In addition to providing groundbreaking historical essays to our complete Dick Tracy series, Jeff Kersten was a founding member of The Chester Gould/Dick Tracy Museum and serves as the Museum’s resident historian and President on its Board of Directors. He, his wife, Keri, and their two little ones, Norah and Halas, recently paid a visit to the home of Jean Gould O’Connell, Chester Gould’s daughter, to say hello to their long-time friend. They were also there to scan material from Chester Gould’s archives to use in the next couple of volumes of our Tracy series. Keri captured photos of Jeff at work and posing with Jean next to a blow-up of her father on the wall. Some of the scans Jeff made will be in Dick Tracy Volume 17, in stores late summer.
Here in the 21st Century, violence against women has become socially unacceptable, though unfortunately it has yet to be eradicated from the culture. For decades during the prior century society was much more forgiving in this area – as late as 1964, network TV was willing to shrug off wife beating as an acceptable situation comedy story plot (see the Dick Van Dyke Show episode, “The Lady and the Tiger and the Lawyer,” which may be the most infamous achievement in the exceptional career of multi-talented Garry Marshall, who co-wrote this Van Dyke teleplay). By 1977 producer Norman Lear and writers Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf brought a seriocomedic look at rape and its consequences to All in the Family in a controversial hour-long episode entitled “Edith’s 50th Birthday,” which prompted one female TV reviewer to write, “The point is that the program was not prepared to ‘deal’ with reality, only to exploit it.”
What do these ruminations have to do with good ol’ LOAC? They were spurred by a recent gift by longtime Friend of the Library Ed Maslow.
Over the course of the past few years, Ed has shared several wonderful e-mails with us describing his younger days, reading the New York papers of the day and savoring strips likeFlash Gordon and “the crown jewels” of the Tribune Daily News syndicate. Most recently, Ed gave us a fascinating look at violence against women in Dick Tracy. Notice this panel from November 6, 1943. As Ed observed in his note, “The strip that was published in newspapers had Tracy saying ‘I hate to shove a lady–but, ow!'”
But, as Ed went on to both show and tell us, “The way Gould wrote it is the panel below with Tracy saying ‘I hate to slap a lady–but, ow!’ The art is the same only the word shove has replaced slap.”:
Apparently by 1943 the syndicate had decided that “It’s not right to hit a lady,” and that, as a symbol of What’s Right, Dick Tracy would abide by that rule, even when tussling with someone as nasty and potentially dangerous as Lois, who certainly had no scruples about beating up Tracy.
Gould’s editors had fewer scruples only five years before, Ed reminded us, as he sent this sequence between baddies Karpse and Marrow from the November 13, 1938 Sunday page (click on strip for larger size):
And shortly after our exchange with Ed on this subject, I was going back through my early Tracys and found this sequence from March 29, 1934. Never mind villain being villainous with villainess, in this shot Tracy is laying a hand on brunette spitfire Jean Penfield, who was trying to move in on him and cut Tess Trueheart out of the picture:
Of course, to be fair to both Tracy and Chester Gould, the idea of “making a woman come to her senses” by slapping her across the face was a melodramatic device that remained in use well into the 1960s.
Ed Maslow’s e-mails to us revealed an intriguing editorial change to the Dick Tracy daily of November 6, 1943, but it also spurred more sobering thoughts about this particularly sobering subject. Despite still-shocking cases that get reported in the news even today, it’s clear our society has increasingly moved to reject the idea of violence against females – and, thanks to his editors, Dick Tracy was moving in that direction before World War II had ended, literally decades ahead of many other pop culture heroes.
In the summer of 1964 the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate launched what turned out to be its last major Dick Tracy promotion—the Miss Moon Maid Contest. Chester Gould introduced the mysterious girl from the moon as 1963 turned into 1964 and it caused a sensation.
Even today, Tracy fans argue about the succeeding “moon period.” Some love it (count me in this crowd), while others simply loathe it. Regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the stories, the period represents (in my humble opinion) perhaps the most abstractly diagrammatic drawing of Gould’s career. But then again, I was nine years old at the time and loved EVERYTHING in the Sunday comics!
Thanks to our friends at TMS News and Features for sharing their file copies for this promotion. We’re still several books away from reprinting this period. In the meantime, we’ll do further research to determine in what TV shows and movie, if any, the winner appeared.
It happens. You don’t like it. We don’t like it. But it happens. There’s a missing strip in the netherzone between Dick Tracy vols. 12 and 13. Reader Brian Snyder correctly brought to our attention that Tracy 12 ends with Saturday, March 25, 1950, while Tracy 13 (on sale this week) begins with Monday, the 27th. Where’s the missing Sunday? Here it is, folks, with our sincere apologies. We’ll also include this March 26, 1950 Sunday in vol. 14 so all of we completists can have it in print.
Now, after more than fifty years, the solution to…Chester Gould’s “Black Bag Mystery” featuring Dick Tracy!!!
My dad’s been gone more than thirteen years now, but when we get together, my siblings and I often fondly recall his many colorful sayings (some of them not proper for an all-ages website). One of his turns of phrase that I find myself using from time to time is the one he’d trot out when my sisters or brother or I started getting too big for our britches: “Smarty had a party, but nobody came.”
Working on LOAC projects makes me think of that line on occasion, because it reminds me that no matter how much even the most diligent comics historians knows, he doesn’t know it all. And acting like he does know it all is a good way to be set up for a fall. So we try to keep it properly humble here in LOAC-land, because occasionally things like this happen …
When we began running Chester Gould’s “Black Bag Mystery” strips, featuring Dick Tracy, during October of last year, we wrote, “The syndicate hoped to duplicate the [“Black Bag”] promotion in newspapers from other cities and so never published the solution to the mystery. It’s still an open case, folks!” That’s exactly what we thought based on the information we had at hand and, because despite the considerable resources we have available, no evidence to the contrary was available.
But Gould scholar extraordinaire Jeff Kersten can call on even more Tracy resources than we can as he digs deeper, ever deeper into the Master Detective’s history and mythos. And Jeff recently unearthed the fact that the Chicago Tribune did indeed select a winning solution to “The Black Bag Mystery,” with Gould bringing it to life in his own distinctive artistic style. Moreover, Jeff was able to drop the solution, as it appeared in the Trib, straight into our pulpy little palms!
We present the first three “solution” strips today and the final three tomorrow, with the hope you’ll join us in a vote of thanks to Jeff Kersten, not only for playing such a major role in bringing forth a fully-rounded history of America’s top crime newspaper strip, but also for reminding us not to gettoo sure of ourselves, because after all these years it’s still true: Smarty had a party, but nobody came!
Come back tomorrow for the final three!
On this website and in Dick Tracy volume 12, we reprinted the 1949 “Black Bag Mystery,” asking readers to send in your solutions to who stole the money and why. We’ve read through all the submissions and, as promised, present our two favorites.
John Gibson offers this detailed and inventive solution:
I think the key fact is that the police were suckered into believing that Currency Jones and The Lobe were the same person. The Lobe had the money. (The bag itself, or one of them, turned up in Homer Noble’s torched shop as part of the attempt to frame him.)
Currency Jones must not have been much of a banker. If, minus the million dollars, he could not send Honey enough money in Mexico to stave off her creditors, we can see that he must have been near broke, despite what everyone would expect. I’d infer that he was making extra money as the accomplice of The Lobe, impersonating him (hence the artificial ears) and thus establishing alibis for him while he committed crimes. As he had disguises in his office closet, he must also have participated in other crimes.
Jones and The Lobe plotted the million dollar robbery and were supposed to split the money. The Lobe forced Widow Dubbs to sign the payment agreement and was then going to kill her. Honey Keyes was going to join the newly rich Jones in Mexico, throwing over Noble.
Both Jones and The Lobe had access to the hotel room: Jones through his office and The Lobe because he was the one renting it. This enabled Jones to “become” The Lobe or other people without being seen exiting the bank or his home while disguised. It also allowed The Lobe to meet and conspire with him without witnesses.
When Tracy confirmed that The Lobe was an actor who frequently applied for parts, that was a strong hint that he and Currency Jones were two people and not one; Jones would have been at work and would not have been trying out for theater roles in any event.
The text says that Honey was unaware that the bag she was carrying contained the million dollars. But she had to know that something major was up. Jones must have alerted her to be packed and ready to head to Mexico on short notice. When he accidentally left his unsigned will, leaving everything to her, in the hotel’s telegraph office, that led to Homer finding out some of what was going on; at the time Jones was disguised as The Lobe and may have been sending a telegram to establish an alibi for him.
Currency Jones left his office by way of the hotel room while Honey was carrying the bag of cash so he could meet with her before she left the country. It had been arranged for her to hand over the bag to The Lobe, and Jones didn’t yet know that he had been cut out.
Honey knew The Lobe and intentionally sat next to him on the bus when she ran into him while they were on their way to meet so that she could pass the bag to him. Afterwards she met with Jones for a cocktail before flying to Mexico at his expense.
She bought the bag on Currency Jones’s instructions (she was the unidentified female purchaser). The Lobe bought a bag of the same kind so that they could switch bags in a public place without it being noticed that a bag had changed hands.
Jones threw Honey’s pocketbook onto the frozen creek to make it seem she had been killed and thrown (or dropped from a plane) into the creek, her body going out to sea.
Currency Jones told an underling that he had had to break into his desk drawer because he lost his key, but in fact The Lobe had broken into it, coming into his office from the hotel room, in order to steal Jones’s passport and plane ticket. These he put on Homer Noble’s body after shooting him, leaving the suicide note, and burning his shop so everything would be blamed on him. He lost a diamond ear stud while doing these things.
The Lobe meant it to be believed that Noble had stolen the passport and ticket from Jones to thwart his plan to run off with Honey. Jones said his plan to get a passport was being “sabotaged”, and that was right: The Lobe did that so that, if the cops didn’t buy Noble as the guilty party, it would be Jones who would be the next major suspect.
And The Lobe was not afraid to have Jones suspected because he figured that the cops would take himself for nothing more than a role played by Jones.
Find The Lobe and you would find the missing million. Or so it looks to me, anyway.
* * * * *
Allan Wright sends in this completely different solution:
I think Currency Jones’ assistant, Charlie, has the $1,000,000 and his nail file is the big clue. Here’s my solution — Currency Jones planned the scheme to kill the Widow Dubbs and steal the money so he and Honey Keyes could run off to Mexico. Jones, as the Lobe, switched bags with Honey on the bus (remember that he bought an empty black bag?). Honey makes it to Mexico with enough money to get started and Jones was going to follow. But someone steals Jones’ passport and airline ticket and the black bag with the $1,000,000 from his desk. The passport, ticket and bag are found in Homer’s burned-down studio in an attempt to frame Homer for stealing the money.
Two important things happen right after the fire: One, when Jones asks Charlie to back up his story about naming Honey as the sole beneficiary in his will, Charlie isn’t very convincing. Two, while Jones claims he lost the key to his desk drawer and had to break into it, he actually didn’t want it known that someone broke in and stole his passport and the money. Jones trusted Charlie so Charlie was in the perfect position to use the nail file that he carried around to break into the drawer to steal the money (remember that earlier in the story, he knew that Jones kept aspirin in his desk?). Charlie then planted the stolen goods in Homer’s store to divert attention from himself. Since Jones didn’t have the money to send Honey, she marries the count, Jones commits suicide, and Charlie is in the clear.
I can’t figure out why Honey didn’t take the $1,000,000 with her to Mexico, but who said criminals were smart? And maybe Currency Jones didn’t trust her completely. He shouldn’t have trusted Charlie, either!
* * * * *
So there we have two completely different explanations. How about yours?
Here’s the thirty-sixth and final installment of “The Black Bag Mystery” by Chester Gould! We’re keeping all previous installments uploaded so you can refer back to them. It’s still an open case, folks! Here’s your chance to match wits with Dick Tracy: we encourage you to write your own solutions in fifty words or less. Please send YOUR solution by November 20th firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t look for any part of that twenty-five grand—the Trib gave that away more than sixty years ago! Instead, we’ll print our favorite solutions here by the end of November.
Here’s the thirty-fifth installment of “The Black Bag Mystery” by Chester Gould! We’re keeping all previous installments uploaded so you can refer back to them to help solve the mystery at the end! Don’t miss the final chapter tomorrow!!!