Bowery Boys English Lessons.

Dimwit Sidekick Huntz Hall & Gang Boss Leo Gorcey: Bowery Boy Kingpins of the 1940s B Movie Series Circuit.

The boys started out as the Dead End Kids, the “when things go wrong” bad examples of what the mean city streets will do to a kid when he’s had nothing but bad company for as his role models. The year was 1937. The movie was “Dead End.” The star was Humphrey Bogart. From there through the early 1950s, “the boys” made a living as stars of their own B movie comedy series in which they were ariously known as the “Dead End Kids,” the “East Side Kids,” and most famously as, the “Bowery Boys.”

Actor Leo Gorcey starred as “Slip Mahoney,” aka “Mugs McGinnis;” Huntz Hall, if memory serves, was always known as “Sach,” the mentally challenged sidekick of the the gang that also included “Whitey” and three or four others who never had any speaking parts, but they were all regular movie performers on Saturdays at kid fares offered at places like our own turf theatre, the Avalon at 75th and Lawndale in the Houston East End, just after the end of World War II.

“The Boys” always gathered at Louie’s Sweet Shop on the lower East Side. Tiny, nervous shopkeeper Louie Dumbrowski was played by Leo Gorcey’s 4’10” tall father, Bernard Gorcey. “Louie’s” constant nerve-wracking worry was over the fact that he allowed the Bowery Boys to run up a soda credit tab that they never got around to paying. How he stayed in business is anyone’s guess. He never seemed to have any other customers beyond his band of deadbeat teens.

Leo Gorcey’s schtick was that he always tried to come off smarter and better educated than he actually was. The result was a non-stop flow of spoken malaprops that only became funnier to some of us as we aged, read more, and learned to recognize better what he was doing.

Examples:

(1) Slip (Leo Gorcey) wants to butt into a conversation, so he says, “Pardon me for protrudin’!”

(2) Slip to Louie (regarding his soda tab): “I’d love to pay somethin’ on the bill, Louie, but today my funds are a little bit constipated.”

(3) Slip’s financial plan: “OK, boys, empty your pockets. Let’s pool our money and catapult it into something safe that pays well.”

(4) Slip, on making friends with a guy he doesn’t trust: ” My happiness over our new friendship is only surpassed by my mortification over the idea.”

(5) Slip to receptionist over the phone: “Let me speak to Mr. Smith right away. What I have to say to him is rather impertinent.”

Somehow, most of us who grew up in the Houston East End on a steady diet of Bowery Boys and Charlie Chan films actually reached adulthood without a warped sense of word meaning and with no impairment to our skills for proper contextual  application of certain words.

Have a nice Saturday brunch or lunch, everybody, and may whatever you order come packed with a delirious taste. If you think of what you really want to eat hard enough today  before you trace your order, your compensation will be rewarded in a way that feels desultory.

Have fun! Life’s short! (I don’t have a way to misstate those two sentences.)

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5 Responses to “Bowery Boys English Lessons.”

  1. Ken Dupuy Says:

    Great memories were unleased by those malaprops. Thanks for a trip back to our own early years.
    Ken

  2. Earl A Says:

    Bill, my wife and I just finished watching these “Boyz” in Smuggler’s Cove, a 1948 movie. I laughed my head off. They were always great for a pick me up, evan at my advanced age. Great stuff!!!

  3. Bud Says:

    Bill, dont forget “Angels with Dirty Faces” with the Dead End Kids having a really bad role model in a gangster played by Jimmy Cagney. Pat O’Brien is the friendly priest who grew up with Cagney and is trying to steer the Kids onto the path of righteousness. Cagney redeems himself at the end by faking turning yellow while being strapped into the electric chair, and Pat convinces the Kids to be nice, which pleased the Hays office and the Legion of Decency. (Where is the Decency today when we need it?)

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Bud:

      You’re so right, and I was wrong about the original release year of “Dead End.” It came out in 1937, which I’ve now amended in the article text. “Angels with Dirty Faces” and the Cagney/O’Brien treatment of the boys soon followed in 1938. In the end, “The Boys” could nether be destroyed nor rehabilitated. They could only be resurrected over and over again on screen for our viewing fun and delight.

  4. Simon Painter Says:

    yes.. great article

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