Was Leo Gorcey a "Little Tough Guy"?  Was Billy Benedict one of the original "Dead End Kids"?  It's questions like these that can keep trivia experts up at night, so here is a short rundown of the roots of the Bowery Boys series, and the actors who wound up collectively or individually starring in 92 films over 23 years:

The Dead End Kids (1937-39)

Included Billy Halop, Huntz Hall, Bernard Punsly, Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Gabriel Dell  

     The Dead End Kids was the collective nickname for the six actors listed above, all of whom had appeared in the Broadway play Dead End.  When MGM made the film in 1937, they hired these six youngsters to portray the tough street urchins they had played so well on stage.  The film, directed by William Wyler and featuring a cast of luminaries such as Humphrey Bogart, Joel McRae and Sylvia Sydney, was a hit and the "Dead End Kids" were signed to MGM for two years. Apparently, though, the kids were a little too rowdy for the prim and proper MGM, and their contract was quickly sold to Warner Brothers.

    Needless to say, the rowdy Dead End Kids fit right in at Warners and were featured in six films over two years: Crime School (1938 - a remake of the 1933 Cagney feature The Mayor of Hell) starring Humphrey Bogart; the classic Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), starring James Cagney; They Made Me a Criminal (1939), starring John Garfield; Hell's Kitchen (1939 - yet another remake of The Mayor of Hell) starring Ronald Reagan; The Angels Wash Their Faces (1939 - not a sequel to Angels With Dirty Faces), also with Reagan; and finally their own vehicle, On Dress Parade (1939), with Leo Gorcey playing a character named "Slip", the name he would take again in the Bowery Boys series.

The Little Tough Guys (1938-1943)

Included Billy Halop, Huntz Hall, Bernard Punsly, Gabriel Dell, David Gorcey, Bobby Jordan, Hally Chester, Billy Benedict

    The 1938 Universal feature Little Tough Guys featured Billy Halop, Huntz Hall, Gabe Dell and Bernard Punsly of Dead End Kids fame, as well as Leo Gorcey's brother David, who was in the Broadway play Dead End.  As Universal would so often do with its properties, it turned the idea into a series and ran with it for the next five years.  The second Little Tough Guys film, Little Tough Guys in Society, feature no Dead End kids, but kept David Gorcey and added William Benedict, later to be "Whitey" in the Bowery Boys films.  It was not until the sixth film, 1940's You're Not So Tough, that the real Dead End Kids returned, now including Bobby Jordan, at which point the series was awkwardly renamed The Dead End Kids and the Little Tough Guys. in what can only be seen as an effort to prove to the public that Universal was not ripping off The Dead End Kids with their Little Tough Guy series, but rather now actually had most of them under contract.  Leo Gorcey was the only original Dead End Kid to never appear in the Little Tough Guy series.

    Aside from a dozen feature films, there were three 12-part serials featuring the Little Tough Guys: Junior G-Men (1940), Sea Raiders (1941) and Junior G-Men of the Air (1942).

The East Side Kids (1940-1945)

Included Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, "Sunshine" Sammy Morrison, Donald Haines, David Gorcey, Gabriel Dell, Billy Benedict, Stanley Clements, Bernard Gorcey

    The "poverty row" studio Monogram started the East Side Kids series with a 1940 film titled, what else, East Side Kids.  It had none of the Dead End Kids or Little Tough Guys in it, but that was soon rectified with the second film that year, Boys of the City, which featured Dead End Kids Bobby Jordan ("Danny") and Leo Gorcey ("Muggs"), and Little Tough Guy David Gorcey ("Pete").  "Sunshine" Sammy Morrison, one of Hal Roach's original Our Gang members, played Scruno, the first and only black member of any of these cinematic street gangs, and another former Our Ganger, Donald Haines, who had appeared in East Side Kids, remained in the series for a few more films.  By the sixth entry, Bowery Blitzkrieg, (1941), Huntz Hall had arrived as the new character Glimpy.  Gabriel Dell, Billy Benedict and Stanley Clements also made several appearances, as did Leo and David's dad Bernard.  Lost along the way were Billy Halop and Bernard Punsly, neither of whom would ever appear in an East Side Kids film.  Although, as with The Little Tough Guys films, actors would come and go in the series, Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall remained the core actors for the entire run of the series. 

    The East Side Kids films were hit or miss, but several of them, such as Flying Wild (1941) or Mr. Wise Guy (1942) are comparable to the best of the Bowery Boys films that would follow.  For Bobby Jordan, though, the writing was on the wall.  He had top billing in the first two "real" East Side Kids film Boys of the City and That Gang of Mine (both 1940) but Leo Gorcey was promoted to the top spot for Pride of the Bowery (1941) and when Huntz Hall arrived in Bowery Blitzkrieg (1941), it was clear who the real stars of these films were.

    All in all, there were 22 East Side Kids film, though most fans don't count the first film as a official East Side comedy.

From Kids to Boys: The Past Imprefect of the Bowery Boys - Part Two

The Bowery Boys      The Age of Comedy