The Dead End Kids were a group of young actors from New York who appeared in Sidney Kingsley’s Broadway play Dead End in 1935. In 1937 producer Samuel Goldwyn brought all of them to Hollywood and turned the play into a film. They proved to be so popular that they continued to make movies under various monikers, including The East Side Kids, The Little Tough Guys, and The Bowery Boys, until 1958.
In 1934, Sidney Kingsley wrote a play about a group of children growing up on the streets of New York City. A total of fourteen children were hired to play various roles in the play, including Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan, Huntz Hall, Charles Duncan, Bernard Punsly, Gabriel Dell, and Leo and David Gorcey. Duncan left for a role in another play before opening night and was replaced by Leo, his understudy. Leo had been a plumber’s assistant and was originally recruited by his brother David to audition for the play.
The play opened at the Belasco Theatre on October 28, 1935 and ran for two years, totalling 684 performances. Samuel Goldwyn and director William Wyler saw the play and decided to turn it into a film. They paid $165,000 for the rights to the film and began auditioning actors in Los Angeles. Failing to find actors that could convey the emotions they saw in the play, Goldwyn and Wyler had six of the original Kids brought from New York to Hollywood for the film. The Kids were all signed to two-year contracts, allowing for possible future films, and began working on the 1937 United Artists’ film, Dead End.
During production, the boys ran wild around the studio, destroying property, including a truck that they crashed into a sound stage. Goldwyn chose not to use them again and sold their contract to Warner Brothers.