NEWS COLUMNS

SATURDAY, AUGUST 23, 2014

DICK TRACY AT SEA

By James Johnson

originally printed in the Woodstock Independent
January 24, 2007

Woodstock Independent readers may have seen a 1949 movie, recently shown on TV, called “Task Force,” starring Gary Cooper. The screenplay described a Navy lieutenant who was one of the pioneer aviators flying off the USS Langley, a rudimentary aircraft carrier of the 1920′s, and who continued working on carrier development up to the jet age. In a very early Dick Tracy adventure, Chester Gould showed his attention to modern technology by placing Tracy on a carrier.

The story began in April, 1932 with the kidnapping of “Buddy Waldorf,” the child of an international financier. Tracy was assigned to the case, and suspected that a gangster named “Big Boy” might be involved. Learning that Big Boy was in Boston and about to sail for Europe on the ocean liner “Alonia,” Tracy hopped a plane to follow the gangster. He boarded the Alonia in disguise, and discovered that the kidnapped child was traveling with Big Boy. Before he could act upon this information, he was identified and tossed overboard by Big Boy and his henchmen. Fortunately Tracy was able to cling to a piece of timber and was later rescued by a Norwegian fishing boat. Not being able to speak Norwegian, he couldn’t explain to the crew what happened.

Tracy was frustrated, but then spotted a British “airplane carrier” on the horizon. He was able to signal the British ship, which stopped to pick him up. After telling his story to the captain, he was given use of an amphibian aircraft and pilot, and took off to intercept the Alonia. Re-boarding the liner, Tracy and the crew arrested the gangster group and freed the child. Returning to New York, Tracy returned the child to the grateful parents. The wealthy father, John Waldorf, tried to reward Tracy with $50,000 in bonds. Tracy declined to accept the reward, but in looking at the bonds, observed that they were counterfeit. This led him into yet another adventure, as he began to track the bonds back to the dealer who had sold them to Waldorf.

The “Task Force” movie reenacted the constant conflicts with Congress for Navy appropriations. The “battleship admirals” derided the concept of aircraft carrier effectiveness, arguing that the lightly armored ships could not survive sea battles. Aviation proponents countered that seaborne air power made the battleship obsolete. While Chester Gould did not enter this dispute, it is interesting that he chose to show the “airplane carrier” as a versatile and useful design. Perhaps by introducing this idea into the popular culture, it helped to influence the eventual commissioning of the “Lexington,” “Yorktown,” “Saratoga” and other carriers. These floating airfields were vital to American success in the Pacific in World War II.

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“He pictured himself as the world's smartest crook. That is until the police pictured him with those little numbers underneath.”
- Chester Gould
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