Memphis Smith was a manservant who worked for the criminal Lips Manlis. Memphis was an African-American with a slender build. He had very thin curly hair (which sometimes gave him the appearance of being completely bald), and often had a heavy-lidded (though happy) expression. He had poor speech patterns (frequently punctuating statements with "Yowsah!") and tended towards cowardice.
Meeting Dick Tracy[edit | edit source]
Memphis Smith had worked as a valet for several criminal figures. He claimed that his previous three bosses had all been killed while he was in their employ. He then began working for Lips Manlis.
When Memphis' boss discovered that Dick Tracy was investigating his criminal activities, he set a deadly trap for the detective. Manlis wired the elevator in his apartment building with dynamite that was rigged to explode when someone (presumably Tracy) pressed the button for Manlis' floor. Manlis then instructed Memphis to wait in the lobby and inform anyone else who entered that the elevator was out of order.
Tracy arrived at Manlis' building and encountered Memphis Smith. When Tracy saw Memphis shaking with fear, he became suspicious. Rather than take the elevator, Tracy took the stairs to Manlis' apartment using Memphis as a human shield. After a brief altercation, Memphis and Lips were taken into custody. Lips swore revenge on Memphis, believing that his servant had betrayed him.
Working for Junior[edit | edit source]
Memphis was not charged and was released from custody. He felt indebted to Tracy, and he offered to work for the detective as his valet. Tracy refused, so Memphis approached Junior and offered his services. Junior was reluctant, but Memphis persisted and performed some general tasks for Junior and Mary Steele.
In addition to showing his gratitude, Memphis was also motivated to stay close to the Tracy family because he feared retribution from Lips. When Tracy attempted to reform Lips, Memphis was doubtful. In spite of his fear, Memphis approached Lips (in Lips' new identity as "Bob Honor") and the two men reconciled.
Lips then became embroiled in a string of plots by his former gang members, including his girlfriend Mimi. After much of the gang had been captured, Mimi fled to the boat owned by her associate Toyee. Memphis was familiar with the boat and led Tracy and Junior to it. Tracy was captured, and Junior attempted to recruit Memphis into helping rescue the detective. Memphis ran away (July 26th, 1936) and has not been seen or heard from since.
Notes[edit | edit source]
- Memphis' name was often depicted in quotation marks, which may indicate that it was a nickname or alias.
- Memphis was depicted as a comical "Sambo" type, which was a common racial stereotype at the time. Several other minority characters of that era were portrayed similarly (see Stereotype), but Memphis was one of the most prominent examples. Modern readers may be offended by such blatant caricature, and it may prompt them to speculate about Chester Gould's opinion of minorities.