That time Warren Beatty dressed up as Dick Tracy to be interviewed by Leonard Maltin…

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Beatty resuscitates the comic-strip detective for a 30-minute special.

… to hold onto the rights to the character

Hanging on to character rights can lead to some desperate moves. Among the most notorious is the1994 version of The Fantastic Four, which filmmaker Roger Corman produced to hold onto the characters he’d optioned from Marvel in the eighties.

While researching Warren Beatty‘s 1990 Dick Tracy for my book Superheroes v the Megaplex, I came across the Dick Tracy Special. In the 30-minute spot, Beatty appears in character as a 107-year-old Tracy (shot in 2008, Beatty himself would have been about 70), interviewed by film critic/historian Leonard Maltin. During the interview, Tracy/Beatty discusses the relative merits of the various actors to portray the comic-strip detective, giving the lowest marks to Beatty himself.

The whole thing is a little silly and discomfiting, but it is a pretty good crash course in the history of Chester Gould‘s famous creation. For example, Maltin and Beatty touch on Dick Tracy in B Flat, a 1946 radio show which was billed at the time as “the first cartoon operetta” and features an all-star cast that includes Bing Crosby as Tracy and Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra (!) as villains. 

The Dick Tracy Special aired only once, apparently, on TCM. It’s supposed that Beatty made the special only to keep the rights to the character, which he purchased in 1985; when later challenged by the Tribune syndicate, which owns the rights to the comic strip, he won a 2011 court case.

He has continued to drop hints of a sequel to his 1990 movie, which did well but didn’t live up to the studio’s (or toy manufacturer’s) hopes, as recently as 2016.

Sidenote: I don’t usually read YouTube comments sections, so maybe I’m naive, but I was surprised at how quickly the section gets political. Beatty is of course well-known as a card-carrying liberal.

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