Author Leonard Getz obviously put a great deal of time and research into his affectionate, comprehensive look at the Bowery Boys legacy in this new book from McFarland and Company publishers.
From Broadway to the Bowery examines the entire history of the gang, from their first appearance on broadway in Sidney Kingsley’s play Dead End, to William Wyler’s 1937 film version, through their career as Dead End Kids, Little Tough Guys, East Side Kids, and, finally Bowery Boys at Warner Brothers, Universal, and Monogram/Allied Artists studios. For each series, the author provides an introductory essay and then continues with an analysis of each film in that series. His insights are astute without being too critical, realizing that most of these are B-level programmers designed for entertainment purposes, and not the stuff of great cinema.
However the author also takes notice of the enduring appeal of the series, and how actors like Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Gabe Dell, Billy Halop, Bernard Punsly, Bobby Jordan, William Benedict, David Gorcey, and Stanley Clements managed to create popular, consistent screen characters that have effectively entered the pop culture lexicon and withstood the test of time.
This is not the first book-length study of the series, but there is no need for comparisons to the now out-of-print landmark tome The Films of the Bowery Boys (Citadel, 1982) by David Hayes and Brent Walker. Getz approaches his subjects in a similar way, but looks inside the people behind the characters as well as the characters themselves. Extensive interviews with the sons and daughters of the various actors (the performers themselves are now deceased) add special insights even for someone like this writer who is quite familiar with the history of the series and its myriad of participants. We are offered many intimate details about the tumultuous private lives that many of the actors led, their difficulty finding work outside of the series, and how their personalities affected one another. Along with these insights, From Broadway to the Bowery is filled with rare photos that can be found in no other books or articles on the series, including some from private family collections.
With all of the positive things one can say about From Broadway to the Bowery, the reviewer does have some trifling quibbles. There are several recognizable supporting actors in the various photos that are listed as "unidentified," when even the most casual internet research could come up with names like Ronald Sinclair, who played J. Douglas Williamson in They Made Me a Criminal (1939), or Larry McGrath, who played a boxing referee in that same film. The book’s capsule biographies on extra and supporting performers in the various series are interesting and welcome, but while some are given birth and death dates, others are not (curiously, actor Vince Barnett is given a 1903 birth date, but his death date of 1977 is not listed). Finally, the author sometimes refers casually to behind-the-scenes events, such as a dust up between Leo Gorcey and James Cagney on the set of Angels With Dirty Faces (1938), with the apparent belief that the reader already knows the details.
Still, From Broadway to the Bowery is highly recommended for those who enjoyed the Dead End Kids, Little Tough Guys, East Side Kids, and Bowery Boys films. The book does an excellent job of assessing a series that enjoyed strong popularity during its own era, despite wagging heads among period critics, and that has endured successfully over time despite most of its entries being no more than B movies from poverty row studios. The book clearly demonstrates how a completely unpretentious film series such as this can have a real impact on pop culture history, solely on the strength of the characters’ appeal.
For more information on this book, go to the publisher’s website at www.mcfarlandpub.com.