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The Dead End Kids were a group of young actors from New York who appeared in Sidney Kingsley's Broadway play Dead End in 1935. In 1937 producer Samuel Goldwyn brought all of them to Hollywood and turned the play into a film. They proved to be so popular that they continued to make movies under various monikers, including the Little Tough Guys, the East Side Kids, and the Bowery Boys, until 1958.
In 1934, Sidney Kingsley wrote a play about a group of children growing up on the streets of New York City. A total of fourteen children were hired to play various roles in the play, including Billy Halop (Tommy), Bobby Jordan (Angel), Huntz Hall (Dippy), Charles Duncan (Spit), Bernard Punsly (Milty), Gabriel Dell (T.B.), and Leo and David Gorcey (Second Avenue Boys). Duncan left for a role in another play before opening night and was replaced by Leo, his understudy. Leo had been a plumber's assistant and was originally recruited by his brother David to audition for the play.
The play opened at the Belasco Theatre on October 28, 1935 and ran for two years, totalling 684 performances. Samuel Goldwyn and director William Wyler saw the play and decided to turn it into a film. They paid $165,000 for the rights to the film and began auditioning actors in Los Angeles. Failing to find actors that could convey the emotions they saw in the play, Goldwyn and Wyler had six of the original Kids (Halop, Jordan, Hall, Punsly, Dell, and Leo Gorcey) brought from New York to Hollywood for the film. The Kids were all signed to two-year contracts, allowing for possible future films, and began working on the 1937 United Artists' film, Dead End. The actual name of the gang of boys in DEAD END is written in chalk on the wall that is shown throughout the movie. It reads: "East 53rd Place Gang Members Only". During production, the boys ran wild around the studio, destroying property, including a truck that they crashed into a sound stage. Goldwyn chose not to use them again and sold their contract to Warner Brothers.
Warner Brothers had initially attempted to rename them as 'The Crime School Kids' through advertisements for their first two films produced there, starting with Crime School (1937), to disassociate them from their previous studio's film, and promote their own. However, this was all in vain as the name never caught on, remaining 'The Dead End Kids'.
At Warner Brothers, the Dead End Kids made six films with some of the top actors in Hollywood, including James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield, Pat O'Brien, and Ronald Reagan, including Angels with Dirty Faces (1938). The last one was in 1939, when they were released from their contracts due to more antics on the studio lot.
Shortly after they made their first film at Warner Brothers in 1938, Universal borrowed all of the Dead End Kids except for Bobby Jordan and Leo Gorcey and made twelve films and three 12-chapter serials under the team names of "The Dead End Kids and Little Tough Guys" and "Little Tough Guys". Universal also contracted Leo's brother David and Hally Chester to join the team. After Universal released Jordan from his contract, Warner Brothers quickly signed him to join the rest of gang.
Because the original Dead End Kids were now working for several studios, their Universal films were made at roughly the same time as the Warner Brothers' 'Dead End Kids' series, and later, Monogram Picture's "The East Side Kids" series. The final Universal film was Keep 'Em Slugging, released in 1943.
After Warner Brothers released the remaining Dead End Kids from their contracts in 1939, producer Sam Katzman at Monogram acted quickly and hired several of them, including Jordan and the Gorcey brothers, as well as Chester and some of the other Little Tough Guys to star in a new series using the name "The East Side Kids". This series introduced 'Sunshine' Sammy Morrison, one of the original members of the Our Gang comedy team, to the group.
A total of 22 East Side Kids films were made, ending with Come Out Fighting in 1945.
In 1946, with only Monogram making films using any of the original Dead End Kids, Huntz Hall, Leo Gorcey, and Gorcey's agent, Jan Grippo, revamped The East Side Kids, rechristening them "The Bowery Boys". These films followed a more established formula than the earlier films. First Jordan, then Dell departed the series after several films. Gorcey left after the forty-first film and was replaced by Stanley Clements for the remaining films. In all, a total of 48 Bowery Boys films were made, ending with 1958's In the Money. During the series Hall and Dell did a nightclub act together. Gorcey and Hall reteamed on film in The Phynx.
In total the various teams that began life as 'The Dead End Kids' made 89 films and three serials for four different studios during their 21 year long film career. The team was awarded a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, which can be found at the corner of La Brea and Hollywood.
One notable aspect of the group's history is their transition from stark drama to comedy. When they began, in "Dead End" and their other early films, their characters were serious, gritty, genuinely menacing young hoodlums. But by the height of their career, their movies were essentially comedies, with the Kids depicted as low-class but basically harmless, likable teens - comic caricatures of their former selves.
The original play has had two revivals. A 1978 adaptation played at the Quigh Theatre in New York and another in 2005 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, where the family of the original Dead End Kids (Leo Gorcey, Jr., Bobby Jordan, Jr., Gabe Dell, Jr., and the nieces and nephews of Billy Halop) attended a performance together.
Leo Gorcey, Jr., Gabe Dell, Jr., Bobby Jordan, Jr., Zach Halop, Jennifer and Melissa Halop (nephew and nieces of Billy Halop), and other family members, had not met prior to the 2005 'Dead End' revival, at the Ahmanson Theatre. They were brought together for this event, which was hosted and organized by Colette Joel and David Key.
The Ahmanson Theatre's publicist Ken Werther, assisted Colette Joel in orchestrating the entire cast of Dead End, to meet with all of the family members of the original 'Dead End Kids'. Hollywood history came full circle when the actors (who played the parts of their predecessors) met the sons, nephew, nieces, grandson and granddaughter of the original Dead End Kids.
Also in attendance at The Ahmanson Theatre were various entertainment personalities and published authors, including Leonard Getz (From Broadway to the Bowery), Jan Alan Henderson (Speeding Bullet), Alexis Cruz (actor), David Mendenhall (actor/entertainment lawyer), Delilah Cotto (actress), Lesa Carlson (singer), Keiko Halop (concert pianist), DJ Rabiola and Anthony Rabiola (actors), and Anthony Tremblay (production designer).
|Dead End||1937||United Artists|
|Crime School||1938||Warner Brothers|
|Angels with Dirty Faces||1938||Warner Brothers|
|They Made Me a Criminal||1939||Warner Brothers|
|Hell's Kitchen||1939||Warner Brothers|
|The Angels Wash Their Faces||1939||Warner Brothers|
|On Dress Parade||1939||Warner Brothers|
|'Dead End' Kids series|
'Little Tough Guys'