10.26.2007

The Dead End of E. 53rd Street

One block north of Greta Garbo's old apartment building is the end of E. 53rd St. Playwright Sidney Kingsley based his 1935 drama Dead End on this location, which at the time featured luxury apartments of one side of the street and tenement buildings across the way. Rich kids and poor kids mixed it up over there on the East River, and the tensions made for some real life drama that could serve as the basis for theatrical plays.

The popular Broadway play featured the rough-and-tumble lives of the Dead End Kids, and Hollywood producers signed the same kids up to play in the movie version. The original play featured a legendary set by Norman Bel Geddes that heightened the drama of the contrasting architecture. In his design, the front of the stage represented a cove, and the orchestra pit functioned as the East River. During the course of the play characters jumped into the river pit.

The Dead End Kids went on to make a series of movies in the late 1930s, and these were followed by the East Side Kids and then the Bowery Boys in the 1940s. A few of the original kids from Broadway stayed through many of these pictures.

Streetscapes/The Foot of East 53rd Street; From 'Dead End' Contrast to Homogeneous Luxury by Christopher Gray of the NYT discusses the transition of the street in this insightful article from 1995.

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