The Other Jack Boyles

June 29, 2011 at 9:45 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

When I first dove into this project two decades ago, I hadn’t realized that one of my biggest stumbling blocks would be the name “Jack Boyle.” Try running a Google search on it, and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s an exceptionally common name, and even a casual pass at it will yield a staggering number of hits corresponding to scores of different people.  Without a doubt, there is only one creator of Boston Blackie, but history has given the world a multitude of Jack Boyles. Trying to narrow things  down to a single man brings the old cliché “a needle in a haystack” to mind.

Among my many such hindrances, the chief culprit is a major league baseball player known as “Honest Jack” Boyle.  This fellow gives me grief on several levels.  Not only do he and writer Boyle have the nickname “Jack” in common, but both also share the christian name John A. Boyle.  Also, both lived at roughly the same time (the late 19th century into the early 20th), so it’s impossible to use chronology alone to distinguish the two.  “Honest Jack” was born in Ohio, and made his major league debut in 1886 with the Cincinnati Red Stockings. His sports career extended through 1898, with stints playing for such teams as the St. Louis Browns, the Chicago Pirates, the New York Giants, and the Philadelphia Phillies.  After retiring from the game, he became a successful saloon owner, until his death from Bright’s Disease in 1913.

Still another successful Jack Boyle had a career which flourished during the early days of the 20th century (much to my chagrin).  This gentleman was a popular comedian and vaudeville performer, whose name appeared in newspaper announcements across the country in the 1910s and ‘20s.  He and partner Dave Kramer toured as “The Happy-Go-Lucky Pair,” and he also performed with fellow entertainer James Hussey.  Vaudeville’s Jack Boyle died July 8, 1933 in Lynbrook, near Long Island.

The 1920s alone had no shortage of Jack Boyles.  Along with the vaudevillian Boyle, a sportsman bearing the moniker received sporadic attention from the newspapers of the 1920s and ‘30s.  Little of his later career seems to have been documented, but for a time he was a noted West Coast boxing promoter, owning a gym in Los Angeles.  Also during this decade, a fictional Jack Boyle hit the scene.  In 1924, Dublin dramatist Sean O’Casey wrote JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK, featuring a drunken scoundrel named Captain Jack Boyle.  The show was the second installment in O’Casey’s “Dublin trilogy,” and became one of the most performed Irish plays of the 20th century.

Moving from Drama to Dance, another notable Jack Boyle began a screen career as a dancer and choreographer in the mid-1930s.  Jack Boyle Jr. was
born in Illinois in 1916, and broke into movies as an uncredited dancer in COLLEGE HOLIDAY (1936).  It is tempting to speculate that Boyle Jr. might have been the son of the Jack, since Boyle the writer did have connections to Chicago around 1916.  However, it seems unlikely, since writer Boyle was in and out of prison for so much of the mid-1910s.  One distinction of Boyle Jr. was a friendship with songwriter George M. Cohan.  His career extended well into the 1960s, with appearances on both the large and small screens.

The world of music has also had a noteworthy Jack Boyle, though not in the form of a musician.  Jack Boyle the promoter launched his career in the
early 1960s in the Washington DC area, running music clubs and night spots such as the Cellar Door and the Crazy Horse.  He later moved into full-time concert promotion, earning a reputation as a skilled negotiator and a tough-but-fair businessman.  Officially retired, in 1996 he was honored in
a New York ceremony for his profound and lasting impact on the concert business.

These half dozen characters are by no means the only Jack Boyles who confound any researcher digging for information about the creator of Boston
Blackie.  But they are the six most common Jacks who obscure the trail, and bedevil the hapless sap who thinks it would be fun to learn a bit more
about an obscure early 20th century crime writer.  The Jack Boyles of history have my respect, but they can also be the bane of my existence.

JBF  6/29/11


  1. jhl said,

    Google jack boyle
    Found him as he was married to my great grandfathers’s sister.

    • jhl said,

      John Alexander Boyle, that is, think I have found the right one?
      Violet Charlotte Boyle or Hanna Charlotte was my great grandfather’s sister. My grandfather cousin told she was married to a famous writer called Jack Boyle.

      • jackboylefan said,

        You have, indeed, found the correct Jack Boyle. Hanna changed her name to Violet Charlotte sometime after moving to the United States, and she married Jack Boyle in Crown Point, Indiana in 1918, but she seems to have been living with him for some time previous to that. They appear to have had a very rocky relationship, and after they split up she still followed him out to Hollywood. At one point she even had aspirations of becoming a movie star, as she tried to persuade the studio executives to allow her to play Boston Blackie’s wife in some of the films based on Boyle’s stories. She sounds quite an interesting character, and I wish I knew what eventually became of her. -JBF

  2. Mike DeLisa said,

    I believe they were divorced in 1924 after Violet was beaten up by Boyle’s girlfriend. He was living in LA at the time.

    I believe Violet was with him as early as late 1914 in Colorado.

  3. Mike DeLisa said,

    Violet was still married to him in 1924 while they were living in Los Angeles. She sued him for a separation and support after Boyle’s mistress beat up Violet!

    She may be the same Violet that was living with Boyd in Colorado in 1914.

  4. jackboylefan said,

    You may be right about Violet being with Boyle as early as 1914 in Colorado, Mike. A woman named by newspaper reports as Violet Wilson followed him from Colorado to Kansas City in 1915. One of those same reports also calls her “the former Trixie Dean.” I haven’t been able to verify that Violet Wilson was the same Violet he later married (as her real name was Charlotte Petersen). However, it seems likely they are one and the same (what are the odds of him living with two different women, both named Violet, within the span of just a few years?).

    Jack and Violet did split up prior to his move to Hollywood, and even filed for divorce. However, the decree was never finalized, so he was still married to her well into the 1920s (though he claimed to be unaware of it). The woman who beat Violet up there in Hollywood had also married Jack in the early 1920s, so she was not his mistress, but his second wife (and he was a bigamist). Whether he was an accidental bigamist or not is open to conjecture. My, what an interesting life he led!

    • Mike DeLisa said,

      I haven’t tracked down his supposed marriage in Greenwich CT yet — you are right (of course) that Violet was claiming as late as 1924 that the Denver divorce, filed in 1921, was not finalized, so yes, he that would make him a bigamist.

      I based my statement about Violet on the same facts you did — seems too much a coincidence that he was with two Violets.

      Many interesting facts about Jack, especially his early romps with his brother through Chinatown in San Francisco.

      On a separate note, do you happen to know who was “Colorado” Rufus Steele?

      • jackboylefan said,

        Regarding “Colorado” Rufus Steele, I can only make an educated assumption. There are reports of a man traveling the midwest posing as Rufus Steele around the same time that Boyle and his compatriots perpetrated their Rufus Steele imposture in Denver. I find it hard to believe that there were two different Rufus Steele impostors wandering about at the same time, so I can only assume that they were both the same man. I have a magazine article that identifies the impostor Rufus Steele “of the Steele Syndicate” as a man whose real name was William F. Steele. I even have a photo of him. My question is, how did he manage to hook up with Jack in 1914, when Boyle was in prison and the fake Steele was on the outside. BTW, if you’d ever like to discuss Boyle privately, I’d be glad to chat with you. -JBF

  5. Wendy McDaniel said,

    Regarding above info (3rd paragraph about another Jack Boyle’s death) I found that this particular JB is alive in 19 Apr 1934 (not dead in 1933) On p.25 of The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Evening edition it states he’s returning to his hometown, renewing acqaintances, used to be Dave Kramer’s partner, etc. I included his profile page but I’m not sure on his early work regarding the “Four Husbands…” act. :
    Still another successful Jack Boyle had a career which flourished during the early days of the 20th century (much to my chagrin). This gentleman was a popular comedian and vaudeville performer, whose name appeared in newspaper announcements across the country in the 1910s and ‘20s. He and partner Dave Kramer toured as “The Happy-Go-Lucky Pair,” and he also performed with fellow entertainer James Hussey. Vaudeville’s Jack Boyle died July 8, 1933 in Lynbrook, near Long Island.

  6. Wendy McDaniel said,

    The 19 Apr 1934 article does clarify that he and Kitty Bryan did do the Four Husbands Act, his first job was with Amy Butler and her quartette, the with Jack Wilson as a “straight man” for four years, with Jimmie Hussey in England for 9 months, that he had a starring role in Shubert’s “The Passing Show of 1916” and same for 1917. He had been living in Hollywood and his son Jr. had been attending Urban Military Academy. Other family members are listed, no mention of Carrie (in my family) but there is a 1927 passenger list with them together and a newspaper article about going to Europe at that same time. The article also states his real name is James J. Boyle.

  7. Wendy McDaniel said,

    I finally found several articles on that have his obituary, you’re off by one year, it should be 8 Jul 1934, he was rehearsing for a show but there was a heat wave, he was under treatment for a heart condition for two years. Here’s his page by me:

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