The Problem of the “Answer in Grand Larceny”

September 28, 2015 at 10:08 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

A number of Jack Boyle’s Boston Blackie stories are companion pieces.  That is to say, while each stands on its own as a story unto itself, several build upon the preceding yarn in the series, to present an initial story and a sequel.  Prime examples of this are “Black Dan” (which tells a story in which Blackie ends up in prison) and “The Water-Cross” (which relates his subsequent escape).  But perhaps the two most readily apparent companion pieces from the Boston Blackie canon are the Red Book Magazine tales “A Problem in Grand Larceny” and “An Answer in Grand Larceny.”  The first tells of a daring shipboard heist committed as an act of revenge, while the its sequel relates the moral dilemma Mary faces as a result of the crime’s aftermath.  The pair are excellent examples of Blackie and Mary in fine form, but some reflection on the stories’ background presents us with a puzzle.

Obviously, the titles “A Problem in Grand Larceny” and “An Answer in Grand Larceny” are meant to fit together, to link one story to the other. However, previous research has indicated that “A Problem in Grand Larceny” was, in all likelihood, not the name Jack Boyle gave his story.  Correspondence from the Red Book editorial staff cites the title “Queens of Camouflage” (see my June 3, 2015 post, “Black Dan Pays,” for further details).  So, if there was no “Problem in Grand Larceny,” it seems unlikely that Boyle would have titled his sequeThird Degree 1l “An Answer in Grand Larceny.”  If this is the case, what did he call his story?

Short of locating his original manuscript, it’s unlikely that anyone can provide a definitive answer to this question at this late date.  However, one source presents a strong possibility.  “A Problem in Grand Larceny” never saw publication in overseas magazines and newspapers, but outlets in the U.K., Australia, and other countries did reprint its sequel.  Intriguingly, another name was chosen for these foreign printings, christening the story “The Third Degree.”  It’s hardly surprising that, without the “Problem” title as a set-up, the overseas market did not want to use the “Answer” title for their republication.  But is it possible that their choice of “The Third Degree” was actually Jack Boyle’s original title?

On the subject of alternate titles, it’s worth mentioning there is yet another tied to this pair of stories.  In 1922, scenarioist Albert S. Le Vino adapted “A Problem in Grand Larceny” and “An Answer in Grand Larceny” into a single screenplay for the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation.  The result was the silent feature Missing Millions, starring David Powell as Boston Blackie and Alice Brady as Mary.  And this film was subsequently released in Brazil under the title Digna do Meu Amor (Worthy of My Love).  With so many titles in the offing for these stories, Jack Boyle himself may well have been hard-pressed to recall which was his original.

JBF  9/28/15

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The Forgotten Cinema of Jack Boyle

September 21, 2015 at 10:53 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

In January 1924, a number of newspapers and magazines carried items similar to this announcement featured in the January 5, 1924 edition of MOTION PICTURE NEWS:

Filming has just begun on [The Virtuous Crook], which is a composite crook drama of two magazine stories.  Raymond L. Schrock made a screen adaptation from two stories, one by Jack Boyle and one by Richard Goodall.  Rex Taylor wrote the scenario from Schrock’s adaptation.

No mention was ever made of precisely which Boyle story Raymond Schrock drew his inspiration from, and no film reference works connect Boyle with any production titled The Virtuous Crook.  However, the February 23, 1924 issue of UNIVERSAL WEEKLY carried the following item:

The name of Herbert Rawlinson’s current Universal attraction has been changed from its working title of “Virtuous Crooks” to “Stolen Secrets.”  This picture was made from a story by Richard Goodall and was directed by Irving Cummings.

Why sole credit for the film’s source material was given to Richard Goodall after the production’s name change is unclear.  It’s possible that the scenario was rewritten, deleting the elements relating to Boyle’s story.  But no such overhaul of the production was reported in any of the film trade magazines of the time.  After January 1924, all mention of Boyle’s name was simply dropped from the items publicizing the production, leaving us with a mystery.  Is Stolen Secrets, in part, the work of Jack Boyle?

What can be said for certain is that Universal Pictures did release Stolen Secrets on March 10, 1924 (barely two months after the commencement of its production was announced).  It starred Herbert Rawlinson and Kathleen Myers, and THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG OF MOTION PICTURES provides this description of its plotHerbert Rawlinson:

Noted criminologist Niles Manning captures a gang of crooks by posing as a super criminal — a mysterious man called “the Eel” — when the mayor’s daughter, Cordelia, believing that he really is a
crook, enlists his assistance in ridding the city of its criminals.  Romance develops between Cordelia and Manning.

While the elements of crime and the underworld are certainly consistent with Boyle’s work, the story itself does not resemble any specific tale from his canon.  Still, given that the film’s story was reportedly written by a scenarioist from an adaptation that its producer constructed from unrelated stories by Boyle and Richard Goodall, a great many alterations could have been made between the source material and the final film.  Ultimately, it will probably never be known which of Boyle’s stories sparked Raymond Schrock to conceive The Virtuous Crook, but cinema historians should not let it be forgotten that Jack Boyle played a part in the genesis of the film.

JBF  9/21/15

Universal Weekly 1-5-24

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Jack Boyle on Death Row?

September 6, 2015 at 10:35 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

While it’s no secret that Jack Boyle was incarcerated a number of times during his life (even writing his earliest Boston Blackie stories from a prison cell), no sources suggest that he was ever party to a violent crime.  But, strangely, the following piece from the August 27, 1914 edition of the Iowa newspaper The Malvern Leader would have you believe that Boyle once served time on death row:

Malvern Leader 8-27-14

In reality, the author of this piece managed to confuse Jack Boyle’s history with that of Boston Blackie.  The story “Death Cell Visions” recounts the time Blackie spent under death sentence on a mistaken conviction.  Apparently, since it was widely reported that the story’s author, No. 6606, was “a convict in a western penitentiary,” the person who composed this item for The Leader mistook Boyle’s fiction for a personal memoir.  This isn’t too surprising, since Boyle often drew from his personal experiences in writing his stories of the underworld.  And a handful news reports a few years later made the same mistake in reverse, confusing Boyle’s real life for his fiction.  Some accounts of his arrests in 1915 and ’16 claimed that one of Boyle’s aliases was Boston Blackie.  Strange how a writer can become mistakenly identified with his own creation.

JBF  9/7/15

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