Dead End (play)

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Dead End is a stage play written by playwright Sidney Kingsley. The play premiered on Broadway in October 1935 and ran for two years. It is notable for being the first project to feature the Dead End Kids, who would go on to star in several Hollywood films and later branched out into the Little Tough Guys, the East Side Kids and the Bowery Boys series.

Plot[edit]

Dead End concerns a group of adolescent children growing up on the streets of New York City during the Great Depression.[1] Bonnie Stephanoff, author of a book on homelessness during the Depression, wrote that it "graphically depicted the lives and longings of a group of boys who swam in a polluted river, cooked food over outdoor fires, smoked cigarettes, gambled, swore, fought, carried weapons and became entangled in [crime] on Manhattan's Lower East Side."[2]

Gimpty is a would-be architect who struggles with unemployment. Having been a gang member in his youth, he managed to turn his life around, finish high school and go on to college. He dreams of rebuilding the neighbourhood with clean housing units, but poverty and hardships have forced him to search for work wherever possible. Drina is a working-class girl who has been struggling to keep her younger brother Tommy off the streets since their parents died. Meanwhile, local gangster Baby-Face Martin returns to his old neighbourhood to visit his mother.

History[edit]

Kingsley first conceived the idea of Dead End in 1934. The play featured fourteen children who were hired to play various roles among the cast, including Gabriel Dell as T.B, Huntz Hall as Dippy, Billy Halop as Tommy, Bobby Jordan as Angel, Bernard Punsly as Milty, with David Gorcey and Leo Gorcey as the Second Avenue Boys. Charlie Duncan, the original actor for Spit, quit the production to take part in another play before Dead End's premiere. Consequently, Duncan was replaced in the role by his understudy Leo, who was originally recruited by his younger brother David to audition for the play. In time, Gorcey would soon become the group's de facto leader and most recognizable of the young actors, eclipsing the rest of them in popularity.

Dead End premiered on October 2, 1935 at the Belasco Theatre and ran for 687 performances before closing on June 12, 1937. Apart from writing the play, Kingsley also served as director of the production. The cast also included Joseph Downing as Baby Face Martin, Marjorie Main as Mrs. Martin, and Margaret Mullen as Kay. While Dead End attracted critical acclaim, not all reviews were favourable: for example, the Washington Post called the play "a thinnish plea for slums reform".[3]

Later productions[edit]

Dead End has been revived three times. The first revival ran on Broadway at the Quigh Theatre in 1978. In 1997, director Nicholas Martin staged a production at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts.[4] The cast featured Campbell Scott as Baby-Face Martin, Scott Wolf as Tommy, Robert Sean Leonard as Gimpty, Ebon Moss-Bachrach as T.B., Gregory Esposito as Angel, Christopher Fitzgerald as Spit, Sam Wright as Dippy, and Hope Davis as Drina. Set designer James Noone introduced the concept of a large water tank placed downstage, thus giving the impression of a wharf on the East Side.

In 2005, Dead End was revived at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Directed by Michael Ritchie, the revival celebrated the 70th anniversary of the play's debut.[5] During one such performance, it marked a reunion of sorts for the surviving relatives of the original Dead End Kids actors. Leo Gorcey, Jr., Gabe Dell, Jr., Bobby Jordan, Jr. were among those in attendance, as well as Billy Halop's nephew and nieces Zach, Jennifer and Melissa Halop.

Film adaptation[edit]

During the original run of Dead End, producer Samuel Goldwyn and director William Wyler watched the Broadway play in 1936 and decided to adapt it into a motion picture. Goldwyn paid $165,000 for the film rights to the property and began auditioning actors in Los Angeles.[5] However, he was unable to find established actors that could accurately convey the emotions depicted in the play. Eventually, Goldwyn and Wyler recruited six of the original Kids (Halop, Jordan, Hall, Punsly, Dell, and Leo Gorcey) and signed them to United Artists on a two-year contract.

The 1937 film adaptation of Dead End also starred Humphrey Bogart as Baby Face. While it closely adheres to the play, the film changes the character of Gimpty to David, a healthy all-American heroic type who challenges Baby Face. Unlike the play's ending, the film depicts him challenging and killing Baby Face in a climatic gunfight.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Caroline Field Levander; Carol J. Singley (2003). The American Child: A Cultural Studies Reader. Rutgers University Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-8135-3223-3. 
  2. ^ Bonnie Stepenoff (24 May 2010). The Dead End Kids of St. Louis: Homeless Boys and the People Who Tried to Save Them. University of Missouri Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-8262-7214-0. 
  3. ^ William Robert Bray; R. Barton Palmer (8 August 2013). Modern American Drama on Screen. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–27. ISBN 978-1-107-00065-0. 
  4. ^ Johnson, Malcolm (July 12, 1997). "Williamstown's 'Dead End' Is Dead On". Hartford Courant. Retrieved March 2, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b Getz, Leonard (2006). From Broadway to the Bowery. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
None
Broadway play
1935–1937
Succeeded by
Dead End Kids
1937–1939