Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Death of "Our Gang's" Alfalfa

Metamorphosis of Carl Switzer into Alfalfa

The Little Rascals
The Little Rascals

According to The Little Rascals, by Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann, Carl Dean Switzer was born August 7, 1927 (some sources say 1928), in Paris, Illinois. His parents were Fred and Gladys Switzer and he had two older siblings: a brother named Harold Fredrick, and a sister named Janice "Genness" Genevieve. A second brother did not survive childbirth. The Switzers, like most families of the era, were victims of the Great Depression. Money was short, and Fred had difficulty finding work because of an accident that left him with only one foot. The Switzers often came up with innovative ways to make ends meet, which included having Harold and Carl perform popular songs at local agricultural fairs.

Gladys, Carl Switzer's mother
Gladys, Carl Switzer's mother

In 1934, the Switzers traveled to California, to visit with family members. While there, the family decided to take in the sights and eventually wound up at Hal Roach Studios. Following a public tour of the facility, the family paid a visit to the studio cafeteria. According to Tom Ludwig, author and operator of 4alfalfa.com, eight-year-old Harold and six-year-old Carl Switzer jumped up on one of the tables and began singing. As luck would have it, their act caught the attention of Hal Roach and the boys were quickly offered a role in an episode of Our Gang, a series of comedy shorts starring a troupe of neighborhood children and their wild adventures.

Hal Roach, Our Gang creator
Hal Roach, "Our Gang" creator

Hal Roach, the show's creator and executive producer, was impressed with Carl's ability to remember his lines and perform his scenes in one take. Roach immediately offered him a permanent part in the cast. The Switzers were ecstatic and quickly agreed to a formal contract. Following his first episode, the show directors bestowed the name "Alfalfa" upon young Carl. His younger brother Harold also remained on the show, playing the part of "Deadpan" or "Slim," but he lacked his younger brother's enthusiasm and was eventually relegated to occasional appearances.

Carl, Fred & Harold Switzer
Carl, Fred & Harold Switzer

According to thelittlerascals.net, one of the most commonly asked questions about the series is why some call it The Little Rascals while others call it Our Gang. The change in name was a result of television syndication. Hal Roach was forced to rename his 1929-1938 sound shorts The Little Rascals, because MGM owned the Our Gang name after the studio took over the series in 1938. Before running it on television, the renamed series of shorts had their original titles and credits removed and replaced with updated ones, with The Little Rascals printed on all of them.

Over the next six years, Carl Switzer acted in more than 60 episodes of Our Gang. He also appeared in a dozen or so unrelated films before leaving the series in 1940, at the age of 13. Switzer then appeared in several films. Most notable were his roles in It's A Wonderful Life and Going My Way.

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