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Chicago Tribune, April 23, 1944
By WALTER SIMMONS
EVERY Monday morning at 8:15—practically the middle of the night for office workers in Chicago’s loop—a bulky, pink-faced man with a cigar in his mouth walks briskly down a marble corridor. Skidding to a halt before a door that bears only a number, he puts his weight against it and enters. The lock clicks as he hangs up his yellow camel’s hair coat. He takes off his hat; He rubs his hands together. This is important, for it is probably the only waste motion he will make all day.
The man might be a banker or a judge or a politician. His eyes are keen and knowing behind horn-rimmed glasses, his chin square, the mouth a purposeful straight line. Except for the glasses these things—and the yellow coat, too,—are remindful of Dick Tracy, arch-nemesis of gangsters. So is the system with which the early-rising gentleman buckles down to work. He riffles swiftly thru a stack of mail, then abruptly addresses himself to a drawing board on which is laid a rectangular expanse of white bristol. This is ruled into lesser rectangles filled with india-inked lettering and characters.
In the upper left-hand corner are two words:
By Chester Gould.
This is a Sunday Dick Tracy page for weeks in the future. Here in his office the boss is looking over its tangle of varied incident, marking up solid blacks (they add vigor) for his assistant to ink in, mulling new villainies for Tracy, who has never let a criminal go free, to smash.
By lunch time Chester Gould has gone over his production of the week before and written in longhand a new Sunday Tracy page. The writing consists entirely of dialog, which will all be lettered neatly into “balloons” before a character is drawn.
While all this is going on there might be a knock on the door, but Gould pays no attention. Monday is the pivotal day on which he ends one week and starts another. Time is budgeted too compactly for chinfests, even with old friends. By 3:30 this driving pace has produced dialog for six week day Tracy strips. The planning stage is over. The jaw relaxes its grip on the cigar.
Other cartoonists call Gould “the most methodical craftsman in the business.” His syndicate never has to hit him on the head for copy; he has never yet been behind the deadline. (” Knock, knock.”) This is rare in a profession often doting oh dilatoriness.
Week crowds on week, and the schedule is always the same: Tuesday: Draw the Sunday page, written the day before&. (Readers will see it 10 weeks later.) Wednesday-Thursday-Friday: Work-at home-on the six week day strips, projected six weeks into the future. This means filling in action to connect two Sunday pages finished weeks ago. Saturday- Sunday: Worry about plot. Monday: Back to Tribune Tower to the little office with its cabinets, drawing boards, and gray northern view of the lake shore area.
Gould cannot discuss this kind of existence without mix- Ing a salad of metaphors. He grins:
I’m caught in the cogwheels of a machine that must not stall. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been molded in a block of cement. I’m running down a rail- road track 40 miles an hour, and on the engine is a guy with a spear directed at my back. I can’t stop. But I’m doing what I always wanted to do. Don’t let me give you the idea I don’t love it.
An Iowa convict once wrote bitterly, accusing Gould of stealing ideas from the life of the convict’s father, then unhappily languishing in an Arizona prison. It was a canard; the ideas come exclusively from newspaper reading and observation. Pruneface, one of Tracy’s most vivid antagonists, came to Gould on the train one morning. Across the aisle sat a man with his face horribly burned. Flattop was born “when I was just fiddling around with a pencil.” Vitamin Flintheart, the eccentric actor, was the product of logical thought.
Most Tracy villains have an optimum life expectancy of nine weeks, and their black hearts are reflected in their faces. Sometimes Gould gets letters asking, “Don’t you know some crooks are good looking?” He obliges periodically with a handsome villain such as 88 Keyes, but the average of eeriness is high. Readers remember some of Tracy’s sparring partners for years.
Graphic characters, legible and “comfortable” lettering, quick-moving, fascinating action—these are the hallmarks of Tracy. The formula invariably is: Good (Tracy) vs. Evil (villain) plus Trick (the crime) equals Action. Innocent victims, often Including the detective, are caught up in the strangling toils of circumstance, but the plot always has the virtue of plausibility. “Stuff that could happen to anybody is what I strive for,” says Gould. Once he had crooks hide a body in a sewer. Passing cars, rattling the manhole cover, annoyed a near-by house-holder. He complained—and the body was found. Nothing could be more plausible. His killers are often trapped by little details—just as in real life.
Altho he was the first to bring gunplay to the comic strips, Tracy seldom wreaks vengeance on the villain himself. In 1943 he trapped and killed the murderous pianist, 88 Keyes, in a tool shed on a railway siding, but other reprehensible individuals of the year’s output met justice in assorted ways. Pruneface was caught and placed in storage to await the electric chair. Nifty, after kidnaping his own child, went crazy in a snowstorm. Mrs. Pruneface, who tried to drive a spike thru the detective s heart, was shot and killed by the mayor’s wife. The late lamented Laffy, a gentleman who stole, forged, and slew, cut his hand on a chloroform container and developed a fatal case of lockjaw.
Tracy himself has stopped plenty of bullets. Nobody knows how many gallons of red water colors he has shed for the public welfare; he must have the most interesting, collection of scar tissue extant. He has been tortured, burned, and frozen. But these annoyances are common to the profession of law enforcement. Cops like Tracy because he illustrates the terrific problems they sometimes encounter and the grotesque heights to which criminals rise in an effort to put something over.
The detective is a changeless character, mightily set in his ways. That’s why he wears the same topcoat and striped necktie year after year. “He likes those yellow coats and buys one after another,” explains his creator. “He gets his neckties by the gross.” Tracy’s personality is deliberately constant and colorless. The action developing around him is what’s important.
Chester Gould in his Tribune Tower office in February, 1932.
Dick first saw daylight on Oct. 6, 1931, which makes him one of the younger cartoon characters. His birth was attended by some slight obstetrical difficulties; it required, in fact, 10 years.
Gould always wanted to be a cartoonist, even as a boy back in Oklahoma. (He grew up at Pawnee, but the family later moved to Stillwater.) After two years at Oklahoma A. and M. he came to Chicago with $50 in his pocket. He was 21 years old, and the year was 1921. Gould should pick up the story here, because the way he tells it is good:
My first job was on the old Chicago Journal. ‘A guy is sick and we can use you for a month,’ they said. So I was on the artroom pay roll for $30 a week. At the end of that month I might as well have been back Ih) Okla- homa, because I was on the street again.
I landed with an advertising mat service, making little drawings for $15 a week. After a year I went to the advertising art department of the Herald-Examiner, then to The Tribune. Meanwhile I was going nights to Northwestern university, majoring In commerce.
I wanted to be a cartoonist—and bad. I was wretched at advertising layouts and lettering. Every week I hopefully left a bunch of cartoons at The Tribune and carried away the ones I’d lett the week before.
Then the American decided to tolerate me in its sports department, doing cartoons. I moved over there in 1923 and stayed until 1929. All that time I was bombarding The Tribune with my stuff. I was in the building so often the elevator men got chummy—they thought I worked there.
Gould knocked the ashes dead cigar nnd sent it spurting into life again with a match.
Came 1929, and I quit my job without a prospect in sight. I loafed and worried two months before landing In the advertising art department of the Daily News. Two years later I was still there.
Here was the picture: I’d worked In Chicago 10 years, and for every paper in town but the old Post. I had a wife and daughter by this time and was getting only $55 a week. Chet Could, the Oklahoma flash, was a flop.
Years of rejections had equipped me with calluses an inch thick, but I plugged away from force of habit. In May, 1931, everybody was worked up by the hell that Chicago gangsters were raising. This was the year they sent Capone up, I think. I told myself, ‘I’m gonna draw a guy that shoots ’em!’ Out of overpowering personal chagrin I drew six strips about a copper named Plain. clothes Tracy, sent them in, and forgot about it.
He blew a column of smoke ceilingward and leaned back.
Well, one day in July my wife called up and read a telegram that came to the house. It was from
Capt. J. M. Patterson, publisher of the New York Daily News:
‘Believe Plainclothes Tracy has possibilities. See me at Tribune office the 20th.’
That day I was drawing rugs. I’d tried without success so long the telegram made absolutely no impression. Then it began to have a delayed action. I worked O.K. for a while, but in about 15 minutes I couldn’t see. I simply fell apart at the seams. I went downstairs, drank a bottle of coke, and stuffed myself to the eyebrows with coffee and doughnuts.
Don’t ask how I spent the next few days. Captain Patterson was crisp and businesslike on the 20th. He liked the name Tracy—you know, do a lot of tracing—but thought Plainclothes was too long. ‘What do they call cops?’ he asked himself. ‘Dicks,’ he answered himself. ‘Let’s name him Dick- Dick Tracy.’
He rapidly went on to outline the beginning of the story: ‘Let’s have this man Tracy in love with a nice blonde (Tess Trueheart). Her old man runs a store and they live in rooms overhead. Every night he takes the receipts and puts them in a box under his bed. Crooks find out about it, hold him up, shoot him, kill hin. Over his prostrate body Dick vows to got the killers. He becomes a detective and enters the fascinating field of criminology.’
That’s the way Tracy started, Captain Patterson alone is responsible for the guts of the strip
February 28, 1932
By the end of the first year 22 papers had bought Tracy. This total doubled in the second year, and in the third and fourth the strip really went to town. As of today it appears in 180 odd papers. Four “Saturday afternoon” movie serials (starring Ralph Byrd, clean-cut nephew of the Virginia senator) have celebrated Tracy’s exploits; he Is on the air five afternoons a week, appears in numerous comic magazines and on more novelties such as belts, hats, and toys than his creator can remember. “But nobody ever named any soaps or perfumes for him,” Gould volunteers helpfully.
Altho there are certain superficial resemblances between artist and character, Gould does not consciously identify himself with Tracy. “I’m just a big, fat slob,” he exaggerates. “Dick is flat-stomached and broad-shouldered. I smoke cigars; Dick doesn’t smoke at all. To tell the truth, he’s just my idea of a Sherlock Holmes born in this country about 1905.”
The Goulds and daughter Jean (a high school sophomore) live in a 12 room house on a 130 acre farm 55 miles east of Woodstock, Ill., 58 miles from Chicago. Gould’s studio, as he dislikes to call it, is a 22×18 foot room on the second floor. It is plainly but picturesquely furnished, with a slanting roof and a fireplace that consumes immense quantities of deadwood from the farm. Besides a drawing board the rooms memorabilia includes an old deer’s head on the wall, an electric fixture contrived from an ancient wagon wheel, some love seats near the fireplace, a long couch, a hickory table, a couple of throw rugs (Mrs. Gould’s softening influence) on the otherwise bare floor, and two old saddles on the beams overhead. Gould cheerfully admits stealing this crowning touch from John T. McCutcheon.
In this outdoorsy atmosphere Dick Tracy takes shape under the pencil strokes of his boss. First comes the characteristic snap-brim hat, then the eye, nose, mouth, anti uncompromising chin. The ear, back of the head, neck, overcoat , and hair follow in that order. The sketches are inked in later. Color is not applied to the Sunday pages until they have been photostated.
Farm life goes on around as Gould works. In 1943 the acreage produced 1,200 bushels of corn and 100 tons of alfalfa hay—with the moral, if not actual, assistance of the owner. Lack of help caused him to sell his 12 unpedigreed milch cows, but a few younger animals still are on hand. A recent census showed 18 pigs. Remembering teen years when he and his brother ran a five acre truck garden in Oklahoma, Gould regrets not being able to join in the farm activity. But he always mows the lawn and occasionally pilots a tractor.
His professional working program, divided between home and office, represents a triumph of order and system achieved over a 10 year period. It results in Tracy being turned out on an almost split second schedule. In the strip’s earlier years Gould used to begin work as early as 5:30 a. m. and continue late into the night until a week’s output had been finished. But he found more normal hours conserve vigor and produce better work. Living and breathing Tracy, he has little time for recreation. When he does it’s usually a poker game— “always bad news.”
Tracy likewise keeps his nose to the grindstone, which may account for its curiously whetted shape. The strip blazes with unfaltering violence day after day, year after year. “Of course,” says Gould, “these adventures are merely the highlights of his life. If I showed him sitting around on the porch or going fishing the readers would resign in disgust. The reader is tough. You can’t cheat him even for as short a time as three or four days.”
He also avoids confusing Tracy fans with too many technical details. When complicated apparatus must be shown he often jumps Into a cab and views a sample at first hand for accuracy. He has given up his early habit of hanging around crime laboratories.
The Gould passion for accuracy has kept boners out of the strip as a rule. But he still howls at the memory of one exception. Let him tell it:
One Sunday years ago three or four gangsters had Tracy at bay in a room. The atmosphere was thickly charged with murder. In the background a little gunman was guarding the door. I guess he must have been a quick-change artist. How it happened I’ll never know, but the little guy, who appeared In four different panels while all this tense action was going on, showed up every time a different hat!”
Chester Gould passed away on May 11, 1985.
Chicago Tribune, January 17, 1949
An interesting, new Dick Tracy mystery series is presented to Tribune readers, beginning today, in addition to the regular Dick Tracy feature. The new series, which will appear in full color on the back page of THE TRIBUNE daily for six weeks, offers readers an opportunity to share in $25,000 in cash prizes.The money will be paid to the persons who, at the end of the series, send in the best answers to the mystery.
In this series, the famous detective character, Dick Tracy, created by the celebrated artist,Chester Gould, concerns himself with the mysterious disappearance of a black bag containing 1 million dollars. A mystifying plot threads its way through the series. Characters such as Gravel Gertie, B. O. Plenty, Currency Jones, Honey Keys, The Lobe, and others, participate in the intrigue, Dick Tracy, ace detective, is called in to solve the plot and recover the missing black bag with the 1 million dollars. Will he find it?
Any One Can Participate
Men, women, boys, and girls, everywhere, are invited to join the search. By following each set of events in the episodes which will appear daily in THE TRIBUNE, readers will be able to detect clews to the missing bag and to join in the detective work of Dick Tracy.
At the end of the series, a coupon will be printed in THE TRIBUNE which will ask the the question,
What becomes of the black bag with 1 million dollars?
All that is required of readers is the answer to this simple question. With the clews asa guide, it should be easy to solve.
For the best answers sent in, as judge by Chester Gould and his staff. THE TRIBUNE will pay $25,000 in cash prizes, First prize is $5,000; second prize, $3,000; third prize, $2,000; and there are 200 other prizes of $100 and $50 each.
Costs Nothing To Answer
It costs nothing to enter an answer. There is nothing to buy or sell. It is not necessary to indicate literary ability, either. All that is wanted is the reader’s answer, in his or her own words, to the question,
What becomes of the black bag with 1 million dollars?
Readers are cautioned not to send in answers until the end of series when the coupon will appear.
If you enjoy a good detective mystery (and who doesn’t?) you will enjoy this new, additional Dick Tracy series. Readers who have THE TRIBUNE delivered to their homes daily are certain to receive every installment. In case you wish home delivery, telephone your news dealer, newspaper carrier, or THE TRIBUNE.
And, now, turn to the back page of this issue for Episode 1, in full color, with complete rules and particulars.
And good hunting to you!
Chicago Tribune June 14, 1952
On Jan. 13, 1946, Brilliant, the blind scientific genius who worked in the laboratory of Diet Smith, was found murdered, evidently by gunmen who tried to steal a new invention Brilliant had perfected.
The gadget was found outside the laboratory by B. O. Plenty, who turned it over to Dick Tracy. The invention proved to be a two way radio wrist set which Diet Smith gave to Tracy for solving the case. Tracy has used it many times in running down criminals.
At last the gadget has emerged into fact from the fiction of Chester Gould, creator’ of Dick Tracy and his fellow characters in the comic strip distributed thru-out the nation by The Chicago Tribune—New York News syndicate. The Western Electric company has built two radio wrist sets, and Gould, who lives in McHenry county 5 miles east of Woodstock, is the first individual to own one.
Gould Presented Set
Gould received the gift last night at ceremonies in the company’s Bell laboratories in Allentown, Pa.
The second of the two sets, which weigh three ounces each, will remain in the laboratories for instructional and experimental use.
An engineer for the laboratories said that the compact radio set could be made because of the discovery in the last few years that germanium, a hard brittle metal, has similar electronic action to that of the radio vacuum tube. A small pellet of the metal, about the size of a pea, known in electronics as a transistor, can be substituted for a radio tube.
To Replace Radio Tubes
The transistors are the development of the Bell system and are being manufactured to replace vacuum tubes.
The radio wrist set for Gould is a one-way receiver that can be tuned to various stations. Tracy’s is a two-way set.
The radio, the equivalent of an ordinary six tube set, is set in a rectangular plastic case, 2 inches long, 1¾ inches wide, and 1½ inches thick. Electric current is supplied by two small flash light batteries that may be carried in the pocket. This is in contrast to Tracy’s set which is atom powered. An ear hearing device, connected with the set thru the coat sleeve, is used instead of the ordinary loud speaker.
January 13, 1946 & January 20, 1946
First Appearance of Dick Tracy’s Two-Way Wrist Radio.
Dick Tracy in the Movies
In these serials, Dick Tracy is portrayed as an FBI agent, or “G-Man”, based in California, rather than as a detective in the police force of a Midwestern city resembling Chicago, and, aside from himself and Junior, no characters from the strip appear in any of the four films.
Republic Pictures starring Ralph Byrd, 15 Chapter Serials
Dick Tracy (1937), a 15-chapter movie serial by Republic Pictures starring Ralph Byrd.
Dick Tracy Returns (1938, reissued 1948).
Dick Tracy’s G-Men (1939, reissued in 1955).
Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc.(1941, reissued as Dick Tracy vs. the Phantom Empire in 1952).
RKO Radio Pictures Feature Films
Dick Tracy (1945), Morgan Conway as Tracy
Dick Tracy vs. Cueball (1946), Morgan Conway as Tracy
Dick Tracy’s Dilemma (1947), Ralph Byrd as Tracy
Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947), Ralph Byrd as Tracy
Touchstone Pictures Feature Film
Dick Tracy (1990), Warren Beatty as Tracy