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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