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On This Day in History, February 11: Leader of the Dead End Kids

Billy Halop was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 11, 1921, the son of an attorney for the Brooklyn-based Trunz Meat Packing firm. His mother was a dancer and his sister Florence was to become a radio and TV actress.

At 12 years old he was already an established child star. He was a dark, curly-haired, handsome lad. He played Romeo in a radio version of the Shakespearean drama. He later was on several radio serials; one in which he played a young Western hero “Bobby Benson.” He also appeared with Col. W.T. Johnson’s Rodeo at Madison Square Garden.

When a casting call went out for Broadway’s melodrama “Dead End” in 1935, he was immediately chosen for the role of the young Dead End Kids gang leader Tommy. After the Broadway run, the Dead End Boys went to Hollywood for the film version of the play. Warners made use of the boys in six sequels from 1937 to 1939.

Halop aspired to greater roles than a New York boy of the streets. In 1940, he was cast in Tom Brown’s School Days. He had been tagged a “young Paul Muni” at one time but any hopes of that died. Most of his roles were as a juvenile toughie.

After the 1940s, when he was no longer so juvenile, Hollywood had few roles for him. Alcoholism threatened to defeat him, but Halop conquered that problem, and emphasized it in his autobiography There’s No Dead End. His marriages did not end happily. Late in 1960, already twice divorced, he married the former Suzanne Roe, whom he had known since they were teenagers. Halop was at that time working for Leonard Appliance Co. in Los Angeles as an electric dryer salesman, and had won the National Association of Manufacturers’ award as the most creative salesman in the U.S.

When it was discovered that his wife was suffering from multiple sclerosis, Halop gave up his sales career and contemplated a medical career, but doctor friends — citing his age — convinced him instead to become a male nurse, which he did. Under his personal supervision at home, his wife’s condition showed improvement. But for reasons he would not discuss, in 1971 he and his wife were divorced and he moved out. Then he was confronted by his own health problems. After two coronaries, he underwent open-heart surgery in the fall of 1971. “I know too much about it,” he said stoically, then, “I have no choice between surgery or becoming an invalid. I have no intention of becoming an invalid.” The operation was a success and Halop had every hope that an “operation comeback” would prove successful. But in the five years he lived following the surgery, the comeback never happened.

Halop died Nov. 9, 1976. Among his films were a number of the Bowery Boys (a group following Dead End Kids) series, Blues in the Night, Tough as They Come, For Love or Money and the last was Fitzwilly (1967). He appeared in guest roles as Archie Bunker’s cab-driving pal Bert Munson in TV’s “All in the Family” and a TV movie The Phantom of Hollywood.

This article was written by Vernon Parker (1923-2004)

February 10, 2012 - 4:07pm


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