The Life and Death of Alfalfa

It was just another one of those YouTube videos we arrive at without knowing how we got there. As the video starts, it is January 21, 1959 and we’re driving down Columbus Avenue, a street in the LA suburb of Mission Hills in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley. The narrator’s voice says life in Mission Hills was predictable and quiet.

At 7:00 pm that evening, families gathered in front of their televisions to watch one of the programs that night. One of their choices was to listen to Edward R. Murrow on the LA telelvision station KNXT about the integration of schools in the south. Another choice to watch was the short-lived western Union Pacific on KRCA. An additional program on television that evening on KTLA channel 5 was Art Laboe playing the top music hits of the day. And, channel 9 KHJ was playing the old Our Gang comedies that had been repackaged and renamed for television as The Little Rascals.

Viewers of The Little Rascals might have been watching one of the off-tune singing of the star of The Little Rascals, Carl “ALfalfa” Switzer. Suddenly, the residents on Columbus Avenue were interrupted by the wailing of police sirens. They would later know that while the freckle-faced little boy sang on their television sets, his adult-self was bing shot to death in one of their neighbor’s homes on Columbus Avenue. The single, violent act ended Switzer’s short life at just 32 years old (8/7/27-1/21/59).

As the narrator says, “The circumstances left behind many questions that still haunt his memory.” The narrator invites us to “Come walk with me to that night over sixty years ago and separate fact from myth of child star Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer.”

Spanky and Alfalfa at the Hal Roach Studios in 1935

The short biographical documentary examines the life of Carl Switzer from its beginning in Paris, Illinois on to Hollywood where he rose to the heights of stardom as a member of Hal Roach’s “Our Gang.” From there it follows him as his life and career falls to ruin. Finally, it explore the events that brought his life to its tragic conclusion at the end of a gun. Along the way we meet some of the people who changed his life forever, including the man who killed him. It’s an unbelievable story that has the Hollywood ending that is never written about.

It is one of the most lovingly created documentaries I’ve ever seen, almost impossible to turn away from once you’ve started watching. Whether you’re a fan of The Little Rascals or not, it soon becomes obvious that this documentary is a story of the love for the strange little freckled kid. I would give credit to the producer of the film but it is almost impossible to find out anything about him other than that his name is Matt and he creates other short documentaries on the lives of famous Hollywood people.

Take thirty minutes out of your day and fall down this little rabbit hole. It’s a much more moving story than the other stuff out there vying today for your attention.


One thought on “The Life and Death of Alfalfa

  1. I remember watching the Little Rascals and so enjoyed it ,and all the laughter we had watching those shows. How sad to know Carl(Alfalfa),couldn’t cope with growing up, things changing, and the sad ending of his young life.
    Life is always changing, never staying the same, but some people cannot accept the change and cope with it.
    Thanks for sharing Carl’s story, the young boy who played the character of Alfalfa and made us all love him. Barbara Newland

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