Leo Gorcey

Active - 1937 - 2007  |   Born - Jun 3, 1917   |   Died - Jun 2, 1969   |   Genres - Comedy, Crime

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Biography by Bruce Eder

The shortest and most pugnacious of the original Dead End Kids, American actor Leo Gorcey was the son of character player Bernard Gorcey. The elder Gorcey encouraged Leo to audition as one of the tough street gang in the 1935 stage production of Sidney Kingsley's Dead End, which Leo did reluctantly; he was content with his apprentice job at his uncle's plumbing shop. When he temporarily lost that position, Leo was cast in a bit role in Dead End, eventually working his way up to the important part of Spit, the gang stool pigeon. Producer Samuel Goldwyn decided to make Dead End into a movie in 1937, further deciding to hire Leo and his fellow "kids" Billy Halop, Huntz Hall, Gabriel Dell, Bernard Punsley and Bobby Jordan for the movie version. The six streetwise hooligans scored an immediate hit with the public, paving the way for several films starring or featuring "The Dead End Kids", the best of which was Angels With Dirty Faces (1938).

In 1939, the kids splintered off into subgroups, some of them heading for Universal Studios as the "Little Tough Guys". The following year, Leo Gorcey was signed by bargain-basement Monogram Pictures for a new series of "B" pictures produced by Sam Katzman--"The East Side Kids". Gorcey assumed the leading role of Muggs McGuiness, and by the time the series had run its course after 22 pictures in 1945, he'd been joined by his old Dead End buddies Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan and Gabe Dell. Determined to get a bigger piece of the financial pie and to have more say over production, Gorcey and Hall teamed with their agent Jan Grippo to reorganize the East Side Kids as the less scruffy but no less trouble-prone "Bowery Boys". In 1946, the first Bowery Boy picture, Live Wires, was released, launching a lucrative series of low-budget features that lasted for 48 installments. Despite the furious pace of production on those two films series, Gorcey also took on outside acting jobs during the first decade or so of his career -- he turned up in supporting roles of varying sizes in a multitude of movies, including the drama Out Of the Fog, the Nancy Drew-style programmer Down in San Diego (both 1941), the musical Born To Sing (1942), the World War II action film Destroyer (1943), and the comedy So This Is New York (1948), the latter the first movie produced by Stanley Kramer (who would use Gorcey in a bit role in his gargantuan comedy It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World some 15 years later).

The Bowery Boys personnel fluctuated in size and prominence over the next twelve years, but Leo Gorcey as malaprop-spouting, two-fisted Slip Mahoney and Huntz Hall as lame-brained Sach Jones were clearly the stars. Gorcey stayed with the series until the 1955 death of his father Bernard, who'd been cast in the supporting role of gullible sweet-shop proprietor Louie Dumbrowski in most of the films. Too grief stricken to continue, Leo bowed out of the series with Crashing Las Vegas (1956), leaving Huntz Hall to co-star in the remaining six "Bowery Boys" films with Stanley Clements. Working in films only fitfully over the next 14 years, Leo was content with managing his land holdings. He also missed the chance for some fresh pop-culture immortality on the original cover of the Beatles' 1967 Sergeant Pepper album -- Gorcey and Huntz Hall were originally depicted side-by-side in the cover design, but Gorcey's insistence upon being paid resulted in his image being airbrushed out. By the time of his death in 1969, Leo Gorcey was financially secure thanks to TV residual payments from his 42 "Bowery Boys" features.

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