1. The Overdose Death of Anissa Jones
Mary Anissa Jones was born in West Lafayette, Indiana to Purdue students John P. Jones and Mary P. Tweel on March 11, 1958. Pronounced (Uh-nee-suh), her name is Lebanese and means "Little Friend."
While Anissa was still a very young girl, her family would move to Playa del Rey, California with hopes that their precious little gem could hit it big in showbiz.
Her hard-driving mother enrolled Anissa in dance classes at the tender young age of four. By the time she was six, Anissa was hawking cereal in her first television commercial. A couple of years later, in 1966, Anissa's acting talents would catch the attention of television producers Edmund Beloin and Henry Garson. Beloin and Garson were preparing a new television sitcom called Family Affair and felt Anissa would be perfect as Elizabeth "Buffy" Patterson-Davis.
Her Star Shines Bright
Originally to be an older sister to Johnny Whitaker's character Jody, upon Brian Keith's (Uncle Bill) insistence, the role was rewritten to be Jody's twin sister. Anissa would play Buffy for the show's entire run. Her schedule was grueling, often requiring her to work on or for the show all year round and sometimes even seven days a week. But in June of 1969, Anissa's hard work would pay off. The show hit number 1 in the ratings, turning Buffy and Jody into household names. Buffy's doll, Mrs. Beasley, would also become the best-selling doll in America at one time during the show's run.
Anissa's fame would continue to grow, as she went on to appear in numerous television specials including Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, To Rome With Love (TV series guest appearance), and as a presenter at the 1967 Emmy Awards. Merchandising deals, although not as lucrative as they are today, would eventually come her way as well. There were Buffy paper dolls, Family Affair coloring books and lunch boxes, a Buffy line of children's clothes, and a Buffy Cookbook in 1971, with Anissa featured on the cover.
Her Brother, Paul
Due to logistical concerns, Anissa's younger brother, Paul almost always accompanied her to the studio. Anissa was very fond of Paul and her love and kindness would often show while on the set. As the star of a hit TV series, Anissa naturally would quite often receive gifts. She always demanded that an identical one for her brother accompany any gift she received. If a gift were not brought for Paul, she would kindly give her gift away. Even at this very young age, Anissa's kind heart was beginning to show.
Mrs. Beasly DollAs further evidence of her kindness, upon the death of Earl Graham, a janitor on the Family Affair set, Anissa had her Mom take out a $400 ad in Variety Magazine allowing Anissa to say goodbye to her good friend. Although Earl was nothing more than a janitor, Anissa saw him as a kind friend.
The Affair is Over
Family Affair would go on for five seasons and 138 total episodes. But after the 1971 season the show began to slump in the ratings and was immediately cancelled. Surprisingly though, Anissa was thrilled that the show's run was over as it would now mean she could finally go to school, hang out with her friends, and just be a normal girl. But most of all it meant she could finally get rid of that stupid Mrs. Beasley doll that the producers insisted she continue to play with even though was now thirteen years old. Anissa had grown tired of show biz.
Once she left the show, Anissa's relationship with her divorced mother would continue to deteriorate. Anissa and her brother eventually moved in with their father. After their father's death, Paul and Anissa were forced to move back with their mother who lived at 100 Rees Street in Playa Del Rey, but Anissa often spent much of her time at a friend's house instead. This, along with the fact that Anissa's grades at Westchester High in L.A. began to slip, infuriated her mother. Her mother would file a police report denoting her daughter as a runaway. Anissa also spent some time in jail (juvenile detention) in hopes that she could get her life back together. But upon her release, Anissa again began hanging out at the beach, drinking and using drugs. Her life was spiraling out of control and little did she know, it would lead to an untimely demise some two short years later.
Royalties at Last
Hoping to make ends meet and to bide away time until her eighteenth birthday when she would receive royalties from Family Affair, Anissa took a job at Winchell's Donut Shop at 8139 Manchester Avenue in Playa Del Rey. After her eighteenth birthday, Anissa would receive her $70,000 trust fund and $107,800.00 in US Savings Bonds from her Family Affair earnings (paltry by today's standards). She and Paul moved into an apartment together. Anissa then went and bought herself a brand-spanking new Ford Pinto and her brother a loaded Camaro that cost twice as much as her own car. Anissa clearly had fun with her generosity.
With her newfound freedom, her recent wealth, and more drugs than she knew what to do with, Anissa would begin partying in the hardiest of ways. She also started seeing a guy named Allan Kovan who did nothing to stop her downward spiral.
Anissa's drug problem continued to escalate to the point that she was taking large doses of quaaludes, angel dust, cocaine, barbiturates, liquor, and marijuana. Buffy's life was on a one-way track to hell and Uncle Bill, Jody, Sissy and Mr. French were not there to pull her out.
On August 28th, 1976, while attending a party at her friend Helen's house, at 2312 Littler Lane in Oceanside, Anissa would take one of her healthy doses of barbiturates, phencyclidine, cocaine and methaquaalone (what a party girl). Her boyfriend claims to have checked on her in the wee hours of the morning and she was fine. An hour later her friends would find Anissa dead. After putting clothes on her, they called the paramedics but it was too late. Anissa was declared dead from what the coroner would reportedly call one of the most massive overdoses he'd ever seen. Anissa Jones was just eighteen years old.
A friend, fellow student and partymate Steve Hanford recalled the following about Anissa's death. "The night Anissa died was wierd. She wasn't being very social. She and some other kids stayed in a bedroom taking angel dust and coke. When Anissa came out of the bedroom she said she and some friends were going down to Oceanside to visit her friend Helen Hennessey. The next thing I heard about Anissa was that she was dead. It blew my mind because I thought she was too smart to destroy herself with drugs. She didn't seem depressed the week before she died"
Kathy Garver, who played Buffy's older sister Sissy, said, "It's so tragic. As much as Anissa tried to disassociate herself from the little girl she played on the show, I still found her the same person. She and Buffy were the same wonderful person."
Her body would be taken to McCormick Funeral Home in Inglewood and then to the Pacific Crest crematory in Redondo Beach for cremation. On September 1, 1976 her ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean. Mrs. Beasley has left the building.
Eight years after Anissa's accidental overdose, her brother, Paul, would also die from a drug overdose. I guess it ran in the family.
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2. Gang member convicted of murdering 'Judging Amy' actress
The actress, Tara Correa-McMullen, 16, was killed Oct. 21, 2005. Inglewood police said she was shot several times in the torso while standing outside an apartment complex on East Plymouth Street about 5:45 p.m. Two men also were shot but survived.
Prosecutors alleged that Damien Watts and a co-defendant who has yet to stand trial were involved in several gang-related shootings at that time.
Watts also was convicted of killing 31-year-old Thomas Sanders. The district attorney's office did not seek the death penalty. Watts faces life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced Feb. 27.
On "Judging Amy," Correa-McMullen played a troubled and remorseless teenager, Graciela Reyes, who had been abandoned by her mother and two brothers who fled to Guatemala.
Judge Amy, played by Amy Brenneman, tries to turn Graciela's life around, but the teen gets involved in a drive-by shooting. Judge Amy attempts to prevent Graciela from being tried as an adult. She fails, but almost succeeds in getting her a new trial when Graciela is murdered in prison.
Correa-McMullen also was a co-star in the Martin Lawrence film "Rebound."
3. EXCLUSIVE: 'They have never been apart': Relatives share concern for Sawyer Sweeten's twin as they reveal star had history of depression before shooting himself in aunt's house just a room away from his brother
This comes as we can reveal the 19-year-old died at his aunt's house in Austin, Texas where he had been vacationing with his twin brother Sullivan.
Sweeten's aunt Chele Knapp Robinette lives in the large home with husband Vince Robinette and their three children. Both work in the television industry.
Today family gathered in Austin to console each other over Sawyer's tragic death.
The loss of the Everybody Loves Raymond actor at just 19 has severely shaken his loved ones, who are still searching for answers as to why he decided to end his life.
It's believed Sawyer shot himself at the Austin house in an upstairs room while the rest of the family were downstairs.
The $800,000 home, which has a swimming pool at the back, is located on a quiet cul-de-sac on a smart estate towards the edge of the city.
Family reeling from the tragedy are now trying to piece together what happened.
Sawyer's cousin, Jacklyn Stines, 64, points to a history of depression running through the family, and said he had suffered with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and learning difficulties.
Speaking at her home in Oxnard, California, she told Daily Mail Online: ‘Sawyer and Sullivan were the cutest little kids.
'They were a little small, they were born early, and with them being twins, they’re smaller in stature.
‘Sawyer had a lot of problems in school and had to be on medication, I don’t know if that had something to do with it. He had learning disabilities and ADHD.
‘I’ve heard he was depressed, but I don’t know what exactly about.
‘There is a history of depression in the family, all through. Many of them are on medication for depression.
‘My mother and uncles, sister and brothers all had depression, it just runs in the family, something we’ve all inherited.
‘Those boys were so precious, I can’t imagine what would have been going through Sawyer’s mind, what he could have been thinking. He has left his twin brother.’
Sawyer and Sullivan had appeared on Everybody Loves Raymond since they were 16 months old, as Geoffrey and Michael Barone.
They were joined on the show by their older sister Madylin, now 23, who played the part of Ally Barone from 1996 until the show ended in 2005.
The children also have a younger teenage sister, Maysa, as well as a number of step-brothers and sisters.
Jacklyn says Madylin was very close to her brothers and protective of them, but that the identical twins were closest in the family and did everything together, and had recently bought a house in California for them both to live in.
‘I worry for Sullivan now, I just don’t know how he’s going to take it, they have never been apart. I hope they keep an eye on him, I’m very worried about it,’ she said.
‘They had their own house, they had only just got in there, I think they’d lived there less than a year. They also both had motorcycles.
‘They were such good boys, it’s so hard to believe, those poor babies. And they have four younger sisters, how are they going to tell them?
‘There’s real concern for Sullivan. They did every single thing together and now his brother has gone.’
While Jacklyn doesn’t know why Sawyer chose to take his own life while visiting his family in Texas, she speculates he had easier access to weapons there than he would have in his home state of California.
She said: ‘There are lots of guns at his dad’s house, they all hunted, their father took them hunting frequently. I’m sure they had their own rifles, and they would most likely have been kept at his dad’s house.
‘They loved their father and had a good relationship with him, they would visit Texas very regularly.’
Jacklyn says her large wider family is very close and hold annual reunions back in Texas.
She remembers how children’s parties were some of the most memorable events for the family and one of her fondest memories is of Sawyer and Sullivan’s first birthday party, where they each had a separate cake, and from which she has shared her family photos.
She also remembered how well-mannered the twins were when they attended the funeral of her mother after she had passed away three years ago.
Jacklyn says Sawyer and Sullivan were both shy individuals and very modest about their fame as child stars.
She said that the show had left them comfortable, but that they weren’t flashy with their money.
She said: 'They earned good money on Everybody Loves Raymond, and they were still getting paid for re-runs, even now.
'I don’t know how much money they had but it must have been quite good. What 18- or 19-year-old can afford to buy a house like they did?
'As far as I know they were financially independent. Before the show went into residuals they were earning something like $75,000 a piece, but it went into a trust fund.
'And [their mother] Elizabeth [Millsap] was good, she made sure they had good deals with the studio.
'But the boys could care less about acting. The boys did it in school, but it wasn’t a big deal for them.
Although it was all they knew because they grew up on the TV.
'They replaced another set of twins who were on the show, because they wouldn’t do what they were told.
'Madylin had already been cast and these were her actual twin brothers so they worked really good together.'
According to Jacklyn, not even the twins’ parents, Elizabeth and Timothy Sweeten – who have divorced and have both since remarried – could tell them apart when they were babies, while also sending her warmest thoughts out to them and all of her family at this difficult time.
'I could never tell them apart. In fact the parents used to put a little nail polish on one of their feet so they could tell them apart,' she remembers with the hint of a smile, before her face becomes more serious.
She added: ‘I have told Elizabeth that I love her and I’m praying for her and anything she needs, I’ll be there.
'I couldn’t even imagine. Losing a child – it doesn’t seem fair.'
Jacklyn – who has recently sold the business she and husband Dean, 68, used to run in preparation for retirement - also said she expects Sawyer’s body to be brought back to California and for his funeral to take place near to the family’s home.
Yesterday a family spokesman in Austin told Daily Mail Online how the family has been coping with the loss.
The spokesman, a close family member who asked not to be named, said: 'We are all still shocked and devastated, that's the bottom line.
'Everything is still fresh, you can't anticipate stuff like this. Sawyer was such a sweet boy from small town Texas. He loved coming back here.
'His dad Tim is really struggling with this, we all are.'
A spokesperson for Travis County Sheriff's Department confirmed Sunday that Sawyer died at the home which is in Bee Cave, a suburb 12 miles outside of Austin.
The spokesperson said: 'We are awaiting the results of the autopsy and toxicology tests from the Medical Examiners Office, the investigation is ongoing.'
On Saturday Sawyer's grieving mother Elizabeth posted on her Facebook wall two recent photos of Sawyer wearing a hat and smiling.
She also wrote on her timeline: 'The outpouring of support has been so comforting. To those that have been with me physically...you have been invaluable.'
Also Saturday Sawyer's sister updated her Facebook profile picture with a snap of her brother swimming with a dolphin.
After Sawyer's death she wrote: 'At this time I would like to encourage everyone to reach out to the ones you love. Let them have no doubt of what they mean to you.'
Sawyer's grandmother also thanked relatives for their support, writing: 'This has been gut-wrenching.'
Sawyer was born in Brownwood, Texas in 1995, but his family moved to Los Angeles when he and his twin brother were still young.
Relatives say the twins would return to the Lone Star State several times a year to visit family, including their dad Tim, grandmother Kay Millsap and a number of aunts and uncles.
The cast of Everybody Loves Raymond was nominated for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series seven times by the Screen Actors Guild, winning the coveted Actor in 2003.
The show, meanwhile,t won the Outstanding Comedy Series award at the Emmy Awards in both 2003 and 2005.
Overall, it earned 69 Emmy nominations during its run and won 15, mostly for acting.
Raymond starred Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton as Raymond and Debra Barone, a couple raising their three children in Long Island.
It was one of the most-watched shows on the air during its ninth season, and the second-most popular comedy behind NBC's Friends
When asked if he had a fondest memory from his time on the show in 2010, Sawyer said; 'All my memories are fond.'
The show currently airs in syndication around the world.
4. ‘Three Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide:’ Judith Barsi’s Tragically Short Life
Despite her brother’s advice, Maria coached her child in posture, poise, and voice. The mother’s training paid off when an odd happenstance launched Judith’s career. Members of a crew shooting a commercial at a skating rink noticed five-year-old Judith’s skillful skating. She was hired for her first commercial for Donald Duck Orange Juice.
Maria began taking the child on auditions. Judith got regular work in commercials. In 1984, she played a little girl murdered by her father in the TV mini-series Fatal Vision that was based on a real-life case. However, Judith’s earnings were not yet enough to prevent the family from suffering financial hardships in 1985 when Joe’s drinking prevented him from working. He opposed Maria working outside the home. The family was on welfare for a brief period.
In 1985, Judith was cast in the TV film Do You Remember Love? Sherry Barber’s daughter Andrea, eight, also acted in the film. Barber later wrote about time in a trailer between takes. She recalled, “Maria and Judith took turns reading from a storybook, their voices sweet and soft and animated. Before long Judith called out to Andrea and started a round of knock-knock jokes, which led to some riddles, giggles and note-passing under the door.” In one note, Judith drew a bird, flowers, and hearts.
The Brasi financial situation improved greatly in 1986 when Judith began getting earning a high income. Although she never became a star, she eventually worked in over 50 commercials as well as in TV shows and movies. By age seven, she earned over $100,000 in a year. That money enabled the family to buy a four-bedroom home in Canoga Park.
Although Judith enjoyed acting, it occasionally had a downside. Take after take after take for commercial for Campbell’s Tomato Soup left her with an aversion to tomato soup. She never ate it again.
Judith loved to swim and to play in her best friend’s sprinkler. She also loved playing the Milton Bradley game Operation.
Joe appeared to adore Judith, fondly calling her “Little One.” However, he also often appeared inexplicably angry at her. A neighbor recalled that on one occasion, Maria brought a kite home for Judith. Joe grabbed it.
“You’re going to break it!” Judith exclaimed as he roughly handled it.
To both neighbor and wife, Joe said, “Look at her! She’s just a spoiled brat and doesn’t share her new toy!” Joe perversely broke the kite into pieces.
Maria filed a police report in 1986, accusing Joe of threatening her over the last five years. She also said he hit and choked her. Police found no evidence of injuries on Maria and she eventually refused to prosecute.
In 1987, Judith was cast in her first motion picture, Jaws IV: The Revenge. She had to film it on location in the Bahamas. Before she left, her father gave her a terrifying farewell. He brandished a knife and warned, “If you decide not to come back, I will cut your throat!”
When filming finished, Judith and Maria visited Weldon in Flushing, New York. Judith talked with Joe over the phone. “Remember what I told you before you left,” he shouted.
The terrified child burst into tears and ran into a bedroom. Mother and daughter returned to California where family disruption continued to torment Judith.
Joe’s friend Peter Kivlen recounted that Joe saying he would kill Maria. Kivlen would ask, “If you kill her, what will happen to your Little One?”
Joe answered, “I gotta kill her, too.”
Although Joe’s anger often flared against both wife and child, he frequently apologized profusely to Judith and reassured her of his love. After pulling her hair in rage, he bought “Little One” a pink television set to make up for it.
To a large extent, Judith was on the receiving end of rage that had its roots in traumas Joe had suffered long before her birth. Joe and Maria did not know each other in their native Hungary but both fled it following the 1956 Soviet invasion. Joe had suffered a “miserable” childhood because his out-of-wedlock birth left him stigmatized. Maria had enjoyed a happier childhood in a university town. The two met in a Los Angeles restaurant that attracted many Hungarian immigrants. Joe was a customer and Maria was a waitress. The handsome man often paid for drinks with $100 bills.
They were happy in the early years of their marriage. However, the wounds from Joe’s childhood had left him hypersensitive. He exploded in fury if anyone laughed at his accent. Maria sometimes ripped open the central wound of his childhood by hurling “bastard” at him in arguments.
Joe’s heavy drinking led to three DUI arrests.
Although Maria was a full-time homemaker because of Joe’s opposition to her working outside the home, he complained about her housekeeping to friends and showed them mounds of clothes and toys left throughout the house.
Acting meant Judith often missed school. According to friend Lisa Williams, 10, Judith said she “missed being in school because she missed her friends a lot.” Lisa’s mother, Linda Williams, recalled Maria as a protective mother. “The child was not allowed to go anywhere – very few places – alone,” Linda said.
According to Kivlen, Joe acquired a girlfriend in 1988. He lavished expensive gifts on her including a ring and necklace.
Judith told a couple who were friends of the family, “I’m afraid to go home. My daddy is miserable. My daddy is drunk every day and I know he wants to kill my mother.”
In May 1988 Judith attended an audition for a singing part in an animated feature. The child burst into tears. Appalled by her client’s distress, Hansen suggested Maria take Judith to a child psychologist. Maria did. Hansen recalled talking to the psychologist who said, “Ruth, it is extreme verbal, mental and emotional problems with this child and I have to report it to Children’s Services.”
A spokeswoman for Children’s Services later said the agency had contacted Maria who said she had “a plan of action.” However, Hansen claims Maria “said they weren’t doing anything so she said, ‘I guess I’ll have to handle it myself.’”
Maria rented an apartment. She and Judith spent their days there but returned home to Joe in the evening. Hansen pressed Maria as to why she did not make a complete break with Joe. She said she did not want to lose the nice home that Judith’s career had bought the family.
That same May, Sherry Barber, saw Maria and Judith in a studio parking lot. Barber was puzzled by Judith’s appearance: she had no eyelashes. Unbeknownst to Barber, Judith had pulled them all out. She had also pulled out the whiskers of one of her five cats.
Judith had an appointment with Hanna Barbara Productions on July 25, 1988 but did not make it. Hansen called Joe. He said a car had taken his wife and daughter away.
They were already dead. That very day, Joe shot and killed Maria in a hallway and then Judith in her bedroom. Her body was near the TV set he gave her to make up for having pulled her hair.
Sometime after his brief phone conversation with Hansen, Joe soaked the bodies of his wife and child with gasoline and set them ablaze. Then he went to the garage and killed himself with a shot to the head.
Next-door neighbor Eunice Daly was shocked by an explosive noise. She saw smoke rising from the Barsi house. She recalled thinking, “He’s done it. He’s killed them and set a fire in the house.”
The interior of the home was destroyed.
On August 9, 1988 Sherry and Andrea Barber stood among mourners. “Six uniformed pall bearers from Forest Lawn carried the caskets, first a large white one, then a small white one, to the gravesite.”
A county advisory panel stated in September 1988 that the Los Angeles County Department of Children’s Services dropped its investigation into the Barsi family prematurely Department of Children’s Services Director, Robert L. Chaffee defended the Department’s actions by stating that Maria Barsi had asked them to close the case. In addition, the social worker handling the case was handling a total of 67 cases, 27 more than what is considered a full caseload. Commissioner Thomas L. Becket of the Commission for Children’s Services countered, “Lack of funds is an excuse, to a degree, but it can only go so far. The Los Angeles Times reported that “the Commission for Children’s Services recommended that the department become more sensitive to the impact of domestic violence on children and develop clearer guidelines for closing an inquiry.”
Some of Judith’s toys survived the fire and were donated to Goodwill. A close friend fed her cats for months after her death.
The song Love Survives used in All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989), an animated movie in which Judith voices the character of the orphaned Anne-Marie and which was released after her death, was dedicated to Judith. At least two websites, Judith Barsi in Memoriam and The Official Judith Barsi Memorial Site, are dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the richly talented child actress whose life was cut cruelly short. TC mark
5. The Strange Death of Alfalfa
Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer was the most famous and popular member of the Little Rascals comedy shorts series. Several generations grew up watching these funny, talented kids in dozens of short subjects in the 1930s. (Note; the series was originally called Our Gang and was later changed to The Little Rascals, which is how most fans refer to it today.) These black-and-white films enjoyed a whole new life in television in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, and even now the classic shorts are seen by countless new generations on video and DVD.
Producer Hal Roach (who also produced the classic Laurel and Hardy films) produced dozens of Little Rascals and Our Gang comedy shorts throughout the depression years of the 1930s. They starred very talented kids with names like Spanky, Buckwheat, Froggy, and girl heroine and sometimes love interest for the boys, Darla Hood.
Like Curly of the Three Stooges, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer quickly rose above his young co-stars in terms of popularity. Alfalfa received fan mail from kids all over the world. According to one "Hollywood legend," Alfalfa was once mobbed by a big group of fans, while nearby, Clark Gable stood by unnoticed.
With his too-tight suit, freckles, and slicked-down haircut (complete with high cowlick), Alfalfa became a true Hollywood icon. Although he played an immensely likable character in the comedy shorts, in real life Alfalfa Switzer was no angel. According to co-star Darla Hood, "Alfie once put fish hooks in Spanky's back pockets and poor Spanky had to have stitches placed on his tush."
Another time, "Alfie put an open switchblade in his pocket and tricked Darla into into putting her hand in his pocket on the pretense that he had a ring for her from a Crackerjack box. She almost lost her fingers." On one occasion, to get back at a rude cameraman, Alfalfa had the kids all chew big wads of gum. then he took the combined wads and put them inside the man's camera.
According to other kids in the Our Gang cast: "Alfie would not pay attention to his school lessons in Mrs. Fern carter's class. He'd be kept after school often and kept everyone waiting on the set of the films."
Spanky told of Alfalfa's most dangerous prank: "We were filming one day and the scene called for the kids to show their own movie on a process screen. The rear projection system and the lights (with a thousand watts per bulb) were taking a long time to set up, so Alfie decided to use his time by going behind the screen and peeing on the bulbs. This is extremely hazardous, for even spitting on those bulbs is tantamount to setting off a series of bombs. The lights exploded and filled the studio with a tremendous stench. Everyone had to be taken off the set as the crew and director fixed the bulbs and cleaned up the mess Alfalfa created that day."
The success of The Little Rascals was great, but short-lived. By 1940, the series ended. Like most actors, Alfalfa found work hard to come by, in his case because of his instant recognition and type-casting as the world-famous "Alfalfa of the Little Rascals." Still, he was a talented actor and comedian, and he did get small roles in several films.
If you watch closely, you'll spot him doing a cameo in It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and White Christmas (1954), both classics. He did a bit in a John Wayne film called Island in the Sky (1940) and others, too.
Interestingly, Alfalfa's famous schtick in The Little Rascal comedies had him singing off-key. He would belt out painful renditions of famous songs. Ironically, Alfalfa thought he actually had a great voice. He never understood why audiences laughed when he sang his off-key tunes. At auditions, according to Darla, "They used to say to him, 'Hey Alfie, sing off-key for us.' It used to drive him crazy."
By the 1950s, although still acting part-time, Alfalfa had moved to Kansas and found work as a dog breeder and trainer on a farm. It was there that he met and married Diane Collingwood, who gave birth to their son. The marriage was short-lived, lasting only four months. A life of alcohol abuse and brushes with the law followed. Alfalfa was convicted of stealing trees from the Sequoia National Forest and selling them for Christmas trees in 1958.
The death of Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer is still a very murky chapter in Hollywood history. The story usually goes that on the night of January 21, 1959, Alfalfa and a friend named Jack Piott came to the ranch-style Los Angeles home of Bud Stiltz and angrily started pounding on his door. Stiltz opened the door and Alfalfa said, "I want my fifty bucks and I want it now!" Apparently, Alfalfa had loaned out a hunting dog to Stiltz and Stiltz had not paid him the agreed-upon fee of $50.
Stiltz was in the house with his wife and three stepchildren, and at this point, she and all three children ran to a neighbor's house. Stilltz then grabbed a gun from the dresser. When Alfalfa went for it, the gun went off. Alfalfa briefly gained possession of the gun, but Stiltz wrestled it back. At that point, Alfalfa drew a knife and threatened Stiltz by saying, "I'm going to kill you!" and throwing the knife at him. Stiltz had no choice but to shoot and kill Alfalfa. The coroner's jury ruled the death as a justifiable homicide.
But in 2000, a new witness, Tom Corrigan, came forward. He was the son of actor Ray "Crash" Corrigan and Bud Stiltz's stepson, and was only 14 years old at the time of the incident. Although for years it was assumed that the death of Alfalfa was his own fault, Tom disagrees. "He didn't have to kill him," he said of his stepfather.
Tom claimed Alfalfa was drunk when he came to see his stepfather. But he said he remembers Stiltz getting the gun immediately after Alfalfa entered. He says that during the struggle between his stepfather and Alfalfa, he himself was grazed by a bullet or a plaster fragment. At this point, because a kid was hurt, the struggle stopped. Tom then left with his mother and the other children and heard the fatal shot go off.
Tom came back into the house just in time to see the shocked look on Alfalfa's face and watch him slide down the wall -dead. Only by begging for his life was Alfalfa's friend, Jack Piott, spared. But according to Piott, Alfalfa never had a knife. However, a jackknife was found underneath Alfalfa's body, closed, and looking very conveniently-placed with no blade exposed.
The facts are conflicting. And why didn't Tom come forward sooner? A statement was taken from him in 1959, detailing the chain of events as he saw it. He had agreed to testify truthfully, but was never called.
One theory is that because Alfalfa was known to be such a nasty, unpleasant person, the police just decided to close the case with no further investigation. Bud Stiltz was easily exonerated.
Oddly, Alfalfa's death received hardly any coverage in the news on TV or in the newspapers. Why? Famed producer Cecil B. DeMille had died the same day and he got the lion's share of news coverage.
Ironically, too, Alfalfa's final movie role had been in the Tony Curtis-Sidney Poitier film The Defiant Ones (1958). In the movie he plays a guy in a posse tracking Curtis and Poitier -with a hunting dog.
One last oddity: Every Christmas after Alfalfa's death, Bud Stiltz would receive a Christmas card signed "Alfie." To the day he died in 1984, he never found out who sent him the annual cards.
6. Bobby Driscoll
As Driscoll grew, the roles dried up. Because he was a Disney favorite he was typecast, and most other studios didn't see him as a serious character actor. After leaving Disney, his parents withdrew him from the Hollywood Professional School for child movie actors and sent him to the Westwood University High School instead. There, his grades faltered, he was bullied, and started taking drugs. He said later, "The other kids didn't accept me. I tried desperately to be one of the gang. When they rejected me, I fought back, became belligerent and cocky—and was afraid all the time."
He made a move to TV, but his drug use increased, and in 1961 he ran afoul of the law and was imprisoned at the Narcotic Rehabilitation Center of the California Institution for Men in Chino, California. When he got out, he moved to New York with hopes of a stage career. But by 1967, he was penniless and had dropped completely off the radar. A year later, about three weeks after his 31st birthday, his body was found in a deserted East Village. Driscoll had died from heart failure caused by an advanced hardening of the arteries due to longtime drug abuse. With no ID and no one to claim the body, he was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in New York City's Potter's Field on Hart Island.
7. Remembering 'The Neverending Story 2's Jonathan Brandis
Diving down this nostalgia hole, you might remember Jonathan Brandis, who started acting at an age when most of us were learning to read, rising to fame as part of the seaQuest cast, and one of the most beloved #NeverendingStory characters: Bastian in Neverending Story 2. His rise to fame was a fast but tragic one, with the actor unfortunately joining the 27 Club in 2003.
Whatever Happened To Jonathan Brandis?
Born in Connecticut, #JonathanBrandis started appearing in TV commercials when he was as young as 4, before getting his first role on a soap opera composed by Snoop Dogg, One Life to Live, when he was just 6. In classic child star fashion, his potential convinced his family to move to LA a few years later, and his breakthrough finally came with his casting as Bastian in The Neverending Story 2.
Soon after, he was cast as the main character Bill Denbrough in the famous 1990 adaptation of Stephen King's IT that also included Tim Curry. It's now been rebooted with Jaeden Lieberher in Brandis's role.
But his true rise to stardom came with his role in the hit TV series seaQuest DSV, a popular science fiction show produced by Steven Spielberg that ran from 1993 to 1996. Brandis joined the seaQuest cast as Lucas Wolenczak, a young prodigy role that soon allowed the actor to become the ultimate teenage heartthrob.
It was reported that he was escorted by three security guards on the set of seaQuest, and received as many as 4,000 fan letters a week at the height of his popularity. During his time on the show, he continued appearing in other movies and series, joining the Ladybugs cast and voicing Mozenrath in Disney's animated Aladdin series.
However, the speed at which he'd gained roles as a child started subsiding soon after seaQuest's cancellation in 1996. He got one of the main roles in Bad Girls, but the movie was only released years after it was shot in 2000. His part in the 2002 movie Hart's War, meanwhile, was significantly cut from the final edit.
Jonathan Brandis Committed Suicide In 2003
At 27, Jonathan Brandis took his own life by hanging himself in the hallway of his Los Angeles building on November 11, 2003. Though he was found and taken to the hospital, he later died of his injuries. Since he didn't leave a suicide note, there's no way of knowing if he was desperate for more success or, to the contrary, a victim of the pressure of fame.
According to People, his friends had been aware that he was feeling "lonely and depressed" because of his career, and that he'd been heavily drinking. Whether he refused to get help or wasn't taken seriously enough to be encouraged to do so will never be clear; it seems his friends and co-workers were all convinced of his talent and potential. Robert Katz, who was a producer on Brandis's last movie Puerto Vallerta Squeeze, told People:
"When we were in the editing room looking at him, we all said, 'This guy's going to have a big career.'"
8. Jackie Coogan Facts
Coogan was born October 26, 1914, in Los Angeles, California, the son of John Leslie Coogan, Sr. (also known as Big Jack), and his wife Lillian (nee Dolliver). Coogan's parents were entertainers. His mother's whole family was involved in vaudeville, and she herself had been a child actress on stage known as Baby Lillian. John Coogan also worked as a dancer and comedian on the vaudeville circuit. When the couple married, they developed own stage act. John Coogan was a comedian, while his wife served as his foil and singer.
Made Stage Debut
Coogan spent the first three years of his life primarily in the care of relatives, though he did appear in one film with his mother as an infant, Skinner's Baby (1917). When he was a toddler, his parents took him on the road with them. Coogan started to do imitations and dance steps, and his father brought him on stage one night for a curtain call. The audience's response to Coogan's charming appearances compelled the tour promoter to insist that young Coogan became part of the act, for which the family was paid extra. When the vaudeville show made its way to Los Angeles, upand-coming director/comedian Charlie Chaplin caught the act. Chaplin was looking for a child actor and decided that young Coogan fit the bill.
Appeared in The Kid
Chaplin signed Coogan to appear in his movie at the rate of $75 per week. As part of the deal, Coogan's father would also appear in the film and work as Chaplin's assistant. Though the transition from stage to film was difficult for the young actor, who was used the reaction of a live audience, Coogan still managed to be a natural on film. To prepare for work on Chaplin's masterpiece, Coogan appeared in one movie called A Day's Pleasure (1919). He then worked with Chaplin on The Kid (1921), which took over a year to film. In the movie, Chaplin's famous character, the Little Tramp, adopts a child, played by Coogan, but is forced to give him up in order to save him. The Kid was a box office smash, and Coogan nearly stole the movie which made him a star. The Kid became one of Chaplin's best known pictures.
Star on the Rise
To help build on this burgeoning career, his father founded Jackie Coogan Productions. John Coogan produced and sometimes wrote many of his son's features. Some of these early movies included: Peck's Bad Boy (1921), Oliver Twist, My Body, and Trouble (all 1922). By 1923, Coogan was the top box office star in the United States. He appeared in two more successful films: Daddy and Circus Days. That same year, Coogan signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In addition to a $500,000 bonus, Coogan made $1 million for four movies over two years plus a percentage of the profits. One of the films was Long Live the King (1924), allegedly the first film to bring in one million dollars.
To capitalize on his son's success, John Coogan signed a number of merchandise and endorsement deals. There were Coogan caps, wagons, clothing, cups, dolls and chocolate bars. His image appeared on many products. The young actor was making millions of dollars and his father was investing some of the money. The family also lived the high life, though Coogan himself only had a weekly allowance of $6.25. His home featured one of the first swimming pools in southern California. Coogan also owned a dairy ranch, which produced the milk he drank, as well as his own railroad car.
Coogan used his fame for philanthropic purposes. In the early 1920s, for example, he worked for the Children's Crusade, a group that raised money and collected clothing and food for war orphans in Armenia and Greece. For his work, he was honored by the League of Nations and met the Pope. Because of his fame, Coogan also met many mayors and was given the keys to many cities. At its height, Coogan's fame was so great that he once said, according to Neil A. Grauer of American Heritage, "Other boys went to see Babe Ruth. But Babe Ruth came to see me."
Faced Career Struggles
As Coogan reached adolescence in the late 1920s, his popularity began to decline. He continued to make movies on his Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract until it ended in 1928. The more successful films included A Boy of Flanders (1924), The Rag Man (1925), and Johnny Get Your Gun (1927). In the latter, Coogan's now-famous "Dutch Boy" hair cut was sheared into a more mature look.
During this time, Coogan performed in a stage show with his father. He also concentrated on his education. Until the age of ten, Coogan was tutored. He then attended Urban Military Academy as well as other prep schools. After graduation, Coogan attended several colleges, including Villanova and University of Southern California. Poor grades forced him to leave Santa Clara University in 1932.
Coogan made a couple of films for Paramount, including Tom Sawyer (1930) and Hucklebrry Finn (1931). While he was a talented actor, there was not much of an audience for his films. Coogan agreed to make short features for the low-budget Talisman Studio in 1933.
When Coogan turned 21 years old, he expected to gain control of the money he had earned as a child star. But in May 1935, just before his 21st birthday, a formidable event occurred. On the way home from a dove hunting trip to Mexico Coogan, his father, two actor friends, and the foreman of his ranch were involved in a serious car accident. All the occupants were killed except Coogan, who suffered broken ribs. He later speculated that the legal problems that followed would not have occurred had his father lived.
Soon after Coogan turned 21, he asked his mother for the money that had allegedly been held in trust for him. He had earned at least four million dollars over the course of his career. She refused, arguing that parents were entitled to all of their children's earnings. He was completely cut off by her, and given only $1000. Coogan's mother lived in a house that he had paid for with her second husband, Arthur Bernstein, the family's lawyer and financial advisor. As Coogan considered his options, he began a vaudeville tour in 1936-37. He also appeared in the film College of Swing (1938). Appearing with him was Betty Grable, whom he had married in 1937.
In 1938, Coogan took legal action against his mother, claiming the assets of his company, Jackie Coogan Productions. He wanted a full financial accounting of earnings. His mother and stepfather fought him all the way, though public opinion was on Coogan's side. Some who testified on Coogan's behalf emphasized that his father had promised to leave the money to his son. The legal wranglings deeply affected Coogan's life. He claimed that his stepfather, who had many Hollywood connections, made it difficult for to find work in films. Coogan did a stage tour with Bob Hope, however. He also found other stage work in New York and in summer stock. The legal problems contributed to the end of Coogan's marriage to Grable in 1938.
The settlement from the suit was finalized in 1940, with Coogan and his mother splitting the remaining assets. Coogan received half of $250,000, which was soon gone as he settled debts. Coogan and his mother later reconciled, and his lack of funds compelled him to move back into the family home. Because of what happened to Coogan, the California legislature passed a law known as the Coogan Act (Child Actor's bill). It said that 50 percent of a child actor's earnings must be held in trust, savings, or interest until he or she reaches the age of maturity. It was first introduced in 1939 and passed in 1940.
Served in World War II
In the early 1940s, Coogan joined the medics before the United States officially entered the second world war. He later became part of the Army Air Corps, as he had already obtained a pilot's license as a teenager. Coogan worked as a glider instructor and served in Burma as a volunteer member of the First Air Commando Force. He was the first glider pilot to land Allied troops behind enemy lines in Burma. One glider he was aboard crashed. Everyone was killed by the Japanese except Coogan, who was at the bottom of a pile of bodies. He served with the military for five years before being honorably discharged in 1944. Coogan received several war citations for his service, including the Air Medal.
After returning to the United States, Coogan continued his civic duty, appearing in War Bond drives in 1946. He also tried to restart his career in entertainment, though he also worked in sales and produced an ice show. Coogan began appearing in nightclubs and toured with an orchestra. He eventually made his way back to film and later television, but was never able to recapture the success of his early career. He developed a drinking problem and was arrested for drunk driving. It is alleged that Coogan also had a drug problem and was arrested for marijuana possession.
Became Minor Television Star
Though Coogan played mainly supporting roles in movies of low to medium quality after the 1940s, he made numerous guest appearances on television. He even received an Emmy Award nomination for a 1956 role in an episode of Playhouse 90. In the mid-1960s, Coogan portrayed Uncle Fester in the short-lived The Addams Family television series. Though he was initially rejected, Coogan desperately wanted the role and went to great lengths to resemble the cartoon character. Coogan had previously been a regular on the shows Cowboy G-Men and McKeever and the Colonel. He made his last movie in 1980, playing a small role in The Escape Artist (1982).
After suffering from heart and kidney ailments, Coogan succumbed to heart failure on March 1, 1984, in Santa Monica, California. He was survived by fourth wife, Dorothea Lamphere and four children: Anthony, Chris, Joan, and Leslie. Later, one grandson, Keith Coogan, came to some prominence as a young actor in his own right.
9. Lucille Ricksen — Sacrificed to Hollywood
Her career began almost from the time she could walk. She modeled at first, then moved to the stage before setting her sights on Hollywood. Lucille got steady film work as soon as she landed in LA and by the time she made The Married Flapper (1922), the 12-year-old looked the part of an adult.
A year later, director Marshall Neilan chose Lucille to play the lead in The Rendezvous (in which she plays the unhappy wife of a Russian official). She became “the youngest leading lady in movies.” During the first half of 1924, she completed ten films in a little over seven months—but she was cracking under pressure. Her emotional breakdown leaked out to the press, and she was committed to bed rest for a number of months.
One morning before daylight, as her mother was adjusting her bed covers, she collapsed on her daughter's bed and died.
Lucille sank deeper into despair. Hollywood friends came to her aid, but just three weeks later, the little girl gave up her fight for life and died from pulmonary tuberculosis at 14 years old.