Rock musician Mikal, from Detroit, is reflected in the headstones… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
A small group gathered Saturday at Baltimore Cemetery for the unveiling of a headstone for Norman "Chubby" Chaney, a child star in "The Little Rascals" whose grave had gone unmarked for 76 years.
The small constellation of fans was brought together by Detroit-area rock musician Mikal C.G., who led an online fundraising drive to buy stones for Chaney and his mother. He led the low-key ceremony Saturday, giving a short speech and pulling a white sheet off markers, to coos of "beautiful!" and "awesome!" from the eight people looking on.
The chubby little face that took Chaney from Baltimore to Hollywood in the 1920s peeped out, etched into the stone.
Chaney was paid a weekly salary for his appearances in the films, which told the stories of kids living in a poor neighborhood, but he received no royalties or residual payments when they ran. He died at age 21, but his mother could not afford a headstone and his burial spot went unmarked until Saturday.
"I just thought to myself, 'That's kind of a tragedy,'" Mikal said.
He learned about Chaney's unmarked grave when he was researching the show online and set up the campaign earlier this year. People donated from around the country, but most of the $3,000 raised came from Baltimore.
"I think they were taking care of their hometown son," Mikal said before the unveiling. "It's really Baltimore that made this happen."
The campaign fell a little short, but Mary Allan, 49, chipped in an extra couple hundred dollars to make up the difference.
"As short as his career was, he's still iconic," the Bel Air woman said. "I love the simpler time of 'The Little Rascals' and 'Our Gang.'"
To help stretch the tight budget, Heather Brown-Simons of Baltimore's Hubbard Funeral Home helped get a good deal on a headstone.
Mikal said his favorite scene featuring Chaney was in a film called "Love Business" in which Chubby tries to win the affections of a teacher, asking her to call him "Chubsy-ubsy." It was a popular moment in the films and Mikal's recounting of it drew a wave of laughs.
Chaney appeared in the films between 1929 and 1931, before growing out of the role. He came back to Baltimore and finished school, but he struggled with his weight, which ballooned to 300 pounds before crashing to less than half that before his death in 1936.
The fans who came out for the headstone unveiling were too young to remember Chaney from the first time around, but they remember him from when the series, originally titled "Our Gang," was rerun on television as "The Little Rascals."
Michael Ferens, 48, drove up from Washington, D.C., for the unveiling of the monument. He described himself as a "fanatic" for Hal Roach Studios, which produced the original films.
"This is kind of nice because being here years later I can still tie into it," he said.
Ferens said Chaney was schooled in the art of comic facial expression by Oliver Hardy of Laurel and Hardy, another Roach production.
"A child actor having all these adult reactions to the scenarios he was in was hilarious," Ferens said.
After about an hour the band of fans, brought together by a shared affection for an actor who died more than seven decades ago, began to drift off. But Jane Brettschneider, who grew up watching the show with her brother, said she was glad she came.
"It meant a lot to me," she said. "Whatever my history is, he's in there."