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It all began with The Dead End Kids, who were five young actors and one ex-plumber's assistant, from New York who appeared in Sidney Kingsley's play Dead End in 1935 on Broadway. They were then imported en masse to Hollywood by William Wyler in 1937 when he filmed the play, and proved to be so popular that they remained as a more or less viable entity until their final film (as the Bowery Boys) in 1958.

The original kids from the play were Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan, Huntz Hall, Charles Duncan, Bernard Punsly and Gabriel Dell. Sometime during the original run, Duncan was replaced in the role of Spit by his understudy, Leo B. Gorcey, who went on to achieve fame as the resident weasel and wise guy. Gorcey later became better known as Muggs in Monogram's East Side Kids series, and as Slip Mahoney when Monogram Studios (now known as Allied Artists) changed the group to the Bowery Boys.

Following the success of Dead End, the kids (who were by nature rambunctious) ended up at Warner Bros. where they made several more films, most of which are considered to be the best they made as a group, especially Angels With Dirty Faces (1938), and They Made Me A Criminal (1939). During this period they established their reputations for hell-raising and studio demolishing. The group (minus Gorcey) also worked at Universal between 1938-1943. During this time they worked with another group of young actors who were billed as the Little Tough Guys, Universal's own entry into the juvenile delinquent genre, one of whom was Gorcey's brother David, and another, Charles Duncan, was originally cast in the role of Spit in the original play. They made several films for Universal before throwing in the towel in 1943. By this time, Jordan had left the Dead End Kids series to co-star with Gorcey in the East Side Kids films for Monogram, and both Hall and Dell were busy working in both series.

The group added the term dead end kid to the language as it came to refer to any group of troublesome, boisterous youths, and they became forever typecast in their roles, which may have led to the numerous problems and run-ins they subsequently had over the years with the authorities.

The Dead End Kids' have a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. As of 1999, Huntz Hall and Bernard Punsly were the last surviving members of The Dead End Kids. Huntz Hall died in 1999 and Bernard Punsly died in 2004.

The Dead Ends Kids were: Billy Halop (Tommy), Huntz Hall (Dippy), Bobby Jordan (Angel), Leo Gorcey (Spit), Gabriel Dell (T.B.) and Bernard Punsly (Milty).

The Films of The Dead End Kids: Dead End 1937, Crime School 1938, Angels With Dirty Faces 1938, Little Tough Guy 1938, They Made Me A Criminal 1939, Hell's Kitchen 1939, The Angels Wash Their Faces 1939, The Dead End Kids On Dress Parade 1939

As "The Little Tough Guys & Dead End Kids": Call a Messenger 1939, You're Not So Tough 1940, Junior G-Men 1940, Give Us Wings 1940, Hit The Road 1941 Sea Raiders 1941, Mob Town 1941, Junior G-Men of the Air 1942, Tough As They Come 1942, Mug Town 1943, Keep 'Em Slugging 1943

During their cinematic career, the leader role shifted from Halop to Jordan, who returned to the series after leaving in 1940 to take over the role of Tom, the gang leader, in their last film.

The East Side Kids were one of the off-shoots from the original Dead End Kids series of films, and contained several of the original gang members who appeared in the series from time to time, most notably: Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan and Gabriel Dell. After the first few films Gorcey emerged as the official leader, and second-banana/featured kid status shifted originally from Jordan to Hall who joined the gang in 1941.

The original gang in Monogram's East Side Kids 1940 didn't feature any of the Dead End Kids, and was composed primarily of juvenile actors from Universal's Little Tough Guys series. Later that year Gorcey and Jordan were cast in featured roles and were usually abetted in their anarchistic mayhem by Gorcey's brother David, and Sunshine Sammy Morrison (interestingly, this character, who was black, was on an equal footing with the others, which was certainly unusual for the forties), as well as a rotating cast from Universal's former series.

In the first few films, Dave O'Brien (Mish-Mash the Muttonhead from the Pete Smith shorts) played Jordan's older brother Knuckles Dolan, who always seemed to be getting roped into chaperoning the kids from adventure to adventure. The membership roster changed from film to film, until after Huntz Hall joined in 1941, when it more or less stabilized. Their films weren't as prestigious as the ones they'd made as the Dead End Kids, but were popular nonetheless, enough so that they were spun off in 1946 (when it was obvious even to the studios that they were no longer "kids") into the Bowery Boys, as whom they toiled until 1958.

The East Side Kids were, on the whole, less threatening than the original Dead Enders were, and most of their later films were played for comedy rather than social relevance. It was here that Gorcey's tough guy persona was crystalized, as well as Huntz Hall's second banana goofball identity, and this is the series that most fans of the genre most readily recall.

The original Dead End Kids were usually led by Billy Halop (though Jordan took over the leader role in the final Universal film), but both the East Side Kids and the Bowery Boys were led by Gorcey whose Muggs McGinnes (the spelling would vary from film to film) and later, Slip Mahoney, became known for his often hilarious use of malapropisms and trademark fedora with the turned up brim. Likewise, Huntz Hall's addled knucklehead (Gimpty, Glimpy, and finally Sach) became his trademark complete with baseball cap and non-sequiturs.

Neither Halop nor Bernard Punsly (now a doctor) appeared in either the East Side Kids or Bowery Boys series, just as Gorcey never appeared with the Little Tough Guys in the Universal films.