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A Year: Day to Day Men: 7th of August, Solar Year 2018

Roses and Arrows

August 7, 1927 was the birthdate of American singer and actor, Carl Dean Switzer, best known for his character “Alfalfa”.

As a child, Carl Switzer and his brother Harold became famous in their hometown for their musical talent and performances. Both of them could sing and play a number of instruments. In 1934, while the family traveled to California to visit relatives, they did some sight seeing at the Hal Roach Studios. After the tour and at the studio’s public cafeteria, Carl and Harold gave an impromptu performance which was seen by Hal Roach. Roach signed both brothers to appear in the studio’s “Our Gang” series. Harold was given the nicknames “Slim” and Deadpan”; Carl was dubbed “Alfalfa”.

Carl Switzer’s first appearance was in the 1935 “Our Gang” short film titled “Beginner’s Luck”. At the end of 1935, Carl, as Alfalfa with his hair in a cowlick, was one of the main characters; his brother Harold was relegated to a background actor. Although Carl was an experienced singer and musician, his character Alfalfa was often called upon to sing off-key renditions of popular songs, most often those of the popular singer Bing Crosby.

By the end of 1937, Carl Switzer as Alfalfa had surpassed George “Spanky” McFarland, the series’ nominal star, in popularity. While the boys got along, the two stars’ fathers argued constantly over their sons’ screen time and salaries. However, Carl Switzer was known for being abrasive and difficult on the set. He would often play cruel jokes on the other actors and hold up filming with his antics.

Carl Switzer’s role in the “Our Gang” series of films ended in 1940, when he was twelve. He continued to appear in films in various supporting roles including the 1944 movies “Going My Way”, which won Best Picture award for the year, and “The Great Mike”, in the role of eight-year old “Speck”, the movie hero’s dim-witted friend. He reprised his ‘Alfalfa’ character in the “Gas House Kids” comedies produced in 1946 and 1947. Switzer had a small role in the 1946 Christmas film “It’s A Wonderful Life” playing the dance date of Mary Hatch, performed by Donna Reed, in the film’s beginning.

In 1953 and 1954, Carl Switzer co-starred in three William Wellman directed films: “Island in the Sky” and “The High and the Mighty” both starring John Wayne, and “Track of the Cat” starring Robert Mitchum. In 1956 he co-starred in the “Bowery Boys” film “Dig That Uranium” followed by a small part in “The Ten Commandments”. His final film role was in the 1958 drama “The Defiant Ones”.

Besides acting, Carl Switzer bred and trained hunting dogs and guided hunting expeditions Among his clients were Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, James Stewart and Henry Fonda. Switzer was fatally shot in January of 1959 in a dispute over a fifty dollar reward for a returned missing hunting dog. The shooting was very controversial but was officially judged to be self-defense. Later testimony by a third witness brought up questions of murder; but the case was never reopened. Carl Switzer is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

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