Known to millions as the lovable, cow-licked "Alfalfa" in the "Our Gang" pictures of the late thirties, Carl Switzer was a huge star when he was eight-years old. From 1935-1942 Switzer played Alfalfa in 60 films for Hal Roach. By 1942 he was obviously too old, at 15, to continue in the still popular child films. His leading lady, Darla Hood, gracefully retired at age 14. Switzer remained on the fringes of Hollywood, struggling for bit parts. He was washed up before he was old enough to drink.
Drinking became a pass time, though. More than a hobby, even as the broke young actor, known to his friends as "Alfie", took bartending jobs to make ends meet. A bartender could always get a drink no matter how broke.
Hunting was Alfie's passion. He became a well-known guide. Hunting buddies, like Roy Rogers and Henry Fonda, got him occasional parts in movies, Going My Way(1944), It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and a few others, and television. His acting attracted no attention at all, but Alfie never gave up his dream to be a star again.
When the Our Gang pictures were repackaged in the 50s as the TV show The Little Rascals, suddenly Alfalfa was a star again to a whole new generation. But in 1935 TV had been a science experiment, Switzer's contract said nothing about TV residuals. Alfie didn't get a penny from his new fame. He drank more and brooded.
In 1958 Alfie got his big break, landing a good supporting role in The Defiant Ones. The controversial film was sure to be a hit. His role would certainly get some attention. Alfie's dream of a comeback was starting to look like a real possibility. But The Defiant Ones wouldn't be released until 1959. In the meantime Alfie still had to pay the rent.
In December, 1958 Alfie borrowed a hunting dog from a friend, Moses "Bud" Stiltz, for a trip he was guiding. That weekend the dog ran off so Alfie posted a $35 reward for his return. A few days later the dog was returned to a bar where Alfie was working. Grateful Alfie bought the guy a few drinks, running up a tab of about $15.
New Years must have been pretty hard for Alfie that year. He was 32 and broke. He had been a has-been for more years than his age when he had left Our Gang. His come-back was on hold until The Defiant Ones was released. A lifetime of frustration seemed to be overwhelming him. Drinking and brooding, he came to believe that Bud Stiltz owed him $50.
On the night of January 21, 1959, Alfie and a friend showed up at Stiltz's house. Flashing a fake badge they forced their way in. Using abusive language Alfie demanded his money and hit Stiltz in the face with a heavy clock. After a short struggle Stiltz shot Carl Switzer to death.
Alfie just couldn't get a break. He died on the same day as Cecil B. DeMille. C.B.'s death dominated the news for weeks. No-one noticed that Alfalfa was dead. The TV show went on. Bud Stiltz was acquitted on grounds of self-defense.
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