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September 21, 2021

'Our Gang' Star Norman Chaney's Grave Left Unmarked for 76 Years because His Mother Was Penniless after His Tragic Death at 21

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Former child star, Norman Chaney, died at the age of 21, but because his parents had no money to spend on a headstone, his burial site was left unmarked for decades until fans decided to do something about it. 

There is a saying that good balances evil, and several times in history, it has proved accurate. An example is a balance observed in "The Little Rascals" franchise. 

The show touched many lives and brought joy to many families; however, many of those responsible for the acting had a tragic life.

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This time, let's focus on one of them, Norman Chaney, the boy who played Chubby in "Our Gang." The show is popularly regarded as one of the most influential comedy shows produced from the 1920s to the early 1940s.

It began as a short silent series in 1922, but when the sound started getting added to movies, it became "The Little Rascals." It is known for being among the first shows to support black and white children acting together. 

WHO WAS NORMAN CHANEY?

Norman Chaney was born on October 18, 1914, in Cambridge, Maryland. He tasted fame around the same time the sound era began in movies. The role he started playing on "Our Gang" was initially being played by a heavy-set boy by the name of Joe Cobb. 

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Cobb had been aging, so the producer Hal Roach and director Robert F. McGowan had been in the market for a replacement. Someone with a younger face but a similar build. 

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In 1929, a competition to find Cobb's replacement was held among up to 2000 boys and Chaney, the son of a Baltimore electrical worker, came out on top. He allegedly thought he was being nicked for his weight when he was chosen. 

At the time, he was 3′ 11″ and weighed about 113 pounds. He was given the name Chubby, and he debuted in the second sound short titled "Rail Roadin." 

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Over the next couple of years, Chaney would land roles in a total of 19 films. Some of the reasons he was chosen for his role in "Our Gang" included his natural flair for comic dialogue and his open, friendly personality. 

HIS HEALTH PROBLEMS 

Chaney stopped growing taller when he hit 4′ 7″; however, his weight rose up to 300 pounds. His sudden weight gain raised eyebrows, and it was eventually discovered that he suffered from a glandular ailment. 

To get rid of this, he underwent treatment in 1935 at John Hopkins University, and consequently, his weight dropped just as rapidly as it had risen. He went from 300 pounds to 140, and as the process continued, he reduced to 110 pounds. 

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However, all this was not before he had appeared in one episode titled "Love Business," in which he has a crush on his teacher Miss Crabtree.

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The episode gave birth to the immortal line he uttered while attempting to woo her, "Don't call me Norman," he said. "Call me "Chubby-Ubsy." Despite how loved he was after his contract ended in 1931, it was not renewed.

The producers believed he had lost his "expressiveness." His parents decided acting was not for him after that and took him home, where he continued his studies.

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Ill health followed, and at the age of 21, Chaney died at the West Lombard Street home of his grandparents in Baltimore. News revealed that the operation he underwent at John Hopkins had not been enough to make him whole again. 

Around the time of his demise, the "Little Hollywood" column of The Salt Lake Tribune released a heartwarming tribute. It was a letter from Chaney, and it revealed how much he yearned to be "just like other boys." 

In the letter, Chaney wished he could ride a horse and play baseball, but he also seemed to have resigned himself to the fate of being too heavy to do either of those things. 

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WHY HE HAD AN UNMARKED GRAVE

After Chaney died, his grave was left unmarked because his mother could not afford a headstone. He made money weekly from his appearances on "The Little Rascals" but owned no royalties. 

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His grave was left unmarked for more than 70 years until a small number of fans were united by Detroit-area rock musician Mikal CG.

He discovered Chaney's tragic story when he researched the show online and thought it was heartbreaking for someone with such impact to be buried without recognition.

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So Mikal CG started an online fundraising drive to purchase headstones for Chaney, and his mother's grave lay beside his. After an article about it was published by The Baltimore Sun, donations as much as a hundred dollars started pouring in. 

Heather Brown-Simons from Baltimore's Hubbard Funeral Home helped arrange for the righteous campaign to work hand in hand with the W.S.Tegeler Monument Co. in Woodlawn. 

They helped push the initiative to buy the stones along, even though the fundraising came up a bit short. A total of $4500 was eventually raised, mostly by Baltimore folks, and it was just barely enough to cover the cost of both headstones. 

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"I think they were taking care of their hometown, son," Mikal said just before the headstones were unveiled. "It's really Baltimore that made this happen."

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Nevertheless, it was an impressive feat given how long ago Chaney died. For some fans, he is a part of their history, and coming through for him as they did must have felt like giving back to the boy who made them smile with his expressive face. 

The stones are reportedly etched in black granite, 28 inches wide and 16 inches tall. Chaney's headstone has his full birth details and a photo of his Chubby face making it easy for those who were touched by his acting to find him, should they wish to. 

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