NEWS COLUMNS

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 23, 2014

FLATTOP’S 60TH ANNIVERSARY

By James Johnson

Originally printed in the Woodstock Independent
September 15, 2004

A new item in the Chester Gould-Dick Tracy Museum’s merchandise cabinet is a book entitled “Flattop,” by Andy Feighery, publisher of the Dick Tracy Magazine. It reproduces the entire series of the Dick Tracy vs. Flattop comic strips, drawn in 1944. Flattop was one of the most popular villains created by Chester Gould, and when he finally met his end, readers complained to their local newspapers. Printed on high-quality paper, the book costs $85 and is an instant collectible.

Flattop was a professional hitman from the Cookson Hills of Oklahoma. He was hired by a trio of black marketers for a $5,000 fee to come to the city and eliminate Dick Tracy. Very good at his job, he tracked Tracy’s movements and staged an incident with a cab driver accomplice to capture the famed detective. Taking Tracy to his hideout apartment, Flattop decided that the job was worth much more than his original fee. He telephoned the black market gang and said that he wanted $50,000 or he would release Tracy and tell him who had ordered the hit.

Chester Gould then introduced a young girl into the plot, a tenant in the apartment below Flattop. After Flattop saw her, he found her attractive and was able to become acquainted with her in a casual meeting outside the building. He later told his accomplices about her and mentioned that she was a trainee for the Army’s Signal Corps. Tracy overheard this and developed a plan to escape the trap. As a way to pass the time, Tracy had been allowed by Flattop to play a piano in the apartment. Although guarded by three gunmen, Tracy managed to tap out a morse code message on the floor with his heel while he innocently played the piano. The surprised girl was able to decode this and alerted the police to Tracy’s predicament. Pat Patton came racing to the building with uniformed officers. Gould may have thought up this idea from having seen the classic Fred Astaire movie “Top Hat.” In the movie, Astaire learned that a beautiful girl (Ginger Rogers) was in the apartment below his, and one evening, he did a soft shoe routine on his apartment floor in a relaxed, quiet rhythm to help her get to sleep.

Even though the police were just outside and preparing to storm the building, time was running out on Tracy. Flattop had obtained approval for his expanded fee. With the three gunmen standing by, Flattop was about to shoot Tracy with a silencer-equipped pistol. In desperation, Tracy shoved Flattop, grabbed his gun hand and managed to shoot one of the accomplices and then another. As they struggled, Flattop saw that two of his men were out of action and decided to run out of the apartment. Tracy then took a gun from the floor and shot the third man.

Although Flattop had escaped into the city, Tracy had an idea on how to catch the men who had ordered the hit. He arranged for local news media to announce that Dick Tracy had been killed. He then waited at the apartment for an expected congratulatory call to Flattop. When the call came, he was able to get the address of the caller and went with a squad of police to arrest the crooks. The escapades of Flattop and his pursuit by Tracy continued for many months afterward.

Follow-up note: Much can be written about Flattop, his association with Vitamin Flintheart and his demise. The museum had flip panels with the entire story on Sunday and daily strips, which ran from December, 1943 to May, 1944. These can be seen on the website. Original artwork showing Flattop and Dick Tracy is incredibly valuable.

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“I decided that if the police couldn't catch the gangsters, I'd create a fellow who could.”
- Chester Gould
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