ANIMATION ANECDOTES
November 22, 2019 posted by Jim Korkis

Dick Tracy in Animation

SUSPENDED ANIMATION #242

In 1971, after the completion of the X-rated animated feature Fritz The Cat, Ralph Bakshi and Steve Krantz announced that they were in the process of developing Dick Tracy: Frozen, Fried and Buried Alive. The animated feature was to be set in Chicago during the Depression with Tracy in almost non-stop jeopardy from his colorful rogue’s gallery of villains.

At the time, newspapers reported that creator Gould would be paid more than a $100,000 dollars for the animation rights. Unfortunately, the Bakshi-Krantz partnership broke up soon after the announcement.

Dick Tracy (the word “Dick” being a slang term at the time for “detective”) first came to life in comic strip form from cartoonist Chester Gould in the pages of newspapers in October 1931. His violent adventures working for the police department later appeared in movie serials, “B” movies, a radio show and his own short-lived television show.

In Tex Avery’s Dumb Hounded (MGM, 1942), Droopy is seen reading a Dick Tracy comic book to pick up the tricks of the trade. Another fervent reader of Dick Tracy comic books was Daffy Duck whose reading of the latest issue sparked his dream of being Duck Twacy in Bob Clampett’s Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946) to find his missing piggy bank.

Warner storyman Warren Foster who wrote the cartoon revived the character in a story he wrote for a Capitol Record storyteller album from 1949 entitled Bugs Bunny in Storyland. Mel Blanc re-created Daffy Duck portraying the famous “de-teck-it-tive” and children could follow along with the story illustrations done by legendary animation director Robert McKimson.

UPA owner Steve Bosustow sold the UPA studio in 1959 to producer Henry G. Saperstein, who felt he could revive the studio by concentrating on television which he saw as the future of animation.

In 1960, he decided to leverage UPA’s most valuable asset, the character Mr. Magoo, in a syndicated television series of five minute formulaic cartoons that could be combined in a half hour block to 150 different stations. He repeated the format for the 130 episodes of The Adventures of Dick Tracy (later just called The Dick Tracy Show) that originally aired in 1961-1962. Radio and stage performer Everett Sloane provided the voice for Tracy.

Stories were provided by Homer Brightman, Al Bertino, Dick Kinney, Ralph Wright, Bob Ogle, Dick Shaw and Ed Nofzinger. Supervising director was Abe Levitow who oversaw the work of Brad Case, Clyde Geronimi, Ray Patterson and others.

The opening and closing theme with a speeding police car careening down crowded streets was composed by Carl E. Brandt who had done similar duties on the Mr. Magoo television series. Besides composing for feature films and television, he had worked on Gumshoe Magoo (1958) that led to additional work for UPA. He later contributed music for series such as The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., I Spy, That Girl, The Mod Squad, and Eight Is Enough.

The complaint was that while the show was called The Dick Tracy Show, the famous detective only appeared very briefly at the beginning and end of each episode sitting at his desk to assign his stereotypical subordinates to track down the famous Tracy comic strip crooks. Tracy often had his wrist radio in front of his mouth so that his lips didn’t need to be animated.

Joe Jitsu (voice by Benny Rubin) was a parody on two Asian crime fighters Charlie Chan who was Chinese and Mr Moto who was Japanese with his name being based on the Japanese martial art known as jujitsu.

Hemlock Holmes a cockney accented English Bulldog that sounded like Cary Grant and named in honor of Sherlock Holmes was voiced by Jerry Hausner. He was accompanied by The Retouchables whose name was a parody on The Untouchables but they acted more like the Keystone Cops.

Heap O’Calorie a parody of actor Andy Devine and based on the local Irish “Cop on the Beat” who had a bad habit of filching apples from a fruit stand was voiced by “Uncle” Johnny Coons. His informant was Nick the Beatnik who didn’t speak but communicated by beating on his bongos.

Manuel Tijuana Guadalajara Tampico Gomez Jr. aka “GoGo” Gomez voiced by Paul Frees was based on Warner Brothers character Speedy Gonzalez.

Clockwise: Go-Go Gomez, Heap O’Calorie, Joe Jitsu, Hemlock Holmes

The show was popular enough to spark some merchandising including a series of three hand puppets (Tracy, Hemlock and Jo Jitsu) from Ideal Toy Company, a Kenner Sparkle Paint set and a Little Golden Book with Tracy and Jo Jitsu.

In the July 16,1990 edition of the Los Angeles Times, president of UPA Henry G. Saperstein weighed in on the controversy over the local rerunning of the Dick Tracy cartoon series featuring racial stereotypes: “The ‘Tracy’ cartoons portray (Joe Jitsu and Go Go Gomez) as good, clean cops who don’t take bribes or get indicted and consistently bring criminals to justice.

“How about focusing on these attributes as ‘role models’ instead of exaggerating a nothing controversy from a self-appointed tiny do-gooder protest group? C’mon, guys, these are only old cartoons. Sit back and enjoy them.”

The National Hispanic Media Coalition and the Asian Pacific American Coalition among other organizations had protested the showing of the cartoons that had been re-released into syndication to coincide with the release of the 1990 Warren Beatty Dick Tracy movie as inherently racist.

Regarding the cartoons themselves, creator Gould told the press that “I didn’t like that. That was made on a format I came up with and supervised the initial episode. But we were catering to very small fry and I think we would have been smarter to have taken a more serious view of the thing and played it more or less straight like the strip.”

A production cel from The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo (1964) entitled “Dick Tracy and the Mob”.

Saperstein must still have had the rights to use Tracy because the character appeared in an episode of The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo (1964) entitled “Dick Tracy and the Mob”. It featured the villains Flattop, Itchy, Pruneface, The Mole, Mumbles and The Brow.

They have made arrangements with a top hit man named Squinty Eyes to kill Tracy to stop him from interfering with their criminal activities. That hit man looks exactly like Mr. Magoo, the famous actor appearing in a one man stage show. Tracy recruits Magoo to impersonate the hit man and infiltrate the mob. Tracy has already captured the real hit man.

Magoo has to fake the death of Tracy but at the same time the real Squinty Eyes has escaped custody and heads for Pruneface’s mansion. Tracy has to rush to the rescue as Magoo is bound and gagged and left in the room with sticks of dynamite ready to explode.

The episode was written by Sloan Nibley. Abe Levitow was supervising director with Ray Patterson the sequence director and Grant Simmons the animation director. Everett Sloane once again voiced Tracy and Jim Backus was Magoo. Other voices included Marvin Miller, Howard Morris, Dennis King Jr. and Shep Menkin.

Dick Tracy returned to the animated world briefly in 1971 as a segment of Archie’s TV Funnies from Filmation. Each half hour had a framing story involving the Archie characters but was primarily composed of short, individual cartoon segments based on comic strips like Nancy & Sluggo, Moon Mullins, The Captain and the Kids, Alley Oop, Broom Hilda and others.

The Tracy segments were played straight this time and included characters from the comic strip including Tess Trueheart, Junior Tracy, Moonmaid and Sam Catchem. Stories were written by Jim Ryan, Bill Danch and Ken Sobol with voice work by Howard Morris, John Erwin, Dallas McKennon and Jane Webb.

It seems to me that Dick Tracy could inspire a truly memorable animated series or feature film but perhaps the current culture that abhors gun violence and also the actions of some policemen might make it more problematic in producing something that was true to Gould’s original comic strip.

23 Comments

  • I remember being so very disappointed when the Dick Tracy show wasn’t even about Dick Tracy but featured these silly characters with cliched stories and low budget animation. As a child in the early sixties, I wasn’t aware of the racial stereotypes but I sure knew a bad cartoon when I saw it.

  • A Bakshi Dick Tracy feature would certainly have been unique, an animated counterpart to films of the time like Dirty Harry and The French Connection. Ralph would have been able to have all the violence and peril in the comic strip and then some, although the syndicate would have most likely insisted on a PG rating.

  • Current culture doesn’t necessarily abhor gun violence-this country is deeply divided on the subject. Its just that Tracy is way passed his “sell by” date. What audience under 12 years old gives a crap about Dick Tracy? And Warren Beatty’s film was over 25 years ago. Tarzan, Robin Hood and other “good guys” of generations past mean nothing to anyone going to a movie or paying a monthly fee on Netflix. Truth-it isn’t even Batman that is wanted, it is the Joker – an extremely violent bad guy getting away with it. Now, Gould concocted a load of odd baddies, but these would be jokes today.

    If I need a Tracy fix, I go to Clampett’s Great Piggy Bank Robbery – truly bizarre and contributing nightmarish laughs to this day. And please, Warner, don’t remake it.

  • One good thing about Go-Go Gomez, senors: NO lobotimosed Daffy Duck in his Ali Baba Bunny/Showbiz Bugs/A Star is Bored mode to be the enemy to ruin it, since this is Chester Gould’s strip with the villians (Flattop, BB Eyes, etc.) already villains. (I grew upon it..) I enjoy the original Daffy, in the greatest parody of Dick Tracy ever, 1946’s THE GREAT PIGGY BANK ROBBERY!

    • Honestly, I had no problem with either version of Daffy (who was not the “enemy’ in the listed cartoons, just a foil) and do you have to completely lump that version with the low-budget 60’s cartoons?

    • To Nick:
      Heh… yeah, you are right.

  • UPA basically punted on the Tracy episodes — like the Fleischer brothers’ deal 20 years earlier for the rights to Superman, they had rights to a non-comedic character, but unlike the Fleischers and their staff, decided to create new characters which had nothing to do with the comic strip in order to do a comedy series.

    It was a pretty annoying bait-and-switch — there are only a handful or cartoons where Tracy appears at all in the body of the picture — but the cartoons being targeted for morning/afternoon syndication and not theaters may have pushed UPA towards making them comedies, and given the limited animation budgets, even if they had done them as serious five-minute shorts it might not have worked. Many of the same people who did Superman were working two years later on the Hercules series (with Herc even looking like Supes), but the results were as insipid in their own way as the Dick Tracy cartoons.

  • Was never a big fan of those toons even when I was a kid! Although I did find Heap O’Calorie’s voice pretty funny. Had no idea at the time he was based on an actor named Andy Levine. A pop group called The Chants also did a song paying tribute to the Dick Tracy cartoons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6DPEgwpicE

    • Andy Devine himself actually did do a voice in an animated film later on: He voiced Friar Tuck in Disney’s “Robin Hood” (1973).

  • Bad on every level, even when I was a kid. Just another botched-for-TV trainwreck.

    I was spoiled on the brilliant comic strip. And the real magic therein was the cast of bizarro-world criminals.

    Yes, I’m old and grumpy, thanks for asking.

    One – and only one – reboot did the original any service: The Great Piggybank Robbery. Daffy Duck IS Duck Twacy.

    Neon Noodle ! ! !

  • I was 5-6 in 1961-2, and the UPA Dick Tracy cartoons were featured in Chicago on WGN’s “DICK TRACY SHOW”, which used the cartoon opening at titles, then segued to the live action host, the beloved Ray Rayner as “Sgt. Pettibone”, who with his dog puppet pal, Tracer, worked out of the “Crimestopper Cruiser”, receiving transmissions from Tracy, and running the cartoons along with a storyline of their own. It was a great show, and the cartoons were very much liked by myself and my friends, and yelling “HOLD EVERYTHING!” was commonplace amongst my peers. As an adult, and a cartoonist myself, while I too would love to have seen a “straight” Tracy cartoon, I have fond memories of the UPAs, and have great admiration for the character designs–particularly the translation of the existing villains.

    • I was also faithful to Ray Rayner’s WGN Dick Tracy show. In addition to the cartoons, they also showed little animated vignettes of Tracy admonishing kids not to do harmful things or showing genuine detective techniques. The cartoons had stereotypes and were not very good, but nobody thought about political correctness. Some poorer tv stations tried to revive the cartoons in the early 1990s with the Warren Beatty movie in theaters, but they didn’t last long.

    • I remember WNYW Channel 5 in New York airing the Dick Tracy Cartoons during the summer of 1990 in the early afternoons. I also remember that when they just kept showing the Heap O’Calorie and Hemlock Holmes cartoons only and then went off the air shortly afterward.

  • I saw those as a kid. Loved DICK TRACY. They were the biggest bummer.

  • I must confess I have something of a soft spot for these cartoons. I was about four years old when the 1990 feature came out, and I well remember the merchandising blitz that accompanied it. I had the action figures, the ‘wrist radio’ and a homemade tape of the syndicated version of the cartoons. I watched it over and over for years, long before I discovered the original comic strips.

    Having now read much of the classic Gould material I understand how much of a letdown these cartoons must have been at the time.

  • UPA, at least the UPA of the ’60s, didn’t own Dick Tracy, but they owned the other characters. It’s pretty clear that there was a plan contrived to build a character franchise from these secondary sleuths, but UPA was never able to strike gold again as they were with Mister Magoo.

    Over their brief, shining history UPA managed to reverse all their “mission statements” and instead try to imitate Disney with 1001 Arabian Nights, then overuse Mister Magoo (with the stellar exception of Magoo’s Christmas Carol).

    Maybe the reason we saw through it, even as kids, is because the goal was more franchises, toys and spinoffs before giving much thought to the source materials. That doesn’t usually work, does it?

  • I really liked the Filmation version of Dick Tracy. I wasn’t crazy about the UPA version. Not enough Tracy in that one.

  • Appearance of each sidekick on the Dick Tracy Show:
    Helmloch Holmes – 44 appearance
    Joe Jitsu – 43 appearance
    Go Go Gomez – 34 appearance
    Heap O’Calorie – 9 appearance

    • Amazing they didn’t get a lot of mileage out of Heap O’Calorie, but I suppose a fat cop didn’t offer much in the writing process than the other characters.

  • I grew up watching the UPA cartoons on WMUR-TV’s “Uncle Gus Show” along with Mr. Magoo and the theatrical Popeye cartoons. I loved them. They were very popular and made a lot of money.

  • My memory of the comic strip is pretty hazy, but at some point in the sixties didn’t Dick Tracy go to, of all places, THE MOON??? Apparently it fell within his jurisdiction. And there were Moon people, and Moon criminals (Craterface?) whom Dick Tracy arrested and sent up the river to the hoosegow….

    Anyway, I’m sorry that UPA never made an animated version of this adventure instead of Heap, Go Go et al. Charles Gardner could have written it up as part of his excellent series of posts on Space Invaders cartoons.

    Six-two and even, over and out!

  • For some reason Dick Tracy has always been tricky to adapt.

    The serials are solid Republic Studio cliffhangers, but draw almost nothing from the comic strip beyond Tracy himself.

    The four features are similarly distant from the comic strip, only showing the Gould villains as background for the opening titles. Tess and Junior were on hand, but it was mostly generic cops and robbers with stubbornly ordinary thugs for villains. The last two films introduced Vitamin Flintheart as comedy relief, makeup and performance closely modeled on Gould’s character, and the final entry included a wacky sci-fi angle and Boris Karloff as Gruesome. But the series ended before they could go any further down that road.

    Beatty’s version boasts spectacular makeup and production design. If Disney was hoping for a blockbuster franchise, why’d they kill off all classic villains?

    There was also a TV pilot, produced by the Batman people in the same camp spirit:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pi32JRtXA0A

  • The only cartoon could get away with violence was “Samurai Jack,” where Jack mostly fought robots. In the last season, where he fought people, they put the show on Adult Swim. Considering the retro vibe of Adult Swim (they used to show old “Astro Boy”), perhaps that would be a good home for a new “Dick Tracy.” You could set it back in the Thirties, but also include Moon Maid and some fantasy technology.

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