The Bowery Boys/East Side Kids

03 Sep



When I was  growing up I grew up watching The Little Rascals AKA Our Gang and The East Side Kids AKA Dead End Kids and later AKA the Bowery Boys usually on every Saturday morning or afternoon. Recently I started collecting their DVDs so I decided to do some research and what I found was interesting indeed.. They were a group of young toughs on New York’s tough lower east side. They were a likable bunch always getting into scraps with crooked boxing  promoters, crooked horse racing managers and various gangsters. The two main characters were Leo Gorcey as the tough leader of the group known as “Mugs” McGinnis and later “Slip” Mahoney who had a soft side and was famous for slaughtering the English language in his famous New York accent and his famous brim up turned fedora hat. He used such malapropisms ,  as “a clever seduction” for “a clever deduction”, “I depreciate it!” (“I appreciate it!”), “I regurgitate” (“I reiterate”), and “optical delusion” (“optical illusion”). In the movie Jungle Gents, in which the Bowery Boys went to Africa, Huntz Hall lost the map and substituted a newspaper ad for lingerie. When Slip saw it, he said, “This ain’t a map—it’s an ad for ladies’ griddles! [girdles]”

There was Huntz Hall who was his goofy, comical sidekick who he always hit in the head with his hat when he said something  outrageously  outlandish who went by the name Glimpy and later Horace Debussy Jones (Satch) identified by his big nose, bulging eyeballs and upturned baseball cap.

The Dead End Kids” originally appeared in the 1935 play, Dead End. When Samuel Goldwyn turned the play into a 1937 film, he recruited the original kids (Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, Gabriel Dell, Billy Halop, and Bernard Punsly) from the play to appear in the same roles in the film. This led to the making of six other films under the moniker “The Dead End Kids.”

When 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 Leo and David, as well as some of the ‘Little Tough Guys,’ including Hally Chester, to star in a new series using the team name “East Side Kids.” These films also introduced ‘Sunshine’ Sammy Morrison, one of the original members of the Our Gang comedy team, as part of the gang.

In 1945, when East Side Kids producer Sam Katzman refused to grant Leo Gorcey’s request to double his weekly salary, Gorcey quit the series, which ended immediately. Bobby Jordan then suggested a meeting with his agent, Jan Grippo. Grippo, Gorcey, and Hall formed Jan Grippo Productions, revamped the format, and rechristened the series The Bowery Boys (the earlier films credits appear as: “Leo Gorcey and The Bowery Boys”). Gorcey, who owned forty percent of the company, starred, produced, and contributed to the scripts. The new series followed a more established formula than the prior incarnations of the team, with the gang usually hanging out at Louie’s Sweet Shop (at 3rd & Canal St.) until an adventure came along.

The original main characters were Terrence Aloysius “Slip” Mahoney (Leo Gorcey), Horace Debussy “Sach” Jones (Huntz Hall), Bobby (Bobby Jordan), Whitey (Billy Benedict), and Chuck (David Gorcey, sometimes billed as David Condon). “Sunshine” Sammy Morrison (“Scruno” in the East Side Kids films), declined the invitation to rejoin the gang (later stating in an interview that he “didn’t like the setup”, possibly referring to the idea of Gorcey and Hall being in the forefront, and being paid much more than the other members). When Bobby Jordan quit the series for the same reason, his character was replaced by Butch Williams (with former East Side Kids Bennie Bartlett and Buddy Gorman alternating in the role). The proprietor of the malt shop where they hung out was the panicky Louie Dumbrowski (Bernard Gorcey – Leo and David’s father).

In all, there were 48 Bowery Boys films (the longest feature-film series in motion picture history), with the final film, In the Money, being released in 1958. Only Huntz Hall and David Gorcey had remained with the series since 1946.

Two of my all time favorite Bowery Boys movies are ‘Angels With Dirty Faces” in which they appeared with Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Pat O’Brian. Jimmy Cagney plays a gangster just out of prison and the East Side Kids look up to him. Pat O’brian plays a priest who grew up with Jimmy Cagney’s character and took the high road and tries to keep the boys straight. Excellent  film available on DVD with  a tear jerking ending that can be interpreted two ways, but definitely  a lesson in right vs. wrong.

“Hell’s Kitchen” features the boys with Ronald Reagan who portrays the good head master of a boys’ reform school. When a  cruel assistant puts a boy who has pneumonia in a meat freezer for punishment the boy dies and the gang testifies before  the judge against the assistant. Leo Gorcey delivers the best line from the film describing the freezer punishment saying, ”We call it Hell’s kitchen down there and sometimes we don’t say kitchen.”

Two other great fims with them in it were ‘Spooks Run Wild”and “Ghosts on the Lose” both with  famed thespian and actor Bela Lugosi appearing  after his Dracula roles.

Leo Gorcey

Leo Gorcey’s parents were actor Bernard Gorcey (born 1888) who stood 4′ 10″, and Josephine Condon (born 1901), who stood 4′ 11″ and weighed 95 pounds; they worked in vaudeville in New York. In 1915, 14-year-old Josephine gave birth to Fred. In 1917, Leo was born, a large baby at 12 lb. 3 oz.; as an adult he would be 5′ 6″. In 1921 his brother David Gorcey was born. In 1935, Leo and David appeared in the stage play “Dead End.” In 1937, this was made into a movie, and Leo became one of the busiest actors for the next 20 years — from 1937-1939 he starred in seven Dead End Kids movies, from 1940-1945 in 21 East Side Kids films, from 1946-1956 in 41 Bowery Boys movies.

In 1939, Leo married 17-year-old dancer Kay Marvis, who appeared in four of his movies. They divorced in 1944 after five years of marriage; she went on to marry Groucho Marx. In 1945, Leo married Evalene Bankston; they divorced in 1948. Leo was to have paid her $50,000 in a divorce settlement; however, when two detectives she hired broke into his home, he retaliated by firing his gun at them. They sued, and Leo countersued for illegal entry and won $35,000 back. In 1949, Leo married Amelita Ward, whom he met while filming Smugglers’ Cove (1948). Their marriage produced Leo Gorcey Jr. in 1949, and a baby girl they named Jan (after Leo’s producer and manager, Jan Grippo) in 1951. They divorced in 1956. That year Leo married his young nanny, Brandy, who was taking care of his two kids. They had a baby girl, Brandy Jo, in 1958. The couple divorced in 1962. Leo went to the altar one last time in February, 1968, marrying Mary Gannon. He stayed married to her until his death on June 2, 1969.

 Personal Quotes

[about his father acting in the Bowery Boys movies] I think he was the best actor of the whole group. Where Papa was concerned, he was great.

[about his parents] Russian Jew and Irish Catholic, that’s about as mixed as you can get without trying too hard.

[About Billy “Whitey” Benedict from the Bowery Boys movies] I always liked him. We used to fish together and we used to go surf fishing, and one day I stubbed my toe on a rock. I was running out there in a real hurry to catch a sea bass and I stubbed my toe, and it really fascinated me at how interested he was. He wanted to take care of my toe, you know, fix it. Of course he couldn’t because it was stubbed, but he really took a sincere interest in it and he taped it up or something. I don’t know what he did. It was rather surprising because most times, guy stubs his toe, the other guy says ‘that’s too bad, you stubbed your toe, that’s rough,’ you know? I mean that’s their attitude…very very nice person.

[observation, as a five-times-married man] Kids have a habit of marrying their first date and spending an awful lot of time wondering what the other dates would have been like. I never made that mistake. I married them all.”

Gorcey died from liver failure(obviously he was a heavy drinker) at age 52 a day before his 53rd birthday.

Huntz Hall

The 14th of 16 children born to an air conditioning repairman, Henry Richard Hall (he got the name “Huntz” from a brother who said his large nose made him look German) was anything but the tough street kid he played in the East Side Kids/Bowery Boys films. He made his stage debut at the age of 1 in a play called “Thunder on the Left”; after graduating from a Catholic grammar school, he attended New York’s famous Professional Children’s School, was a boy soprano with the Madison Square Quintette, and appeared in an experimental 1932 television broadcast. Actor/director Martin Gabel got him an audition for the play “Dead End”, and Hall got the part because he could imitate a machine gun to playwright Sidney Kingsley‘s satisfaction. Hall appeared in a total of 81 East Side Kids/Bowery Boys features and serials, more than any other actor. In 1940 he married 18-year-old dancer Elsie May Anderson (they divorced in 1944). During WW2 Hall enlisted in the Army, and after his discharge returned to Hollywood, where his first jobs were in war films playing soldiers (for his impressive work in A Walk in the Sun (1945) he received the New York Theatre Critics Circle Blue Ribbon Award).

In 1948 Hall found himself in the same kind of jam as did Robert Mitchum — getting arrested for possession of marijuana, but he was acquitted by a jury. After the trial Hall married showgirl Leslie Wright. In the early 1950s, Hall and former Bowery Boys actor Gabriel Dell teamed up and for a “Hall and Dell” nightclub act that was so successful it cost both men their marriages; in 1953 Hall’s and Dell’s wives both sued for divorce, claiming the men thought more of the act than they did of them. In 1954 Hall was arrested for fighting with the manager of a building where he was attending a party; apparently the party was too noisy and the manager told the occupants to quiet down. Hall took offense at this, a fight ensued and Hall was arrested for assault, for which he paid a $50 fine and was put on probation. In 1959 he was arrested on a drunk driving charge. Having stayed out of trouble for quite some time now, Hall has been content in retirement, with occasional film and television work (not that he needed the money; in addition to owning 10% of the Bowery Boys pictures, Hall made some wise oil and gas investments that paid off handsomely).

Hall died in 1999 at age 78 of cardiac arrest.

Bobby Jordan

Bobby was raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn. By the time he was four and a half, he could act, tap dance and play the Saxophone. He made his stage debut in 1930 and film debut at Warner Bros./Vitaphone in 1931. He also reportedly had a bit part in the 1934 Eddie Cantor film, “Kid Millions”. He then appeared on Broadway in “Dead End”, which opened on October 28, 1935. He left the show in mid-November 1936 to appear in the The Samuel Goldwyn Company film version of “Dead End”. Warner Brothers studios signed the all of the Dead End Kids to contracts. At the peak of his career, Bobby made $1,500 a week, owned a $150,000 home in Beverly Hills and was the sole support of his mother, two brothers a sister and a niece. In 1940, Bobby returned to Universal to appear with several other Dead End Kids in The Little Tough Guys series. Later the same year, Monogram featured him in his first East Side Kids film, “Boys of the City”. In 1943, Bobby was drafted. He served as a foot soldier in the 97th Infantry until 1945 with his only film appearance being the East Side Kid’s “Bowery Champs” (1944), playing himself in a running gag. In 1946, Bobby appeared in the first Bowery Boys picture, “Live Wires”. But, after eight films he left because he was forced to take a backseat to Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall. In March of that year, he married Lee, and in 1949, they had a son, Robert Jr. Bobby worked sporadically in film and television afterwards. He tried a nightclub act, then he found additional work as a bartender, door-to-door photograph salesperson and he later worked as an oil driller in Coalinga. In 1957, he and Lee divorced, and in 1958, he declared bankruptcy when he failed to pay alimony and child support. On August 25, 1965, Bobby collapsed at the home of a friend he had been living with. Already a heavy drinker, he was admitted to a Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles for treatment for Cirrhosis of the liver which he later succumbed  from.

Gabe Dell

The son of an Italian immigrant doctor, Gabriel “Gabe” Dell began his career singing in a boys church choir and then on a children’s radio show. He made his stage debut in the play “Dead End” and, with the other juvenile members of the cast, was called to Hollywood for the film version. Dell was one of the more unusual members of what came to be known as the East Side Kids/Dead End Kids/Bowery Boys in that when he appeared in many of their films, he, unlike his colleagues, didn’t always play a member of the gang. He often played a reporter, or a cop, or even a gangster, somebody who had either befriended the gang or used to be one of them but got out. He died in 1988 at age 68 from leukimia.

Leo Gorcey – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaa.

 Tribute to Bobby Jordan – YouTube A real nice tribute to Bobby Jordan.Those of us who remember Bobby will have a tear in their eyes

 ‘NEATH BROOKLYN BRIDGE (1942) — Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, East Side Kids,  A complete feature for those who remember and those  too young to remember and want to see  what  they were like 🙂

  Tom Snyder TOMORROW Show 1980 Dead End Kids Gabriel Dell Huntz Hall PART 2.m  Interesting interview withTomSnyder interviewing Huntz Hall and an unrecognizable Gabe Dell from the 80’s. Not very good quality.


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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Uncategorized


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