22 April 1909|
Dayton, Ohio, United States
|Died||18 August 1952
Tarzana, California, United States
|Spouse(s)||Virginia Carroll (1936–1952)|
Early life and career
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. 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.
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.
Later life and death
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. He was 43 years old. The Dick Tracy TV series died with him.
- Hell-Ship Morgan (1936)
- Motor Madness (1937)
- Dark Streets of Cairo (1940)
- Manila Calling (1942)
- Broadway Big Shot (1942)
- Stallion Road (1947)
- Jungle Goddess (1948)
- The Complete Directory to Prime Time Nework and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 305. ISBN 0-345-45542-8.
- "Passings: Virginia Carroll, Character actress and leading lady". Los Angeles Times. 2009-07-30. Retrieved 2009-08-01.