Friday, August 8, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #34: Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, The Little Rascals' Little Tenor!

Everybody of a certain age remembers growing up with The Little Rascals constantly playing on afterschool TV right alongside The Three Stooges and classic cartoon favorites.  Back when children's shows were mostly local in origin various regional hosts would happily present the then twenty to thirty-year-old popular theatrical shorts to a whole new generation of fans.  The timeless antics of the rambunctious and genuinely hilarious child performers assembled by producer Hal Roach never failed to amuse and would continue to do so today if they were running anywhere (which I don't think they are) though some of the shorts are available on Hulu (click here). ( BTW, The Little Rascals are what these shorts were called on TV, originally known as Our Gang).

The Little Rascals favorite stalwart Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer was born on August 7, 1927.  One of the most popular characters of the troupe, Alfalfa was an ardent heartthrob and serenading romeo, singing his heart out -- mostly off-key -- to his beloved Darla.  The amusing scrapes and shenanigans of the Rascals surely reminded movie-going audiences the first time around in the 1930s of their own childhoods at a more innocent time.  When they became a TV staple decades later they were a fascinating look backwards at a time that the kiddy audiences had no direct knowledge of  -- and the shorts were not originally produced as children's entertainment anyway but designed as general comedy material -- but could relate to through the timeless quality of the humor.

Ah, if only real life could always be as uncomplicated and fun as the exciting onscreen existence of The Little Rascals.  That real life for Carl Switzer found him still continuing to work in Hollywood after the Rascals shorts wound down in 1940, but the once-adorable little boy Switzer was now an awkward teenager with a reputation as somewhat of a troublemaker and wild child on sets.  Even so, he was still talented and continued to land roles in features, other short subjects and later on TV series, though he also became sought-after for his off-screen second career skills as a dog-breeder and a hunting guide to the stars.

A not-too-successful marriage in 1954 didn't boost Switzer's happiness quotient much, and even more unhappily his successful canine businesses ultimately resulted in a much-discussed attack on Switzer which ended in his death on January 21, 1959 at the age of 31.  Still the subject of a lot of controversy -- the judge ruled "Justifiable Homicide" during the trial of Switzer's killer -- the violent shooting of a man who would forever be known as the innocent little Alfalfa was a shocker.

The mysterious murder has been covered in some detail on several websites, including an account on The Crime Library (click here), a great story by fellow actor Eddie Deezen on Neatorama (click here), this one from Frank's Reel Reviews (click here), and this page as part of a Little Rascals tribute site (click here).  In terms of more general info, there is a nice overview page on Our Gang available by clicking here, TCM ran an Our Gang tribute at one time and there is a nice article available by clicking here, an article debunking the Our Gang curse here on, one about the curse here, and you can get a great overview by visiting the Our Gang Wikia by clicking here.

We'll revisit Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer with a couple of clips of his comedy moments, then an episode from his later career on TV's Science Fiction Theatre from 1955, and finally an episode from the terrific E! network show from 1998 Mysteries and Scandals, hosted by A.J. Benza, on Switzer's life and untimely death. Enjoy!

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