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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.
COMIC LEGEND: Chester Gould did a story based on the Lindbergh kidnapping while the Lindbergh kidnapping was an ongoing matter..with morbid results.
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!
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?
COMIC LEGEND: A comic book character beat Dick Tracy tot the 2-way wrist radio by four years!
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.
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!
COMIC LEGEND: Chester Gould, via Dick Tracy, coined the term “Crime Does Not Pay.”
“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!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!
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See you all next week!
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