007), who adopted and raised Lance as his own, and had two other children by him, sons Chris and Lee Elridge.[3]

In 1987, former Our Gang co-star George "Spanky" McFarland recalled a meeting with Switzer when they spoke about the farm:[3]

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.

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.[7] However, the gunman was never caught. Later that December, Switzer was arrested in Sequoia National Forest for cutting down 15 pine trees he'd intended to illegally sell as Christmas trees and sentenced to one year's probation. Switzer was also ordered to pay a $225 fine ($2,000 today).

Death

Grave of Carl Switzer on August 7, 2012
Grave of Carl Switzer on August 7, 2012

In the midst of his legal and financial woes, Switzer agreed to train a hunting dog, a Treeing Walker Coonhound,[8] for Moses Samuel "Bud" Stiltz, a longtime friend and sometime business partner whom he'd met while working with Roy Rogers on various productions at the Corriganville Movie Ranch. While in Switzer's possession, the dog ran off, to chase after a bear, and Stiltz was unsympathetic towards Switzer, firm in his demands that the former child star either return his dog or pay him the equivalent of the dog's value. Unable to produce cash to settle the debt, Switzer took out ads in newspapers and put up fliers, offering a reward for the safe return of the animal, and eventually, it was located and brought to the bar where Switzer was working at the time. The rescuer was rewarded with $35 in cash and $15 in alcoholic beverages, the equivalent of about $450 in 2020. The loss of his $50 didn't sit well with Switzer, and during an emotional conversation with his friend, Jack Piott, a 37-year-old unit still photographer, that took place a few days later, the two decided that Stiltz should reimburse Switzer the finder's fee, as the dog was Stiltz's and not Switzer's. The two arrived at Stiltz's home in Mission Hills, at 10400 Columbus Avenue, at the home Stiltz shared with his wife, Rita Corrigan, and his step-children, to demand money of Stiltz. Though differing accounts of the event exist, all agree that Stiltz was struck over the left side of his head with a glass clock and later retreated to his room to retrieve a .38-caliber revolver, which Switzer wrestled him for, causing the gun to discharge and almost shot Tom Corrigan, Stiltz's 14-year-old step-son.

Stiltz's account of the event was one of self-defense, testifying that Switzer had banged on his front door, yelling "Let me in, or I'll kick in the door." The threat was followed by a struggle that began with one of the men, Switzer or Piott, striking Stiltz with the clock, prompting him to retrieve his firearm, which Switzer grabbed for. The gun discharged accidentally, almost shooting Corrigan, after which Switzer, according to Stiltz threatened him with a knife and yelled "I'm going to kill you!" Stiltz fired and shot Switzer in the groin, damaging an artery that caused massive internal bleeding and Switzer was dead when he arrived at the hospital.[9]

Tom Corrigan's account differed significantly from his step-father's. He told investigators that Stiltz shot Switzer as he and Piott were leaving. After the gun's accidental discharge that almost hit Corrigan, Switzer, according to Corrigan, had a moment of clarity about the situation and turned to Piott and said they needed to leave. The two were headed for the door when Stiltz then fired the fatal shot, and Switzer never drew a knife as Stiltz had claimed he had. However, Corrigan was never called to testify at the coroner's inquest, and Stiltz testified in his favor, which was taken to be truthful despite physical evidence that contradicted his account and his past perjury conviction. Years later, Corrigan stood by what he told officers had happened that night, and said his step-father did not have to kill Switzer.

Controversy

The shooting was judged to be self-defense.[10] During the inquest regarding Switzer's death, it was revealed that what was reported as a "hunting knife" was in fact a penknife. It had been found by crime scene investigators under his body.

Over 42 years later, however, on January 25, 2001, a third witness came forward and gave his version. Tom Corrigan, son of Western movie star Ray "Crash" Corrigan and stepson of Moses Stiltz, was a child who 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 Switzer said "Western Union for Bud Stiltz." Corrigan's mother, Rita Corrigan, opened the door to find a drunk Switzer, complaining about a perceived month-old debt and demanding repayment. Corrigan said Switzer entered the house followed by Jack Piott and said he was going to beat up Stiltz, and Stiltz confronted Switzer with a .38-caliber revolver in his hand. Corrigan said that Switzer grabbed the revolver and Stiltz and Switzer struggled over it. He said Piott broke a glass-domed clock over Stiltz's head, causing Stiltz's eye to swell shut. During the struggle, a shot was fired into the ceiling and Corrigan was struck in the leg by a fragment. Corrigan said his two younger sisters ran to a neighbor's house to call for help. "Well, we shot Tommy, enough of this," he said he recalled Switzer saying, just before Switzer and Piott started to leave the house.

Corrigan said he had just stepped out the front door when he heard, but did not witness, a second shot behind him. He said he then turned and saw Switzer sliding down the wall with a surprised look on his face after Stiltz had shot him. Corrigan said he saw a closed penknife at Switzer's side, which he presumed fell out of his pocket or his hand. He said he then saw his stepfather shove Piott against the kitchen counter and threaten to kill him too. Corrigan said they heard emergency sirens as Piott begged for his life, and that he thought this was the only reason Stiltz did not kill Piott. Corrigan said his stepfather lied in his account of the event before the coroner's jury.[11]

Corrigan said a Los Angeles Police Department detective interviewed him and asked if he would testify before the judge. Corrigan said he agreed to, but he was never called before the court. "He didn't have to kill him," Corrigan said decades later.[12]

Moses Stiltz died in 1983 at the age of 62.

Burial

Carl Switzer was interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. Because he died the same day as Cecil B. DeMille, his death received only minor notice in most newspapers, as DeMille's obituary dominated the columns. Coincidentally, Switzer appeared as a slave (uncredited) in the last film for which DeMille was credited as a director, The Ten Commandments.

Switzer's gravestone features the square and compasses of Freemasonry and an image of a hunting dog, reflecting his dog-training hunting-guide interests at the time of his death.

Selected filmography

Film
Year Title Role Notes
1930 Little Rascals: Best of Our Gang
1933 Stage Mother 'Irish Eyes' singer Uncredited
1935 Beginner's Luck Tom 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 Too Many Parents Kid Singer
1936 Arbor Day Alfalfa Short film
1936 Kelly the Second Boy with Stomach Ache Uncredited
1936 Spooky Hooky Alfalfa Short film
1936 Ellis Island Manuel Uncredited
1936 Easy to Take Alfred Bottle
1937 Reunion in Rhythm Alfalfa Short film
1937 Rushin' Ballet Alfalfa Short film
1937 Pick a Star Minor Role Uncredited
1937 Mail and Female Alfalfa / Cousin Amiela Short film
1937 Our Gang Follies of 1938 Alfalfa Short film
1937 Wild and Woolly Zero
1938 Scandal Street Bennie Nordskudder
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 The Ice Follies of 1939 Small Boy Uncredited
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
1940 Barnyard Follies Alfalfa Credited as "Alfalfa" Switzer
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
1942 Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch Billy Wiggs
1942 Johnny Doughboy Alfalfa
1943 The Human Comedy Auggie Uncredited
1943 Shantytown 'Bindy'
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
1945 Man Alive Ignatius Uncredited
1945 She Wouldn't Say Yes Delivery Boy Uncredited
1946 Courage of Lassie First Youth, a hunter
1946 Gas House Kids Sammy Levine
1946 It's a Wonderful Life Freddie Othello Uncredited
1947 Gas House Kids Go West Alfalfa
1947 Gas House Kids in Hollywood Alfalfa
1947 Driftwood Messenger Uncredited
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
1949 Alias the Champ Newsboy
1950 House by the River Walter Herbert Uncredited
1950 Redwood Forest Trail Sidekick Alfie
1951 Belle Le Grand Messenger Boy Uncredited
1951 Cause for Alarm! Guy with Tex Uncredited
1951 Two Dollar Bettor Chuck Nordlinger
1951 Here Comes the Groom Messenger Uncredited
1952 Pat and Mike Bus Boy
1952 I Dream of Jeanie Freddie Credited as Carl Dean Switzer
1952 The WAC from Walla Walla Pvt. Cronkheit Uncredited
1953 Island in the Sky Sonny Hopper
1953 Flight Nurse Rifleman Uncredited
1954 The High and the Mighty Ensign Keim
1954 This Is My Love Customer
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
1957 Motorcycle Gang Speed
1958 The Defiant Ones Angus (final film role)
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"

See also

References

  1. ^ "Carl Switzer birth certificate".
  2. ^ "Switzer Name History, Name Meaning and Family Crest".
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Maltin, Leonard and Bann, Richard W. (1977, rev. 1992). The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang, pp. 178-180. New York: Crown Publishing/Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-517-58325-9
  5. ^ 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. Archived from the original on October 16, 2012. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  6. ^ "Obituary:Diantha M. Collingwood Eldridge". Hutchinson, Kansas: The Hutchinson News. December 2, 2004. p. 16.
  7. ^ "ALFALFA OF FILMS SHOT BY SNIPER". The Los Angeles Times. January 28, 1958. p. B1.
  8. ^ Kearns, Burt (August 27, 2019). "THE MURDER OF ALFALFA". PleaseKillMe. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  9. ^ L.A. Mirror News, Jan. 22, 1959 Accessed online January 24, 2009.
  10. ^ Cason, Colleen. "Death of a Little Rascal: After 40 years, eyewitness tells how Alfalfa died". Ventura County Star. January 21, 2001.
  11. ^ Cason, Colleen. "42 Years Ago: A friend recalls the death of Our Gang's Alfalfa". Winston-Salem Journal. January 28, 2001. p. E9.
  12. ^ "Alfalfa's Mysterious Death". Tvparty.com. Retrieved December 28, 2012.

Further reading

  • Best, Marc. Those Endearing Young Charms: Child Performers of the Screen. South Brunswick and New York: Barnes & Co., 1971, pp. 245–250.
  • Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914–1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1988, pp. 223–225.
  • Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995. Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, pp. 145–146.

Documentary

External links

This page was last edited on 20 August 2021, at 17:32
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