Shoulders was broad-shouldered, with wavy blond hair, and was generally handsome except for a misshapen left ear. He had a girlfriend called Honey Doll, who flattered him frequently.
Early Encounter with Tracy
Shoulders first attracted the attention of Dick Tracy after Tracy caught one of Shoulders' henchmen, Roach, attempting to pick his pocket. Roach was working a scheme that Shoulders had devised, wherein Roach's young daughter, a girl called Themesong, would sing on a street corner and attract a crowd. Roach would then pick the peoples' pockets while they were distracted.
Shoulders arranged to bail out Roach and Themesong, which prompted Tracy to believe that they were part of a larger criminal organization. Tracy determined to eliminate the crime and corruption, which made Shoulders nervous. He attempted to sever ties with Roach and Themesong. When Themesong arrived at his apartment, Shoulders became furious, believing that the girl had led the police to him. He threw a lamp at Themesong, which prompted Roach to come to his daughter's defense. Shoulders shot Roach, killing him, and fled.
Themesong had witnessed the ordeal, but refused to talk to the police. She feared for her own safety, as well as
that of her sickly mother. She had also been instilled with the criminal code against "squealing". Through some clever trickery, Tracy was able to appeal to Themesong's conscience. Before she could make an official statement, Shoulders tracked down Themesong and shot her.
Shoulders then abandoned Honey Doll and made his way to a local airfield. He stole a small airplane at gunpoint and attempted to make his escape. The plane, seemingly out of control, crashed into a gasoline storage tank and burst into flames. Shoulders was believed to have been killed in the explosion. Themesong eventually recovered, and she and Honey Doll provided enough information for the police to begin dismantling Shoulders' organization.
The Return of Shoulders
Shoulders, however, had tricked the authorities. He had not been in the plane when it crashed. Rather, he had set the controls and then leapt out of the plane just before it took off, faking his death.
Shoulders reappeared at the end of the following year. He was now operating a jewel smuggling ring while living in a suburb with a widowed woman and her young daughter. The girl was enamored of her new "Daddy", even though Shoulders showed her no affection.
Shoulders was posing as a brush salesman, using that as a cover for his daily travels wherein he would collect and distribute stolen jewels and payments. By chance, Tracy encountered evidence of Shoulders' activities, and the detective eventually tracked down Shoulders' new home. Shoulders' family was shocked to learn that he was a wanted man.
Shoulders went on the run following a series of betrayals by his cohorts. He found himself shot and bleeding to death. He hid in an antique store run by the spinster Miss Varnish. Shoulders convinced Miss Varnish to let him stay in her spare room in exchange for a weekly rent payment and completing some odd jobs while he recovered. Shoulders disposed of his car and the other evidence of his crimes, except for a small stash of money and jewels (as well as a gun) that he hid in an antique pot that hung from a rafter in Miss Varnish's store. Shoulders expressed genuine happiness at his new situation.
Tracy continued his manhunt and was able to track Shoulders to his new hideout. Tracy revealed to Miss Varnish the nature of her tenant's history, and she agreed to aid the police. Shoulders learned that the police were closing in on him and he prepared to flee. He attempted to retrieve his hidden stash from the pot on the high rafter, but became stranded when Miss Varnish pulled the ladder out from beneath him.
Shoulders, hanging from the ceiling, was discovered by Tracy and the police, who returned the ladder so that he could climb down and be taken into custody. Shoulders struggled to grab his gun out of the antique pot. He was finally able to, but Tracy kicked the ladder that Shoulders was standing on just as he grabbed the gun. It went off, shooting Shoulders through the head and he fell to the floor, dead.
The question was raised as to whether the gunshot was accidental or deliberate, but it would go unanswered.
Appearances in Other Media
1950s Live Action Series
Shoulders appeared in an episode of the 1950s Dick Tracy TV show starring Ralph Byrd. He was played by Dennis Moore.
In the episode "The Missing Bonds", Shoulders was shown to be an associate of Breathless Mahoney (who eventually shot him), and he had a brother called Gadgets.
Archie's TV Funnies
In the 1971 animated series Archie's TV Funnies, Shoulders was depicted as a criminal who used an electricity-draining machine to hold the city hostage. His hideout was discovered by Sam Catchem, but Shoulders trapped Sam in the building (which was scheduled to be demolished the next day) and escaped. Tracy rescued Sam and tracked Shoulders to a nearby dam. Tracy and Sam forced Shoulders' machine to overload, and Shoulders was captured soon after.
Shoulders was a character in the 1990 Dick Tracy feature film. He was played by actor Stig Eldred.
Tie-In Comic Book
In the comic-book tie-in, Shoulders was shown to be a low-level thug, mostly functioning as a bruiser and enforcer who worked closely with Rhodent.
Tie-In Video Games
- Nintendo Entertainment System- Shoulders is identified as a left-handed goon who operates out of an auto shop.
- Sega Genesis- Shoulders is a mid-level boss who throws tires at Tracy in an alley. Unlike the other bosses in the game, Shoulders can be defeated with one punch or gunshot.
- Shoulder's facial features were apparently inspired by the actor Victor Mature, although Mature had dark hair.
- In movie tie-in material, Shoulders was depicted as a dim-witted brute. This is contrary to his portrayal in the comic strip as a suave manipulator.
- Similarly, while Shoulders' had a somewhat unpleasant facial appearance in the 1990 feature film, he was depicted as generally handsome in the comic strip (despite his misshapen ear). He would therefore not qualify as a Grotesque.
- Shoulders was one of the very few characters in the strip to be revived by Chester Gould after their apparent death (see also Jean Penfield and Mumbles).
- The Dick Tracy Encyclopedia lists the name of Shoulders' step-daughter as "Honey". However, the strip does not make it clear if this was her given name or a nickname.
- In the late 1990s, a false rumor briefly circulated that rock star David Bowie had played Shoulders in the 1990 film as a cameo.
- The action figure from Playmates Toys gave Shoulders' real name as Frank Foley, but this name does not appear anywhere else.
- In the Midnite Mirror series, Shoulders is a police officer in the department of Chief Boche (Pruneface). Unlike some other characters, he is not given a name and is only referred to as "Officer Shoulders".