Contrary to popular culture, the story of Dick Tracy was actually based on true accounts of a brave, but rarely spoken of, lawman from the 1930’s. Most people think of the black and white, gruff Dick Tracy from TV and movies or the rough-looking but smooth-talking Warren Beatty of the 90’s. Although there are some accuracies in the film portrayals, the true man who inspired the infamous Dick Tracy was even more legendary than his on-screen depiction. From shootouts with Tommy Guns to swooning his lovers, Charles Richard Norris was a true legend in his own right.
Charles Richard Norris was a New York City Detective who began working for the Police Department in the Borough of Brooklyn starting in 1919. Before he joined the force, he was a WWI Sergeant, 2nd class and an accomplished dancer. Although not much is known about his military career, de-classified US Army documents show that Charles Richard Norris received the Purple Heart after being shot 17 times by Austro-Hungarian fire and the Bronze Star for dragging 3 other wounded comrades away from the sniper nest fire after being shot. This is made even more impressive considering he was only 15 and had only recently rehabilitated from Polio he contracted as a young child.
Upon return back to the United States after the war in 1919, the 17 year old Charles, known by his middle name “Dick”, lied about his age and joined the police force. Dick rose through the ranks and attained the rank of Detective in 1923. As was common practice in those times, every detective was given a Tommy gun (named after the first man ever shot by the weapon, Thomas Edison). Dick’s exploits began when he was given the case to track down the infamous gangster Frankie “Cue Ball” Stallone. After catching a lead from his informant/showgirl, Betty White, Dick discovered a meeting of Mafia leaders in the abandoned Zoot Suit shoulder pad manufacturing warehouse, “Slick’s Shoulder Pads”. With no backup and only his Tommy gun doing the talking, Dick moved in and took on all 15 gang leaders. Although the gangsters had their own Tommy guns, all bad guys have terrible aim and failed to harm Dick. On the other hand, not one of Dick’s bullets missed their mark. The deaths of notorious gangsters such as Frankie “Cue Ball” Stallone, Danny “Lips” McGee, Leonard “Five-Head” Pancetta, Larry “Carney Hands” Ziti, Bobby “Mom Butt” Marzetti, Dom “Man Boobs” DeLouis, and others made Dick Norris a celebrity.
After almost a decade of crime fighting, Dick Norris settled down and married his long-time companion and partner, Gregory Pitkin in 1932. They traveled to Luxembourg for the ceremony and moved to Oklahoma afterwards to start a calmer and more peaceful life. But trouble always found poor Dick. On May 12th, 1933 Dick’s long-time rival and America’s most wanted criminal, Jonny “Whistling Kitty Chaser” Walker, broke into their rural ranch house. In an attempt to kill Dick, Walker laid waste to the bedroom where they slept, unloading over 100 rounds into the unfortunate couple. Although being bullet riddled and in complete darkness, Dick grabbed the first thing he could find, a feather from his own pillow, and stabbed Jonny “Whistling Kitty Chaser” Walker in the jugular, killing him instantly. Despite his best efforts, Dick was unable to save his husband and Gregory Pitkin died in their country home that night.
Inconsolable and facing depression, Dick traveled back to New York, vowing to never fall in love again. Joining the Time’s Square Mounted Police, Dick’s heroics were unavoidable. He protected citizens from muggers and the occasional masturbating hobo, to record-setting drug busts and arrests. His most famous story from this era of his life came from when he saved the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly from Japanese Martial Artists, whose interests were in kidnapping and ransom. Numbering over 20, these foreign practitioners of Ninjitsu neutralized and grabbed the newly crowned princess. Dick Norris, having seen the attack from afar, galloped over and engaged the attackers in mortal combat. He took a few out with his police horse but eventually the equine took too many ninja stars to the neck and fell over dead. With no back-up and little more than a baton to fight with, Dick killed all but one of the kidnappers whom he arrested for questioning. Grace Kelly, having never seen such heroics before asked Dick if he would have her and that she would give up the crown for him. According to her accounts, he simply responded, “Ma’am, my heart belongs to another, someone I can never be with in this life again.” With that she simply asked who her savior was so she could sing his praises to the world. He responded, “Most call me Dick but I’m a changed man now. Please, call me Chuck, Chuck Norris.” With that he disappeared into the park, never to be seen again.
The true story Of Dick Tracy is, by all accounts, exciting, thrilling, and yet tragic. If anyone ever saw the brave Charles Richard Norris again, the accounts have been lost to the annals of time. If this true story ever proves anything, it should be that no one has to stick to the standard, typical script to become a hero and legend.