In honor of Valentines Day I thought we might take a look back at a family of women who have kept Dick Tracy on his toes numerous times over the years. These fiery ladies faced down cops and criminals alike with their killer instincts, lust for cash and sense of vengeance. Yet behind the remorseless exterior, each had a hidden streak of good. I am of course talking about the Mahoney girls.
Breathless Mahoney was the first and most well-known of the four ladies we’ve seen to date, thanks primarily to Madonna, the 1990 Dick Tracy movie and Tracy’s soft spot for lounge singers. That’s right isn’t it? Not so much.
In May of 1945 when Chester Gould introduced Breathless, she joined a series of golden age foes such as Flattop and Pruneface. The attractive and slender blond was the step-daughter of confidence man Shaky whose hidden $50,000 would drive the plot for over a year. Breathless’s recovery of Shaky’s secret treasure led to a tug of war between her and her mother Elia which in turn drew Tracy’s attention to a possible crime. There was no singing or flirtations with our favorite detective, although Pat Patton admitted the girl was aptly named. Breathless was a journalism student, far to interested in the cash prize, which she finally won from her mother after a battle of wills to see who could stay awake longer.
Breathless was determined to keep her money and bludgeoned or killed several men who one by one tried to take her treasure. Eventually she found herself on the farm of B.O. Plenty who also schemed to deprive her of $50,000. Tracy’s investigations led him to Plenty’s farm, but this was before the two knew each other and B.O. was not helpful to the detective. On a second trip, Breathless gave Tracy and B.O. drugged coffee and fled, only to later be caught by B.O. who nearly strangled her to death and left her unconscious. Tracy arrested her soon after but Breathless’s future was sadly short. While in prison she contracted an unidentified but fatal illness. Her life of crime led to a final act of kindness and when she heard news about B.O.’s reform and impending marriage to Gravel Gertie she wrote a letter absolving him of his crimes.
While Breathless’s adventures led to her death, her legacy only grew as versions of her character appeared in two episodes of the Dick Tracy TV Show, Archie’s TV Funnies and finally the afore-mentioned 1990 performance by Madonna. As with the family if Flattop Jones, various Mahoney family members took a crack at Dick Tracy and B.O. seeking revenge or money.
Click to watch Breathless in 1950 –>
The first was Elia Mahoney, Breathless’s mother. Elia held little love for her daughter after their fight over Shaky’s money and she tried to go straight after Breathless’s incarceration. Her greed got the best of her though and she paired up with her husband’s friend, Itchy Oliver and soon they hatched a plot to get the $50,000 from B.O. Plenty. Elia befriended B.O., hoping to get her hands on the money but Itchy’s arrival soon had Elia having second thoughts as her partner tortured B.O. to make him talk. Tracy and Patton would arrive to save the day but found themselves in Itchy’s cross hairs. Elia, like Breathless before her turned away from crime in the end and jumped between the Tracy and Itchy to save Dick’s life. Itchy shot her dead before fleeing with the detectives in pursuit.
The Mahoney girls went quiet for decades, Breathless’s television and movie forays keeping the name alive. With the arrival of the Dick Tracy movie there was a resurgence of interest in the characters and villains featured in the film. Unfortunately most were already dead, so a new generation was introduced. In January of 1991, the troubled teenager Restless Mahoney graced newspaper pages. Restless was the daughter of an unnamed sister to Breathless and a dead ringer for her aunt. She caught the attention of Harold “Hi-Top” Jones, the grandson of Flattop. Hi-Top introduced Restless to Little Boy, the grandson of Big Boy and Little Boy proclaimed the trio the new city royalty. Little Boy ran a drug ring targeting schools but Restless had a secret that would shake things up. She sought justice for her older brother, who died of an overdose and turned on Hi-Top and Little Boy at a key moment and aided police in dismantling the drug outfit. It should be noted that Little Boy’s relation to Big Boy later turned out to be a lie.
When writer Max Allan Collins left in 1992, most of his characters vanished from the strip and so Hi-Top and Restless were not to be seen again. The next and final Mahoney woman to challenge Tracy was Heartless. Sister to Breathless (but not Restless’s mother), Heartless was nearly as attractive owing to her strict regiment of diet, exercise and beauty treatments. She sought revenge on Tracy and B.O. in 1995 and attempted to make Tess believe Dick was having an affair while also tricking B.O. into acting as a getaway driver for a bank robbery. B.O. was arrested but Tess believed Dick when he explained it was a setup. Tracy spread her picture to beauty parlors around the city, effectively banning her from her treatments and with her looks deteriorating she fled town. Like her sister before her, she sent Tracy a letter exonerating B.O. before she left.
Apparently no longer upset with Mr. Plenty, Heartless still returned to torment Dick Tracy. Believed by authorities to have died off script, the Mahoney sister used a series of optical illusions and holographic devices to appear as a ghost named Deathless, accusing Dick Tracy of killing her two sisters. Tracy was a bit spooked by the appearance but battled through the holograms to find the old woman behind it all. Because of her age (apparently she aged much faster than Tracy) and her legal status as dead, he simply sent her out-of-town with a one way bus ticket.
Heartless would still return, like a skipping record. Her good/evil level seemed to correspond in opposite measure to her appearance and this time she posed as a nurse in Dr. Beau Tox’s cosmetic surgery office. Tox’s chemical cosmetic tricks had returned Heartless and Pruneface family member Prune Hilda to their youthful good looks and all three plotted revenge against Dick Tracy. When the plan deteriorated, so did their cosmetic enhancements and the ladies attacked and disfigured Tox with acid in their fury. The doctor shot Prune Hilda dead but was arrested himself with Heartless testifying against him.
By the time of the second and third Heartless stories, elements of the Dick Tracy movie seem to have worked their way into the narrative with Heartless suggesting her sister was a singer who was romantically involved with Tracy. There are a number of continuity and consistency problems in the 1990’s and 2000’s and this is just one of the minor ones.
So there you have it, the Mahoney ladies for Valentines day. Wether its Restless or another Mahoney, hopefully the current Tracy team will eventually give us another story featuring these fun women. I’m sure they can still take our breath away.