Early Life and Education
Chester Gould was born on November 20, 1900 in Pawnee, Oklahoma to Alice (Miller) and Gilbert Gould. Growing up in Pawnee created fond memories for Gould. At age seven, he discovered the comic strips section of the local newspaper. Not content to merely read the comics, young Gould would copy the cartoons from the newspaper and add his own captions and dialogue.
The following year his father prompted him to sketch some of the local politicians at the Pawnee Courthouse who were meeting for the Democratic County Convention of 1908. Some of his sketches were taped to the courthouse windows by his father. One of the men, a lawyer on the Supreme Court, is impressed by Gould’s artwork and buys the sketch from him.
At age fourteen, Chester Gould enters his first cartoon contest. A trade magazine was offering a $5.00 prize to the best cartoon illustrating the popularity of the movies. Gould’s cartoon won first prize. With success under his belt, he pursued cartooning with a passion. Just three years later he entered another art contest. This time it was the American Boy Magazine. Gould again won first place, taking home an amazing ten dollars in prize money.
In 1918, Oklahoma A&M College discovered Gould’s talent for caricatures and cartooning. At their request, he does most of the cartoon artwork in their 1918 and 1919 A&M Year Books. Chester’s success continued as the editor of The Tulsa Democrat hired him to draw eighteen political cartoons. Gould completes the drawings in one month and is paid $35.00.
In 1919, Gould moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma to attend Oklahoma A&M College where he enrolled as a freshman majoring in Commerce and Marketing. During his sophomore year, The Daily Oklahoman Newspaper in Oklahoma City hired Gould to do a sports cartoon about athletes in the news. As with his former artistic endeavors, this too is a great success.
Early Career in Cartooning
On August 30, 1921, at the age of 21, Chester Gould left Oklahoma and moved to Chicago. With high hopes and bags packed he rented a room and took his portfolio of editorial and sports cartoons to the Chicago Tribune. Unfortunately, the Tribune did not have any positions open for Gould, so he applied at the Chicago Journal. At the Chicago Journal a cartoonist was out because of illness, so Gould was hired as a temp at $30 per week.
By 1922 Gould finally found work with the Chicago Tribune. As a member of their Art Services Department, he drew advertising art for $50.00 a week. In the meantime, he still submitted comic strip ideas to J. M. Patterson, but without success.
In 1923 Chester Gould graduated from Northwestern University. After graduation he is hired by the Evening American at $60.00 a week. Gould signs a 5-year contract with the Evening American and begins drawing two comic strips—The Radio Catts, a hilarious strip about radio and Fillum Fables an adventure strip. With the Evening American he also reviews the top billings at Chicago theaters and draws caricatures of leading stars such as Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, and Sophie Tucker. As his portfolio grows, Gould continues to create comic strip ideas, sending them to J. M. Patterson, still without success.
On a blind date in 1925 Chester Gould meets Edna Gauger. The following year they are married on November 6, 1926. Later that year they move to Wilmette, Illinois. In 1927 their daughter Jean Gould is born.
In 1928 Gould leaves the Evening American, and goes to the Daily News. He reverts back to advertising art, does some editorial cartoons, and draws a strip called The Girl Friends.
The Creation of Dick Tracy
By 1931 Chester Gould had created sixty different comic strip ideas and sent them to J. M. Patterson, all without success. Still at the Daily News, Gould submits his sixty-first idea. One month later, a telegram is received which reads, “Believe Plainclothes Tracy has possibilities. Would like to see you when I go to Chicago. Please call Tribune office Monday about noon for an appointment. J. M. Patterson.”
Gould met with J. M. Patterson on August 15, 1931. Patterson commented that the name Plainclothes Tracy was too long. “They call cops ‘Dicks.’ Let’s call him Dick Tracy,” he suggested. At that time all Tribune-owned comic strips were directed by Patterson as to how they begin. Dick Tracy was no different. “Have call on his girl and have dinner with her family. They want to get married. That night hoodlums break in and stick up her father and kill him. You take it from there.” Patterson concluded. Thus was the beginning of Dick Tracy in 1931.
Gould quickly enrolled in a criminology course taught at Northwestern University that was taught by Calvin Goddard. Chester Gould became a familiar face at the State Street Police Department crime lab and was given carte blanche status to visit the crime lab as needed.
So Chester Gould officially joined the Chicago Tribune on October 4, 1931. Dick Tracy first appeared in the Detroit Mirror, a Chicago Tribune owned paper. Gould’s great story telling combined with Dick Tracy’s detective work became a national hit.
In 1935 Gould bought a farm and sixty acres near the town of Woodstock, Illinois, 60 miles northwest of Chicago. Gould would travel to his Tribune Tower office 6 days a week.
By 1947, Dick Tracy became a household name. In 1953 Chester Gould would hire Al Valanis, a retired Chicago policeman, to check his work for police accuracy. In the following years, Gould would rise in celebrity status, appearing on such shows as “To Tell the Truth,” “Person to Person,” and Ralph Edward’s “This is Your Life.”
Chester Gould retired on December 25, 1977 at the age of 77. After 46-years, 2-months, and 21-days of writing and drawing Dick Tracy, he never missed a deadline. After retirement, Gould continued to receive recognition and awards, including Northwestern University’s highest recognition, the Alumni Medal.
On May 11, 1985 Chester Gould died of congestive heart failure at age 84.
Creations of Gould
Big Boy Caprice
Steve the Tramp