The Blog of Michael T. Murphy and his lifelong obsession with "little army men" and their imaginary glory, miniature wargaming, and other things...

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"The Back Alley Boys!"


"If it's a good picture, then IT'S A MIRACLE!!!"


"The Back Alley Boys!" - The newest boys adventure group from Miracle Pictures!

From L to R: Buster McGuire, Leo Hall, Davey Dooley, Forsythe "JJ" Jones, and Joey Owens!
Follow their adventures and hi-jinks every Saturday at your local matinee theater!
And remember...
If it's a good picture, IT'S A MIRACLE!"
*insert quick, witty, toe tapping music here*

Figures from Pulp Figures PGJ18 "Boys of the Bowery"... 
"Ready for all the action, fun, adventure, and hi-jinks that only "The Back Alley Boys" can handle!"

Like all groups from the B&W, Gold and Silver Age of Tinseltown, there were separate personal histories and issues for each member of the group and despite their chemistry in front of the cameras, their real lives, away from the lenses and the directors were different.
And (as the late, great, Paul Harvey used to say): here is "The rest of the story!"

Donnie "Buster" McGuire:

Donnie "Buster" McGuire was the "tough guy" for The Back Alley Boys.  He starred in all of the pics until the series came to an end and his contract ran out. he was the story line character for any real "tough kid action", that was needed, and was always ready to solve problems and settle things with "the old one-two".  He occasionally had on screen/off screen compatibility issues with fellow gang member Leo Hall, who oddly enough was also fashioned as more of a "tough kid", but with a comedy edge which Donnie didn't have, as well as the ability to handle more complex lines of script that Leo was able to do and for which Donnie struggled with.
After The Back Alley Boys came to an end, he did some on set with the short live "L Street Gang", and then was a minor character in "Where's The Bus?", "Who Took My Cat?", and "Mrs. O'Reilly's Counterfeit Caper", (which was nothing more than a rehash of an earlier Back Alley Boys pic "Counterfeit Capers".), and then his Miracle Pictures chances seemed to dry up.
As he grew older, his temper was as hot as his fiery red hair, and he had a few minor brushes with the law.  As a result of this, his contract with Miracle Pictures was cancelled, and after much begging and pleading, he was able to sign on with Crimson Studios, as a background extra in "Hockey Rink Hi-Jinx", and "Suspect #4".
Donnie was drafter into the US Army in early 1942, and trained at Fort Benning before being assigned to the US 3rd Infantry Division. 
Private First Class Donnie "Buster" McGuire was killed in May 1944 during the Anzio Campaign in Italy.
He is buried in his family plot in Yonkers, New York.

Leo Hall:

 After the third Back Alley Boys short, "Diner Dizziness", the producers at Miracle Pictures came to the grim realization that Donnie "Buster" McGuire just simple couldn't handle more complex bits of character lines. 
"Sure, Buster's a great kid and all, and he really has that one-two punch and his "go for it" all down and such, but..." Carter MacGuffin, Head of Miracle Pictures at the time, once said during a meeting at his office; " ...being who he is, we've noticed that he has some problems with some of the lines we write for him. We need to have a kid that is tough and can read and say what we tell him to read and say..."
And enter, Leo Hall.
Leo Hall was the "tough comedy relief" for The Back Alley Boys. He starred in the pics starting with picture #4, ("Cat Burglar Craziness"), and continued until the end of the series.  With his trademark hat, and his fast method of speaking, as well as his ability to put on a tough front, he provided some snappy comedy relief whereas Buster McGuire was there for the muscle and the simple lines.
His most memorable parts in the films were his scenes from "Down On The Docks", where he was trying to convince Patrol Sergeant O' Hara that there was a sea monster in the harbor, (which according to the script changed sometime during the filming in a German U-Boat, but the earlier shots were never corrected), and his scenes from "School Dance" where he and Donnie were competing to take the ever charming Susie Sinclair (Played by the ever charming Miss Susan Page); which actually caused some of the initial problems between Leo and Donnie. 
Leo had a very short lived, off-screen romance with with upcoming young starlet Annie Peters, which according to rumor, what quashed for business reasons by the Miracle Pictures Studios Executives fearing "Bad Press".
After The Back Alley Boys came to an end, he signed on with Miracle for "Uncle Johnny's Christmas", and was a minor character in "My Name Is Lester".
Seeing that his options for motion pictures were fading fast, Leo, made an easy switch over to radio, where he found moderate success in broadcasts at radio station WURM. He was a frequent extra on the comedy bits for the "City Saturday Night Variety Show", (which was also frequented by Shorty McGuire and His Fly-By-Night Orchestra.)
When WWII came around, Leo enlisted in the US Navy and instead of seeing action, he was assigned to San Diego, and spent his stint helping with the War Bond Drives.
After the war, he returned to radio, and then moved onto television where he appeared in "Uncle Johnny's Happy Hour", (a daily show of children's entertainment which included songs, games, puppets, cartoons and a man wearing a chicken suit.)
He retired from the entertainment world in 1958, moved to Iowa where he opened a small successful chain of hamburger restaurants throughout Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming. While in Des Moines, he married Dorothy Gallaver and they had three children, (two boys and a girl).
Leo Hall died in 1968 due to complications of Pneumonia and is buried next to his wife in Des Moines, Iowa.

Forsythe "JJ" Jones: 

Forsythe "JJ" Jones, was the scripted "Wise Cracking Jokester Wise Guy" for The Back Alley Boys. Always wearing his trademark whoopee cap, and armed with a practical joke, a variety of gag items, (whoopee cushions, buzzer rings, itching and sneezing powders, etc.), and an endless supply of one liners, JJ,  provided the wise cracking comedy fun that seemed to highlight and be prevalent in the films. 
His greatest contribution and most memorable scene was "The Yodeling Pickle" from "High School Dance", (which was a later rehash of the earlier "School Dance" short made by the Boys). The scene was so well received and done that Miracle tried to use it again in a couple of Back Alley Boys pics, but found out that the audience wasn't as receptive the second and third time around, and in fact was slightly annoyed with it. Despite his ability to deliver one liners and work well with the scripts he was given, JJ was essentially what was known as a "one trick pony". His "Jokester" persona for the Back Alley Boys essentially typecast him and he was unable to successfully break out of the mold that he had been poured into and created from.
Disappointed with the few parts that he was able to get after the end of The Back Alley Boys, (including the one disastrous short "From The Heart" in which he plays a character that is in love with the character played by the ever charming Miss Susan Page), he was angry at the script as the writers had tried to write in some of the "JJ Jokester" persona, (to include the whoopee cap).  His final interview with Various Variety Magazine showed some of his frustration at the industry, ("All the parts they give me...are essentially the same character! Every time!!").
He left the motion picture world in disgust and moved back to the East Coast as a result of him never being given a real chance to prove himself and his qualities as an actor before the cameras, and as a result decided that "he was done with it once and for all".
And from the records it seems that he succeeded.
From here, his history is lost as he essentially vanished out of the sight, and minds of fans and the industry alike. However an unconfirmed story and rumor is that later on in life he married a lady named Ophelia Muggs and lived the rest of his life quietly in upstate New York.

David "Davey" Dooley:

David "Davey" Dooley was the self scripted and styled leader of "The Back Alley Boys". 
While he was smaller in physical size than Donnie or Leo, he made up for it with his nice looks, good charisma, charming smile, and a surprisingly good singing voice. Many a young gal was a member of "The Davey Dooley Fan Club" during the heyday of The Back Alley Boys.
In retrospect, it was Davey's charisma and charm that seemed to fix many of the on screen/off screen issues that arose from a bunch of teenage boys on a movie set. Whenever there was an issue (usually with Buster or Leo), Davey would try to "fix it" before it got up to the studio execs. He was known for saying "You might be flexing your muscles and feeling your oats, but that's not YOUR name on the bottom of my paycheck, so cut the crap!"
Davey did a few radio and ballroom appearances, including a couple with Miss Diana Midnight, who found out how easily she could embarrass him and make him stutter and blush. It was rumored that Davey had "a tremendous crush on her", but of course it was all rumors and fun and games. After the end of The Back Alley Boys though, Davey realized that his heart really wasn't into making motion pictures any longer.
During the war, he attempted to enlist as a pilot in The Army Air Corps, but was turned down due to balance issues. The Navy also rejected him for having "A trick knee".
Undaunted he worked hard for The War Department in their war bond drives.
After the war, he went to college and graduated from USC in 1947 with a degree in business.
He went into the insurance industry and spent the rest of his life in Los Angeles.
He never married or had children.
He was active with various children's medical groups, and helped with the Jerry Lewis MS Telethons in the early 1970's.
In what was to be his last interview in 1987, and upon reflecting upon his life, he was asked the question; "Why he never married?"
With the famous and charming "Davey Dooley Grin", that set many a young girls hearts throbbing back in the old days, he grinned and shrugged and said "Aw shucks! What kind of girl would want to marry a guy like me?"
Surprisingly, after his death in late 1987, within his personal effects, it was discovered that he had a tremendous amount of written letters to Miss Diana Midnight for many years and that they had an amazing multi-decade written correspondence. Indeed it is easy to say that Diana Midnight was Davey's "one and only love that was never to be." He carried a torch in his heart for her for the rest of his life.
David "Davey" Dooley died in late 1987 and is buried in Eternal Glory Cemetery, in Los Angeles, California.

*EDITORS NOTE: The correspondence between Davey and Diana has been collected and will soon be released in an upcoming book titled "Mailbox Romance - The Multi-Decade Correspondence Between David "Davey" Dooley and Miss Diana Midnight."

Joey Owens: 

Joey Owens was originally just scheduled to be a backup character on The Back Alley Boys, but after the accident in which the piano fell on Dickie Yancy, the staff at Miracle moved him into the line up. Joey was a natural and was able to move quickly and quip his lines out with smooth ease, and soon became a valued member of the cast. Quiet and unassuming, Joey knew that "As long as he did this job and kept his nose clean the paychecks would keep coming."; so he made sure to steer clear of any potential issues, (especially those between Buster and Leo).
Joey also had a cousin in his family that won a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics.
After the end of The Back Alley Boys, Joey left the industry and joined the US Navy. He was in Florida when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and soon found himself in the Pacific, where he served throughout the war and was awarded The Purple Heart for being wounded during The Battle of The Coral Sea.
After the war he remained in the US Navy until 1954 when an accident on-board the USS Atlanta resulted in him being injured and medically retired from the US Navy.
He returned back to California and became a teacher, a writer, and a civil rights activist.  Despite his personal feelings towards the American involvement in Vietnam, he chose not to get personally involved in the anti-war movement.
He married in 1969 and lived quietly in Los Angeles; teaching, reading, and publishing two books of poetry and short stories ("Where The Doorknob Is", and "Tales From The Bus Stop").  After his retirement as a teacher, he took up model railroading and spent his happy days of retirement with his wife, and family, and his beloved and ever expanding model train layout in the basement of his home.
In 1994, he was rediscovered by author William Dunfrey, who was writing about "The Back Alley Boys", and other kids group movies.  As a result of this, Joey was invited to be a special guest at the "LA Serial Con and Celebrity Show", (a gathering of old movie buffs and stars that sold autographs and other memorabilia), and received a standing ovation, and a plaque of honor of "Movie-Buff Appreciation", upon his introduction.
"I never ever knew that so many people still remember me, and the rest of the gang known as "The Back Alley Boys". I know that they would be honored and proud to know this." He said as he wiped away tears of emotion. 
Joey Owens was the last surviving member of "The Back Alley Boys",and died peacefully in his sleep in 1997.
Oddly (and warmly) enough, he is buried nearby (six graves away), from his on-screen friend, and fellow Back Alley Boys member, David "Davey" Dooley, in Eternal Glory Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.


Unknown said...

Very creative! I love the "whatever happened to..." element.

BrianW said...

Very nice indeed! The backstories really take it over the top (in a good way).