Leo Gorcey Jr. and his wife, Krista, are producing a film based on Leo's book, "Me and the Dead End Kid." The book chronicles Leo Gorcey Sr.'s theater and film career, the Gorceys' unique family relationship, and the dramatic events leading to the original Broadway production of Sidney Kingsley's "Dead End."
The film is in development with plans to shoot in the Rogue Valley. I visited the Gorceys in their attractive Ashland home.
LG: My dad never wanted me to go into show business, but it seemed like it didn't matter. I was feeling that tug to do it. I talked to people who said, "Go to New York, do some theater, and see how you like that." And so I did.
I was in Off-Off-Broadway plays. You find a good theater company, and you just dive in. This was the American Theatre of Arts. The director, James Jennings, and I hit it off really nicely. He saw what was in me, and was able to get it out, and that was really gratifying.
Working on stage is probably my favorite experience. It's so electrifying. Everything is so immediate, in the moment. The energy that is coming around is so animating. It's almost like there's a certain kind of anxiety and adrenaline to it. But at the same time, you have something to focus that into, which is your character, what you are doing in the play and your story. It was a thrilling experience.
Living in Manhattan was too intense for me. I was raised in Southern California. I was used to seeing the sky. I ended up coming back to California. When I was doing a TV movie with Ed McMann, I asked him, "What does it take to be successful in this business?" He said, "You have to want it more than anything else. You've got to eat it, sleep it, drink it, live it. It has to be your life. It's got to be." I thought about that a long time, and I thought, "There are other things I like to do."
EH: Your father left acting as well?
LG: I think there was a part of him that always wanted to have a simple life. It's not to say he didn't enjoy acting. I think he enjoyed it immensely. The business took away his opportunity to really discover who he was as a person. He was trapped in a role that forced him to play a kid when he was well into his 30s. The business of it was very repugnant to him. When he quit and had a farm Northern California, he told a friend, "The cows don't lie to me."
EH: Your book contained an amazing tale of the first production of "Dead End."
LG: Sidney Kingsley was an important playwright at the time. He was inspired by social issues. "Dead End" was about how growing up in the slums affected kids, and how they turned to a life of crime. This is still happening today in east L.A., or the inner city, or Detroit. It's the exact same thing that Sidney Kingsley was writing about: "How do these kids get out of this downward environmental cycle?" Eleanor Roosevelt came to see "Dead End" several times. She was quite an activist. It was the first play that got a command performance at the White House. Legislation was passed as a result.
KG: I love it, when art affects the culture for the better. Theater does that.
The book "Me and The Dead End Kid" can be purchased at Amazon.com. For more info about the book or the movie, email Krista Vorse (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at email@example.com.