H.K. Fly’s BOSTON BLACKIE

May 24, 2011 at 8:03 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

To some extent, the long-defunct New York publishing house The H.K. Fly Company is the reason that anything is known today about Jack Boyle.  In
1919, they issued the only hardcover collection of any of Boyle’s work.  Otherwise, every word the man wrote was relegated to the rather impermanent world of magazines and newspapers.  Of course, as a character, Boston Blackie has transcended the written medium, gaining a life of his own in cinematic and broadcast entertainment.  But the original stories of Jack Boyle have all but faded away.  If not for the 1919 hardback BOSTON BLACKIE, his work could easily have been buried in the crumbling pages of the popular magazines of the early 20th century, lost today to all but the most devoted antiquarians.

Fortunately, H.K. Fly did release seven of the early Boston Blackie tales in their 1919 hardbound collection, ensuring that at least a portion of Boyle’s canon would remain in bookstalls and libraries for decades to come.  And of course, it was for the Gregg Press 1979 reprint of that 1919 volume that Ed Hoch pursued the first serious research into the life of Jack Boyle.  In turn, it was that 1979 reprint that spurred me to begin my own research efforts to expand the world’s knowledge of Boston Blackie’s creator.  If not for The H.K. Fly Company and that one book from 1919, the rest of this quest could never have begun.

However, the Fly volume has also spawned a common misconception – that the original Boston Blackie saga consists of seven stories.  For years, a great many readers have assumed that the 1919 collection gathered all of Boyle’s Blackie tales.  Ed Hoch went a long way toward dispelling this in his 1979 introduction, pointing out the earlier quartet of stories which debuted in several 1914 issues of THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE.  Still, the thought that Fly’s BOSTON BLACKIE is a “complete collection” frequently persists.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While the company is to be
commended for preserving seven excellent Blackie yarns for posterity, Boyle wrote a total of twenty-two stories featuring his most famous creation
between 1914 and 1925.  Not to mention, several of his other magazine pieces included characters that first appeared in the Blackie stories.  So, in the final accounting, The H.K. Fly Company presented readers with less than one-third of the Blackie saga.

Over the years, these “unknown” stories began to surface as my research into Boyle’s career progressed.  At first, I only gave attention to the uncollected Blackie tales, but as story after story came to light, I began to realize what an unsung body of work Jack Boyle left behind.  My best efforts
have unearthed 42 stories from Boyle’s typewriter, each drawn from the author’s unique perspective of a professional writer with intimate personal
knowledge of the criminal underworld.  They are compelling fiction, and I’ve been moved to the conviction that they do not deserve to be forgotten.  So it was an exciting day, earlier this year, when a publisher expressed not just interest, but actual excitement over the prospect of releasing my research in conjunction with a complete collection of Jack Boyle’s fiction.  I’m hesitant to jinx myself by divulging too many details until the official announcement of the book’s release, but I’m ecstatic at the thought of seeing all of Boyle’s stories in print after nearly a century of obscurity. The collection is slated for release in 2014, marking the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Boston Blackie’s first appearance. Stay tuned for more details …

JBF 5/24/11

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Ed Hoch & Jack Boyle

May 9, 2011 at 8:32 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Edward Hoch’s introduction to BOSTON BLACKIE is frustrating.  I say this with the greatest respect, because it is also the best essay published to
date on the life and career of Jack Boyle.  When Mr. Hoch sat down to compose his introduction to Gregg Press’ 1979 reprint of Boyle’s one and only book, practically nothing was known about the creator of Boston Blackie.  Hoch did a remarkable amount of research (without the benefit of the internet, in those days prior to the information super-highway) to give the world some idea of the man behind the character.  Before his efforts, no scholarship existed on Jack Boyle at all, and my own research would have been virtually impossible without the foundation he laid.  I owe Ed Hoch a
great debt.

At the same time, it’s frustrating to see citations in print across the internet (and elsewhere) quoting “facts” which simply aren’t true.  All of these citations stem back to Hoch’s introduction, the definitive source for information on Jack Boyle.  But occasionally Hoch’s scholarship missed the mark.  In particular, it is frequently stated that Boyle was born in Chicago, and later moved west.  Without meaning to be overly blunt, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Like most readers, I took Hoch’s statement as fact, because he was the expert.  As my own research took shape over the years, however, I came to realize that the only mention of Boyle’s birth in Illinois seemed to be in his introduction.  Where did that tidbit of information come from?

Luckily, I made one really smart move when I decided to pursue my own investigation of Jack Boyle – I wrote to Ed Hoch.  Ed was very pleasant to correspond with, and exceptionally gracious to an upstart amateur trying to unearth information that had eluded a professional like him.  He was
delighted that someone was following in his footsteps, trying to divine a clearer picture of Jack Boyle.  During our correspondence, I asked Ed where
he got the impression that Boyle had been born in Chicago, and he responded that he found it in the autobiographical sketch published in THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE.  Eagerly, I dug out my own copy of that sketch, but soon found myself disappointed.  It contained no references at all to Boyle’s birth.  Somewhere along the way, Ed had gotten the notion that Boyle was a Chicago boy, and the idea wormed its way into print.  Which is no big deal, except that now practically everyone who writes more than two sentences about Jack Boyle says he was born in Illinois (in spite of census records which have long since proven otherwise).

Of course, Ed Hoch is far from being the only writer to put forth erroneous information about Boyle and Blackie.  At least one major cinema reference
book attributes the creation of Blackie to a totally different author (don’t believe anyone who tells you that George Randolph Chester was the father of Boston Blackie).  And in the earliest stages of my own scholarship, even I fell guilty to perpetuating misinformation, before discovering a few errors in my research.  Once an idea has been committed to paper, it is very hard to erase from the realm of “common knowledge.”

Regardless of such errors, Hoch’s 1979 essay is the seminal work on Jack Boyle, unlocking the door through which all future scholars must pass.  I
regret that Ed passed away in 2008, before my Boston Blackie project found a home with a potential publisher, and that I had been out of touch with
him for quite a few years.  I think he would have been intrigued to read the items on Boyle’s life which have surfaced in the last few years.  But who knows … perhaps Ed knows more about Boyle now than the rest of us ever could.  Perhaps out there in the Beyond he and Jack are sharing a drink and a chuckle together, spinning the best yarn yet about Boston Blackie.  At any rate, I hope so.

JBF  5/9/11

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