Ed Hoch, Ray Long and the Chicago Conundrum

April 15, 2016 at 9:31 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Back in 2011, I posted an entry here titled “Ed Hoch and Jack Boyle” which discussed, among other things, the misconception that Boyle was born in Chicago.  Hoch made this misstatement regarding Boyle’s hometown in the introduction to Gregg Press’ reprint of the 1919 hardcover collection Boston Blackie, and since that time the inaccuracy has wormed its way into numerous biographical entries.  When I asked Ed where that bit of data came from, he said that he had gotten it from Boyle’s 1914 autobiographical sketch, A Modern Opium Eater.  At the time, I took this answer at face value, but upon later examination, the essay revealed no such reference.  Since my correspondence with Ed took place years after his research for the Gregg Press introduction, I’m sure this was a case of his memory simply failing him.  But we’re still left with the mystery of where the idea of Boyle’s Chicago birth came from.

I’ve puzzled over this for years, to no avail.  How do you trace a decades-old fallacy to its source?  Then recently, while pursuing an entirely different avenue of Boston Blackie research, I stumbled across this passage from the Lothrop, Lee and Shephard Company’s 1932 anthology 20 Best Stories in Ray Long’s 20 Years as an Editor:

And then one day there came into my office in Chicago a tall, handsome chap who announced himself as Jack Boyle, 6606.  He had recently been freed from prison, where he had written the articles for The Americanand had returned to his old home in Chicago.

So it was Jack Boyle’s long-time editor Ray Long who, in a memoriam published just a few years after the Boston Blackie creator’s death, mistakenly credited Chicago as the locale of his birth.  Long must have somehow misheard or misconstrued Boyle’s comment about returning to “his old home in Chicago.”  It is entirely possible that Jack had, indeed, resided in Chicago at some time prior to his visit to Long’s office in 1917.  Large chunks of his life between 1909 and 1915 are a blank, and Jack was known to have traveled the Midwestern states.  It’s quite plausible that he lived in Chicago at some point during this gap.  But his remark about returning to “his old home in Chicago” did not mean he had returned to his birthplace, just to a place he had lived previously.  Census records have long since documented Boyle’s 1881 birth in the State of California, and this is corroborated by his World War I draft registration card.  A simple misunderstanding of a friend’s casual remark caused Ray Long to write something which spawned a chain of misinformation for over eight decades.  It’s amazing how easily an idea — even a mistaken one — becomes fact, just because it has been written down.

JBF  4/15/16



  1. Shimmer said,

    That’s fascinating that you found the source for this old misunderstanding! Congratulations on that!

    Every time I see you mention that his convict number was “6606” I always think of some old horror movie where somebody melodramatically announced “Six Six Six–the number of the Beast!” I wonder what Jack thought about it. It seems a little off-key even for Jack that he announced himself upon entering someone’s office with that bit of information. Of course for all I know, he said things like that all the time.

  2. jackboylefan said,

    Glad you liked the post! I doubt that Boyle was in the habit of announcing himself as 6606, but I can understand why he may have given the info when introducing himself to Ray Long. Boyle’s work in THE AMERICAN was printed under the byline No. 6606 (no mention of his actual name), so when Long wrote to him in prison in 1914, the correspondence would have been addressed to Jack’s convict number. There’s a pretty fair chance that up until the day that Boyle came to visit him, Long didn’t know his real name. Of course, by 1915 the name behind the 6606 byline had become pretty much an open secret, so Long might have known his name after all.

  3. Mike DeLisa said,

    I have Long’s book and reach the same conmclusion you did — that Long’s book was source of Hoch’s error — good work!

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