Our Gang, the short-film series better known as The Little Rascals, starred dozens of child actors who skated through the hilarious antics of growing up in the Great Depression era. While their adventures were wholly fictional, they often underscored the difficulty of being young then, and most installments of the series concluded with a happy ending. The actual life story of one of the series’ young stars, though, was markedly more tragic. Norman Chaney, a Baltimore native who played the portly character aptly nicknamed Chubby from 1929 to 1931, died at only 21 years old and lay buried with an unmarked gravestone — until now. On Saturday, a small ceremony commemorated the unveiling of Chaney’s headstone, which comes 76 years after his death, the Baltimore Sun reports.
A group of fans convened at Baltimore Cemetery over the weekend to pay their respects to the child star, who passed away in 1936 after complications from surgery to treat a glandular ailment. Detroit-based rock musician Mikal C.G., an Our Gang enthusiast who led the Saturday service, had spearheaded an online campaign to raise money to purchase tombstones for Chaney and his mother, according to the Baltimore Sun.
“There’s people out there, lots of them all over the world, who remember him very well,” Bob Satterfield, a California high school activities director who helped with the fundraiser, told the Daily Mail in May. “We’re just trying to make this correct, so people can pay homage and leave flowers and gifts.”
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The Our Gang series, appearing on television with the title The Little Rascals, began as a collection of silent short films and today is revered as one of the most influential prewar comedies, the Daily Mail points out. The shorts remained popular at the advent of sound production and were some of the first pictures to feature black and white child actors onscreen together.
Chaney and his expressive features became synonymous with his beloved character, who famously attempted to woo his schoolteacher, Ms. Crabtree, in the episode called “Love Business.” Chaney, who stood 3 ft. 11 in. (119 cm) and weighed 113 lb. (51 kg) during his Our Gang tenure, beat out 2,000 other aspiring thespians to replace the original actor in the role of Chubby, the Daily Mail noted. When his contract was not renewed in 1931, he returned to school and grappled with poor health. After Chaney, then 4 ft. 7 in. (140 cm) tall, topped 300 lb. (136 kg), he was diagnosed with a glandular disorder and underwent treatment in 1935, the Examiner reported. His weight dropped, but he became seriously ill and died at his grandparents’ home in May 1936 at the age of 21. He was the first of the Our Gang alumni to die and the only one who did not live to see the end of the series in 1944, the Examiner noted.
His mother couldn’t initially afford a headstone for his grave. But Chaney’s dedicated fans have finally ensured that he will no longer lay anonymously in Section E of the Baltimore Cemetery. And Chaney has finally received his happy ending.