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Ralph Byrd (22 April 190918 August 1952) was an Americanmarker actor. He was most famous for playing the comic strip character Dick Tracy on screen, in serial, movies and television.

Early life and career

Byrd was a good, all-purpose actor with a gift for delivering dialogue in a natural, ingratiating way. Once established in Republic Pictures' Dick Tracy serials (beginning in 1937), he was usually cast in action features (as a truck driver, lumberjack, cowboy, etc.), despite not having the usual brawny frame that went with these roles. He had a strong, resolute jaw, however, which gave him a heroic presence.

Byrd married actress and model Virginia Carroll in 1936. The couple remained together until Byrd's death in 1952.

Dick Tracy

Republic cast Byrd as Chester Gould's comic-strip detective Dick Tracy in the 1937 serial of the same name. The film was so successful that it spawned three sequels (unheard of in serials): Dick Tracy Returns, Dick Tracy's G-Men (featuring a young Jennifer Jones, under her real name of Phylis Isley), and Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc. (reissued in 1952 as Dick Tracy vs. Phantom Empire).

RKO Radio Pictures made a feature film, Dick Tracy, in 1945, but not with Ralph Byrd (see the Wikipedia entry for Morgan Conway). After two films, exhibitors complained. To them, Ralph Byrd was Dick Tracy, and only Ralph Byrd would do. RKO accepted this and hired Byrd to finish the series. Dick Tracy's Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (with Boris Karloff as Gruesome) were both released in 1947.Ralph also starred in RKO serial 'S-O-S Coastguard...1937, as Terry Kent,in the action role. also on hand was Bela Lugosi,and Richard Alexander. Series was shot in and around Montery, in approx 30 days.Byrd played typical hero vs mad scientist Lugosi.Film holds up rather well,and is available, complete episodes, on dvd or vhs.

Later life and death

Ralph Byrd's screen characters could be breezy and affable, or tough and authoritative as the role required. Yet he is most often remembered for one comic-strip role, which he played in four serials, two feature films, and a television series that he did not survive. (It was so cheaply and quickly made by slave-driving producers that the strenuous filming is said to have killed him).

In these respects Byrd closely paralleled screen actor George Reeves (who portrayed Superman): he had the same rock-like jaw, the same acting versatility, the same pleasant personality, the same audience identification with a comic-book hero, and the same untimely death following his TV series' completion. Interestingly, Reeves and Byrd were teamed for two low-budget action thrillers in 1948, Thunder in the Pines and Jungle Goddess.


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