NEWS COLUMNS

THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 2014

THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER

By James Johnson

Originally printed in the Woodstock Independent
July 28, 2004

A humorous 1941 movie starred Monty Wooley as “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” Sheridan Whiteside, an acidic New York critic, had traveled to a small Ohio town to give a lecture. Invited to lunch at the home of the socialite sponsors of his appearance, he slipped on the stairs and was injured while leaving the residence. The attending doctor said he should not be moved. As there was no hospital in town, the family was obligated to accept Whiteside as a house guest. His demanding and insulting personality during his stay caused great aggravation for the residents, his secretary and his nurse. Old movies used to end happily, however. Everything was resolved in a friendly way, and the family was greatly relieved when Mr. Whiteside finally departed.

Dick Tracy was in a similar situation in early 1942. Chief Brandon had an old friend, Bea Thorndike, a wealthy widow. Bea’s niece Debby was associating with underworld characters and Tracy was asked to keep an eye on her. He rescued her from a bad situation (a long story for another column) but, in exasperation at her antics, told Aunt Bea that he was no longer going to “chase nutty millionaire dames.” Leaving the Thorndike mansion in a huff, he slipped on an icy street and was struck by a truck.

Instead of being taken to a hospital, Tracy was treated by a doctor at the Thorndike home. With a “compound fracture of the leg” and other injuries, he couldn’t be moved and was ordered to stay in bed for five weeks. Debby was attracted to Tracy and became overly attentive. One evening she invited all of her friends to a party at 4 a.m. in Tracy’s room. They woke him up, autographed his cast, moved the weights holding his leg in traction and generally made him miserable. Finally Tracy could stand it no more and asked Debby if he could do anything else for her, perhaps “break my other leg.”

Two ambulance attendants showed up the next day and told Tracy they were sent to transfer him to a hospital. He left willingly but discovered the medics were actually gangsters, working for another villain, B-B Eyes. This was an example of how Chester Gould interwove and cycled his plots. B-B Eyes was a brother of Jacques, who had been shot by Tracy in a confrontation involving the blackmailing of Debby Thorndike. With revenge as his motive, B-B Eyes placed Debby and Tracy into a room with a steam boiler set to explode. As the pressure built, Aunt Bea rushed into the room. She had followed the ambulance and just happened to know (her late husband had been a heating contractor) how to release the boiler’s pressure and save the captives.

B-B Eyes was a bootlegger of stolen automobile tires. Rubber tires were a scarce and restricted commodity in 1942. Tracy was then led into another adventure as he began the search for this new criminal. B-B Eyes is one of Gould’s classic villains and is pictured at the Chester Gould-Dick Tracy Museum.

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“He thought he could make crime pay. It did, ten dollars and a cheap suit at the end of 20 years.”
- Chester Gould
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