With much serious news in the summer of 1946- the atom bomb tests at Bikini Island, smog, a polio outbreak, gangster violence, for a start- Los Angeles like the rest of the country could find respite in the funny pages and the much anticipated wedding of Gravel Gertie. There was a local connection, too.
Gravel Gertie was a character in Chester Gould’s popular Dick Tracy comic strip. She had been introduced in 1944 as an accomplice of The Brow. Later, with Tracy’s help, Gertrude reformed. In late summer 1946, regular readers were caught up in the excitement of Gertie’s pending nuptials to beau Bob Oscar “B.O.” Plenty, himself a reformed criminal, who joined the series in 1945.
In a twist that must have baffled men who were still having trouble getting their hands on affordable clothing other than casual sports things, Hollywood costume designer Edith Head of Paramount designed a real life wedding dress for the 1-dimensional character.
“It’s been my ambition to design Gertie’s gown and I just know she’ll like it- it has sex appeal in a modest way,” Head told reporters as she made last minute adjustments to the dress on the eve of the big event, adding that she was also sending Gertie “something blue” in the form of a garter and satin undies.
Like many postwar brides, Gertie’s was a home wedding. The ceremony took place at B.O.’s residence, Sunny Del Acres, on August 18, 1946. Guests included Dick, his longtime sweetheart Tess Truehart, Chief Brannon, officer Pat Patton, and Diet Smith, inventor of the 2-way wrist radio, which debuted earlier in 1946.
The natural sequel to this event was the birth the following year of Gertie and B.O.’s daughter, Sparkle Plenty. Gould kept the sex and appearance of the baby, born with “long blonde hair clear down to her hips,” a secret from the public for a week, until her pictures debuted the fictional Glance tabloid, for which the proud parents received $3,000.
Gimbals department store in New York capitalized on Sparkle mania with the introduction of a Sparkle Plenty doll. Manufactured by Ideal & sold only at Gimbals, she hit shelves in July 1947. In September, The Broadway department store in Los Angeles became the exclusive local retailer of the sensational doll.
Top image: Edith Head’s design for Gravel Gertie’s wedding dress. USC digital.