Ralph Byrd: The Original Dick Tracy

A shout out today for a mug name of Ralph Byrd (1909-52). A native of Dayton, Ohio, Byrd first toured with the Albright Players stock company, and sang with dance bands. By the early 30s, he had made his way to Hollywood, where he performed at the Bliss-Hayden Little Theatre. His first film role was a a bit part in Red Headed Woman (1932).

After dozens of such roles, Byrd landed the part he is now best remembered for, Chester Gould’s famous comic strip detective, in Republic’s Dick Tracy (1937), Dick Tracy Returns (1938), Dick Tracy’s G-Men (1939), and Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc. (1941). In 1945, RKO started a new Dick Tracy series with Morgan Conway, but the public balked, so Byrd was hired to play the role in Dick Tracy’s Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome, both in 1947. Later he played the part yet again, in the first Dick Tracy TV series, 1950-52.

Beyond the various incarnations of Dick Tracy, Byrd attained nearly 100 screen credits over his 2 decade career. In addition to starring in B movies and serials like Blake of Scotland Yard (1937), S.O.S. Coast Guard (1937), The Vigilante (1947), and The Jungle Goddess (1948), he also had smaller roles in mainstream fare like The Howards of Virginia, The Mark of Zorro (1940), Guadalcanal Diary (1943) and My Favorite Spy (1951).

In 1936, he married fellow B movie star Virginia Carroll, best known for co-starring in westerns wih Tex Ritter, Gene Autry, and other.

After years of heart-stopping adventures, Byrd’s heart finally stopped in 1952. He was only 43.

For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.