For one last time in 1969, Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall appeared together for a forgettable movie called The Phynx(1970). They were wearing their Bowery Boys hats and were in character.
Two months later in June of 1969, Gorcey was dead. He was 51 and no one was surprised. He died from liver failure which was no shock. Many of the group had already died- many from alcoholism or related causes. Bobby Jordan died in 1965 at 41. David Gorcery was a recovering alcoholic. Billy Halop died in 1976 at 51. Huntz Hall was a heavy drinker as was Gabe Dell
Basically the group that started as a gang in the Sidney Kingsley Broadway play and then the William Wyler/Goldwyn 1937 film Dead End, appeared in other Warner Films as the Dead End Kids. They did films with Bogart, Cagney, O’Brien, Reagan and Garfield at Warner Brothers.
I met Sylvia Sidney, who co starred in Dead End and she recalled that the group was out of control and drove Willie Wyler “insane.” She said she thought they were funny.
After the Warner films. The group splintered. Some moved to Poverty Row for films as the East Side Kids for Sam Katzman. Part of the group worked at Univeral as The Little Tough Guys. In 1946, Leo Gorcey and his agent, Jan Grippo retooled the series and made a deal at Monogram. What transpired was that it resulted in 48 films from. 1946-1958 as The Bowery Boys.
However, The Bowery Boys were really-for all intents and purposes-the comedy team of Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall who portrayed Terrence Aloysius “Slip” Mahoney and Horace Debussy “Sach” Jo SS JjJones
The Bowery Boy film family included directors such as the prolific William “One-Shot” Beaudine, former Three Stooges writer Elwood Ulman and writer/director Edward Bernds (who brought their Columbia shorts experience), legendary comedy director and gag man Del Lord (also a Columbia expatriate ) Under Gorcey’s agent- Jan Grippo for many of the years, they churned out 48 films from 1946-1958. It was the longest running American film series.
Despite their cheap values, flimsy sets and second rate supporting cast- the films run to this day ( currently most Saturday mornings on TCM).
Hall and Gorcey have been sadly overlooked. They need to be considered among the top comedy teams. Gorcey with his malapropisms ( much later Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker borrowed elements of that) was an adroit straight man to Huntz Hall. Hall was limber, slapstick astute and very funny. They rarely varied from their characters and the typical format.
They had support from the other bodies who appeared as the other “Boys ” which included Billy Benedict as Whitey, Leo’s brother David Gorcey as Chuck, Bobby Jordan ( for a year) and other non-descript members such as Eddie LeRoy as Blinky, Bennie Bartlett ( as Butch)etc.
Another gem in was Gorcey’s wonderful father Bernard Gorcey as Louie Dumbrowski the owner of the sweet shop they hung out at. Early on, former member Gabe Dell appeared in guest shots. They had a cadre of well known character actors such as Sheldon Leonard, Amanda Blake, Percy Helton, Dick Elliot and many others.
The films were not sophisticated, nuanced and usually had a flimsy plot. They were just flat out funny. Compared to Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell films- they were masterpieces.
Hall was almost always on the money. Gorcey was many times sluggish and bloated from booze- sometimes lifeless. When his father Bernard Gorcey was killed in 1955, Leo only lasted a few more films before they pulled the plug on him. Although he owned a decent percentage of the series (with agent Jan Grippo), Allied Artists ( formerly Monogram) bought him out and brought in a past member of The East Side Kids named Stanley Clements to replace him for the last seven films as Hall’s straight man.
Leo Gorcey worked very little until his death in1969. He did a cameo in Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad World in 1963. Otherwise he moved north of Los Angeles to a remote cabin near Los Molinos where he drank himself to death and died of liver failure.
In interviews I had with Edward Bernds who wrote and directed several films- he detested Gorcey. He said he was quite ignorant with a horrid temper, he was drunk on the set and abused his wives. An all around nice guy he was not. Producer Sheldon Leonard who appeared in a couple of their films concurred with Bernds.
Huntz Hall continued to appear in dinner theater, a cadre of films which included an important role in Ken Russell’s Valentino (as Jesse Lasky) and in a tv series with Dean Jones called The Chicago Teddy Bears among countless other roles. Bernds and Hall remembered Hall fondly. Moe Howard of the Stooges told me that Huntz would hang around with his brother Shemp who mentored him to an extent. Moe thought that Hall was a talented film comic.
The Dead/East SideKids/ Little Tough Guys/Bowery Boys were a presence in American film for nearly 25 years.
While the Bowery Boys will never be remembered as one of the upper echelon comedy teams that include The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy , Abbott and Costello and The Three Stooges (who are an upper echelon team without question).
They are cultural icons. When Peter Blake was designing the Beatles album cover of Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Band, they included the Bowery Boys with other cultural icons such as Fred Astaire, Shirley Temple and Zane West. Hall was included but the only holdout not to agree was Leo Gorcey who was airbrushed out when he asked for a $400 fee.
However, considering the quantity and their body of work and the durability and sustained popularity for nearly 85 years- it certainly places them in the pantheon of great comedy teams. If they ever create a Hall of Fame of Comedy Teams, they would be included.