The Dead End Kids, (later The Bowery Boys, The East Side Kids and The Little Tough Guys) are great favorites of ours here at the Bijou Blog. The gang got their name from their first movie together, Dead End, in which they reprised their roles from the hit Broadway production. Leo Gorcey Jr. has written a remarkable book about growing up with Slip Mahoney aka Muggs McGinnis aka Leo Gorcey. In this excerpt, which he has generously allowed us to reprint, he recounts their relationship, during the filming of Dead End, with Humphrey Bogart. Fans of Leo Gorcey and the Dead End Kids will find the book fascinating, and quite a wild ride. You can order a copy from Amazon.com. For an autographed copy, write to Leo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Humphrey Bogart was fresh off a hard-earned success as Duke Mantee in Petrified Forest. But a long way from Casablanca.
The suits at Warners didn’t see Bogey as a leading man. "He doesn’t have the face,” they complained. “And he sounds like a fairy with that lisp.”
In Dead End, Bogey’s characterization of Baby Face would be a thumbnail sketch of his yet-to-be-realized Picasso – the classic, hard-nosed gangster in the trademark fedora and Dick Tracy trench coat. The guy who sticks his neck out for no one.
One day, after the kids pants-ed Bogey (held him down and stripped him of his trousers) for ignoring them, the Prince did the unexpected. He invited the Kids to join him for lunch at the commissary. Bogey was taking them on.
Huntz threw out the bait.
“We’re bored, Princey.” Huntz whined to Bogart as he ripped into a mustard covered hot dog.
“Yeah,” chirped Leo. “We duhn about everting we can tink of tuh dese lugs, an’ we still ain’t been kicked off duh picture! We’re all out uh doity tricks!”
“Doncha’ think yer pushin’ it, boys?” asked Bogey.
“Pushin’ wuht?” asked Huntz with mock innocence. “We ain’t been dat bad! Duh picture’ll be in duh can in a week, an’ we ain’t gonna be nuttin’ but a memory tuh dese kingpins!”
“Oh I doubt that. Let’s see, you boys completely destroyed an entire sound stage….”
“Dat was because de gas pedal on duh truck got stuck! Dat wasn’t our fault!” Huntz protested.
Bogey narrowed his eyes. “Oh? So what about you boys costin’ the studio a pile uh dough when you set off the sprinklers and flooded the whole wardrobe department? I suppose yer gonna claim it was the sprinkler’s fault!”
Leo’s turn. “But Bogey, we was jist testin’ duh new sprinklers system. An’ besides, duh five fire engine drivers thawt it was funny!”
Laughter all around. A chuckle from the Prince.
“So, wadd’ ya boys want from me, the Congressional Medal of Honor?”
Back to Huntz. “We don’ want no medal, Princey, we want ideas! You must have some tricks up yer sleeve! You been in dis racket longuh dan we have!”
“Yeah,” piped up the other Kids. “Show us yer bag uh tricks, Princey!”
The bait was too good.
“OK, boys. I set fire to a guy’s newspaper once…while he was readin’ it!”
The Kids exploded with laughter. Leo took the lead. “We ain’t nevuh done nuttin’ like dat!”
“Oh, that was jist for starters,” Bogey bragged. “When I was workin’ on my first picture, me and this other kid, we slipped into this actor’s trailer and nailed his slippers to the floor. When he tried walkin’ in ‘em, he fell flat on his kisser!”
Over to Huntz. “Oh, Daaat’s a good one, Princey!” “Listen, if you boys are serious about causing a ruckus, sneak up behind Willy Wyler and pour water into the seat of his canvas chair!”
“Now yer talkin’, Princey!” yelled one of the kids.
Confident that he was now in with the kids, Bogey got up from the table. “Well, boys, I’m goin’ to saw some logs before we go back to work.”
“Hey, Princey,” Huntz slapped Bogey’s shoulder. “Tanks fer duh hot tips!”
“There’s more where those came from. Now, stay outta trouble, yuh hear? I’d like to get off this picture in one piece. And if anybody asks, we never had this conversation. Is that clear?”
Huntz smiled. “Clear as a bell, Princey!”
The Kids chimed in. “Yeah, clear as a bell, Princey!”
Ten minutes later, the Kids heard snoring outside Bogey’s trailer window that was loud enough to wake the dead.
“Well, light ‘em up Leo!”
“I’ll light ‘em aright, Gabe, but I ain’t trowin’ ‘em in.”
“I’ll trow ‘em in,” offered Huntz.
“Arright, who’s got duh torch?” squealed Leo.
Gabe pulled a pack of matches out of his trouser pocket. Leo lit the bundle of firecrackers and handed it to Huntz. Huntz pitched it through Bogart’s partially opened trailer window. An ear-splitting crackling, machine gun sound filled the air. A cloud of gray, puffyy smoke wafted out of Bogey’s trailer window.
Then Bogart’s angry howl. “You kids’ll pay fer this! You’re all gonna pay fer this!”
Bogey’s threat from behind his trailer door caused the Kids to scatter for cover. When they were out of sight of the trailer, they stopped to catch their breath.
“I tink we jist lost anuddah friend.” Leo muttered with regret.
“We shouldda thawt uh dat ten minutes ago.” Huntz sounded a bit remorseful himself.
“Ahhhh, shuddup, Cyrano. I didn’t hear you firin’ no warnin’ shots. You trew duh sticks innnair yuh moron!
“Losin’ friends is gettin’ to be a bad habit wit us.” Leo lamented.
But it was too late for apologies.
A thoughtless gag cost the Kids their friendship with Bogey. Bogey wasn’t the only one. Sam’s (Sam Katzman) patience with the Dead End Kids was wearing paper-thin.