East Side Kids


East Side Kids

The East Side Kids were a group of actors who made a series of films and serials released by Monogram Pictures from 1940 through 1945. Many of them were originally part of The Dead End Kids and The Little Tough Guys', and several of them later became members of The Bowery Boys.

History

When Samuel Goldwyn turned the play "Dead End" into a 1937 film, he recruited the original tough-talking kids from the play (Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, Gabriel Dell, Billy Halop, and Bernard Punsly) to repeat their roles in the film. This led to the making of six other films starring The Dead End Kids. The most successful of these features were "Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938) with James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, and "They Made Me a Criminal" (1939), starring John Garfield. Universal offered a competing series, under the Little Tough Guys brand name, featuring most of the same kids.

The East Side Kids

In 1940 producer Sam Katzman, noting the financial success of other tough-kid series, made the film "East Side Kids" using two of the 'Little Tough Guys', Hally Chester and Harris Berger. He added former Our Gang player Donald Haines, Frankie Burke, radio actor Sam Edwards, and Eddie Brian to round out the new team. Despite its misleading title, "East Side Kids" does not contain the actors generally associated with the East Side Kids (Gorcey, Hall, Jordan, et al.). However, it is often lumped in with the subsequent series of 21 films, making the total appear to be 22. The first "true" film in 'The East Side Kids' series is "Boys of the City".

Katzman hired Bobby Jordan to play leads in his series; he was soon joined by Leo Gorcey. Gorcey's brother David was added, as well as (Ernie) 'Sunshine' Sammy Morrison as "Scruno," the only African-American in the group and the very first member of the Our Gang comedy team.

In the first few films, Dave O'Brien (familiar from low-budget westerns and serials, and as the accident-prone star of the Pete Smith comedies) played Jordan's older brother "Knuckles Dolan," who always seemed to be getting roped into chaperoning the kids from adventure to adventure. O'Brien appeared in different roles as well—continuity between films was often ignored. As with the Little Tough Guys, the membership of the team changed from film to film, until Huntz Hall joined in 1941, when the lineup was somewhat stabilized. In total, 20 actors were members of the team at one time or another.

Always the outsider, Gabriel Dell drifted in and out of the series as a gang-member, a reporter, or a small-time hoodlum (as in "Million Dollar Kid"). In "Smart Alecks" he's an ex-member who left the gang to pursue a life of crime. Stanley Clements also appeared in "Smart Alecks" as well as "'Neath Brooklyn Bridge" and "Ghosts on the Loose". After Gorcey left the subsequent "Bowery Boys" series in 1956, Clements was chosen to replace him in the last seven films.

Monogram (which later became Allied Artists) was notorious for its "Poverty Row" productions, and the East Side films were no exception. With a minuscule budget of around $33,000 per feature and a tight shooting schedule of only 5-7 days, the series churned out three or four movies a year (an astonishing 21 films in less than six years). There was no time or money for subtlety, story development, or more than one or two takes per scene.

The stories always centered around the tough, pugnacious "Muggs McGinnis" (Gorcey) or the more innocent, clean-cut "Danny" (Bobby Jordan). Huntz Hall's "Glimpy" began as a minor character who grew in prominence as he was allowed to do more comedy bits over the course of the series. The loose format proved flexible enough to shift back and forth between urban drama ("That Gang of Mine"), murder mystery ("Boys of the City"), boxing melodrama ("Bowery Blitzkrieg"), and horror-comedy ("Spooks Run Wild"), with the kids confronting various stock villains: gangsters, smugglers, spies, and crooked gamblers, along the way. The East Side films were problem-teen melodramas until 1943, when director William Beaudine joined the series and emphasized the comedy content. He encouraged the actors to improvise freely, adding to the films' spontaneous charm.

The contemporaneous events of World War II had an impact on the series as well as the cast. In 1943 Bela Lugosi (who was in "Spooks Run Wild") returned as a Nazi saboteur in the incongruously-titled "Ghosts on the Loose"; a German-Japanese spy ring was thwarted in the blatantly patriotic "Let's Get Tough!" from 1942 (with Gabriel Dell, of all people, as a Nazi spy). At the end of the film the boys enlist and show off their uniforms. In "Follow The Leader" (1944), Muggs and Glimpy appear in uniform as they are on leave from the Army. Offscreen, between 1942 and 1944, cast members Billy Benedict, Morrison, Jordan, Dell, and David Gorcey left the series after being drafted. A few days after receiving "his" induction notice, Leo Gorcey suffered a near-fatal motorcycle accident and spent almost a year in recovery. His injuries led to a 4-F classification, rendering him unfit for military service.

During Bobby Jordan's absence, his role in the series was taken by former child actor David Durand. Durand had been the star of Columbia's series of "Glove Slingers" campus comedies, and lent the same earnest sincerity to his East Side Kids appearances. (Jordan returned in 1944, in uniform, for a guest appearance in "Bowery Champs".)

Starting with "Clancy Street Boys" in 1943, Bernard Gorcey (Leo's father) did various bit parts, playing different characters in a total of seven films. In "Million Dollar Kid" he and Leo exchanged banter borrowed from an Abbott and Costello routine. He later became a fixture with The Bowery Boys.

Given the low budgets, simplistic stories, and crude, assembly-line production of the East Side Kids series, its enduring popularity relies on the cast's rambunctious energy, breezy banter (often ad-libbed and containing inside jokes), fast-paced action, and Leo Gorcey's trademark malapropisms ("This calls for drastic measurements").

The East Side Kids series was supplanted by The Bowery Boys in 1946; see the Wikipedia entry for notes.

Trivia

*Gorcey married two of his East Side Kids co-stars: Kay Marvis (1939) and Amelita Ward (1949).
*A young Ava Gardner appears in "Ghosts on the Loose".
*Two flubs from "Ghosts on the Loose": In the opening scene, Muggs drops pages of sheet-music on the floor and walks away; an instant later the papers magically reappear in his hand. Bela Lugosi shouts a four-letter expletive during a sneeze-take. Intended as a throwaway gag, no one noticed and it remained in the film.
*Actor/comedian Morey Amsterdam, best known as "Buddy Sorrell" on "The Dick Van Dyke Show", contributed to the scripts for "Kid Dynamite" and "Bowery Champs".

Filmography

See also

* Dead End Kids
* Little Tough Guys
* The Bowery Boys

External links

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###@@@KEY@@@###succession box
title='East Side Kids' series
years=1940-1945
before=Little Tough Guys
1938-1943
after=The Bowery Boys
1946-1958


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