Alfalfa and the Dog of Death

The gravestone in Hollywood Memorial Park reads: “Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, 1927-1959.” Below the dates is a carved profile of Petey, Our Gang’s mascot pit bull, and two Masonic symbols: the draftsman’s compass and a scimitar.

Alfalfa made 61 Our Gang shorts between 1935 and 1941. With his idiot grin, preternatural whine and heavily waxed cowlick (to stand up under the lights) he was the hopeless hayseed lover boy.

One episode, “Harum Scarum,” featured Alfalfa as Valentino as the Sheik. Slashing the air with his cardboard sword, he fought to the death with Butch, to rescue slave-princess Darla. Spanky made a perfect Grand Eunuch, peeking through layers of gauzy muslin as Alfalfa crooned “I’m in the Mood for Love.”

But pimply-faced and gangly at fourteen, he was kicked out of Our Gang. After a few bit parts, he ended up as a bartender and then a hunting guide in northern California. Henry Fonda and Roy Rogers were his two most famous clients.

In 1954, in Track of the Cat, he played an ancient Apache with a mystical connection to the black panther which is stalking Robert Mitchum’s farm. His makeup is so heavy, he looks more like an effigy carved out of stale putty than a human being. He doesn’t speak, just shuffles like a bent-over mummy brought back from the dead.

Death came as a dog. He lost his hunting hound, and had to pay his neighbor, Bud Stiltz a 50 dollar reward to get it back. But after forking over the fifty bones, in a drunken rage, wearing his Shriner’s fez, Alfalfa stormed back into Bud’s cheap bungalow and demanded the money back. Bud refused. Alfalfa yelled and threatened, waving a buck knife like a scimitar.

Bud produced an automatic - U.S. Army surplus. Alfalfa attacked, the two men struggled and the gun went off. Alfalfa got it in the stomach and died within minutes.

At the trial, Bud broke down and wept, describing how he’d killed his buddy. The judge acquitted him, declaring the death “justifiable homicide.”