Huntz Hall, 78; Starred in 'Dead End Kids' Movies

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Huntz Hall, rubber-faced, smashed-nose, pop-eyed comedian who made 120 films including 87 with the durable, tough-talking Dead End Kids, later called the East Side Kids and the Bowery Boys, has died. He was 78.

Hall died Saturday in his North Hollywood home of heart failure, his son, the Rev. Gary Hall of All Saints Church in Pasadena, said Sunday.

The actor, who performed in dinner theater productions of "The Odd Couple" and "The Sunshine Boys" into the 1990s, was on screen for two decades with his late sidekicks Leo Gorcey, Gabriel Dell, Billy Hallop and Bobby Jordan. For a time, Hall and Dell performed as a nightclub act. A sixth Dead End Kid, who left show business early to attend medical school, was Bernard Punsley, now a retired Los Angeles-area physician.

Born Henry Hall in New York City, one of 14 children of an Irish immigrant engineer, Hall attended New York's Professional Children's School. He made his Broadway debut when he was 3 months old and worked throughout his boyhood in vaudeville and radio serials.

In 1935, he appeared in Sidney Kingsley's Broadway play "Dead End," about the problems of New York slum life where boys grew up idolizing gangsters. Two years later, the 16-year-old Hall followed the cast west to make a film version for Samuel Goldwyn and spring the Dead End Kids on a welcoming nation.

Hall played Dippy, the dumbbell and best friend of Gorcey's gang-leader Spit in the wisecracking young hoodlum screen team. They made such films as "Crime School," "They Made Me a Criminal" and "Angels with Dirty Faces" starring James Cagney and Pat O'Brien for Warner Bros. in the late 1930s.

Moving to Universal in the 1940s, the group became the East Side Kids and continued spoofing themselves in such zany fare as "Spooks Run Wild" and "Private Buckaroo." After World War II, the youths again changed studios and names--going to Monogram Pictures (later Allied Artists) as the Bowery Boys. They made 49 films under that tag, ending the series with "In the Money" in 1958.

Asked why the scores of films with "the guys" had such a universal appeal, Hall told The Times in 1990: "That's easy. They're Americana. Then there's the fact that we were the good guys.

"They were also pretty entertaining," he added. "After seeing our pictures, you got rid of your problems. In today's movies, the problems are on the screen."

Hall appeared in adult character roles in such motion pictures as "Gentle Giant," the 1967 film that spawned the television series "Gentle Ben," and "Herbie Rides Again" in 1974, one in the Disney series about a lively little Vokswagen. The actor's most critically acclaimed role was as producer Jesse Lasky in Ken Russell's 1977 film "Valentino."

In 1971, Hall portrayed speak-easy bodyguard Dutch in the short-lived television series "The Chicago Teddy Bears."

The comedian's personal life was anything but all laughs. He was divorced three times and widowed once. In the late 1940s, he was arrested, tried and acquitted of marijuana possession. In the 1950s, his used-car business failed, and he was fined for charges of assault and battery. He suffered for many years from alcoholism.

Hall is survived by his son, Gary, and one grandson, Oliver.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday February 2, 1999 Home Edition Part A Page 16 Metro Desk 2 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction Dead End Kids--An obituary on comedian Huntz Hall in Monday's Times incorrectly stated that a onetime member of his Dead End Kids, Bernard Punsly, had retired. Dr. Punsly, who left the group to attend medical school, continues to practice medicine at his office in Torrance.
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