Today’s Birthday Boy probably resonates more with parents than kids: It’s Carl Switzer, also known as the lovable Alfalfa from Our Gang (or The Little Rascals). Having originally aired nearly 90 years ago — take a moment to let that sink in — Our Gang perhaps isn’t as popular as it used to be, but it still holds a special place in the hearts of adults everywhere. Well, and kids born before the 1994 movie rendition. Anyway, it would be tough for you to find someone who has absolutely no idea who Alfalfa is, so we’re celebrating his birthday today. Unfortunately, Switzer’s success in that role didn’t exactly translate into his off-screen life, which was riddled with trouble. But we’ll get to that later.
Carl Switzer was born on August 7, 1927 in Paris, Illinois. His family struggled through the Great Depression and oftentimes relied on Carl and his brother Harold to perform short songs and dances to make money. It was on a trip to California that these short songs and dances really paid off: While visiting Hal Roach Studios, Switzer and his brother put on an impromptu performance in the cafeteria. Lucky for them, Hal Roach himself was in the room. The two were immediately signed on for guest appearances in Our Gang, which, for Switzer — his brother didn’t have as much success — turned into a full-time gig. Alfalfa quickly became the most popular character on the show.
Switzer’s role on Our Gang came to a close when he was just 12 years old in 1940. He appeared in several movies throughout the subsequent years, including Reg’lar Fellers, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, and Going My Way. You also might recognize him from small appearances in the popular flicks It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas. Switzer also continued to dabble in television, appearing on The Roy Rogers Show in the 50s and The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. But Switzer never really gained back the momentum he had back with Our Gang, and soon moved out of the limelight.
Because acting fell short of a full-time career for Switzer, he moved on to breeding and training hunting dogs. But it was in that field that he met his all-too-early demise: In 1959, Switzer was shot by Bud Stiltz in a dispute over money.
Even though Switzer died too young and left the entertainment industry too early, his role as Alfalfa will keep his legacy alive. Happy birthday, Carl Switzer!