NEWS COLUMNS

SATURDAY, APRIL 19, 2014

GRAVEL GERTIE MEETS B.O. PLENTY

By James Johnson

originally printed in the Woodstock Independent
February 11, 2004

With Valentine’s Day approaching, it seemed appropriate to find a good courtship story in Chester Gould’s many episodes of Dick Tracy adventures. There is the story of Dick Tracy and Tess Trueheart, who first spoke of marriage in 1932. This event finally occurred in 1949, after being delayed by Tracy’s constant job interruptions. Perhaps the more interesting romance, however, was the courtship and marriage of B.O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie.

Gould showed his good sense of humor with many of his characters. They weren’t all cops or unrepentant crooks. B.O. (Bob Oscar) Plenty was a mildly larcenous character introduced in 1945 as a Midwest farmer. Breathless Mahoney was on the lam and paid B.O. to hide out at his shack. When B.O. discovered that she had $50,000 in stolen cash, he grabbed the money and headed to the big city to live the rich life. Gangsters quickly discovered he was an easy mark and relieved him of the cash. Gravel Gertie’s first appearance was in 1944. Coincidentally she had also given refuge to a villain, The Brow. Arrested and jailed for harboring a fugitive, she later went straight with help from Dick Tracy and got a job in a greenhouse.

Jumping forward to 1946, B.O. had taken a job as a yardman on Diet Smith’s estate. Smith was shot by a foe; B.O was in the right place at the right time and called medics to save Smith’s life. Smith was so grateful he gave B.O. a large tract of land and a house. It was just a failed housing development and a broken-down sales office, but was paradise to B.O. (perhaps its counterpart actually existed somewhere in Chester Gould’s drives between Woodstock and the Tribune offices). The property was called “Sunny Dell Acres” and was next to Gravel Gertie’s greenhouse.

The new neighbors couldn’t stand each other at first. B.O. didn’t like her looks, Gertie didn’t like his looks, his hat, nor his chawin’ tobacco, and they found each other mutually repulsive. In his book “Dick Tracy, The Official Biography,” author Jay Maeder said she had a “face that could scare a cat off a fish wagon.” Gertie called B.O. “a walking convulsion.” Nevertheless, love found a way after a few months. Gertie decided B.O. wasn’t so bad, particularly if he could improve his manners. She gave him a book on etiquette which he read, but not without getting some tobacco stains on it. Finally, the proposal day came, and B.O., on his knees, said “In the quiet of this lovely truck farm, Gertie, I’m askin’—will you be my wife?” Gertie said “I surrender, this is D-Day.”

Happy Valentine’s Day to the Independent’s readers. Also, a happy birthday to this writer’s lovely wife Nancy. Like Jack Benny, she was born on this romantic holiday.

Follow-up note: Other columns cover the on-again, off-again 17-year relationship between Tracy and Tess before they finally married. Even then, the honeymoon was interrupted as Tracy chased off on another case. B.O. and Gertie are beloved characters still appearing in Dick Locher’s strip today.

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“One little crook says he can get away with it! 120 million finger print files say he can't.”
- Chester Gould
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