Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Alfalfa Down on His Luck

Carl Switzer in 1954, age 27
Carl Switzer in 1954, age 27

As Carl Switzer got older his money began to dwindle. Film contracts, especially short subject series, in the 1930s and '40s were not generous, and he was never entitled to any residuals for his many appearances as the character Alfalfa. Switzer never saw any of the millions the Our Gang series earned from endless syndication. In between acting jobs, he found work as a bartender, dog trainer and fishing and hunting guide.

During 1954, Switzer married a woman named Dian Collingwood. The couple had one child together, a boy, whose name remains well guarded to this day. Few details are known about the couple's relationship, but the marriage quickly came to an end and the couple divorced within four months.

Carl Switzer, wife and baby
Carl Switzer, wife and baby

Switzer's luck did not get better with time. According to Maltin and Bann, he was having difficulty securing meaningful acting jobs and in January 1958, he was shot in the arm while getting into his car. Switzer survived the shooting, but the assailant was never identified.

Several months later, Switzer was arrested in Sequoia National Forest for chopping down 15 pine trees. His motive for this act remains unclear, but a judge sentenced him to a year's probation and ordered him to pay a $225 fine.

By the end of 1958, things were beginning to look up. Switzer, then 32, was given a supporting role in the film The Defiant Ones. With this new role came the renewed hope of making a comeback. Regardless, the film was not due to release until the following year and Switzer would have to continue earning a living in the meantime.

Video cover: The Defiant Ones
Video cover: The Defiant Ones

During the beginning of January 1959, Switzer borrowed a hunting dog from a friend, Moses 'Bud' Stiltz, for a hunting expedition he was planning to guide. However, shortly after picking up the dog, it ran off. Switzer posted a reward of $35 dollars for the animal's return and within a few days a man called to claim the money. Switzer was elated and instructed the man to deliver the dog to the tavern where he was tending bar. Upon the man's arrival, Switzer paid him the reward money and bought the man several drinks, which in the end totaled $15.

During the next several weeks, Switzer began having financial problems. He was still not receiving checks for his last film and he was nearly broke. He began drinking heavily and eventually decided to confront Stiltz and demand he pay him the money for recovering the lost dog. Either heavy drinking or faulty logic prevented Switzer from accepting that he was solely at fault in the dog's running away. Regardless, his decision would prove to be a fatal one.

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