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The Balcony's Dead End
Topic Started: Apr 27 2011, 02:45 PM (1,961 Views)
Laughing Gravy
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The River House, opened in 1931, was a swank apartment building at 52nd Street and the East River in Manhattan, built amidst sprawling tenements. This volatile mixture of poverty and affluence inspired playwright/director Sidney Kingsley (Men in White) to create his greatest work, Dead End, which opened at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway on October 28, 1935 and ran for a healthy 687 performances. The play, and ensuing film version, gave us six young stars whose name is synonymous with Hollywood hijinks: the fabled “Dead End” Kids. I’ve long been a fan of them in their various incarnations (Dead End Kids, Little Tough Guys, Eastside Kids, Bowery Boys) and this section of In The Balcony will pay tribute to the “Kids” and their films, both as a team and solo.

In order:

Leo Gorcey (June 3, 1917 – June 2, 1969) was the oldest of the Dead End Kids, 18 when the play opened. Gorcey – egged on by his father, actor Bernard Gorcey of Abie’s Irish Rose fame – accompanied his actor brother David to a tryout for Dead End in 1935 and snared a role with David as one of the rival Second Avenue Boys. When the leader of the stage Dead End Kids, Charles Duncan, left the play shortly after it opened for a bigger role in another play (that closed very quickly, it seems), Gorcey was elevated to the part of Spit. In the Eastside Kids films, Gorcey played Muggs McGinnis; in the Bowery Boys, he was Slip Mahoney.

Henry “Huntz” Hall (August 15, 1919 – January 30, 1999) attended the Professional Children’s School for aspiring actors; prior to auditioning for Dead End, he played various juveniles on radio shows. He was 16 when cast as Dippy in Dead End; in the Eastside Kids he was Glimpy, and as a Bowery Boy, he was Sach Jones.

Gabriel “Gabe Dell” Del Vecchio (Oct. 4, 1919 – July 3, 1988) was, like Hall, a student at the Professional Children’s School and occasional radio actor. He was 15 when he debuted as T.B. in Dead End, and showed up from time to time as Gabe in the later film series.

Billy Halop (May 11, 1920 – November 9, 1976) was a 15-year-old radio star (Skippy, Bobby Benson’s Adventures) when he landed the plum role as Tommy, leader of the Dead End Kids, on Broadway. Halop left the other Kids behind and didn’t appear in the later series.

Bernard Punsly (July 11, 1922 – January 20, 2004) had no show business experience when he auditioned for Dead End, but in the middle of the Great Depression, becoming an actor seemed a decent way to earn a living. He was 13 when cast as Milty, the new kid in the neighborhood; he was the only one of the Kids to give up early on his acting career, becoming a doctor in Torrance, California.

Bobby Jordan (April 1, 1923 – Sept. 10, 1965) was a talented musician, dancer, and radio performer when he was cast in role of Angel, youngest of the Dead End Kids, at the age of 12. He played Danny in the Eastside Kids and Bobby in his brief career as a Bowery Boy.


The other key cast members of the original Dead End on Broadway:

Joseph Downing as “Babyface” Martin (played by Humphrey Bogart in the film)
Theodore Newton as “Gimpty” (Joel McCrea)
Elspeth Eric as “Drina” (Sylvia Sidney)
George Cotton as the doorman (Ward Bond)
Marjorie Main as “Mrs. Martin” (She repeated her role in the film)
Martin Gabel as “Hunk” (Allen Jenkins)
Margaret Mullin as “Kay” (Wendy Barrie)
Sheila Trent as “Francie” (Claire Trevor)

These are the only films to feature all six of the Dead End Kids. The first was for Sam Goldwyn, the others are all Warner Bros. films:

Dead End (1937)
Crime School (1938) with Humphrey Bogart and Gale Page
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) with James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, and Humphrey Bogart
They Made me a Criminal (1939) with John Garfield and Claude Rains
Hell’s Kitchen (1939) with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Lindsey
Angels Wash their Faces (1939) with Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan
The Dead End Kids on Dress Parade (1939) with John Litel and Frankie Thomas

The convoluted history of the Dead End Kids - including incarnations as The Dead End Kids and Little Tough Guys, The Eastside Kids, and the Bowery Boys, will all be covered as we go forward and hit the Balcony's Dead End! Stay tuned!

L-R: Gorcey, Dell, Jordan, Punsly, Halop, Hall in a promotional photo for Warner Bros.

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"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Barcroft
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LG,
A nice start and keep the info coming.
Barcroft
Edited by Barcroft, Apr 27 2011, 04:43 PM.
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Frank Hale
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Didn’t know about Martin Gabel’s Dead End rôle. He must have become involved with Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre shortly thereafter, appearing IIRC in Les Misérables as Inspector Javert on WOR in July, 1937.
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Laughing Gravy
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Gabel wasn't with the show very long; he left and was replaced in the role of "Hunk" (tough-as-nails, cranky pal of Babyface) by Bernard Zanville, who was also in Waiting for Lefty and Of Mice and Men on Broadway. Don't know who that is? Sure you do... when he came to Hollywood, he changed his name to Dane Clark.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Frank Hale
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Yes, it looks like Mr. Gabel left the play in June, 1937, did the radio show, and then appeared in Welles’ Julius Caesar.

Mr. Zanville did better in Hollywood than poor Joe Downing, who never rose above the hired thug level in all those WB crime dramas.

Robert Shayne had the lead in Claudia on Broadway for a while, and we all know what happened to him.

And the Dead End Kids…

Hard to figure who’s going to make it in films and who’s not.
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Laughing Gravy
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The run of Dead End ended on Broadway in June 1937, so either Gabel left and came back or he was gone by then. (Bobby Jordan left the run of Dead End but returned after a while).

If I were asked back in 1937. I'd have said that Billy Halop was the best bet of the six Dead End Kids to have a successful career. Unless I knew that Bernard Punsly was crackin' the medical books, of course.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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mort bakaprevski
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I think Universal thought so too. In JUNIOR G-MEN, there are lotsa arty shots of Billy using key lights effectively.

And, he did have sort of a John Garfield look. Problem was that whiney voice he never seemed to be able to rid himself of!
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Laughing Gravy
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Warner Bros. announced today a double-feature of the two Dead End Kids films never before on DVD, Hell's Kitchen and On Dress Parade, are new available through the Archive.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Laughing Gravy
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Greg Mank, from his article on Karloff at Warner Bros. in Monsters from the Vault #26:

"According to the August 17, 1938 Los Angeles Examiner, Boris was among the celebrity guests at a Warner Bros. stag night party at the Vendome Restaurant honoring sales managers from the United Kingdom. Jack L. Warner was toastmaster; Cagney, Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson were there; the Dead End Kids sang their own version of 'A Tisket, A Tasket'..."

Holy SHIT. What I wouldn't give to have been there for THAT.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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