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What's the Matter With Kids Today?
New beginnings for the Dead End Kids?
Leonard Getz thinks so, and the local CPA seems to have their number.
Getz' geshrei of a salute to the group, From Broadway to the Bowery: A History and Filmography of the Dead End Kids, Little Tough Guys, East Side Kids and Bowery Boys Films, With Cast Biographies, casts light on the brooding bunch who started life under the ironically glorious glare of Broadway lights.
Originally a 1935 play by Sidney Kingsley about urban urchins, "Dead End" evolved into the gang that could shoot straight into an audience's soul, whether in film or ongoing TV episodes in which a bunch of badasses known as Slip and Sach and Whitey and Chuck and Butch botched up schemes, but unbottled the hearts of those who watched them.
Making book on their 70-plus year story is a story all its own for the author, who grew up watching Kingsley's creations-cum-characters while a kid in Queens, N.Y. These days, Getz gets his kuved watching others watch out for the Boys' antics, which surely they will be doing Sunday, Nov. 19, when the author touts his tome at the Jewish Book Festival at the Gershman JCC.
"They were tough and fearless," Getz says of his initial reaction watching the clowns on the "East Side Comedy" show on Channel 5 as he grew up. "And some were stupid."
Getz smarts at the notion that these stand-up guys have lost their standing in comedy over the years. His new book -- all the Boys have since gone on to that Great Alley in the Sky -- brings back those long-ago Saturday matinees (Sunday, for the observant) when men were men, and these men were meeskeits.
It all hit home for Kid Getz, too: "There was some anti-Semitism around where I grew up, though I really didn't confront it a lot. But I would always think that Leo Gorcey (Slip) wouldn't let an anti-Semite inhibit him. 'Yeah, I'm going to be like him,' I thought; he was my inspiration to be tough."
Getz needed that inspiration for the tough times to follow in trying to get the book published. One company agreed to publish it, then was swallowed up by another, which had different ideas and "the book sat on the shelf for 25 years."
What would Slip do? Not let an opportunity slip by, Getz reckoned. Which he didn't. With the advent of TV classics becoming popular all over again on DVD, Getz knew his project was no longer DOA and -- through grit and grind that would make Sach's eyes bug-out -- Getz got what he always wanted: published as the author of a book on the Boys.
Was it all meant to be? Not that Getz would palm it off on fate but ... "In 1973, I was a waiter at Mount Airy Lodge," recalls the then-Temple University student and later grad, "and this other [worker] said he could read palms.
"So, I asked, 'Am I going to be a published author one day?' "
Palms up: "He said I would -- but it will be very, very hard."
Not that Getz has had schpilkes all that time waiting for the word; he's done quite a bit since on his own while pursuing a career in journalism and then accounting. In addition to becoming a CPA, he's accounted for his love of Judaism and its people by being active in executive capacities locally and nationally with the Zionist Organization of America.
The Dead End kids of his boyhood dreams may get a new life, thanks to the man who's talking them up now. "They are real heroes; a lot of people would like to see them back on TV."
Heroes not with clay feet, more like with sneakers. And, in following up their stories, Getz got some surprises. Rubber-faced Huntz Hall bounced his way through four marriages, but the last one, with a Jewish woman, piqued his interest in Judaism.
"They got married in a synagogue, Huntz broke the glass, and later [in life] he went to Kol Nidre services," says the kipah-clad author, who found this all out by going to ... church -- where he interviewed Huntz Hall's son, the Rev. Gary Hall, at his Bryn Mawr church, where, ironically, the reverend recalled a childhood at seders, "asking the Four Questions."
Without question, Getz fills in many a gap in this book of the Halls of fame and the Gorceys, too.
But he's more than cheering from the sidelines these days; Getz is in the fame game, too.
"I'd like to work on another book; I have a novel in mind," he says.
And who would be the hero?