(Released July 12, 1947) (Released September 26, 1947)
LIFE IN AMERICA BEFORE "DICK TRACY"...
TO UNDERSTAND the importance and popularity of "Dick Tracy", you have to understand the time-period in which he was created. (Shown here, a mid-30's National Recovery Administration Poster.)
America in the early-to-mid 20th Century was still about 40% an Agrarian Society until after World War II. Many had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no telephone, no car...and if they had a truck to use, the roads in those areas could have been just dirt or gravel and, if it rained or snowed, could be impassable anyway. Farming was a full-time occupation for that part of our culture, and working from sunrise-to-sunset, seven days a week, was what they did.
THINK ABOUT THAT the next time you LogOn to your computer, check your Smartphone/iPhone, use your iPad/Tablet, step into your shower/bathtub in your fully-heated and air-conditioned home, then drive off in your air-conditioned vehicle, with power steering, power brakes, power windows, power seats, surround-sound stereo, with an on-board GPS/Video Touch Screen. Things were much different over 80 year's ago...as you'll see.
WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE...OR, HOW ABOUT A JOB !
IT WAS DURING THE "Roaring 20's", "The Great Depression", and, the "Lawless 30's", that America was in a great state of transition. Crime ran rampant...in both those small communities like I mentioned above, as well as in most major cities in the U.S. Many criminals like Al Capone, John Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, "Pretty Boy" Floyd, Willie Sutton, the Ma Barker Gang, and too many others to mention, were almost Front Page news everyday. The majority of the public was out of work...especially the men. Kids in school had to walk there (if they went at all), and when they got home they might have very little or almost nothing to eat...'cause their dad didn't have a job.
AGAIN, SOMETHING THAT most people today aren't aware of, or never knew, as I stated at the top of this page, is the fact that up until the time when America entered World War II in 1941, about 40% of all Americans still lived in Rural Areas. Therefore, the only "release", the only pleasure, that many had was the entertainment they got from books, magazines, newspapers, movies, and, (if they had purchased one before 1929 when "The Great Depression" started) listening to the radio.
IN SHORT, America needed Heroes to look up to...to take its collective mind off of the problems, the stress, the lack of anything good in some of their lives. Most small towns had at least one local theater, and an afternoon, or night, at the Movies could give its residents the entertainment, the fantasy world, that could take them away from the sometimes-harsh world they were living in, and transport them to the situations, the people, and places that evolved on that big "Silver Screen" in front of them...at the cost of only a nickel, or a dime !
AT THE MOVIES: LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN...
COWBOY TOM MIX, was one of our earliest Silent Movie Heroes... and Western Films First super-star, making millions of dollars during his 26 year career...followed by other Western Heros like William S. Hart, Will Rogers, Ken Maynard, Gene Autry, and, Roy Rogers. Then came those heartthrob Swashbucklers like Douglas Fairbanks & Rudolph Valentino. and Johnny Weissmuller's "Tarzan" swinging from a vine. Oh, and who could forget the Slapstick antics of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and, the great W.C. Fields ?
BUT, a strong new Hero / Role Model was desperately needed ! One who could not only entertain, ride a horse, swing from a rope, or, make us laugh, but be a solid, two-fisted lawman that could "lay down the law" to the criminals that were out there running gambling rings, making & selling bootleg liquor, cashing-in on extortion rackets, and getting all of that Front Page publicity in the newspapers !!
"CALLING DICK TRACY !"...
WHEN CHESTER GOULD introduced the comic character "Dick Tracy" on October 4th, 1931, in the Detroit Mirror Newspaper, he was originally called "Plainclothes Tracy"...but the title was shortened to just "Dick Tracy" not too long after that. AND, "Dick Tracy" proved to be one of those special Heroes that America...and the World needed !!
Gould created many bizarre, strange characters with strange names, and many devices (Like Dick Tracy's Two-Way "Wrist Radio", that later became his Two-Way "Wrist Television"...all WAY ahead of their time...and actually available WorldWide today !), and they worked well within the scope of the comic section in newspapers around the world, and, later into comic books, Big Little Books, games, toys, and, many other ways that Gould eventually marketed, promoted & licensed the Tracy character. (This 1978 photo of Chester Gould through the courtesy of the Richard Pietrzyk Collection. This is exactly how Gould looked when I met him in 1977.)
Gould was so focused on what he did, and his creation of his iconic character "Dick Tracy", he would personally write and draw BOTH the Daily & Sunday Newspaper Comic Strips of Tracy from 1931-to-1977 !
LIKE WALT DISNEY DID with Mickey Mouse, Gould was a master-craftsman at whatever he did. AND, like Disney had done with "Mickey Mouse", "Dick Tracy" headed for Radio in 1934, and eventually into TV in 1950. BUT, Movies, the Silver Screen... that's where our story really begins in the year 1937.
ENTER: RALPH BYRD...
RALPH BYRD WAS born in Dayton, Ohio in 1909. He grew-up wanting to be an actor, and honed & polished his craft by not only acting, but singing & dancing in a number of productions. In 1936, Byrd married model & actress Virginia Carroll. They would have one child, a daughter, Carroll Byrd Evangeline.
THE VICTORY PICTURES CORPORATION was a Canadian company formed in 1915 by the then-silent picture stars Mary Pickford & Charlie Chaplin, and Byrd was spotted by Victory Pictures and signed to star in the "Blake Of Scotland Yard" Serial they were producing.
They had previously done that Serial as a Silent film, produced at their home studio in Canada, in 1927. This new version, produced in the U.S., starring Ralph Byrd as the Hero "Jerry Sheehan", was released in January of 1937, was successful, and later edited into a Feature Film...which was done many times in those days. And, "Blake" was a sure-fire showcase for this hardworking-actor...and, in effect, "Blake" gave Byrd the break that he needed for what came next !
IN THE 30's. 40's, and into the 50's, Republic Pictures was the "King Of Movie Serials"...cranking-out as many as they could every year ! So it was only natural that they would want to signup Chester Gould's tough-talking, no-nonsense, super-successful character "Dick Tracy", and when they went looking for the "Tracy" they needed to be cast in the film, handsome, square-jawed, broad-shouldered, 6'2", Ralph Byrd was IT !
WHAT HAPPENED THEN WAS truly incredible ! The first Serial entitled, simply, "Dick Tracy" was a smash ! And, as Jim Harmon & Donald Glut state in their book "The Great Movies Serials" (1972): "The casting of the role of Dick Tracy was perfect...as far as the fans were concerned, Ralph Bird was Dick Tracy." And, for the only time in the History of the Serials, Republic did THREE "Dick Tracy" sequels: "Dick Tracy Returns" (1938); "Dick Tracy's G-Men" (1939); "Dick Tracy vs. Crime,Inc." (1940).
PLUS, they had Byrd star in another Serial entitled "S.O.S. Coastguard" in 1937...hot-on-the-heels of his "Dick Tracy" appearance. Byrd plays "Coastguard Lt. Terry Kent"...and the villain he has to deal with is played by none-other than Bela Lugosi !
IT WAS THEN IN 1937, that Ralph Byrd would not only be the first actor to play the role of "Dick Tracy"...but the one who would play Tracy over a 15 year period ! Like Boris Karloff was always thought of as the "Frankenstein Monster", Bela Lugosi as "Dracula", Clayton Moore as "The Lone Ranger", Kirk Alyn & George Reeves as "Superman"...Ralph Byrd was always "Dick Tracy" !
1. From 1937-1941 he starred in 4 "Dick Tracy" Serials.
2. In 1947 he played Tracy in 2 Feature Films
3. Between 1950 to 1952 he brought "Dick Tracy" to TV
and appeared in all the TV Episodes until his death on
August 18, 1952.
"DICK TRACY" MOVES TO RKO...
IN 1945, RKO Radio Pictures entered into a four picture deal with Chester Gould to produce FOUR "Dick Tracy" Feature Films...and paid Gould $10,000 for the rights. (That would be about $12,294.00 in 2017...really a reasonable rate for such an Internationally-known character.)
Since they had paid that much money in 1945 dollars upfront, the wanted to hire someone who'd work for less than Ralph Byrd and signed a very competent actor, Morgan Conway, for the role of Tracy. I remember him from 1939's "Charlie Chan In Reno".
Conway did the first two films in the Series "Dick Tracy" in 1945, and followed that with "Dick Tracy vs. Cue Ball" in 1946, but the fan reaction was not good. They wanted their real "Dick Tracy": Ralph Byrd...and that's when RKO got-on-the-ball and signed him up for the final TWO entries to be released in 1947.
THESE BECAME TWO of the most-watched, best remembered of ALL the Tracy Serials & Feature's...and that's why I wanted to Celebrate their 70th Anniversary by sharing them with you. More than that, it's my way of thanking Ralph Byrd, for not only being the definitive "Dick Tracy"...but an actor who I admired for his "bringing to life", on the Silver Screen & on TV, the "Dick Tracy" that I read in the Daily/Sunday Newspapers, Comic Books, and, Big Little Books !
READY ? HERE'S HOW IT ALL STARTED FOR ME...
WHEN I WAS IN GRADE SCHOOL, my Dad - who worked longer, and harder than any man I knew at the time - would sometimes like to surprise me after we had supper and take me to see a movie that he knew I would like. He wouldn't always tell me what it was...but I'd find out when we got to the theater. That's one of the reasons that make these two film so special for me.
The theater we went to on that cold Winter night in 1948 was not too far from our house. It was the Overland Theater in the City of Overland's Business District. (Actually, that Business District is still there...and, I pass through it a couple of times a week. But sadly, although the location still exists, the Overland Theater was been replaced year's ago by another merchant.)
Dad parked the car, and as we approached the theater, I saw these huge posters in the outside windows ! It was a "Dick Tracy" Double-Feature: "Dick Tracy's Dilemma", AND, "Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome" (Starring that really scary guy Boris Karloff !) !! WOW ! I was in "Movie Heaven" !! Here's what happened next...
"DICK TRACY'S DILEMMA" (Released July 12, 1947) PT. 1
SINCE IT WAS A WEEK NIGHT, we got really good seats. The Overland was one of those small, neighborhood theaters that were prominent from the 1900's to the early-60's when the big chains started to take over. Urban Sprawl happened when those small neighborhoods started to shrink...due to some of the younger residents moving out, and, some of the older residents passing-away.
OUR SEATS WERE about mid-way back from the screen, and in the middle of the row...with a great view. The house lights dimmed, the curtains across the screen were pulled back, and the big RKO Radio Pictures Logo shone on the screen.
THEN THE OMINOUS, MYSTERIOUS, soundtrack music, written by Paul Sawtell, with the orchestra conducted by RKO's prolific C. Bakaleinkoff (who was with RKO for 17 years) started, and this Chester Gould image of "Dick Tracy" came on the screen...and the other kids who were there that night, as well as myself, gave out a big cheer ! It was our Hero, "Dick Tracy", once again right in front of us on that big Silver Screen...this time in a full-complete Feature, and it was the real "Dick Tracy"...Ralph Byrd !
These "Tracy" Films (Serials or Features), were multi-demographic...they were watched & liked by both kids AND adults. That's the way Chester Gould had created "Tracy" to begin with...and "Dick Tracy's Dilemma" follows that format perfectly ! Coupled with that, "Dilemma" is not only a mystery/detective film...it's also an excellent Film Noir entry into the catalogs of that genre of 40's films.
DICK'S ADVERSARY IN "Dilemma" is "The Claw": a misshapen, lame-footed criminal with a prosthetic-hook attached to his right hand...a "hook" that is used to kill his victims...and actor Jack Lambert personifies the meaning of the word "evil" everytime he's on the screen !
"The Claw" is a henchman & go-between in fur theft racket...which leads to insurance payoffs. But, he takes the racket into "Dick Tracy" Homicide territory when he kills the night watchman at the warehouse they're robbing.
From there, it's a "cat & mouse" game with Dick, and his sometimes-not-too-smart Deputy, Pat Patton, trying to not only catch "The Claw", but the others in the gang...and, the Boss in charge of the operation.
I won't spoil it for you by giving you a complete Review of "Dilemma"...I hate "spoiler alerts" myself. But, I will tell you that the expert Direction by John Rawlins, the perfect Noir-Cinematography done by Frank Redman, the tight Editing from Marvin Coil, and, the entire Production, under the supervision of RKO's Herman Schlom, make this one of the most-suspenseful (with as always, a touch of Chester Gould's comic-relief) films from that era you'll enjoy.
ONE THING I will mention for you to watch for happens about :30min. into the film...and it is a perfect, artful piece of Film Noir which made that style so popular:
ONE OF DICK TRACY'S Informants is an old WW I Vet, who fakes being blind to panhandle and sells his pencils & wares in front of a saloon that Dick knows is a front for thieves. The old man's name is "Sightless", and Tracy knows of his ruse but also knows "Sightless" (played by longtime character actor, Jimmy Conlin) can see who comes and goes from the saloon.
Sightless sees two of the henchmen go into the saloon and tries to spy on them. "The Claw" has come in the back door, unseen, but when Sightless goes to a back window to see who's there he see all three together, gets excited and drops the pencils he sells, along with the tin cup that holds the change he gets from his sales, and runs away.
THE CLAW FOLLOWS Sightless...eventually finding out where he lives. He knocks on the door to Sightless' apartment and pretends to be from "Headquarters" telling Sightless Dick Tracy wants to see him. Sightless then opens the door and The Claw starts toward him with his hook raised. Since it was a warm night, Sightless had turned on his small table-fan that sat on the top of his ice box...and had his ice pick out to chop some ice in a pan to cool off with.
As The Claw gets closer, Sightless, trying to protect himself starts to raise the ice pick but it slips out of his hand. What happens next is the pure-Noir Element that I have watched, by itself, so many times:
Sightless drops to the floor trying to pick-up his ice pick. When he does, he accidentally knocks the electric cord that runs the fan out of the wall socket.
The next "shot" of the film is taken from the viewpoint of the camera positioned behind the fan, and as The Claw's hook swings down and murders Sightless, the blade on the fan starts to slow down...and by the time it stops, you know that the life has been drained out of him. Just a fantastic, stunning, visual "time element"...the "time" between life-and-death.
A FINAL WORD ON "DICK TRACY'S DILEMMA"...
IN "DICK TRACY'S DILEMMA", Tracy not only avenges the death of his friend Sightless, as well as the others murdered by The Claw, but once again, Ralph Byrd, when he's donned the Trench Coat & Fedora of "Dick Tracy", brings Chester Gould's character to life...and makes "Tracy" his own ! Making me a fan for life !
RALPH BYRD MEETS BORIS KARLOFF...
"DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME" (Released September 26, 1947) PT.2
RKO LITERALLY pulled-out-all-the-stops for this one !
BRITISH-BORN BORIS KARLOFF, after many year's of struggling in various professions, and having been an actor starting in Silent Films in about 1919, was 44 year's old before he hit it big with what became one of the all-time Horror Classics "Frankenstein" in 1931. His role as the "Frankenstein Monster" finally led him to be known by the public...SO, he was not going to turn down many roles after that !
His talents would take him to, not only films, but to Radio, Broadway, Television, and Recordings...from the 1930's to the late-1960's. In fact, I recently saw an Episode of the cool "JamesBondian"-styled TV Series "The Wild Wild West" from 1966 that starred Karloff in "The Night Of The Golden Cobra" in which he was perfect, although needed some help from a cane (as he did in later years). He was 79 at the time, and still a consummate pro.
I HAD NEVER SEEN a complete Karloff movie until that night that my Dad had taken to this "Tracy" Double-Feature. The only time I had seen him act was in a Preview of "The Mummy" (1932), when it was re-issued in the 40's. It was a preview that was shown while we were waiting for the Main Feature of a "Tarzan" movie...and, believe me, it really scared this kid at the time watching him unwrap all those bandages...and what he looked like when they were off !
SO WHEN "Dick Tracy's Dilemma" was over and "Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome" started, I was prepared for the worst from this "Boogie Man" Karloff...and he didn't disappoint me !
DUE TO THE Legendary impact of his stature in the Film Industry, Karloff was give top-billing over Ralph Byrd in this Feature. In it, Karloff plays "Gruesome" an escaped convict who makes it into town to look for one of his old gang named "Melody" Fiske...a piano playing crook who's featured at "The Hangman's Knot" saloon.
Melody has happened upon a new gimmick that can help in their robberies & get them some much-needed cash, and takes Gruesome to a scientist who's at a Plastics Factory where he & the owner have meetings, he also introduces Gruesome to the henchman, "X-Ray". The scientist (Dr. A. Tomic) has created a nerve-gas bomb that can render people helpless for a few minutes at a time without any memory of what happened. Gruesome figures that this new gas would give him and his gang just enough time to rob a bank and leave with no one remembering who did it !
(Above: Skelton Knaggs as "X-Ray" & Boris Karloff as "Gruesome") )
WELL, GRUESOME and his gang take one of the bombs to try it out and...IT WORKS in the first bank they rob ! But Tracy's long-time girl friend, "Tess Trueheart" (Played by beautiful Anne Gwynne !), was there at the time and became immune to the gas because she was in the bank's telephone booth trying to call Dick when she saw the robbers come into the bank and had the door to the booth closed !
(Above: Anne Gwynne as "Tess", Lyle Latell, Dick's partner "Pat Patton", and, Ralph Byrd as "Dick Tracy")
From there it's a "Cat & Mouse" game, as Gruesome finds out that Tracy's on his trail...and as Melody & Gruesome get into a car chase with Tracy & Patton, they end up having a wreck. Melody is seriously injured, taken to the hospital, and is bandaged head-to-toe due to his terrible injuries.
MELODY THEN DIES, but Tracy wants to keep it quiet as he knows Gruesome will come looking for Melody. Tracy then hatches a plan to take Melody's place and has himself bandaged up just as Melody was...so no one could tell who it was unless the bandages were off...and then waits for Gruesome to show.
Gruesome also wants more nerve-gas bombs so he can carry-out more robberies, and also wants to leave no witnesses who could testify against him...so, as Dick suspected, Gruesome & X-Ray show up to take Melody back to the Plastics Factory where the scientist & the head of the factory had their meetings. Only it isn't Melody they're taking it's Dick !
(Above: Skelton Knaggs, Boris Karloff, and, Lex Barker)
WHEN THEY GET Back to the Plastics Factory, Gruesome orders X-Ray to fire-up the factories blast furnace, as he wants to get rid of Melody in there, just as he had burned-up Dr. A. Tomic ! Then, when Gruesome goes back to the office to kill the owner of the factory, Tracy subdues X-Ray before he can throw him in the furnace...and wraps X-Ray up in the bandages. Dick then goes into the office when he sees the owner's dead as he looks through the window, tries to go in to get the owner's gun, and runs into Gruesome.
They end up chasing each other around the factory yard until Gruesome accidentally falls onto the conveyor belt and hits the "start" button that will take him up into the top of the blast furnace and hurl him into certain death ! Tracy stops the conveyor belt just as it gets to the top so Gruesome isn't forced into the furnace...but what happens to Gruesome ? Is he behind bars again; will he escape again ?
SOME FINAL WORDS ON "DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME"...
...ON BORIS KARLOFF:
AH, WELL, THOSE ABOVE questions about "Gruesome" aren't really answered...but, the action, suspense, and, excitement in "Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome" left the kid that I was at that time loving every minute of it ! AND, yes, Boris Karloff was every bit as scary as I thought he would be...but in later year's I learned to love each & every one of his films. In reality, he was a kind, and gentle man in real life...and was - and still is - one of the most-legendary actors of all-time, and truly one of my favorites.
BORIS KARLOFF (November 23, 1887-February 2,1969) Thank you Mr. Karloff for the thrills, chills, and the pure-adrenaline-rush that your films & career created for, not only me, but for all who love you WorldWide !
AFTER ALL THESE YEAR'S "The Mummy" (1932) is still my favorite ! It never ceases to send shivers down my spine ! Every scene that you're in, every word you speak, is one of the most-perfect portrayals on film that any actor has ever achieved ! And when you introduce yourself by saying: "My name is Ardeth Bey", the powerful, underplayed tone of your voice, and the look in your eyes alone, is frightening !
IN ADDITION, the beautiful, perfectly-cast Austrian-American actress, Zita Johann, as the re-incarnation of your long-lost love, Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon, and your trying to bring her back to you through Johann's character, Helen Grosvenor, is one of the most unique acts seen on film from that time-period ! Universal's Special Effects Dept. outdid themselves on this, as did Make-Up Wizard Jack Pierce !
Sincere thanks, Mr. Karloff...for your long & wonderful career, and for the memories & the history that you created that will live on...and have been a part of my life since that long-ago night in 1948.
Jonnie King (November, 2017)
...ON RALPH BYRD:
AGAIN, RALPH BYRD, as "Dick Tracy" was as great here as he was in "Dick Tracy's Dilemma" ! PLUS,there's a scene at the Plastics Factory where he climbs up a scaffold, climbs up to a window in the roof, and, hoists himself onto the roof itself, then jumps down to the ground. What a job for a stuntman!
BUT WAIT, it was no "stuntman" ! Ralph Byrd had been a stuntman...and he did his own stunts...including this mind-blowing one ! And that's another reason I wanted to devote this Tribute Page to him !
RALPH BYRD (April 22, 1909 - August 18, 1952) R.I.P. Mr. Byrd. I've seen all of your "Dick Tracy" Serials, Films, and, TV Shows...plus many of the other feature films you were in throughout your career. You were always one of my early "character-styled" heroes...and still are. Many sincere thanks for a lifetime of action, fun, and, thrills, as only you could create them.
Jonnie King (November, 2017)
HERE ARE SOME FUN FACTS ABOUT THE "DICK TRACY" CAST:
1. RALPH BYRD... Ralph Byrd, as "Dick Tracy" , AND in his other films, was the only actor to appear with all of these actors who played these roles at various times: "Dracula" (Bela Lugosi), "The Frankenstein Monster" (Boris Karloff), "Charlie Chan" (Sidney Toler), "Superman" (George Reeves), "Tarzan" (Lex Barker), "Zorro" (Reed Hadley), "The Cisco Kid" (Warner Baxter), "Bulldog Drummond" (John Howard), "The Shadow" (Victor Jory), and, "Michael Shayne, Detective" (Lloyd Nolan). Quite a resume'; quite an accomplishment ! And to think, Ralph Bird was only 43 year's old when he died.
2. ANNE GWYNNE... ANNE WAS BORN in Waco, Texas. But way before her Hollywood career began, her family moved to St. Louis where she studied drama at Stephens College.
AND, after relocating to California, beautiful Anne Gwynne was one of the busiest actresses & models during the 30's & 40's. Due to her appearing in many horror films at that time, she's known as Hollywood's first "Scream Queen"...and, yes, she could scream ! As a model for Catalina Swimwear, her trim, athletic-shape was seen in magazines, and, newspapers all-over...and she became one of the WW II G.I.'s "Pin-Up Queens" to add another "Queen" Title to her resume' !
BTW: Anne's daughter is actress Gwynne Gilford. Anne is actor Chris Pine's...Gwynne Gilford's son...grandmother. (Anne passed-away at the age of 84 on March 31, 2003.)
3. LEX BARKER... IN "DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME", Lex Barker plays the Ambulance Driver who is knocked-out and has his Ambulance stolen by Gruesome & X-Ray. They think their loading Melody in it, but it's actually Dick Tracy.
NOW, here is an odd, strange, but true fact: Lex Barker had a minor role in the film "Unconquered" which featured Boris Karloff, who was "Gruesome" in this "Dick Tracy" release. So, they had known each other before. BUT, here's the "odd/strange" part: "Unconquered" was a Paramount Picture that was released on September 24th, 1947; "Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome" was an RKO Picture that had its release two days later...September 26th, 1947 ! SO, both films were in theater's Nationwide during the Fall/Winter of 1947 !
AND, what happened to Lex Barker ? Well, when Johnny Weissmuller retired from the "Tarzan" films after 16 years...his final donning of the loincloth was "Tarzan and the Mermaid" in 1948. RKO then signed the handsome, athletic, 6'4" tall, Lex Barker to the role. Barker's first film as Tarzan was "Tarzan's Magic Fountain" released on February 5th, 1949. Barker would play "Tarzan" in four more films. (He died from a heart attack at the age of 54 on May 11th, 1973.)
4. SKELTON KNAGGS... LIKE BORIS KARLOFF, Skelton Knaggs, was British. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and at that time was a Shakespearean actor, and also had parts in a number of British films beginning in 1936. Knaggs later moved to Hollywood, and his first film there was 1939's "Torture Ship".
Due to his small size, and physical characteristics, Knaggs was cast in many horror films...where he carved out a career as a character actor and had roles in Classics such as "The Invisible Man's Revenge", "House Of Dracula", the Sherlock Holmes thriller "Terror By Night", and, a minor role in RKO's "Bedlam" in 1946, which starred Karloff.
RKO then placed him in a small role as "Rudolph", a jeweler (shown in the photo above) in 1946 for the second Morgan Conway "Dick Tracy" feature: "Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball", which he handled well. So, wisely, when RKO's "Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome" with Ralph Byrd as "Tracy" was cast in 1947, they chose him to play a pivotal character called "Rudolph X-Ray"...who becomes a thick-spectacled, henchman / partner to Karloff's "Gruesome". Was the name "Rudolph" a continuation of the thick-spectacled same-named jeweler Knaggs played in "Cueball" ? I don't know, but what I do know is...Knaggs was always creepy in whatever role he played ! And, that's exactly what he was paid to do...and he did it well !
(Skelton Knaggs passed-away April 30th, 1955. He was 43 years old...the exact same age the Ralph Byrd was when he died. His last film "Moonfleet", in which he had a small role, was released on June 24th, 1955, a few weeks after he died.)
NOTE: All photos & images on this page are courtesy of their original owners/copyright holders...with sincere thanks !