Black Dan Pays

June 3, 2015 at 8:20 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

In April 1920, Variety ran an item announcing the negotiation of a contract between Jack Boyle and Henry M. Hobart, head of Cosmopolitan Productions. The agreement granted the film company first option on the screen rights to ten stories written by Boyle, most of which were slated for publication in upcoming issues of Cosmopolitan Magazine. The ten titles under option were “A Problem in Grand Larceny,” “An Answer in Grand Larceny,” “The Daughter of Mother McGinn,” “Alias Prince Charming,” “The Face in the Fog,” “Boomerang Bill,” “The Beauty Fountain,” “Grandad’s Girl,” “The Painted Child” and “Black Dan Pays.” Remarkably, nearly all of these stories did find their way to the silver screen within a few years, but this list of titles also presents a puzzle. Jack Boyle never published a story called “Black Dan Pays.”

At first glance, this wouldn’t seem to be much of a mystery. Boyle did write a story titled “Black Dan” for the October 1919 issue of Cosmopolitan, detailing Boston Blackie’s devotion to an underworld comrade and his sacrifice of his own freedom to prevent his friend’s dog (the titular Black Dan) from being wrongfully put to death. It would seem obvious that the Cosmopolitan editorial staff shortened Boyle’s original title of “Black Dan Pays” to simply “Black Dan” before taking the story to press. But the puzzle is actually a bit more complicated.

Certainly, this wasn’t the first time one of Boyle’s titles had been altered by a publisher. His autobiographical sketch, “A Modern Opium Eater” (American Magazine – June 1914) which prefaced the first series of Boston Blackie stories, was initially advertised as “Opium: Maker of Criminals.” Likewise, September 1918 correspondence between Red Book Magazine editorial staff and artist W.H.D. Koerner references their recent purchase of a Jack Boyle story titled “Queens of Camouflage.” Given the timing of this correspondence, and the fact that no story by that name ever appeared in the magazine, it is likely that “Queens of Camouflage” was Jack Boyle’s working title for his tale which Koerner illustrated for the December 1918 issue of Red Book, “A Problem in Grand Larceny.” However, the path to “Black Dan Pays” is even more convoluted.

The key to the mystery is held in the 1931 publication Catalogue of Stories and Plays Owned by Fox Film Corporation, from Los Angeles’ Times-Mirror Press. The catalogue is an inventory of all literary works purchased for adaptation to the screen by Fox, and among its listings is the story “Black Dan Pays” by Jack Boyle. Apparently, Cosmopolitan Productions passed on their first option of the story, and Boyle subsequently sold it to Fox. The catalogue contains the further notation that the story was first published in the September 1919 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine, and that Fox eventually released it as a silent motion picture in 1923 under the title BOSTON BLACKIE. In reality, nothing by Jack Boyle appeared in the September 1919 Cosmopolitan, but Fox’s 1923 film BOSTON BLACKIE is fairly well documented. Multiple sources, including The American Film Institute Catalogue of Feature Films, 1921 – 1930, cite the source material for the film as Cosmopolitan’s November 1919 story “The Water-Cross.”

This makes a certain amount of sense, as “The Water-Cross” features a return appearance from the dog Black Dan. In the story’s climax, Dan repays Blackie’s previous kindness by leading him out of the thick of a manhunt to safety. Bluntly, Black Dan pays … his debt to Boston Blackie. So, “The Water-Cross” is the basis for BOSTON BLACKIE, and “Black Dan Pays” is Jack Boyle’s original title for “The Water-Cross.”

Fox Film Corporation released BOSTON BLACKIE on May 6, 1923 but, curiously, the title “Black Dan Pays” continued to surface amidst confusion. More than six weeks after the film’s premiere, the June 30, 1923 issue of the motion picture trade publication Exhibitor’s Herald touted Fox’s release of BLACK DAN PAYS, starring William Russell. And as late as November 11, 1923, Montana’s The Anaconda Standard announced William Russell’s three newest films – ALIAS THE NIGHT WIND, TIMES HAVE CHANGED and BLACK DAN PAYS. To further confuse matters, scenarioist Paul Schofield excised the canine character Black Dan from his screen adaptation of Jack Boyle’s story, rendering the title BLACK DAN PAYS nonsensical. Makes one wonder what Boyle thought of all the mutations his story underwent – from a simple title change on the printed page to a radical overhaul of the narrative that appeared on screen.

JBF 6/3/15


  1. Mike DeLisa said,

    Fox corrected this in the 1935 edition — noting the title was “Black Dan” from the Oct 1919 Cosmopitan and removes the reference to having produced the film as “Boston Blackie,” which indeed was based on ‘The Water Cross,” from the Nov Cosmo. So your conclusion that “Black Dan” was original title for “water Cross” I think is not supported as Fox corrected the mistake/typo/confusion in the 1935 edition.

  2. jackboylefan said,

    Thanks for elaborating on that, Mike, but I’m confused by the info you’ve presented. Your research indicates that the 1935 edition of Fox’s CATALOGUE corrected the entry to state that the story’s title was “Black Dan” from the October 1919 COSMO, and that it also indicates they did not use it as the basis for their film BOSTON BLACKIE. I’m certainly not contesting the fact that BOSTON BLACKIE is based on “The Water Cross,” but if the ’35 CATALOGUE agrees with that, what film does it indicate “Black Dan” was the basis for? I appreciate your sharing your own findings on this, but at the moment I stand by my original hypothesis regarding “Black Dan Pays.” Of course, I respect your differing opinion, and realize there is no way to prove the point one way or the other, unless Jack Boyle’s original manuscript ever surfaces. Perhaps it is still somewhere in COSMO’s files.

    • Mike DeLisa said,

      The ’31 Edition as you know states tht Fox owns the rights to “black Dan Pays” and that it was the basis for the 1923 film, “Boston Blackie” The ’31 edition also states (correctly) that The Water Cross was the basis for the film

      The 1935 edition drops the notion that they own rights to the story “Black Dan Pays.” Instead it states they own “world-wide silent motion picture rights” to the Oct 1919 Cosmopolitan story Black Dan.” Fox makes no indication that they had used “Black Dan” as basis for a film.

      Let me know if you want a scan.

  3. jackboylefan said,

    Ah, thanks for the clarification! Now I see your point, and might even find myself slightly swayed in the direction of your opinion. But I’m still puzzled as to why a number of newspapers quoted the title of the film as BLACK DAN PAYS. It would seem this was a working title for the film, but since the dog Black Dan does not appear in the movie, it’s unlikely the production would invoke his name. So I’m still stuck on the thought that the title actually goes back to Boyle’s original story. Of course, this is certainly speculative, at best. Thanks, BTW, for offering a scan of from the ’35 edition of Fox’s Catalogue. I’d certainly love to see it.

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