Tragic death of child star Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, shot over a debt

It’s been 65 years since Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer was killed over a meager $50 debt, about $530 today.

Switzer, the scrawny freckle-faced boy who played Alfalfa in the series Our Gang through the 1930s, was only 31 when he was fatally shot by his former partner, in a slaying that was called a “justifiable homicide.”

Keep reading to learn more about the tragic ending to the former child star!

Carl Switzer, best known for his role as Alfalfa in the comedy series Our Gang – also The Little Rascals – was a child actor who gained fame during the 1930s and 1940s.

Born on August 7, 1927, in Paris, Illinois, Switzer’s career started when he and his older brother, Harold Switzer, scored roles in the Our Gang series, produced by Hal Roach.

The comedy short films, that spanned about two decades, followed the adventures of neighborhood children, including Spanky, Buckwheat, Darla, Alfalfa, and Petey the dog.

Despite initial difficulties getting onto the studio grounds, the seven-year-old Switzer and his brother, 10, captured the attention of Roach with an impromptu performance in the studio’s public cafeteria, leading to the siblings’ debut in the 1935 short film Beginner’s Luck.

Harold, known for his light blue shirt and blue overalls, was given the name “Slim” while his brother became known as the lovable yet mischievous character Alfalfa.

As Alfalfa, the freckle-faced boy with the squeaky voice and signature cowlick became one of the most recognizable child stars of his time.

He appeared in numerous Our Gang shorts, thrilling audiences with his comedic timing and expressive performances.

Over the years, Harold’s Slim slipped into the background while Alfalfa stole the spotlight as the sidekick to George McFarland’s Spanky.

Forever Alfalfa
Despite his success as a child actor, Switzer faced challenges transitioning into adult roles due to typecasting.

Alfalfa’s post-Our Gang career included several small roles in films like 1948’s State of the Union and 1952’s Pat and Mike, both starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, as well as Gas House Kids, reuniting him with his former Our Gang co-star Tommy “Butch” Bond.

From 1952 to 1955, he also played various roles in the Roy Rogers Show.

With little cash flow, Switzer supplemented his infrequent acting jobs by tending bar and leading big game hunting tours. He also bred and trained hunting dogs.

In addition to his professional troubles, his three-year marriage to Diantha Collingwood, a grain elevator heiress, ended in 1957. The two shared one son, Justin Lance, who was raised by Diantha’s next husband.

In 1958, his career started looking up with the drama film The Defiant Ones, where he played a supporting role alongside stars Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier.

But fate would not allow him to enjoy his success.

Financial burdens
On January 26, 1958, Switzer, known to imbibe, was seen outside of a Studio City bar, getting into his car when a bullet fired through the window, hitting him in the upper right arm.

The shooter was never found.

Then, in December of the same year, the Johnny Doughboy actor was arrested for cutting down pine trees from the Sequoia National Forest, that he planned to illegally sell as Christmas trees. He served one year’s probation and paid a $225 fine.

Less than one month since his arrest for the trees, Switzer lost a Treeing Walker Coonhound (a hunting dog), who belonged to his friend and former business partner, Moses Samuel “Bud” Stiltz.

Bud, unsympathetic to his friend’s financial burdens, insisted the 31-year-old Switzer return the dog or pay him $50, valued about $530 today.

Searching desperately for the animal, the struggling actor posted newspaper ads and signs, begging for the public’s help.

Fortunately, the dog was found and Switzer, paying the rescuer $50, expected that Stiltz would reimburse the funds.

‘He threw the knife at me’
On January 21, 1959, after a night of drinking, he and a friend went to collect the money from Stiltz.

But after a violent argument, the actor – a bartender at the Wolfe’s Den in Studio City – took a fatal shot in the abdomen.

According to police “there was a struggle for a pistol. It discharged, resulting in Mr. Switzer’s death.”

The fatal shooting, that happened in a San Fernando Valley home, was ruled a “justifiable homicide,” since it was alleged that Switzer pulled a knife.

“I took the gun away from Alfalfa and he threw the knife at me,” Stiltz told The Evening Bulletin on January 22, 1959. “That’s when I shot him.”

According to the outlet, “a knife was found beside Switzer’s body on the living room floor of the ranch-style home.”

Stiltz, who told police he had known knew Switzer for about a year and a half, added: “Alfalfa wanted me to pay him the reward money. Originally, he said it was $25 and at one time it was up to $75.”

It’s such a tragic ending to someone who brought so much laughter and joy to a generation.

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