The news media and masses love stories that deviate from normalcy and enter the realm of superstition. It’s human nature – we are hopelessly attracted to occurrences and phenomena we can’t explain. Often times, these inexplicable happenings are described as paranormal curses. Examples include The Kennedy Curse (used in reference to all the heart-wrenching tragedies and assassinations that family suffered) and The 27 Club (which refers to the popular musicians and actors who died at that young age – James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin etc.).
There is also a similar curse associated with the persistent bad luck, law run-ins, grave health and early deaths that befell so many of the child actors of the popular Little Rascals/Our Gang series. Below are ten of the child actors who couldn’t escape the Little Rascals curse.
Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer
One of the most recognizable and well-known figures from the Little Rascals was Carl Switzer known as Alfalfa. He was easily recognizable with his unique parted hair-do and distinct preppy style. He played this role from 1935-1940 from the age of 7-12. But as we all know, the transition from successful child actor to working adult actor can be a tricky and torturous one. To supplement his career, he worked as a bartender and also trained hunting dogs. It was the latter occupation that eventually brought about his demise.
Switzer was reportedly training a hunting dog for a man named Samuel Stiltz. The dog went missing during a hunting trip and Switzer put up a $50 reward to find it. Someone found it and brought it over to the bar Switzer was working in. He ended up paying the dog’s finder $35 and buying him drinks worth $15. The story goes that Switzer went to the dog’s owner (Samuel Stiltz) to get the $50 paid back, and a disagreement and vicious fight ensued that ended with Switzer getting shot in his abdomen. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital – the date was Jan 21st 1959. He was just 31-yrs-old.
Norman “Chubby” Chaney
Norman Chaney is another one of the Our Gang/Little Rascals child actors who met an early death. He joined the cast of the Our Gang show in 1928 at the age of 14. At that point in time, he was only 3’11” and weighed approximately 113lb. He remained on the cast for three years and left in 1930. Following his acting stint in the show, he decided to pursue a life outside of acting. He returned to school but his weight continuing to increase – eventually topping out at 300lbs even though he was just 4ft 7 inches tall. To remedy this unhealthy weight situation, he sought out treatment at Johns Hopkins hospital. The treatment seemed to work and his weight dropped to 140lb. But after his medical treatment, he ended up getting seriously ill and passed away on May 29, 1936 at the age of 21.
Every group of characters needs a leading lady and for the Our Gang/Little Rascals, that role was Darla. The character was played by Darla Jean Hood, a native of Oklahoma. She joined the show in 1935 at the young age of four and went on to appear in Our Gang films for a respectable duration of six years. After her stint with the popular film series, she continued acting and also excelled in the realm of singing. She actually scored at hit record in 1957 titled “I Just Wanna Be Free.” The story of her death is really quite sad. She was reportedly preparing for a Little Rascals reunion in California when she had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. Following the surgery, she died suddenly from heart failure on June 13, 1979. She was 47-yrs-old.
Robert “Wheezer” Hutchins
Another much-loved actor on the Little Rascals film series of the earliest 20th century was Robert (Bobby) Hutchins who played the role of Wheezer. Hutchins appeared on the series from 1926-33. His stint on Our Rascals spanned the duration from when the show had no sound until the early years of sound on the series. After his time on the show, Wheezer moved back to Tacoma where he attended public school and joined the US Army in 1943. It was in the army where he apparently succumbed to the Little Rascals curse. Hutchins was a pilot in the military, and on May 17th, 1945, he was involved in a mid-air crash with a North American Aviation T-6 fighter plane. Perhaps the saddest part his death is that the crash involved another US military plane during a training operation – not even an enemy fighter. He died at the age of 20.
William “Froggy” Laughlin
Hailing from California, William (Billy) Laughlin (pictured above center) appeared in the Our Gang movies from 1940-1944 – which was pretty much the last stretch of the film series. Laughlin had the nickname “Froggy” because of a croaky voice that ended being his character’s signature on the show. After his stint on the show ended, Laughlin then aged 12, veered away from the acting business to enjoy a pretty normal teenage life in California. This was until August 31, 1948 when he was delivering newspapers while riding a motor scooter in La Puente, CA. His scooter was struck by a bus and he was killed instantly. He was just 16-yrs-old.
Harold Switzer was the older brother of Carl Switzer (who played the popular role of Alfalfa) from 1935 to 1940. He was mostly cast as an extra on the show and he outgrew the show in 1940 when he was 15-yrs-old. Harold never really pursued the Hollywood life, opting for a more low profile existence. He worked for several years at a Speed Queen franchise. In 1967, Harold reportedly killed a customer over a dispute. After committing this murder, he drove himself to a deserted area in Glendale, California and killed himself. Harold Switzer was 42-years-old when he died. He lived 11 years older than his younger brother who died at the age of 31.
William “Buckwheat” Thomas
William “Billie” Thomas played the role of Buckwheat, a popular character on the Our Gang/Little Rascals show from 1935-1944. It’s worth noting here that Our Gang was already casting multi-racial characters in the 1930s. When he left the show, he joined the military in 1954 for two years and was awarded two medals for his service. Back in civilian life, he never had the urge to return to the acting life. However, he did end up finding a career in a field related to the film industry. He had a reasonably long career as a film and lab technician for the Technicolor corporation. But similar to the other actors written about in this list, he met an untimely death when he suffered a fatal heart attack in his LA apartment on October 10, 1980. He was 49-yrs-old.
Scotty Beckett was born in Oakland, California in 1929. He appeared in the Little Rascals series from 1934-35. He played the best friend of another show favorite named George “Spanky” McFarland. After he left the show, he got regular child acting gigs and even found consistent work as a young adult. He also attended the University of Southern California but dropped out because it was too difficult to juggle an acting career and classes. His career scored a big break in 1954 when he was cast as the comic sidekick ‘Winky” of the popular TV show Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. Following his acting career, he tried his hand at real estate but things never really worked and that’s when the problems started. He had several run-ins with the law for drunk-driving, drug possession and passing fraudulent checks. In 1962, he even tried suicide after going on a heavy drinking spree.
Beckett checked into a nursing home on May 8, 1968 after receiving a vicious beating – the circumstances around this are cloudy. He was found dead on May 10th 1968 and a note and pills were found nearby. He was just 38-years-old.
Robert “Bonedust” Young
Robert Young was another child actor who met an untimely demise after starting off his career with the Our Gang/Little Rascal film series. He was a prominent part in the series from 1925-31. Unlike most of his other colleagues, he actually had a pretty decent acting career after leaving the series. He appeared in Warner Bros. films like Possessed and Blood on the Moon. However, he never got to see his 34th birthday. He died tragically in 1951, when he was engulfed in a hotel fire that was started by a cigarette he was smoking when he inadvertently fell asleep.
Matthew “Stymie” Beard
Beard was another cast member of the Little Rascal series. He started on the show from 1930-35, and his nickname on set was “stymie.” He was instantly recognizable on film for the black bowler hat he always wore. After leaving the show at the age of 10, he found a few acting roles here and there but by the time he got to high school, he was facing major problems in life and was already addicted to heroin. This addiction turned his early twenties into a revolving door in and out of jail. In his 30’s, he entered rehab and successfully kicked his habit, and he went on to make guest appearances in shows like Sanford and Son and Good Times. Beard also passed away too early in 1981 after succumbing to pneumonia following a major stroke. He was 56-yrs-old.