Q. A thoughtful friend gave me a set of Bowery Boys DVDs. Whatever happened to Slip Mahoney, who used to mangle the English language, and some of the others? Weren't they originally called the Dead End Kids?
-- M.W., of Belleville
A. As Terrance Aloysius "Slip" Mahoney might have said, your memory can't be refudiated.
What started as a hard-hitting stage drama quickly produced a group of young actors who would be featured in nearly 100 films before their stars faded. And during that nearly quarter-century, drama would turn to comedy as that gang evolved into the long-running Bowery Boys.
Their story starts in 1934, when Sidney Kingsley wrote the play "Dead End" about a group of children growing up in the slums of New York. More than a dozen youngsters were hired for the drama, which ran for two years on Broadway.
When movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn saw it, he paid $165,000 for the rights to make the 1937 classic "Dead End" with Humphrey Bogart. But when they tried to find a gang of young toughs for the film, nobody in L.A. could match the original "Dead End Kids." So they brought six members of the original stage cast to Hollywood and signed them to two-year contracts. They included your favorite master of the malapropism, Leo Gorcey (Mahoney).
The movie earned an Oscar nomination for best picture, but the youngsters proved such hellions on the set (including crashing a truck into a sound stage) that United Artists immediately sold their contracts to Warner Brothers.
Warner tried to rebrand them as "The Crime School Kids" (their first WB film was "Crime School") but the name never caught on. Instead, Warner tolerated their continuing studio shenanigans for two years and six movies, including "Angels With Dirty Faces" with James Cagney and "Hell's Kitchen" with Ronald Reagan.
When Warner Brothers finally had its fill, the group split up. Some found work at Universal as the Little Tough Guys (1938-1943). Others were hired by Monogram, which filmed nearly two dozen films with The East Side Kids (1940-1945).
Then, in 1945, the East Side's Leo Gorcey asked that his salary be doubled, a demand Monogram flatly refused. So, Gorcey joined fellow original Dead Enders Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan and brother David Gorcey to form the nucleus of the Bowery Boys.
They shared the same name as a very real, anti-Catholic, anti-Irish gang affiliated with the Know-Nothing or American Party in mid-19th century New York. But the film version provided much lighter fare as the boys hung out at Louie's Sweet Shop waiting for their next adventure.
For the next 12 years, 13 Boys came and went, but the juicy parts went to Leo Gorcey and Hall (as "Sach" Jones). Also playing a prominent role was the Gorceys' father, Bernard, as panicky malt shop owner Louie Dumbrowski. The gang broke up for good in 1958 after their 48th feature, "In the Money."
By that time, Leo Gorcey was gone. After his father died in an auto accident, he began drinking and quit after destroying a set in a rage. The last seven Bowery films were without the famous "I depreciate it!" "optical delusion" and similar mangled expressions that Gorcey delivered in his Brooklyn accent.
Over his final 15 years, Gorcey earned only bit parts on TV and film, showing up as Sid Caesar's cab driver in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." He also is noted for having his image removed from the Beatles' cover of "Sgt. Pepper's" when his agent demanded $400. He died of liver failure in 1969, one day before his 52nd birthday.
His brother David starred in more of the movies than anyone besides Huntz Hall. Later, he became a minister and founded a halfway house for recovering alcoholics and drug abusers. He died in 1984.
Hall, who unsuccessfully tried to start a Ghetto Boys series in the '70s continued to perform in dinner-theater shows until he died in 1994. (His likeness, however, remains on "Sgt. Pepper's.") Jordan also drank heavily and died of cirrhosis at age 42.
One final note: Bernard Punsly, the last surviving member of the original "Dead End Kids," became a doctor and practiced for nearly 50 years in Los Angeles. He died in 2004 at 80.
Why might Bilbo Baggins feel at home on the Mediterranean Sea?
Answer to Sunday's trivia: In November 1838, a French pastry cook claimed his shop in Mexico City had been looted by Mexican Army officers. When Mexico refused to pay 600,000 pesos in reparations, France blockaded Mexican ports and seized Veracruz, leading Mexico to declare war on France. Eventually Mexico paid the damages and French forces withdrew, ending the four-month "Pastry War" on March 9, 1839.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call 239-2465.