22 April 1909|
Dayton, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||18 August 1952
Tarzana, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||heart attack|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale)|
|Known for||Dick Tracy|
|Spouse(s)||Virginia Carroll (1936–1952) (his death) (1 child)|
|Children||Carroll Byrd Evangeline|
Early life and career
Byrd was born in Dayton, Ohio. Before he began acting in films, he sang and danced in theatrical productions.
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. He debuted on film in Chinatown Squad (1935).
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. 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 accepted this and hired Byrd to finish the series. Dick Tracy's Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets 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 and is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale). He was 43 years old. He was survived by his wife and daughter.
- Hell-Ship Morgan (1936)
- Motor Madness (1937)
- Dark Streets of Cairo (1940)
- Manila Calling (1942)
- Broadway Big Shot (1942)
- Stallion Road (1947)
- The Vigilante (1947)
- Canon City (1948)
- Jungle Goddess (1948)
- Stage Struck (1948)
- Radar Secret Service (1950)
- The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 305. ISBN 0-345-45542-8.
- Backer, Ron (2010). Mystery Movie Series of 1940s Hollywood. McFarland. p. 262. ISBN 9780786457007. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
- "Actor Ralph Byrd Dies; Was Film Dick Tracy". Lebanon Daily News. Pennsylvania, Lebanon. United Press. August 19, 1952. p. 12. Retrieved February 15, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Passings: Virginia Carroll, Character actress and leading lady". Los Angeles Times. 2009-07-30. Retrieved 2009-08-01.
- "Ralph Byrd Personifies Dick Tracy". Harrisburg Telegraph. Pennsylvania, Harrisburg. February 1, 1937. p. 16. Retrieved February 15, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- Cline, William C. In the Nick of Time: Motion Picture Sound Serials. McFarland. p. 80. ISBN 9780786404711. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
- Harmon, Jim; Glut, Donald F. (2013). Great Movie Serials Cb: Great Movie Serial. Routledge. p. 174. ISBN 9781136223211. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
- Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2. McFarland & Company (2016) ISBN 0786479922
- Ellenberger, Allan R. (2001). Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries: A Directory. McFarland. p. 39. ISBN 9780786409839. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
- "Ralph Byrd, Veteran Screen Actor, Dies". The Daily Republican. Pennsylvania, Monongahela. United Press. August 19, 1952. p. 5. Retrieved February 15, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.