What’s in a Name, Miss Doris?

July 19, 2015 at 10:13 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

There’s no question that Jack Boyle’s publishers changed his titles on occasion.  Some of my previous entries on this blog have discussed the correspondence from the staff of The Red Book Magazine indicating that “Queens of Camouflage” was an earlier title for “A Problem in Grand Larceny,” and that film rights documentation has revealed “Black Dan Pays” as the original title of “The Water-Cross.”  But is there any evidence of other such title changes?  Let’s consider the Red Book tale from May 1918 — “Miss Doris, Safecracker.”

At first glance, this seems a perfectly reasonable title … until you reflect that at no point in the story does Doris crack a safe.  In fact, the yarn opens with Boston Blackie discovering a classified ad placed by Doris, announcing her search for a safecracker.  She needs someone else to perform the job for her, which clearly establishes the fact that she is not a safe-breaker.  So why does the story bear what is essentially a nonsensical title?Miss Doris Raffles 1

A hint of an answer can be found in the alternative title given to the story when it saw print overseas.  Within months of its U.S. debut, the tale was reprinted in the U.K. and Australia as “Miss Doris’s ‘Raffles’.”  In the first half of the 20th century, the word raffles was a fairly common term in the British Empire, denoting a thief or burglar.  its roots can be traced back to E.W. Hornung’s fictional character A.J. Raffles, perhaps the quintessential gentleman burglar of English popular literature.  However, it is not this term that is revealing.  It is the apostrophe at the end of the name Doris which tells the tale.  It establishes that the adventure is not about a woman named Doris who cracks safes, but is instead the story of her burglar — the safecracker she has hired.  If the piece’s European title is “Miss Doris’s ‘Raffles’,” then surely its proper American title is “Miss Doris’s Safecracker.”

Why the Red Book staff felt compelled to remove the possessive from the title, and to add a comma, is open to conjecture.  Perhaps they felt “Miss Doris, Safecracker” just had a better ring to it, or had more visual flow on the page.  Who cares that the title makes no sense?  Jack Boyle may have been annoyed but, at this late date, who can say?  After all, the story was well received enough to be reprinted in countries around the globe, and to become the basis of a successful feature film.  If people like a story, what’s in a name?

JBF 7/20/15

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The “Vanishing” Stories of 1919

July 13, 2015 at 10:11 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

A curious thing happened in March of 1919.  It was a banner month for both Jack Boyle and Boston Blackie.  Boyle had just wrapped up a very successful run of ten stories in The Red Book Magazine, and was preparing to launch a new sequence in The Cosmopolitan.  But this March was particularly significant for him, because it heralded the release of his hardcover collection BOSTON BLACKIE, which brought his work to the attention of an even wider audience.

Silk Lined Burglar 3At the same time, the second and third feature films dramatizing the adventures of Boston Blackie — The Poppy Girl’s Husband and The Silk Lined Burglar — were premiering in theaters within a week of each other.  Jack Boyle’s stories were in demand, and the entertainment world was taking notice.  Here is what the July 1919 issue of Picture-Play Magazine had to say about it:

Every once in a while producers start a run on one particular source for stories.  The latest discovery seems to be Jack Boyle, author of the famous “Boston Blackie” stories.  Bert Lytell produced one of these some time ago, and he will appear in another one shortly.  And this month both William S. Hart and Priscilla Dean come forward with pictures based on Boston Blackie stories.

There is no denying the dramatic strength of Boyle’s work.  They lend themselves admirably well to screen adaptation with their novel plots and unusual characters.  “The Poppy Girl’s Husband” makes what many people think is Mr. Hart’s best Artcraft photo play.  Not only does it give him an opportunity to depart from the usual Western story, but the novelty of the plot and strength of the central character as interpreted by the star are elements which go to make the whole indeed praiseworthy.

Hart appears as Hairpin Harry Dutton, a convict, who has languished ten long years in prison with the single thought of his wife, The Poppy Girl, to cheer him through the endless days.  And when at last he again breathes the free air he learns from Boston Blackie that The Poppy Girl has deserted him!  … Of course, Harry plans a revenge, a horrible one at that, but a revenge which is put to rout through the softening influence of his little boy.  Mr. Hart receives fine support from Juanita Hansen as The Poppy Girl, Walter Long as Boston Blackie, and Georgie Stone as the boy.Poppy Girl 2

The Priscilla Dean picture is called “The Silk-lined Burglar,” and it tells how Boston Blackie unwittingly aids his government in bringing a German plotter to justice.  Here, too, the action contains more than a modicum of suspense, and the novelty of the original story has been admirably maintained in the screen version.  Miss Dean, one of Universal’s most popular stars, plays with her usual energy, while Sam De Grasse has the Boston Blackie part.

The oddity of these films debuting the same month as the publication of the hardcover BOSTON BLACKIE becomes apparent with a simple examination of the book’s contents.  The volume is composed of all the Blackie stories published in The Red Book — EXCEPT “The Poppy Girl’s Husband” and “Miss Doris, Safecracker” (the source for The Silk Lined Burglar).  This seems a bit of a puzzle.  Instead of the book and the Silk Lined ad retouchedfilms cross-promoting each other, the hardcover collection omitted the two stories which would seem to hold the most immediacy for the entertainment-consuming public in March of 1919.

The reason for the stories’ omission from the collection is unclear.  Perhaps the movie studios felt that their availability in printed form the same month as their screen release would compete with the films, rather than promote them.  The best we can do now is speculate, but it does strain coincidence that the only two Red Book stories missing from BOSTON BLACKIE just happen to be the same two appearing on movie screens across the country the very same month.

Regardless of the motive behind their omission, the absence of “The Poppy Girl’s Husband” and “Miss Doris, Safecracker” from H.K. Fly’s release of Jack Boyle’s only book has relegated both tales to obscurity.  Even the modern print editions of the Blackie tales have excluded the pair, effectively causing them to vanish from the Blackie canon. Thankfully, their texts have not disappeared completely, and both will definitely be included in the late 2014 release of THE COMPLETE BOSTON BLACKIE.  Stay tuned for further details.

JBF  7/13/15

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