8/13/20: The Boys From the “Hood”

By Fred Muenz

In 1934, Sidney Kingsley wrote a play about a group of tough kids growing up on the streets of New York. Opening in October, 1935, Dead End ran for a total of 684 performances over the next two years, at which time producer Samuel Goldwyn bought the film rights and began auditioning actors in Los Angeles. Unable to find Hollywood actors who could convey the emotions of the New York cast, Goldwyn brought six of the original Kids to Hollywood. Over the next 21 years, various teams of Kids, called The Dead End Kids, The East Side Kids, Little Tough Guys and The Bowery Boys appeared in 89 films and three serials, for four different studios. Their characters evolved from menacing young hoodlums to harmless and likeable teens. Among the most popular of the Kids were Huntz Hall and Leo Gorcey.

Appearing in 81 of the Kids films, Henry Richard “Huntz” Hall was born in August, 1920, the 14th of 16 children of Irish immigrant parents. He made his first stage appearance at age 1, in the play Thunder On The Left. At age 5, he began making local radio appearances and, upon his elementary school graduation, enrolled in New York’s prestigious Professional Children’s School. In 1932, he appeared in one of the first experimental television broadcasts. Asked by actor/director Martin Gabel to audition for a role in Dead End, he won the part because he could imitate a machine gun to the playwright’s satisfaction. He was later one of the actors brought to Hollywood to reprise the role in the 1937 film, DEAD END, starring Humphrey Bogart. After Army service during World War II, he returned to making Kids films, while also accepting more serious roles in other films. A wise investor, Hall owned 10% of The Bowery Boys pictures, as well as various oil and gas investments, which made him very wealthy. He retired and lived in comfort until his death of congestive heart failure at age 78, in January, 1999.

Leo Bernard Gorcey was born in June, 1917. The 12 lb. 4 oz. baby was the second son of 4 ft. 10 in. vaudeville actor Bernard Gorcey (who later played sweet shop owner Louie Dombrowski in the Kids films), and his 4 ft. 11 in., 95 lb. 16-year-old wife, Josephine. In the 1930’s, Bernard lived apart from the family as he worked on the stage and in films. In 1935, Leo lost the plumber’s apprentice job he had taken after his high school graduation. Seeing his father’s success on the stage, he allowed himself to be persuaded by his father and brother, David, to try out for a small part in Dead End. When one of the cast members left the play, Leo, his understudy, was promoted. In 1937, Leo and David were two of the original six New York cast members brought to Hollywood for the filming of the movie. Over the next 20 years, Leo appeared in 7 Dead End Kids movies, 21 East Side Kids movies and 41 Bowery Boys films, making him one of the busiest actors in Hollywood. In 1955, Bernard was killed in an auto accident and Leo began drinking heavily as a result. He finally quit The Bowery Boys after trashing a set in a drunken rage. His brother David, stayed with the series until it ended in 1958. Leo did little acting after leaving the series, with small roles in low budget films. His years of alcoholism final caught up with him in June, 1969, when he died of liver failure, just one day before his 52nd birthday.

                               David Gorcey                         Bernard Gorcey

ANOTHER SILVER SCREEN MEMORY NEXT WEEK

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