Tess Tracy (née Trueheart) was the wife and sweetheart of Dick Tracy. She was an attractive blonde. She has worked in her family's delicatessen, served in the U.S. Army as a non-commissioned officer, operated a photographer's studio, been a full-time homemaker and mother, and later a private investigator.
When Tess was still a young woman, she had her then-boyfriend over for a meal with her and her parents. While doing the dishes, Dick proposed to Tess and were about to tell her parents when two mobsters broke in and shot Emil Trueheart for money that he kept in his safe upstairs. Stealing the money, kidnapping Tess and knocking Tracy out, the thugs made their getaway. Mrs. Trueheart was placed in the hospital from shock and Tracy told Chief Brandon of the police department what happened. Seeing that Tracy had a vested interest in this case, Brandon asked him if he wanted to join the police department as a plainclothes detective, to which Tracy quickly responded "yes". (During the flashback story celebrating the strip's 80th anniversary, Tracy was shown to already be a member of the police force who Brandon had been observing as a potential plainclothesman.)
Tess had been kidnapped by the henchmen of the mob boss Big Boy. Tracy, posing as a gangster was taken into Big Boy's confidence and rescued Tess. Tess didn't know about her father's death for sure until she reunited with her mother in the hospital. Tess was one of the most vital characters in the early years of the strip, she was often kidnapped or nearly killed by mobsters and crooks that were gunning for Tracy. Tess soon also became a mother figure to Tracy's newly adopted son, Junior Tracy. Tess and Tracy now and then had their falling-outs, when for example; in January 1932, Tess accidentally told one of her girlfriends about Tracy's newest case and word had spread to Big Boy who got wise to the cops before they could make their move. Tracy got into a fight with Tess and he was busted down to a uniform officer on a temporary basis. Tess broke up with Tracy and threw his ring into the river. Tess later left a note under his door saying where to find the mobsters. Right after she left, she was clipped by a passing cab and put into the hospital. After the crooks were caught, Tracy was back in plainclothes and he and Tess reconciled in her hospital room.
Tracy's Best Girl
When Tracy was framed for counterfeiting by Stooge Viller, Tess found it hard to believe Tracy's innocence and sadly broke up with him again. Viller had his sights on Tess and started dating her. Tess discovered evidence that Stooge had framed Tracy. Stooge panicked and shot Tess just as she was about to call police headquarters. Chief Brandon and Pat Patton found her in her apartment, the bullet having hit her in the arm. Before she passed out said that Tracy was framed and she had proof. Tracy and Junior apprehended Stooge and Tracy reconciled with Tess again. She recovered from her injury shortly thereafter.
Tess was kidnapped on multiple occasions during the 1930s, including as part of plots by Big Boy and Bookie Joe. She was always rescued or managed to escape relatively unharmed.
During the Tracy's encounter with the writer Jean Penfield, Penfield planted a story in the newspaper that she and Tracy were engaged to be married. Despite Tracy's objections, Tess believed the story and confronted Penfield. This dispute was later used by the lawyer Spaldoni to lure Tess to Penfield's home, where he shot Penfield and framed Tess for the murder. Tess was arrested, but was later freed when Spaldoni confessed.
At one point, Tess and Dick grew apart and Tess started seeing an ex-baseball player named Edward Nuremoh ("Homerun" spelt backwards). Dick and Tess had a brief conversation during which their engagement was broken off. Unbeknownst to Tess, her marriage to Nuremoh was part of a scheme he concocted so he could collect a wealthy aunt's money. Nuremoh killed his aunt and framed a dim-witted cousin for her murder. Tracy was assigned to the investigation, and he and Tess were rather cold and distant to each other.
Acting on her own, Tess discovered evidence linking Edward to the murder. Edward admitted in a crazed, sinister voice that he had indeed killed his aunt. He chased Tess through the craggy heights of his family's land, throwing rocks and pointing a gun at her. Nuremoh's real girlfriend Lola prevented him from killing Tess by inadvertently jumping in front of a bullet. Realizing what he had done, Nuremoh held his dead girlfriend in his arms and jumped off a 130 ft. cliff. Tracy and the police arrived on the scene shortly thereafter and attempted to console the distraught Tess.
Upon leaving the Nuremoh household, Tess was confronted by John Lavir ("Rival" spelt backwards), Lola's brother who was seeking to avenge his sister. Tess had become somewhat mentally unhinged and she took a liking to Lavir. She forgave him for attempting to force her car off the road, and the two went off together. Tess became a partner in Lavir's dog training business, but soon discovered that he dealt in stolen dogs. She began to surreptitiously return the stolen dogs at night, but Lavir discovered this and confronted her. The two struggled in Lavir's kennel. During the struggle, one of Lavir's attack dogs was freed and a window was broken. Tess grabbed a piece of broken glass and forced Lavir off her. Lavir died of a severe neck wound, and Tess was held on suspicious of manslaughter. Tracy, using forensic evidence, was able to prove that Lavir's wounds were caused by the dog, and Tess was freed. She and Tracy reconciled.
Later, Tess was the leader of the girl scout troop that discovered the weakened Tracy, following his escape from Stooge Viller's abandoned well death-trap. She would also go on to aid in the investigation of Yogee Yamma, posing as a broken-hearted woman seeking advice.
Tess encountered the criminal Pruneface when he rented a room from her mother. Tess became suspicious of his activities and informed Tracy of her concerns.
During the second World War, Tess became a member of the Women's Army Corps as a non-commissioned officer. When the Brow was hiding on the beach, he encountered Tess and obtained her gas ration coupons. His accomplice Doc then stole her license plates and knocked her unconscious with a pair of bolt cutters. Tess recovered, and her stolen plates later proved helpful in bringing the Brow to justice.
Marriage and Family
After leaving the service, Tess and Tracy were married in a surprise ceremony on Christmas Eve of 1949. On their honeymoon, Tracy became involved in the case of Wormy Marrons, prompting Tess to have her first misgivings about being married to the dedicated detective.
Tess opened up her own professional photography studio and one of her biggest clients was baby-clothing designer Talcum Freely. Tess recommended to Freely that Sparkle Plenty, the 2-year-old daughter of B.O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie, would be an excellent model. Freely agreed, but was soon killed by rival clothing designer Sketch Paree. B.O. was briefly suspected of the murder and he fled the city. Tess provided comfort and support to Gertie and Sparkle until B.O. was found and exonerated.
A year after Tess and Dick got married, Blowtop Jones (the older brother of the late Flattop Jones Sr.) detonated an explosive device in Tracy's house. Tess and Dick were at home at the time, but both survived without serious injury. The house was eventually rebuilt using designs by Tess' friend Jean Ellen.
Tess became pregnant and gave birth to her daughter Bonnie "Bonny Braids" Tracy in the back of a car. Bonnie's name was suggested by a nurse at the hospital where Tess was later treated, and Tess applied it over Dick's objections.
Tess later convinced Tracy to hire child-photographer Louise Brown (aka "Crewy Lou") to take Bonnie's pictures in spite of the fact that Tracy found Brown to be untrustworthy. After an altercation with her brother, Crewy Lou managed to steal Tess' car, not knowing that Bonnie Braids was asleep in the back seat. After finding out that her baby was missing, Tess suffered an emotional breakdown which was diagnosed as potentially permanent. Bonnie was eventually recovered and Tess was reunited with her baby.
Tess served as a strong and loving mother to Junior and was there to support him when he fell in love with a girl named Model Jones, who was later killed by her brother Larry.
Tess was also present when Moon Maid married Junior and she welcomed her new daughter-in-law into the family.
Tess' Second Child
In 1978, Big Boy (the man whose underlings had killed Tess' father) issued a million dollar Open Contract on Dick Tracy's life. Lizz learned about this from her street sources and informed the Tracys. Tess was understandably worried, but measures were taken to ensure Tracy's safety. One night, Tracy and Tess were invited to dinner at Junior and Moon Maid's house. Moon Maid remembered she forgot something at the grocery store and asked Tess if she could move her car. Tess instead insisted that she take their car instead. Unbeknownst to the Tracys, a man named Little Littel has set a bomb in Tracy's car, which exploded when Moon Maid turned the key, killing her. At her funeral, Tess held a grief stricken Junior at her side, comforting him. She offered for Junior and Honey to stay with them, but Junior politely refused and declared to his adoptive parents that he was going to find the people who had killed his wife.
Tracy and Tess were worried about what Junior would do, but Tess couldn't help but be reminded of Tracy's similar speech over the body of her father after she was kidnapped. This gave Tracy a vital clue to the investigation. Fearing for his family's safety during the Big Boy/Apparatus investigation, Tracy contacted Vitamin Flintheart in California to ask if he would take in his wife, son and granddaughter. Vitamin happily volunteered. Junior decided to stay and contribute to the investigation, saying that he would send Honey with Tess since he didn't want either of them to be in danger. The investigation eventually concluded when Big Boy finally died in his mansion.
Tess called Tracy on their anniversary and said she wanted to stay in California for a while longer. This saddened Tracy, but Chief Patton presented him with a plane ticket to California so that he could spend the New Year's holiday with his wife.
After landing in California, Tess gave Tracy a gift of a new baby-photo album. Tracy was confused at first with the pages being blank, but he soon deduced that Tess was pregnant and wanted to stay in California with the doctor she had been seeing.
After Tracy returned to the City and resolved the Computer Killer and Mumbles cloning cases, he took his accrued vacation time and went back to California. Wanting to see their daughter Bonnie again (who was now living in Washington State), Tess, Dick, Honey and Vitamin journeyed there. Now a young woman, Bonnie was living above a pharmacy and seeing a Native American Police Detective named Joe Sampson. After seeing the Indian reservation where Bonnie was teaching, Tess and Vitamin took a drive in the woods where they happened across the injured criminal called Bony. Bony and his girlfriend Claudine carjacked Vitamin and Tess, but Tess got hold of Bony's gun and held it on him. Tess began to go into labor and Claudine and Vitamin helped deliver her new son (the second child of Tess's to be born in the back of a car).
Tracy and Sampson found Tess in the woods after Vitamin signaled the police with Bony's gun. Tess was taken to the hospital with their son. Out of gratitude, Tess and Dick made Vitamin the godfather and named the child after both Vitamin and Joe Sampson- Joseph Flintheart Tracy. Tess, Dick, Honey and Joe left by plane back to the city. Before the plane could take off the family encountered Quiver Trembly, who was posing as a college student named Amy Jones. Quiver took a flash picture of Joe while he was sleeping, blinding the couple momentarily while she slipped her gun into Joe's metal baby carrier so it could be smuggled onto the plane. Tracy was suspicious of her and noticed that her trembling was similar to Shaky's. In mid-flight, Quiver got her gun back and held the plane hostage. Dick thwarted her and the plane landed safely.
Tess was present during the incident with Junior's wedding to Sparkle Plenty, where Angeltop Jones had planted a bomb in the church basement that was set to go off during the reception. Fortunately, Lizz was freed from Angeltop's captivity by the Brow's Son and was able to warn the assemblage. Tracy defused the bomb, and Junior's wedding to Sparkle proceeded with Tess in attendance.
Turmoil in Later Years
Distraught over what she interpreted as Dick's lack of attention to his family, Tess filed for divorce from Dick in the early 1990s. They later reconciled, though Tess still complained about Tracy's prioritizing his job over his home life. She was also bothered when spent significant amounts of time with (or received shows of affection from) other women.
Tess experienced something of an identity crisis in the mid-1990s which prompted her to explore her options of re-entering the workplace. She took a job as an aide for an attorney, which briefly involved her in the case of the dying criminal Mumbles. She later switched to real estate.
In the late 1990s, Tess struggled with significant weight gain. Tracy was critical of his wife's shape, which ultimately motivated her to change her diet and exercise more. Tess joined a gym where she met and observed Prune Hilda. Her description of the woman's skin disorder gave Dick an important clue to a recent art theft case.
When Breathless Mahoney's sister Heartless carried out her scheme to get revenge on Dick Tracy and B.O. Plenty, she attempted to make it seem as though Tracy was having an extra-marital affair. Tess became suspicious and hired private investigator G.M. Shoe to follow Tracy. Shoe obtained pictures of Dick and the woman, but Dick insisted that she was merely a criminal informant. Tess reluctantly believed Dick and Heartless later confirmed the truth of Dick's assertion.
Later, while on a trip to New Orleans, Tess gained weight again. Sparkle Plenty suggested that they attend a health spa called Rancho Hauncho in Southern California. While there, Tess and Sparkle were briefly suspected in the murder of the spa's owner O.R. Ganic. When the two women were released (due to lack of evidence), Tess became determined to solve the murder. With some help from Dick, Tess was able to gather enough evidence to implicate Max Gorge, who was disguised as a patron at the spa. The excitement of the mystery helped her return to her previous slim figure.
In 2006 a wealthy uncle of Tess' passed away and left her 5 million dollars. After an abortive attempt by Dr. Figment Froid to steal the money, Tess decided to donate most of the inheritance to Alzheimer's research. The following year, Tess arranged for her husband to spend the night in the "haunted" Hennessy Mansion as a fundraiser for a children's charity that she supports.
Tess' New Career
Tess was later shown to be working at the Tracy Agency, a Private Detective firm started by Dick and former police officer Johnny Adonis. Presumably, her background as a photographer was an asset in this business.
Tess participated in the raid on the Panda Talent Agency, and was shown to be skilled in the use of a firearm. Tess has continued to work at the Agency with Johnny. Her marriage to Dick remains strong, and she makes a point to spend time with her children as much as possible.
In 2020, Tess was approached by Shaky II, who had targeted Tess as part of his revenge scheme against Dick Tracy. Shaky claimed to have evidence that Tess had falsified evidence in a case that she had investigated, which would reflect poorly on her status as a private detective and on Dick by extension. Tess informed her husband of Shaky's plot, and they set a trap for Shaky when he came to collect an extortion payment from Tess. When Dick attempted to arrest Shaky, Shaky pulled a gun of his own and shots were fired. Tess was seriously injured and had to be rushed to a hospital. Shaky (who was also injured) fled and went into hiding. The exact nature of Tess' injury was not specified, but she was later shown with her arm in a sling.
Appearances in Other Media
1940s Feature Film Continuity
Tess was a supporting character in several of the early Dick Tracy films. She was shown to be Tracy's steady girlfriend. In Dick Tracy, Detective (1945) Tess was played by Anne Jeffreys, opposite Morgan Conway as Dick Tracy. Both actors reprised their roles for Dick Tracy vs Cueball (1946).
In 1947, actor Ralph Byrd returned to the role of Dick Tracy for Dick Tracy's Dilemma (1947), in which Tess was played by Kay Christopher. In Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947) Tess was played by Anne Gwynne.
Dick Tracy in B Flat
Tess was a character in the humorous radio play Dick Tracy in B Flat, produced for Armed Forces Radio in February of 1945. She was played by Dinah Shore.
Tess appeared in one of the original stories produced for Dell Comics' Dick Tracy Monthly. During the case of Bubbles, she was recruited by Tracy in an attempt to lure Bubbles into a trap by posing as a recent widow who would meet the profile of Bubbles' typical victims. Bubbles detected the ruse and avoided Tracy's trap. Tess was not involved in the case any further.
1950s TV Series
Tess appeared in seven episodes of the 1950s Dick Tracy Live-Action TV series starring Ralph Byrd. She was played by actress Angela Greene. Tess and Dick were married on the show.
1967 TV Pilot
Tess did not appear in the un-aired pilot for the 1967 series Dick Tracy, but she was included in the opening titles sequence. She was to be played by actress Davey Davison.
Archie's TV Funnies
Tess was a character in the "Dick Tracy" segments of the 1971 animated television series Archie's TV Funnies, produced by Filmation Associates. Tess' appearance closely resembled her depiction in the comic strip. She was portrayed as Dick's wife, and she spent a lot of time at Police Headquarters during Tracy's adventures.
1990 Movie Continuity
Tess was a supporting character in the 1990 film Dick Tracy. She was played by Glenne Headly.
Tess was shown operating a flower shop/greenhouse business. She was loyal to Tracy, even when she encountered Breathless Mahoney flirting with him, and after he was framed for murder. She was occasionally exasperated with his devotion to his job, and often found herself caring for The Kid when Tracy was suddenly called away.
At the film's climax, Tess was abducted from her greenhouse by The Blank. She was then hidden at the Club Ritz on New Year's Eve, with the implication that she will be found and Big Boy will be arrested for kidnapping. Big Boy discovered her and took her through a secret passage to the nearby lift bridge control room. Tracy found them and rescued Tess. At the end of the film, Tracy made an interrupted marriage proposal, and it was implied that Tess would accept.
In the film continuity, Tess' father had already been murdered. This back-story is shown in the comic book prequel to the film released by Disney.
Tess was also a character in the follow-up novel Dick Tracy Goes to War, written by Max Allan Collins. In the novel, Tess had gone to work at a military aircraft plant operated by Diet Smith. She was befriended by a co-worker named Bessie, a heavyset African-American woman.
A rift developed between Tess and Tracy, which resulted in her calling off their engagement. She then found herself spending time in the company of 88 Keyes, who had seemingly reformed and was playing piano at the Stage-Door Canteen. Tess came to trust 88, which eventually enabled him to kidnap her and deliver her to the Nazi agent Mrs. Pruneface.
Mrs. Pruneface made a mask based on Tess' face, which allowed the singer Black Pearl to impersonate Tess and plant a bomb at the aircraft plant. The bomb was found and diffused with the help of Bessie. Mrs. Pruneface instructed 88 to kill Tess and dispose of the body. 88, having grown fond of Tess, could not bring himself to harm her. He left her in a warehouse and made anonymous phone call to the police, telling them where she could be found. Dick arrived and discovered Tess, safe and unharmed. The couple soon reconciled and their engagement resumed.
Tess was also a character in the second follow-up novel by Collins Dick Tracy Meets His Match. In the novel, Tess was hired by Diet Smith to be the programming director for his fledgling television network. She agreed to allow her wedding to Dick be broadcast as part of a new TV series, but the wedding was disrupted by a sniper. Further attempts were also disrupted, ultimately embroiling the network (and Tess) in a murder investigation. By the end of the novel, she and Dick were successfully married.
Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive
Tess was a supporting character in the comic book miniseries Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive published by IDW. Debuting in issue #3, Tess was a nightclub performer who used the stage name Smoking Hott. It was later revealed that she was a U.S. Treasury Agent working undercover, and that she and Tracy had had a tumultuous past.
Tess aided Tracy in clearing his name and later served as Federal Liaison to Tracy's newly-formed team of crimefighters.
Dick Tracy: Forever
Tess was a supporting character in the comic book miniseries Dick Tracy: Forever published by IDW. In the first issue, she aided Dick on one of his cases, and speculated about the possibility of including a camera in Tracy's planned wrist radio.
Tess was depicted with auburn-red hair (similar to the 1990 feature film) and showed an interest in photography, in keeping with her profession in the comic strip.
In issue #3, Tess was shown to be a member of the police force, working undercover. She adopted the alias "Glitch the Driver" and colored her hair pink. She also had a ring in her eyebrow. Tess infiltrated the gang of Auntie Vaxx as part of Tracy's plan to stop the trafficking of illegal medical devices. It was eventually Tess had her own agenda which complicated the situation.
- Tess's role as the most prominent female character was taken over by Lizz in the mid-50s, but she remained a staple in the strip.
- Tess has not been shown to have aged significantly, much like her husband and many of the other characters in the strip, and continues to be depicted as youthful, vital and attractive.
- Even though her marriage to Edward Nuremoh was very short, it was legitimate and was never stated to have been annulled, so Tess would qualify as a Widow.
- Tess is one of the main characters in the 1990 feature film not to be made into an action figure by Playmates Toys.
- In the 1990 film, Tess has red hair. In the follow-up novels, she is described as blonde. In Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive, Tess' natural hair color is blonde, but she wears a red wig as part of her disguise as "Smoking Hott".
- During Dick Locher's time as artist on the strip, Tess was often drawn with a heavy eye-lidded facial expression. This was presumably intended to make her look alluring, but more often had the effect of making her appear tired or bored, regardless of the situation.
- Tess has been depicted as a full partner with Johnny in the Tracy Agency though she would not seem to have the requisite number of hours of law enforcement or investigative experience to qualify for an investigator's license in most states (though this may have happened off-panel). Presumably, Tess is "employed" (on paper) as an operative under Johnny's license, and will obtain her own license once she has logged enough hours of experience.
- When Tess was shot by Shaky II in 2020, Dick called for an ambulance saying "Officer down!" Tess had never been established as a police officer. It is possible that she may have the status of a notary or some other officer of the court, or that Tracy was using his own status to prompt a faster response.