OAKLAND, Calif., June 3
Leo Gorcey, the actor who played in the original
Dead End Kids, and then in the Bowery Boys,
died here yesterday after a long illness. He was
52 years old.
Mr. Gorcey, who retired from motion pictures
15 years ago, lived on a ranch near Red Bluff,
Calif. He is survived by his widow, Mary, his
mother, and two children, Leo Jr., and Jan.
Renewed Career on TV
The Dead End Kids, a Manhattan street gang of
half a dozen high-spirited and roguishly appealing
boys, were first introduced to America in a play
and a series of motion pictures in the
nineteen-thirties and nineteen-forties.
A generation later, the tough-talking gang with the
habit of backing the underdog won the devotion of
a whole new audience in television reruns.
Mr. Gorcey was an 18-year-old apprentice in his
uncle's plumbing shop on 23rd Street in 1935,
when casting began for Sidney Kingsley's play
"Dead End." His father, Bernard Gorcey, who had
played Papa Cohen in "Abie's Irish Rose" during the
nineteen-twenties, encouraged Leo to try for a part.
"They wanted real kids. So I got a very close shave
and put on kid's knickers and went over,"
Mr. Gorcey later recalled. "I got the part. I began
with a couple of lines and wound up as Spit."
Spit, the character he played again two years later
in the movie version, was described by a reviewer
as "delightful, beer-drinking, pool-playing,
Of the gang, the reviewer continued, Spit was "the
littlest, the one most stunted by cigarette smoking,
a venomous expectorator for whom the eye of an
enemy was like a flying quail to a huntsman."
Besides establishing in the American language the
term "Dead End Kid" as a way of describing an
aimless tough, the movie of "Dead End" set a
lucrative pattern for a dozen more motion pictures,
some with quite similar plots, that were released
between 1938 and 1942.
The kids, first described in a contemporary account
as "a shrill, dirty, nervous and shrewd mob of boys
who are gangsters in the making gradually acquired
an endearing quality.
In Film With Cagney
A characteristic example of the kind of melodrama
that became their vehicle was "Angels With Dirty
Faces," in which the gangsters played by James
Cagney pretended to be a coward as he headed for
the electric chair, so that the Dead End Kids would
have scorn, not admiration for him.
In a sequel, "Angels Wash Their Faces," the Dead
End Kids start off defending one of their number
whom a rival gang has framed on an arson charge,
and succeed not only in that, but in defeating crime
in general and exposing several crooked politicians
Mr. Gorcey, wearing a tweed peaked cap or a
beanie, slouched his way through all these films,
first as Spit and then as Muggs McGinnis.
When the Dead End Kids broke up in the
nineteen-forties, Mr. Gorcey and Huntz Hall, another
Dead Ender, created the Bowery Boys with some of
the old gang, and made B movies for the next 10
Those pictures, including "Ghosts on the Loose,"
"Bowery Bombshell" and "Bowery Battalion," were
mostly slapstick comedy. In many of them, Mr.
Gorcey's father played the part of Louis, a sweet shop
In 1967, spending almost all his days on his ranch,
Mr. Gorcey wrote a book, "Original Dead End Kid
Presents Dead End Yells, Wedding Bells, Cockle
Shells, and Crazy Spells." It was largely an account
of his four marriages. He married a fifth time last year.