Michael Dorf, Shel’s brother, graciously allowed his recounting of the story behind this picture to be recorded on Sunday, November 8, 2009, in Los Angeles, California, while he was sitting shiva (the traditional Jewish seven days of mourning) for Shel. Just click on the player button below to have a listen. (If you’re reading this via news reader or email, you may have to visit the web site to play the clip.)
The following is a transcript of the recording. Michael Dorf is speaking unless otherwise noted:
Michael Dorf: This is Michael Dorf speaking and one of my favorite stories refers back to the time when my dad (may he rest in peace) took us, my brother and I, on a business trip to Chicago.
And, uh, Shel had had a correspondence with Chester Gould, the creator of Dick Tracy, since he was, I don’t know, seven or eight years old. Gould wrote back and he wrote him, so, so Chester Gould knew who Shel was. So, Shel wanted to meet him and his office was at the Chicago Tribune Towers where the paper is published. My dad took us up there and they said, “Oh, Gould is not here. He just comes in once a week to drop off the comic strips. He works in his farmhouse in Woodstock, Illinois.” “Where is that?” “Well, that’s sixty miles north of Chicago.”
So, G-d bless my father, (may he rest in peace), he got a map and we got, we took a drive to Woodstock, Illinois. And, this was the days before the celebrity shootings and all the, you know, stalkings: people were a lot more open, they weren’t afraid of the fans.
So, we got to the town of Woodstock and, I don’t know if we went to the pharmacy or somewhere, and asked where Chester Gould lived. And they said, “Well, he’s got a farmhouse. Take this highway there, go here, right, left, whatever.”
So, we got to the farmhouse, and on the way, my brother said to my dad (Olev Ha’Shalom), “Listen you don’t think I can handle myself in many situations and you, you speak for me but I, I can express myself fine. Now, he’s my connection, so let me do the talking. Don’t, don’t butt in.” My dad said, “OK, OK, I won’t. Just trying to be helpful.”
So we got to the farmhouse and Shel knocked on the door. Chester Gould opened the door and my brother said, “Hi, Mr. Gould. I’m Sheldon Dorf.” And Gould said, “Oh, Sheldon, it’s so nice to meet you.” And at that point my brother froze. He became dumbstruck. He was so awed to see Chester Gould in person. And, uh, after a minute or two my dad chimed in. He eased the tension, you know. He, you know, he talked. And about ten minutes later Shel unfroze and was able to talk. And, we teased him for years about that: it was such a family joke.
But Gould was so nice to us. He told us he couldn’t invite us in because he was doing the equivalent of mourning. They had a death in the family and they were inside in the mourning situation. But he spent at least a half hour outside talking to us. And he was very gracious, very, very, friendly and very, uh, beautiful man, really. So, so thrilling to me, for me it was, “This is Chester Gould, the name behind that comic strip Dick Tracy.” I’d seen it for years and I, I was thrilled to meet him.
And he had a dog name Mutt who was a character in the comic strip and exactly the same, I think it was a Great Dane. [Editor’s note: Michael is probably referring to Mugg, a Boxer dog.] So Shel took pictures of me with Mutt, and my dad (Olev Ha’Shalom, may he rest in peace) took that picture of the three of us, which we absolutely cherish. And, uh, that was it. It was an unforgettable visit.
Mike Towry: So, how old are you in this picture with Chester Gould?
Michael Dorf: Ten.
Mike Towry: You were ten?
Michael Dorf: Ten.
Mike Towry: And Shel was?
Michael Dorf: And Shel was sixteen.
Mike Towry: Sixteen?
Michael Dorf: Yeah.
Mike Towry: And that was 1949?
Michael Dorf: 1949.
Mike Towry: What, what, do you remember the season or the month or…?
Michael Dorf: I think the summer. Yeah, I think it was the summer. I don’t remember what month, but definitely it was the summer because my dad’s business was in the winter: he wouldn’t have been able to break away.