It Began Innocently Enough …

April 13, 2011 at 8:01 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

In many ways, this whole thing started for me with a man named Doyle, not Boyle.

Back in the mid-1990s, I was a fresh-faced kid, a few years out of college and recently married, working in the records division of a downtown law firm.  Mr. Doyle was a gentleman also in the firm’s employ, who knew of my enthusiasm for all things nostalgic, vintage radio drama in particular.  One afternoon he gave me a box of cassette tapes he had purchased some years earlier, a sampler of programs from radio’s golden era.  Among the recordings were several episodes of BOSTON BLACKIE starring Dick Kolmar.  I had never heard BOSTON BLACKIE before, but recalled the title as one of a handful of shows that my parents had mentioned over the years as being among their families’ weekly entertainments.  Something about the title, and the fact that my folks had listened to the series long ago, sparked my interest, and I listened to those tapes first.

I can’t honestly say that the production held me riveted, but the shows were a pleasant afternoon’s diversion, and a reminder that I had once read that the BOSTON BLACKIE radio series had its basis in an older literary character.  At the time, I was an avid reader of early twentieth century crime fiction, so on a whim I looked up Boston Blackie at my local public library.  To my delight, they held a reprint of the sole volume published about the character way back in 1919.  I devoured the collection in a matter of days, thoroughly enjoying my first taste of the “real” Boston Blackie as originally conceived by his creator.  But who was this Jack Boyle, who had created such an amiable rogue as Blackie?

Fortunately for me, the reprint which I held contained an excellent introduction by mystery writer Edward D. Hoch detailing background on the author and his notorious brainchild.  However, I soon learned that precious little was known about Jack Boyle.  A former newspaper man, corrupted by drug addiction, Boyle had written his earliest tales of Boston Blackie from a prison cell.  They became popular with the reading public, and upon his release from incarceration a few years later, Boyle went on to a successful writing career with Blackie at its foundation.  Movies were made about Blackie as early as 1918, and continued to be made well into the 1940s.  His exploits were later successfully adapted to both radio and television, and mentions of him have even made their way into a few popular songs over the years.  But despite Blackie’s longevity, after the mid-1920s Jack Boyle seems to have just faded away.  Given the success of his work, how could this happen?

The day I went to return the book, I spotted a passage in its introduction which had previously escaped my notice.  Ed Hoch commented that the earliest Blackie stories, published in THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE along with an autobiographical essay composed by Boyle to introduce the series, were not included in the 1919 book.  So there was more information available out there!  Issues of THE AMERICAN from the 1910s are pretty scarce, and the odds of my library holding copies were overwhelmingly slim, but I decided to check just on the off chance.  To my astonishment, our collection held precisely the issues I needed, and I scurried excitedly to the Periodicals Desk anticipating the intriguing new info I could be on the verge of unearthing …

So, with his random gift, Mr. Doyle unwittingly unleashed my curiosity, setting me on a collision course with Jack Boyle and his shady world of letters and lawlessness.  But at that point, I had no hint where my new-found interest was leading me …

JBF 4/13/11

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1 Comment

  1. Angelia said,

    Wow! I can definitely see how old radio programs can lead to an obsession. So many great books had radio shows about them even before they became movie franchises. I’m looking forward to reading more on your research.

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