In Remembrance: Bernard Punsly
Bernard Punsly, the last surviving member of the original “Dead End Kids,” has passed away on Tuesday, January 20, 2004. He was 80.
Born in New York City on July 11, 1923 to the son of a tailor, Punsly landed his first acting role at age in a Broadway production of I Love An Actress. Unfortunately the show closed after only a week. He reportedly only tried out for the original stage production of Dead End on a whim, joining Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, Billy Halop and Gabriel Dell in the show’s gang of street urchins. Once the play was a hit, producer Samuel Goldwyn was keen to adapt the gritty drama to film and brought the six young actors to Hollywood to reprise their roles.
Although the film was a hit, the “Dead End Kids” as they became known, were a rambunctious handful, living up to their screen personas. Leo Gorcey reportedly received four traffic tickets in his first three weeks in Hollywood. Punsly was the sole exception, usually going home after work to read medical books, as he was interested in becoming a doctor. Producer Goldwyn didn’t want to be bothered with the Kids’ antics and sold the remainder of their two-year contracts to Warner Brothers.
At Warner Brothers, the Kids were put into the B-picture Crime School (1938) opposite Humphrey Bogart. Punsly, Hallop, Hall and Dell were then loaned out to Universal Studios for Little Tough Guy, which went on to be a surprise hit for the studio. Encouraged by the success of Little Tough Guy and their own Crime School, Warner Brothers executives paired the kids with James Cagney for Angels With Dirty Faces (1938), arguably the best of the Dead End Kids films outside of the original. A critical and commercial success, the Kids made four more films at Warner Brothers (Hell’s Kitchen, They Made Me A Criminal, Angels Wash Their Faces and On Dress Parade, all 1939) but the films were greeted with diminishing levels of box office returns. Warner Brothers declined to renew their contract.
At the end of their time at Warner Brothers, the Kids split. Punsley joined Halop, Hall and Dell back over at Universal Studios and were billed as “The Dead End Kids and Little Tough Guys”. (Gorcey and Jordan went to Monogram Studios to star in the “East Side Kids” series for producer Sam Kurtzman.) The quartet would appear in six fairly undistinguished B-films and three serials- Junior G-Men (1940), Sea Raiders (1941) and Junior G-Men Of The Air (1942). In 1942, Punsly, Hallop and Hall were loaned out to Columbia Studios to appear opposite child star Freddie Bartholomew in Junior Army.
After appearing in his final film, the “Dead End Kids and Little Tough Guys” flick Mug Town (1943), Punsly left show business and enlisted in the Army, where he received some medical training. Upon leaving the military, he enrolled in the University of Georgia’s Medical College. After graduation Punsley opened a practice in Torrance, California as a doctor of internal medicine. He also served as chief of staff at South Bay Hospital in Redondo Beach, California.