Today is the birthday of Bernard Gorcey (1886-1955). Russian Jewish, and all of 4’10” in adulthood, he came to the U.S. with his wife Josie (who was all of 4′ 11″) to perform in vaudeville. In time, sons came along. Josie stayed home to raise them and Bernard went to Broadway: 15 shows over his career, the most successful of which was the long running Abie’s Irish Rose. But the signal event of his career turned out when he arranged for his kids Leo and David to audition for the play Dead End in 1935. The boys got the roles, the play was a hit, and they ended up being at the center of the popular Dead End Kids/ East Side Kids/ Bowery Boys movie franchise for another two decades.
What’s more, the boys returned the favor and got Bernard jobs in their movies — 44 of them, playing the role of Louie Dumbrowksi, the funny little owner of the sweet shop where the boys hang out. Bernard Gorcey’s sudden death by a car accident in 1955 caused his grief stricken son Leo’s departure from the series.
For more on vaudeville history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube