1967: Dick Tracy vs. spies

Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

Producer William Dozier had a hit with 1966’s Batman television series and sold a second series with The Green Hornet, based on a radio show. So, in 1967, he tried to extend his streak with a pilot for a Dick Tracy series.

The final product ended up being influenced by ’60s spymania.

To write the pilot, Dozier hired Hal Fimberg, who wrote or co-wrote the two Derek Flint movies starring James Coburn. Rather than use an established member of Tracy’s gallery of villains, Tracy’s foe in Fimberg’s script was Mr. Memory (Victor Buono).

Mr. Memory is kidnapping various ambassadors as part of a plot to disrupt NATO on behalf of an unspecified froeign power. They’re being abducted in Washington and taken to Tracy’s unnamed city. In the comic strip, the city wasn’t specified either, but seems like Chicago. Cartoonist Chester Gould, Tracy’s creator, lived near the Windy City. Gould’s successors, on occasion, drew the city to closely resemble Chicago.

The Tracy of the pilot was influenced by Dozier’s Batman show. While there was no “Tracy Cave,” the detective has a sophisticated lab in the basement of his house, accessible only by a secret entrance. Evidently, the city’s police lab wasn’t up to Tracy’s standards.

Besides Mr. Memory’s plot and the presence of writer Fimberg, there are other influences of 1960s spy entertainment.

One of Mr. Memory’s goons is played by Tom Reese, who played Ironhead in the Matt Helm movie Murderers’ Row. Fimberg’s script also lifts a bit from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

In that spy show’s second episode, The Iowa Scuba Affair, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) is locked in while poison gas is being pumped into his hotel room. Solo gets out by setting fire to a container of shaving cream and blowing the door open. In the pilot, Tracy ends up in a hotel room. Mr. Memory injects poison gas and Tracy pulls the same trick.

Actor Ray MacDonnell certainly had the Tracy look. If you ever seen Victor Buono playing a villain, you know what to expect. The proceedings aren’t subtle but they’re not as campy as Batman was.

Dozier’s failure to secure a buyer for this was an indicator his hot streak was coming to an end. Also in 1967, ABC canceled The Green Hornet after one season. The network also cut Batman back to a single episode weekly as it limped into its final season.

The pilot is embedded below (though there’s always the risk the video will get yanked). There’s a snappy theme song from The Ventures.

One oddity in the closing credits: There’s a credit the show is “based on and idea and characters created by” Gould and Henry G. Saperstein. Saperstein owned the UPA cartoon studio that made some bad Tracy cartoons in the early ’60s. All of the primary characters (Tracy, Sam, Lizz, Junior, Chief Patton) in the pilot are from Gould’s comic strip. Also, at the very end, you can hear Dozier in his best “Desmond Doomsday” voice.

Happy birthday, Dick Tracy

Happy 83rd, Tracy.

Happy 83rd, Tracy.

On Oct. 4, 1931, the Dick Tracy comic strip debuted in the Detroit Mirror newspaper.

The newspaper no longer exists. Tracy’s creator, Chester Gould, died almost 30 years ago. But while the strip isn’t widely distributed it’s still around, with Joe Stanton and Mike Curtis carrying on the tradition.

This blog has written before about how Tracy shares elements of James Bond and Batman, especially colorful villains and dabbling in science fiction. Gould devised villains such as Flattop, Pruneface and Mumbles. His successors have come up with their own villains in that tradition and (where they could) brought back Gould favorites who hadn’t been definitively killed off.
chester gould strip

Tracy, like Bond and Batman, has his own eras. The most offbeat, starting in 1962, was when Gould introduced the space coupe (a magnetic-powered craft that could travel into space) and a race of people on the Moon. Gould was 62 when that era began, an indication he wasn’t afraid of trying new things. Eventually, that was dialed back and a more down-to-earth approach took hold.

Sound familiar, Bond fans?

Anyway, here’s Chester Gould in a 1965 appearance on the game show To Tell The Truth in the midst of the space coupe/Moon people era. Gould, at this point, was still more than a decade away from retirement. He died in 1985.

Happy birthday, Tracy.

The 007-Dick Tracy-Batman mashup

dicktracy

James Bond fans often discuss how Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories compare with literature or comment about the 007 movies (in particular the 2006-2012 movies) shape up as cinema.

There’s often little commentary about how they compare to pulp stories or to comic strips such as Dick Tracy or comic books such as Batman

In fact, 007 shares many of the same elements as Tracy (who made his debut in 1931) and Batman (whose first appearance was in 1939).

All three characters encounter larger-than-life villains: Flattop, Mumbles, Pruneface and many others for Tracy; Goldfinger, Dr. No, Ernst Stavro Blofeld for Bond; and the Joker, the Penguin, Two-Face and the Catwoman for Batman. All three characters dabble in science fiction: two-way wrist radios/televisions/computers/space coupes for Tracy; high-tech Batmobiles, Bat-computers and other devices for Batman; various gadgets (especially in films) and tricked-out cars for Bond.

The comparisons between 007 and Batman have been out in force this year after Skyfall director Sam Mendes said Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy influenced Skyfall. The Tracy comparison doesn’t get talked about as much for obvious reasons. There hasn’t been a Tracy movie since 1990, when Warren Beatty directed and starred in a Tracy film.

Still, Tracy, created by Chester Gould (1900-1985), had many of the same elements of 007 and Batman and was out earlier. Tracy doesn’t get much attention these days but if you CLICK HERE you can catch up on his newest exploits.

The main difference among the characters: Tracy married Tess Trueheart on Christmas Day 1949 and raised a family.

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