In the midst of the Depression, bank robbers, and the growth of underworld mayhem, cartoonist Chester Gould created a detective for the public to believe in or as Gould put it, “I decided that if the police couldn't catch the gangsters, I'd create a fellow who could.”
From the pages of Dick Tracy’s world came the inevitable on-screen adaptations. In 1937, a scant six years after the first Dick Tracy strip debuted, Republic Pictures made a serial film with actor Ralph Byrd as the model detective. “Dick Tracy” (1937) was the fitting film title. “Dick Tracy” was a fifteen-chapter serial film with each chapter averaging twenty-minutes per chapter. The film bred three sequels --- “Dick Tracy Returns”(1938), “Dick Tracy’s G Men”(1939) and “Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc.”(1941).
In 1946, Conway was cast by RKO Pictures for two Dick Tracy films – “Dick Tracy” (1945) and "Dick Tracy vs. Cueball” (1946). Byrd may be the preferred choice for the role because of his tough and commanding presence and Warren Beatty’s portrayal may hold true to Gould’s comic strip appeal but Morgan Conway’s portrayal of Dick Tracy cannot be forgotten. Conway’s portrayal is one of charm and candor, taking Dick Tracy into a more relatable direction. Conway’s Dick Tracy has to balance solving cases with being a family man, and it is not always easy. In both films Conway and his supporting cast uphold a unique wit and humor that gives personality to otherwise average detective/murder mystery films. Unfortunately, “Dick Tracy vs. Cueball” (1946) was a box office slump and it gave reason for RKO Studios to replace Conway with their original choice, actor Ralph Byrd. Byrd would continue to be the most popular choice for Dick Tracy, making three more successful Dick Tracy films for RKO Pictures. “Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome”, co-starring Boris Karloff, put a close to the Dick Tracy’s silver screen treatment for forty-three years.
In 1990, Academy-award winning actor Warren Beatty would make his third directorial film with “Dick Tracy.” Beatty would star in the film as the famous detective with pop icon Madonna as “Breathless Mahoney”, Tracy’s love interest. The film was nominated for seven Oscars, winning three of the nominations including “Best Art Direction-- Set Direction”, “Best Make-up”, and “Best Music – Original Song.”
The public’s anticipation for the film spurred the building of the Chester Gould museum in Woodstock, Illinois. After seventeen years of housing artifacts and memorabilia of Gould’s life and his work on Dick Tracy in Woodstock’s old courthouse, the museum closed due to financial reasons. A virtual museum has been placed on their official website provided in the link below.