Progressive Signs on a Sensitive Subject

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.


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