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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #334

Welcome to the three hundredth and thirty-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, in honor of his 80th Anniversary this Tuesday, today’s legends are all Dick Tracy related! Did Dick Tracy really coin the phrase “Crime Does Not Pay”? Did Chester Gould actually give the Lindbergh kidnapping a happy ending less than ten days after the child was found dead? Did a comic book character beat Dick Tracy to the 2-way wrist radio?

Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and thirty-three.

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: Chester Gould did a story based on the Lindbergh kidnapping while the Lindbergh kidnapping was an ongoing matter..with morbid results.

STATUS: True

In March of 1932, Charles Lindbergh’s infant son was kidnapped.

It became a national news story.

So much so that a fairly new comic strip like Dick Tracy decided to tie in on the commotion, as Chester Gould did a story based on the kidnapping (with the kidnapper being the now famous Dick Tracy villain Big Boy)….

(click on the strips to enlarge)

However, Lindbergh’s son was found dead in mid-May. Just eight days later, though, Gould’s story (which obviously had been writing already) had a happy ending…

Talk about morbid!

I understand the desire to do “ripped from the headlines” stories, but to give a happy ending to a still open kidnapping? Seems a bit reckless. There’s no way that those strips would have appeared in papers even ten years later, let alone today, when strips get pulled for all sorts of dubious reasons.

Thanks to reader Kara for suggesting I feature this one!
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Check out the latest Football Urban Legends Revealed to learn discover if the Governor of Colorado really lost Pikes Peak in a football bet! Plus, did the New York Giants REALLY invent the “Gatorade shower”? And what one-time only special rule did the NFL have to come up due to extenuating circumstances in the 1940 NFL Championship Game?
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COMIC LEGEND: A comic book character beat Dick Tracy tot the 2-way wrist radio by four years!

STATUS: True

Dick Tracy’s 2-way wrist radio is one of the most famous aspects of his character. However, it did not show up until FIFTEEN YEARS into the strip’s history, in January 1946!

However, such a wrist radio was used in a comic book feature called Midnight by the great Jack Cole (creator of Plastic Man) as early as late 1941. Here it is from January 1942′s Smash Comics #30 (which likely came out in late 1941)…

Supposedly Doc Savage also used a two-way wrist radio before Dick Tracy, but I have not been able to find proof of it. Anyone happen to know of a story Savage used such a device before 1946?

Thanks to the Digital Comic Museum for the scans! Thanks to John McDonagh for suggesting I feature this one.
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Check out the latest Soccer/Football Urban Legends Revealed to discover if an Italian owner actually accidentally purchased the wrong British football player! Plus, learn the strange story behind Cerro Porteño’s uniform colors! Finally, marvel at (or be disgusted by) one of the more gruesome football injuries in Swiss football history!
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COMIC LEGEND: Chester Gould, via Dick Tracy, coined the term “Crime Does Not Pay.”

STATUS: False

“Crime Does Not Pay” is probably most closely associated with Dick Tracy (or I suppose Lev Gleason comic book fans)…

The awesome mystery historian Otto Penzler, for example, credited the phrase’s origination to Chester Gould and Dick Tracy in his book, The Great Detectives.

However, the term was in prolific usage before Chester Gould even created Dick Tracy! Heck, it pre-dated the FBI, even!

You see, before there was a FEDERAL Bureau of Investigation, there was just the Bureau of Investigation. It, too, was headed by J. Edgar Hoover beginning in the mid-1920s. He eventually turned it into the FBI, but even before then, Hoover was trying to work the public eye, and in 1927, the Bureau began using the phrase “crime does not pay” to counter the prevailing wisdom in popular culture at the time that crime DID pay (see the TV series Boardwalk Empire).

In fact, before Tracy used the phrase, John Dillinger was already making jokes about the idea of crime not paying in 1933. I actually don’t know when Tracy first used the phrase. I only have the first volume of IDW’s Dick Tracy reprints, and that just takes us to 1933. The above strip is from 1937, so is it possible that that is the first time Tracy said it? If so, that was even after the Crime Does Not Pay series of films started (they started in 1935). Did Tracy beat 1935? I honestly don’t know. Any Tracy aficionados know out there?

In any event, when Gould created Dick Tracy, it WAS in response to this idea that crime WAS “paying,” so the opposite belief was a major aspect of Gould’s strip.

He just did not coin the phrase.

More thanks to John McDonagh for suggesting I feature this one, as well.

Okay, that’s it for this week! Happy 80th Anniversary, Dick!

Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week’s covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!

Follow Comics Should Be Good on Twitter and on Facebook (also, feel free to share Comic Book Legends Revealed on our Facebook page!). If we hit 3,000 likes on Facebook you’ll get a bonus edition of Comic Book Legends the week after we hit 3,000 likes! So go like us on Facebook to get that extra Comic Book Legends Revealed! Not only will you get updates when new blog posts show up on both Twitter and Facebook, but you’ll get original content from me, as well!

Also, be sure to check out my website, Legends Revealed, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can find here, at legendsrevealed.com.

Here’s my book of Comic Book Legends (130 legends – half of them are re-worked classic legends I’ve featured on the blog and half of them are legends never published on the blog!).

The cover is by artist Mickey Duzyj. He did a great job on it…(click to enlarge)…

If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed

See you all next week!

74 Comments

The fact that Dick Tracy had a case “ripped from the headlines,” is not surprising to me. The Law and Order Franchise quickly turns out episodes based on high profile cases. I’m not a fan of Law and Order, so I can’t really say for sure, but I bet some episodes have aired before the cases that they were based on have been resolved.

That Jack Cole artwork is gorgeous – especially for the 40s when the artwork was often so crude. I’ll have to check more of his stuff out.

Odd little trivia note: “Yehudi” is the Hebrew term for “Jew.”

“I’m afraid the poor fellow was murdered!”

“Yeah!! And who do you suppose did it? The Jew?”

J.

Geez, Brian, kinda going through the motions this week.

some stupid japanese name

September 30, 2011 at 9:41 am

Those pages from Smash Comics look a lot like a Steranko story…
Did he swipe from Mr. Cole???

some stupid japanese name

September 30, 2011 at 9:42 am

well now I look silly don’t I.

I think The Shadow deserves some credit for pre-Tracy usage of “Crime does not pay” as well. (“The weed of crime bears bitter fruit! Crime does not pay! The Shadow knows!”)

Awesome article though!

Yes, I love the Jack Cole art too. His life was such a sad tale by the end, but it’s nice that fans still climb on board and are appreciative of his work.

My problem, Paul, is that I could only track the Shadow’s usage to 1937, the same year as the strip Dick Tracy used the phrase in that I showed in the piece. So I was a bit wary of citing the Shadow, in case an earlier Tracy strip pre-dated the Shadow’s usage. Do you know when was the earliest instance that the Shadow used the phrase?

On the kidnapping story, Stephen King came up with the framework for The Stand while writing a novel about Patty Hearst while that episode was still playing out.

Jay Tea, since around the 1940s the name “Yehudi” has meant an unknown or invisible person. One of the earliest US stealth projects was Project Yehudi.

“That Jack Cole artwork is gorgeous – especially for the 40s when the artwork was often so crude. I’ll have to check more of his stuff out.”

Definitely check out the Plastic Man archives.

Seems like the phrase predates Tracy, Gleason, The Shadow and the rest by quite a bit of time. Here it is used by Daniel Defoe in 1724: http://goo.gl/pCeGH

I was hoping to find a legend about a time I’ve read about but haven’t seen any visual proof of – is it true there was a time Dick Tracy had a mustache in the 70′s? Or is that an urban legend itself?

@Brian

D’oh! I don’t actually. The guy to ask would be Martin Grams, he wrote a gargantuan book about the radio show.

BUT:

The earliest episode of the Shadow radio series online is from September of 1937, the first of the Orson Welles season. The opening and closing narration, however — which includes “crime does not pay” — were a holdover from the Frank Readick years. Readick last played The Shadow, if Wikipedia if to be believed, in 1935.

By which I mean, the audio in those portions is Readick rather than Welles, and was PRESUMABLY recorded during his tenure.

I’m wondering if that Dick Tracy strip mentioned above has been collected by the IDW series yet?

Interesting, Thenodrin. I might have to do a little digging into how that came about — every now and then, I get fascinated with etymology.

Hey, cool! Found something!

http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-yeh1.htm

J.

Seems like the phrase predates Tracy, Gleason, The Shadow and the rest by quite a bit of time. Here it is used by Daniel Defoe in 1724

Oh true, the phrase has been used at various other times in history. But I think you’d find agreement that the popular usage of the term happened in the late 1920s.

“They’re abut to disinitgrate that man!”
“I know, but let me trace an outline with acid for an awesome entrance!”

Sorry that made me laugh. Still, I love the artwork, so crisp and clean.

@Craig

A Google image search will reveal ample moustachioed Tracys. : )

Tom Fitzpatrick: It should be in the first volume.

I used the IDW volume for the Lindbergh baby strips, so yes, they’re in there!

Brian the TV Legends link is bust both here and on the Entertainment Legends site

Law and Order got in trouble all the time for making up endings to “ripped from the headlines” cases that had not resolved themselves in real life. One infamous example was based on the Chandra Levy case, wherein L&O pinned the blame on a congressman’s wife. The wife of accused congressman Gary Condit was not amused. Eventually Condit (and his wife) were cleared of any involvement in the murder and another man was convicted, but Law and Order had moved on.

Eventually the other detectives (echoing the complaints of the readers) told Tracy that the mustache looked ridiculous. When he refused to shave it off, they held him down and did it by force. I love that strip!

That is some AWESOME Jack Cole artwork!

Re: Jack Cole – there’s also an excellent biography, Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits by Art Spiegelman – with a nice rubber cover, book designed by Chip Kidd – that you should check out as well. (I wish DC would collect the Cole Plastic Man in their cheaper Omnibus format – those Archives are just so expensive!)

There’s no way that those strips would have appeared in papers even ten years later, let alone today, when strips get pulled for all sorts of dubious reasons.

Please keep the political slant to yourself. Those papers pulled those Doonesbury strips because they were parroting some pretty libelous material. Most of them are already teetering on the financial brink without having to worry about potential lawsuits.

Re: Jack Cole – there’s also an excellent biography, Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits by Art Spiegelman – with a nice rubber cover, book designed by Chip Kidd – that you should check out as well. (I wish DC would collect the Cole Plastic Man in their cheaper Omnibus format – those Archives are just so expensive!)

Tom – Keep your own knee-jerk political comments to yourself. Comic strips are pulled all the time, as Brian said, for a wide variety of reasons. There was no implication (and therefore support nor condemnation) of the recent Doonesbury issue.

Brian the TV Legends link is bust both here and on the Entertainment Legends site

Thanks, Philip. Wow, that is weird. It appears normal to me in the behind the scenes, but yeah, I can’t access it on the front, either. I’ll talk to our tech guys about it!

That first page of MIdnight, could very well be one of the finest first page introductions, artistically, that I have every seen. It’s MASTERFUL!!!

Yeah, it really is awesome. It was so good that even though it had really nothing to do with what I was trying to show, I still felt the need to share it. :)

Thanks, Philip. Wow, that is weird. It appears normal to me in the behind the scenes, but yeah, I can’t access it on the front, either. I’ll talk to our tech guys about it!

Having had a play I can’t access any of the articles either through the links here or any of the articles/sections linked from Entertainment Legends Front Page.

Re: Cole: Yeah, the Spiegelman/Kidd book is absolutely wonderful (contains several Plastic Man stories, as well as the infamous Murder, Morphine and Me in its entirety). I’d love to see some Archives reprints too, but if you don’t mind reading on a screen a lot of the old stuff (Plastic Man’s own title and his earlier Police Comics appearances) is public domain and available at Digital Comic Museum.

I’m not familiar with Midnight, but I’ll have to check those out too! Thanks Brian!

The Dick Tracy mural in Pawnee, Oklahoma says ‘Crime Does Not Pay’, as well as ‘Little Crimes Lead To Big Crimes’. I’ve seen the quote attributed to Gould lots of times, but I’d never been convinced.

I had no idea Yehudi could mean an invisible person. I’d only seen it as a person’s name, or to mean ‘Jew’. I wonder how that usage came about?

Jack Cole also did plenty of risqué artwork for Playboy….usually single panel cheesecake. Great stuff!

Who gives a two year old a lollipop?

Since March of this year Dick Tracy has been drawn by comics veteran Joe Staton and written by former LEO Mike Curtiss. They have revived a strip that had become moribund under the hand of octagenerian Dick Locher, creating crackling story arcs that give classic Chester Gould a wink and nod. They are presently revisiting Tracy’s origin story.

All fans of sequential art should check it out.

http://www.gocomics.com/dicktracy/

Man, I love Jack Cole. Truly one of the all-time greats.

Wasn’t Midnight created mainly to fill in for the Spirit while Eisner was in the army during WWII?

In re “Yahudi”:

“Who’s Yahudi” was a popular catch phrase and song in the early ’40′s. You can look up the etymology yourself (I’m running late), but it was also a novelty song.

Here’s an example of it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fq9oHhkkVV0

Tom – Even though I agree with Keith and don’t think there was anything political even implied in the line you quoted, the fact remains that this is Brian’s post on a blog he runs. He can end every sentence with “Obama sucks” or “fuck Republicans” if we wants. He’s under no obligation to you or anyone else to keep his “political slant” to himself.

Jazzbo – Well, *I* for one was impressed with Tom’s ability to be offended. There’s not one person in a million who could find a way to be all offended by a statement that non-partisan and off the cuff, but Tom pulled it off in the clinch. He should win a medal at the “Getting all indignant for no reason” Olympics.

Oh Mark. You know how they are. He could get offended for no good reason with his eyes closed. A walk in the park for the Toms of the world.

The Yehudi reference may also be linked to the story of Yehudis (Judith), a Jewish heroine who saved her people by getting the invading general Holofernes drunk, beheading him and then sneaking away with his head. When his soldiers found him mysteriously beheaded the following day, they fled in confusion and terror. Fuller version of the story can be found at: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112395/jewish/Yehudis.htm

First I heard that it was actually a common reference in the 1940s to an invisible person. Learn something new all the time.

Bicycle-Repairman

September 30, 2011 at 9:31 pm

“Wasn’t Midnight created mainly to fill in for the Spirit while Eisner was in the army during WWII?”

I heard that Midnight was created because Quality Comics publisher “Busy” Arnold was worried about the future of “The Spirit” if Will Eisner died. Quality reprinted “The Spirit” in its comic books but did not own the rights to the character, so Arnold asked Jack Cole to create a potential replacement for “The Spirit” that would be owned by Quality. Eisner survived the war and “The Spirit” was continued by other writers and artists – including Jack Cole – during his absence, so from 1941 to 1949 Quality was publishing both Midnight and reprints of “The Spirit”.

Poe’s “Mystery of Marie Roget” was his serious attempt to solve a real-life murder that was breathlessly covered by the newspapers of the day.

FWIW, the Yehudi reference (which led to the early 1940s pop novelty hit) seems to have, at least tangentially, a connection to the old Bob Hope radio show of the late 1930s. And it refers to legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

During one show when Menuhin was a guest, Hope’s sidekick, Jerry Colonna, just fell in love with the somewhat comical sound of Menuhin’s first name and, when one of Hope’s jokes fell a bit flat, Colonna would say “Who’s Yehudi?” This became a bit of a running gag, even when Menuhin wasn’t a guest (which sort of led to the “invisible man” aspect of the question).

This then inspired the 1940 “Who’s Yehoodi” song written by Bill Sickler and Matt Dennis and widely popularized by Cab Calloway. The most explicit verse that ties in with the “Midnight” story goes

The little man who wasn’t there
Said he heard him on the air
No one seems to know from where …
But who’s Yehoodi?

(The above is largely taken from http://www.guiltandpleasure.com/index.php?site=rebootgp&page=gp_article&id=85 which strongly implies a link between jazz, scat and Jewish/Yiddish slang.)

I just have to pipe in to agree with all of the praise for Jack Cole – in my mind, he’s right up there with Eisner as one of the absolute genius Golden Age comics artists and all-around creators.

Jack Cole is my favorite Golden Age artists, one of the all-time best. I wish more Golden Age material was available and affordable. Lou Fine and Mac Raboy are two other outstanding Golden Age artists that should have more work being reprinted today.

The Plastic Man Archives is the only one I have a full run of. Because Cole is that entertaining (but it’s a long time between purchases). I’ve never seen his midnight work before but it’s instantly recognizable.

I clearly have not studied Jack Cole enough because I had never heard of Midnight before today. Jack Cole riffing on The Spirit? I need it now!

I once asked Eisner about Midnight and his response was close to what B-R said. Midnight made some appearences in the 1980s in All-Star Squadron and Secret Origins, but I don’t think he’s been seen since.

Bicycle-Repairman

October 1, 2011 at 9:24 am

“I clearly have not studied Jack Cole enough because I had never heard of Midnight before today. Jack Cole riffing on The Spirit? I need it now!”

Jack Cole was also one of the ghost artists who worked on “The Spirit” while Will Eisner was in the Army. “The Spirit Archives” Vol. 5-11 reprints the stories drawn by ghost artists during World War II, but there’s disagreement over who drew what. DC Comics’ website lists Cole in the credits for “The Spirit Archives” Vol. 5-9, but the Grand Comics Database only credits Cole for some of the stories in Vol. 8.

Check the first panel of Midnight again. Is he wearing flesh colored socks or no socks at all?

There’s a couple of sites about Jack Cole but the one I like best is:

http://colescomics.blogspot.com/

It has several posts about Midnight. While I was checking I had the address right, I saw an ad on it for The Complete Midnight Vol. 1 for $2.99.

I swear I’m not spamming, the ad might be a ripoff for all I know but it’s out there if anyone wants to check it out.

Lou Fine, oh lord. Reading reprints of some of his Black Condor work, I did believe a man could fly.

the Yehudi reference (which led to the early 1940s pop novelty hit) seems to have, at least tangentially, a connection to the old Bob Hope radio show of the late 1930s. And it refers to legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

Menuhin was named Yehudi by his parents as a statement of Jewishness after the expecting couple encountered an anti-Semitic landlady while they were searching for an apartment. It does literally mean “The Jew.”

Likewise, “Judas” as in Judas Iscariot is an Romanization of Yehudi– and the Gospel writers likely deliberately chose the name for those associations.

@ Mark, reading that ad, it says it’s for an ebook of Midnight. Still, if you like to read comics that way, it sounds like a good deal.

@ 00gonzo — your socks comment brings to mind the essay about the Spirit called, I believe, “Purple Mask, Purple Gloves…but no Socks”. (I think I don’t quite have that right.) It’s from All in Color for a Dime or the follow up book I can’t remember. I think the essay was by Maggie Thompson, and refers to when Jules Feiffer worked on the Spirit and never colored in the socks because he wasn’t sure what color to use, or something. Sounds like Cole might be winkingly referring to that (especially given, as buttler brought up, that Midnight was created as a Spirit replacement).

That Midnight story looks awesome. A talking monkey? We NEED Midnight revived. Ed Catto, get to it!

And to find out he’s really Dave Clark makes me feel “Glad All Over”.

Ha ha- good idea, Travis! And I was thinking of that essay too.
Good memory, amigo.

Bicycle-Repairman

October 1, 2011 at 8:22 pm

“Lou Fine, oh lord. Reading reprints of some of his Black Condor work, I did believe a man could fly.”

Black Condor may have been one of the stupidest ideas for a super-hero ever conceived – an orphaned human child raised by condors in Mongolia somehow learns to fly, goes to the U.S. as an adult, and successfully impersonates a dead senator that looked just like him – but Lou Fine was able to make the character look good!

I love Midnight. One of the finest examples of the odd dichotomy that we often see in the Golden Age, where a relentless war on the underworld in the inky blackness is tempered by Doc Wackey and a talking monkey. I believe that hits all six kinds of awesomeness if I’m not mistaken.

Poe, you are not mistaken AT ALL!!!

Jack Cole’s art is just great and very inventive. His Plastic Man stories are so much fun because of all the many ways he would twist the character into different shapes. I haven’t read much of his Midnight stories, but I thought they were more of a `riff’ on the Spirit than a fill-in.

I found what is purportedly a clip of The Shadow saying “Does crime EVER pay?” in 1931 . . .

http://www.shadowsanctum.com/audio/frank_readick1931.aif

There’s a sequence in All-Star Squadron where Black Condor tells Hawkman his origin and Hawkgirl just rolls her eyes (“You see, Hawkman, when you ask silly questions …”)

Ed Gorman did revive a version of Midnight for DC in the early 1990′s, as I recall.

Oh yeah, PB210, I remember from Ms Tree Quarterly. Dang, never would have connected the two without you saying so. I’ll have to take a look at those again.

[...] on soccer accidents can be found at the Soccer Strategy site. Have you seen the movie Dick Tracy? It was the 1990 blockbuster film staring Al Pacino and Madonna. …mpressive, he had the fastest draw in the city. Dick Tracy had to face villains so ugly they could [...]

…Two points:

1) Those original Gould strips are priceless! Makes one wish Tracy was around to bust all the rapper drug thugs. Can you imagine having the likes of a Gould sendup of 2-Pac, Biggie Smalls, and the whole Bloods vs. Crips mess?

2) You know, I honestly can’t recall whether Midnight was one of those characters that DC bought when they bought all the Quality characters in the 50′s, or whether Jack Cole retained ownership. I’ve a few scanned issues of Smash Comics from the latter years of the book, and I actually find liking Midnight’s more than those of the character it “swiped” – Gah, Rich Johnston’s gonna sue me for royalties over my using that term so much! – The Spirit. ISTR Midnight showing up in an issue or two of All-Star Squadron, but it’s been quite a while since I pulled those issues out of the box. Probably should do it to commemorate next Pearl Harbor Day, natch :bigOM:

[thinks]

…:bigOM:. Damn, wrong forum. Mea culprit :P

OM, as was mentioned a couple posts above yours, DC did publish a version of Midnight in the late ’80s/early ’90s in Ms Tree Quarterly. So presumably DC owned the rights, although we know of course that it isn’t necessarily the case.

PRIL 25, 1997: COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE

The Comics Buyer’s Guide #1223 April 25th, 1997 has an excellent and quite thorough four-column feature entitled, THE SAINT GOES MARCHING ON, which tells the history of the Saint in comics. Dr. Burl Barer only caught one minor error, but it has post John Spranger info that was new to him, plus a rare illustration of the Saint as drawn by Edd Ashe, Jr. for Silver Streak comics — the Saint using a wristwatch radio several years before Dick Tracy in a story written by (say the credits) Leslie Charteris himself.

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