Today is the birthday of Henry Richard “Huntz” Hall (1920-1999). My father used to say Huntz Hall was one of his favorite comedians, and I believe you’d hear a surprising number of people of his generation say that, although he and his loose comedy partner from the Dead End Kids/ East Side Kids/ Bowery Boys series Leo Gorcey have sort of fallen by the wayside apart from die hard film buffs. But I can totally see it. In fact if there is a single redeeming element in this long-running series of sketchy comedies, it’s Hall’s performances as “Sach”, which evolve over the life of the series from relatively conventional to increasingly bizarre and out-on-a-limb. Lou Costello and Jerry Lewis were popular during the same years; over time you can see Hall try to push his (initially relatively naturalistic) character into the same universe.
Hall had started out on radio at age 5 and was cast in that seminal Broadway production of Sidney Kingsley’s Dead End at age fifteen. By the time the smoke cleared on the whole Bowery Boys phenomenon he was a 38 year old man — old enough to have been the father of any self-respecting Bowery Boy. (He stayed with the series until the bitter end in 1958, two years longer than Gorcey). The sixties were lean times for him (aside from a couple of self-produced Bowery Boys reunions) but he got a surprising amount of film and tv work in the 1970s and 80s (supplemented by a hefty income from investments made during his flush days). His last credit (a walk on) was on the short-lived 1993 sit-com Daddy Dearest starring Richard Lewis and Don Rickles.
To learn more about slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc