Leo Gorcey

Leo Bernard Gorcey (June 3, 1917[1]– June 2, 1969) was an American stage and movie actor who became famous for portraying the leader of the group of young hooligans known variously as the Dead End Kids, The East Side Kids, and as an adult, The Bowery Boys. Always the most pugnacious member of the gangs in which he participated, young Leo was the filmic prototype of the young punk. He was the shortest member of the original gang.

Leo Gorcey
Gorcey in 1945
Leo Bernard Gorcey

(1917-06-03)June 3, 1917
New York City, United States
DiedJune 2, 1969(1969-06-02) (aged 51)
Oakland, California, United States
Years active1935–1969
Spouse(s)Kay Marvis (1939-1944; divorced)
Evalene Bankston (1945-1948; divorced)
Amelita Ward (1949-1956; divorced; 2 children)
Brandy Gorcey (1956-1962; divorced; 1 child)
Mary Gannon (1968-1969; his death)
Parent(s)Bernard Gorcey
Josephine Condon
RelativesDavid Gorcey (brother)

Early years

Gorcey was born in New York City, on June 3, 1917. The son of 16-year-old Josephine (née Condon), an Irish Catholic immigrant, and 31-year-old Bernard Gorcey, a Russian Jewish immigrant, both vaudevillian actors as well as small people. Bernard Gorcey was 4 ft 10 in (1.47 m), and his wife was 4 ft 11 in (1.50 m); as an adult, Leo would reach 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m).

Film career

In the 1930s, Leo's father became estranged from the family while working in theater and film. When he returned in 1935, he and Leo's brother, David, persuaded Leo to try out for a small part in the play Dead End. Having just lost his job as a plumber's apprentice and seeing his father's relative success, Leo decided to give acting a try. Leo and David were cast as two members of the East 53rd Place Gang (originally dubbed the "2nd Avenue Boys" in the play Dead End by Sidney Kingsley) with limited stage time. Charles Duncan, who was originally cast as Spit, left the play, and Leo, his understudy, was promoted. Gorcey created a quarrelsome guttersnipe whose greatest joy was in making trouble.

In 1937, Samuel Goldwyn made the popular play into a movie of the same name and transported the six rowdy boys to Hollywood. Gorcey became one of the busiest actors in Hollywood for the next 20 years.

  • From 1937 to 1939, he starred in 7 Dead End Kids movies where he played characters with various names
  • From 1940 to 1945, he starred in 21 East Side Kids movies where he played the character named Ethelbert "Muggs" McInnis/McGinnis/Maloney
  • From 1946 to 1956, he starred in 41 Bowery Boys movies where he played the character named Terence Aloysius "Slip" Mahoney

In the Bowery Boys movies, Leo's father, Bernard Gorcey, played Louie Dumbrowski, the diminutive sweetshop owner from whom the boys conned banana splits and financial loans. Leo's character "Slip" was famed for his malapropisms always delivered in a Brooklyn accent, such as "a clever seduction" for "a clever deduction", "I depreciate it!" ("I appreciate it!"), "I regurgitate" ("I reiterate"), and "optical delusion" ("optical illusion")."

Also in 1944, Gorcey had a recurring role in the Pabst Blue Ribbon Town radio show, starring Groucho Marx. In 1948, Gorcey played a small role in the sophisticated movie comedy So This Is New York starring acerbic radio and television comedian Henry Morgan and featuring Arnold Stang.

In 1955, after his father was killed in an automobile accident, Gorcey began abusing alcohol and lost a great deal of weight. When he trashed a movie set in an intoxicated rage, the studio refused to give him the pay raise he demanded, so he quit the Bowery Boys and was replaced in the last seven movies by Stanley Clements. Leo's brother David remained with the series until it ended in early 1958.

During the 1960s, Leo did very little acting. He did appear in the epic 1963 comedy, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, in a bit part. Gorcey then made two final appearances on film with Huntz Hall in a pair of low budget productions: Second Fiddle To A Steel Guitar (1966) and The Phynx (1970). Gorcey also made an appearance in a TV commercial for the 1969 Pontiac.

Life after acting

In 1967, Gorcey published his autobiography, entitled An Original Dead End Kid Presents: Dead End Yells, Wedding Bells, Cockle Shells, and Dizzy Spells. In 2003, Gorcey's son Leo, Jr., published a book about his father, entitled Me and the Dead End Kid. In 2017, a third book on his life, Leo Gorcey's Fractured World was published by Jim Manago and examines his use of malaprops in his Bowery Boys films.

Gorcey's first cousin twice removed is sports writer Ryan Gorcey. Another of Gorcey's first cousins twice removed is actress Liz Gorcey, who is most known for her role in the 1984 film, Footloose.

His image was to appear on the cover of The Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but he requested a fee and was painted out. Coincidentally, he died on the second anniversary of the album's US release.

Personal life

In May of 1939, Gorcey married 15-year-old dancer Kay Marvis (August 29, 1923-April 9, 2000), who appeared in four of his Monogram movies. They divorced in 1944, after which Kay met Groucho Marx and very soon after, became Groucho's wife. Leo married actress Evalene Bankston in October 1945, but divorced a couple years later. In February 1949, Gorcey married actress and "Hedy Lamarr look-a-like" Amelita Ward, with whom he had worked in Clancy Street Boys and Smugglers' Cove. The union produced two children, including Leo Gorcey Jr., but the marriage ended in divorce in February 1956. Later that year, Gorcey married Brandy Davis, producing daughter Brandy Gorcey Ziesemer, but divorced in 1962. Finally, Gorcey married Mary Gannon in 1968, and remained married until his death.


Years of alcoholism eventually caught up with Gorcey. He died of liver failure on June 2, 1969, one day short of his 52nd birthday.[2] He is buried at Molinos Cemetery in Los Molinos, California.



  1. Social Security Death Index
  2. Leo Gorcey dies; A dead end kid
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