Mr. Punsley found his most lasting public identity at the age of 12, when he was cast as Milton, one of the gang of streetwise slum kids at the center of Sidney Kingsley's 1935 social drama Dead End. (Some accounts have credited this play as his entrance into show business, but Mr. Punsly made his Broadway debut in 1931's I Love an Actress.) The play looked at the seething societal microcosm of one dirty Manhattan cul-de-sac, where tenament dwellers live side by side with the well-heeled residents of a newly erected high rise.
While critics praised the play and production, most reviews focused their attention on the scrappy, wise-cracking Dead End Kids, who spent much of the play pulling pranks and cannonballing into a pool of water designed to represent the East River. The realistic effect thrilled audiences.
When Dead End was made into a 1937 film, Hollywood called on Mr. Punsly and his colleagues (Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Billy Halop, Gabriel Dell and Bobby Jordan) to repeat their performances. Few could have expected that the movie would spur a decades-long phenomenon. So popular were the Kids that they were cast, as "The Dead End Kids," in further films, such as "Angels with Dirty Faces," (1938) with Jimmy Cagney, "Angels Wash Their Faces" (1939) and "Hell's Kitchen" (1939), with Ronald Reagan.
After starring in a group of serial flicks, the Kids evolved into the East Side Kids and, eventually, The Bowery Boys, as the concept bounced from studio to studio.
In Dead End, mop-haired, hangdog-faced Mr. Punsly was cast as Milton, the new kid on the block and the most level-headed and well-meaning of the boys. It may have been typecasting: he ended his involvement with the Kids in 1943, when he left acting and joined the Army. Following World War II, he fulfilled a lifelong ambition by studying medicine and becoming a doctor. Mr. Punsly had a successful private practice and was chief of staff at South Bay Hospital in Redondo Beach. By becoming a physician, he very likely escaped the fate of his "Dead End" cohorts, whose adult lives were plagued by multiple marriages, brushes with crime and alcoholism. In his later years, he claimed to never watch any of his old films.
He is survived by his wife and son.