Today marks the birthday of a definitely acquired taste, Huntz Hall. Born Henry Richard Hall in New York on 8/15/1920, he got his nickname because his large proboscis made him look German, according to his Irish neighborhood friends. Huntz entered show biz at a young age, and by 1935 was starring on Broadway in the hit play DEAD END. The six original cast members (Hall, Leo Gorcey, Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan, Gabriel Dell, Bernard Punsley), collectively known as The Dead End Kids, appeared in the 1937 film version with Joel McCrea, Sylvia Sidney, Claire Trevor, and Humphrey Bogart as the slum kids’ idol, gangster Baby Face Martin. Warner Brothers signed all six boys to contracts and featured them in prestige films like CRIME SCHOOL, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, and THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL with top stars James Cagney, John Garfield, and Ronald Reagan.
The Kids were a rowdy bunch on-set, wreaking havoc and causing more than their fair share of trouble, and Warners released them in 1939. Hall, Gorcey, Jordan, and Dell moved to Monogram and were rechristened The East Side Kids, eventually evolving (or devolving depending on your point of view) into The Bowery Boys. Gorcey was the group’s de-facto leader Slip Mahoney, but it was Hall’s character of Horace Debussy “Sach” Jones that proved most popular with juvenile audiences. Hall had created this manic, dimwitted comedy persona and his shenanigans drove the movie’s plots, such as they were. He once stated his biggest influence was Shemp Howard, and you can see a lot of the Stooge’s mannerisms in Hall’s out-there Sach.
Huntz Hall appeared in all the various Dead End Kids/East Side Kids/Bowery Boys permutations, had a good part in 1945’s A WALK IN THE SUN, and was even on the cover of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. He had a percentage of the Bowery Boys films, and along with some wise investments, was a very rich man. His son is Rev. Gary Hall, who recently retired as Dean of the Washington National Cathedral. In 1943, Huntz Hall appeared in a Naval training film called DON’T KILL YOUR FRIENDS as Dilbert, a screw-up of a sailor created by Robert Osborn (not the TCM host) for propaganda purposes. Here’s a look at Huntz Hall in this slice of WWII history: