Ralph Byrd (April 22, 1909 – August 18, 1952) was an American actor. He was most famous for playing the comic strip character Dick Tracy on screen, in serials, films and television.
The son of George and Edna May Byrd, Ralph Byrd was born in Dayton, Ohio. Before he began acting in films, he sang and danced in theatrical productions.
He served in the United States Army during World War II, having been inducted into the service in San Pedro, California, in 1944.
He married actress and model Virginia Carroll in 1936. The couple remained together until Byrd's death in 1952.
Byrd was a good, all-purpose actor with a gift for delivering dialogue in a natural, ingratiating way. His screen characters could be breezy and affable or tough and authoritative, as the role required.[citation needed ] He debuted in movies with a bit part in Red-Headed Woman in (1932).
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.[citation needed ]
Byrd also starred in three other serials: Blake of Scotland Yard (1937), S.O.S. Coast Guard (1937), and The Vigilante (1947).
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. the Phantom Empire).
RKO Radio Pictures made a feature film, Dick Tracy, in 1945, with Morgan Conway in the title role. After two films, exhibitors complained. To them, Ralph Byrd was Dick Tracy, and only Ralph Byrd would do. RKO capitulated, and hired Byrd to finish the series. Dick Tracy's Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome were both released in 1947.
Byrd continued to work in action fare in the late 1940s, and when the Dick Tracy property became a TV series in 1950, Byrd was the obvious choice to reprise his most famous role. The shows were produced on low budgets, with Byrd forced to cope with long hours and strenuous action scenes. The accelerated pace of TV production took its toll on the overworked actor's health, and he succumbed to a heart attack in Tarzana, California, on August 18, 1952 and is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale). He was 43 years old.
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