The Riddle of the Bogus Boyle – Revisited!

March 7, 2016 at 10:02 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Last year, I published an entry on April 27, 2015 titled “The Riddle of the Bogus Boyle,” in which I presented an item from the magazine The Writer.  It spoke of an impostor who stole the identities of both Jack Boyle and fellow author Courtney Ryley Cooper in the early 1920s, bilking money from publishers and movie producers through the imposture.  At the time, I pointed out that the physical description of this literary hoaxer sounded suspiciously like the man who impersonated author Rufus Steele in Denver, Colorado around 1914, a one-time crony of Jack Boyle before the pair had a violent falling out.  While my comments were only educated speculation, further information has come to light which warrants giving the incident a second look.  The May 22, 1920 edition of The Los Angeles Herald included an item titled “Cooper Disowns Double in $800 Film MixUp,” detailing how the infamous impostor collected $800.00 from two Los Angeles film producers for stories he contracted to write as Courtney Ryley Cooper.  The article offers these enlightening comments from the real Mr. Cooper:

“Judging from the description of the gentleman, he is the person whom I exposed in Denver several years ago while he was masquerading under the name of Rufus Steele, the San Francisco author, claiming incidentally that he wrote under the name of Jack Boyle.  At that time he stated that his real name was William Steele and that he lived somewhere in Oklahoma  …  The funny part of it is he cannot write a line.  And the worst of it is that he doesn’t give poor Jack Boyle a chance.  Boyle’s a real flesh and blood person — but he’s only a nom de plume whenever Steele’s impersonations — if this is Steele — get up steam and start working.”

Still not proof positive that it was William F. “Rufus” Steele who stole the identities of Boyle and Courtney Ryley Cooper ninety-five years ago, but it certainly sounds as though Cooper believed it to be so.  And I can’t help but agree with him.

JBF  3/7/16



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Tune in for Boston Blackie …

February 29, 2016 at 8:13 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Richard Kollmar is the performer most associated with portraying Boston Blackie on radio, holding the distinction of having played the role more times than any other actor in any medium.  But in its earliest incarnation, as a 1944 summer replacement series on NBC, the Blackie radio program was an extension of the Columbia Pictures series of b-movies, and brought Chester Morris to the airwaves to reprise his starring role from the silver screen.  The following piece from the June 16, 1944 edition of The Bluefield Telegraph is one of the earliest announcements of Blackie’s transition to radio:

Bluefileld Telegraph 6-16-44

Amos ‘n’ Andy eventually came back from vacation to reclaim their spot on NBC, but Boston Blackie wasn’t about to relinquish his status as a radio sleuth.  Under the auspices of Ziv Productions, the series remained in production until 1951, and available in syndication well beyond that.  Not bad, for a character created nearly 40 years earlier.

JBF  2/29/16

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February 15, 2016 at 4:27 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I am happy to report that, so far in 2016, work on The Complete Boston Blackie is moving at the pace I projected in my in January progress report.  The “History of Boston Blackie” essay is now complete, and the biographical sketch of Jack Boyle is off to a good start.  As a bit of a sneak preview, here is the opening of the Boston Blackie piece:

“BOSTON BLACKIE KILLED” was the proclamation in the March 29, 1900 edition of The Saint Paul Globe.  At the time, Jack Boyle was an up-and-coming reporter in San Francisco, still more than a decade away from creating his infamous ebony-eyed safecracker of New England heritage, and yet Boston Blackie lay dying in a Michigan saloon.  Or, rather, a Boston Blackie lay dying.  While Boyle would make the name Boston Blackie known around the globe by the 1920s, the appellation was around long before he put pen to paper.  The checkered history of Boston Blackie encompasses a number of men (both real and fictional) all laying claim to the colorful sobriquet.

Thanks for the continued interest in this project, and I’ll be back with another update in a few weeks!

JBF – 2/15/16

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The Wallingford Connection

February 3, 2016 at 10:10 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Mt Adams Sun 8-1-41

Pittsburgh Press 4-17-41

Huh?  Get-Rich-Quick who?  Jack Boyle never wrote about any character known as  Wallingford, and yet numerous press releases in the 1940s connected the name to Boston Blackie.  What’s the story?

Actually, confidence man J. Rufus Wallingford was the literary creation not of Jack Boyle, but of a phenomenally popular author in the earliest days of the 20th century, named George Randolph Chester.  The character first appeared between book covers in the 1908 collection from the Henry Altemus Company Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford: A Cheerful Account of the Rise and Fall of an American Business Buccaneer (though the tales first appeared individually in issues of The Saturday Evening Post a year earlier, in 1907).  So the Wallingford series debuted and found a wide readership a decade ahead of Boston Blackie.

While there is no actual connection between George Randolph Chester’s sharp-dealing protagonist and Jack Boyle’s notorious safe-cracker, the Wallingford series did prominently feature a character named Blackie.  The protagonist’s partner in crime was a shady fellow named Blackie Daw.

And that’s where confusion has arisen over the years.  The similarity in names between George Randolph Chester’s con man Blackie Daw and Jack Boyle’s master criminal Boston Blackie Dawson has led a number of sources to confuse the two characters.  Press releases for Meet Boston Blackie were not the only items that connected Boyle’s burglar to Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford.  Promotional material for the syndicated Boston Blackie radio series made the same mistake at least as late as 1948, and some reference works published well into the 21st century have erroneously credited George Randolph Chester with creating Boston Blackie.  Certainly, the existence of two popular characters with such similar names — created within several years of each other, and both living on the wrong side of the law — is confusing.  But is the similarity of their names a coincidence?

Perhaps not.  When Boston Blackie first appeared in The American Magazine in 1914, he had no other name.  He was simply Boston Blackie.  But when he resurfaced in the pages of The Red Book Magazine three years later, he had acquired the surname Dawson.  A few years after Jack Boyle’s death, Red Book editor Ray Long recorded his recollection of how the author came to resurrect Blackie for the pages of his magazine.  During a visit to Long’s Chicago office, Boyle spoke with him about the current crop of fiction, and criticized a story about a professional confidence man.  His complaint was that the fellow in the story could be recognized as a criminal by a ten year old child.  “‘Confidence man’ means a man who wins your confidence.  That’s his stock in trade.  The fellow in your story couldn’t win the confidence of any one.  If such a person tried the confidence game, he’d starve to death.”  In response, Long encouraged Boyle to furnish some stories about “real crooks,” and the result was “Boston Blackie’s Mary,” the story in which the name Dawson first appears in the Blackie canon.

Certainly, there is no way to prove that it was one of George Randolph Chester’s stories that Boyle was criticizing, or that the confidence man in question was Blackie Daw.  However, it is unquestionable that Chester wrote for a number of popular periodicals during this period (including The Red Book and Cosmopolitan), and that the Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford stories made numerous appearances in magazines and newspapers.  The series was firmly in the public eye the day that Boyle paid his visit to Long’s office.  While it’s possible that he was referring to a story about another confidence artist, it strains credibility that he would subsequently just happen to name his own character so closely after another con man from popular fiction of the time.  It seems more plausible that, in naming his own character Blackie Dawson, Jack Boyle was tweaking the nose of the creator of Blackie Daw.

Again, there is no way to prove this speculation, so it must be taken, at best, as a hypothesis.  Did Jack Boyle name his most famous character in response to an already-popular criminal protagonist whom he found absurdly unrealistic?  No one can say.  But if he did, to some degree his joke backfired on him.  Decades later, people confuse Blackies Dawson and Daw, giving rise to questions of exactly who created Boston Blackie.  I doubt Boyle would have been so keen to christen Blackie the way he did had he known that it might cast doubt on his creation of his own most popular character.

JBF  2/3/16

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Boston Blackie Booked on … Vagrancy???

January 11, 2016 at 8:42 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

A curious thing happened in Michigan in November 1914.  Just one month after Jack Boyle’s story “A Thief’s Daughter” (the final installment in the quartet of tales which introduced his most famous character to the world) appeared in The American Magazine,  Boston Blackie was arrested in Grand Rapids.  Before anyone thinks this is a story from The Twilight Zone, it should be pointed out that the name Boston Blackie had been around for years before Boyle appropriated it for his criminal protagonist.  Newspapers from the early 1900s do not lack for Boston Blackies.

George Davis mugshot

This particular Blackie was a man named George Davis, who was arrested in Grand Rapids for vagrancy.  However, several years later Davis was arrested in the same city by patrolman Emil Roettger, who at that time identified him as “the notorious safe-cracker Boston Blackie.”  So the history of Michigan law enforcement records that there really was an infamous safe-breaker named Boston Blackie.

JBF  1/11/16

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January 4, 2016 at 9:56 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Anyone who reads this blog regularly is aware that I have been working for years now to acquire every piece of fiction written by Jack Boyle.  My main goal for this search has been to release, for the first time, a book collecting all of the original Boston Blackie stories into a single volume.  My initial target date for release was 2014, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Blackie’s first appearance, but a variety of factors conspired to make that window unfeasible.  Subsequently, I projected publication for late 2015, but that mark has passed as well.  Rather than continue to make estimates on when the book will be released, I’ve decided to post periodic progress reports, so that anyone with an interest will have a clear idea of where the project stands.

As of this writing, I’m actually intending to release three separate collections.  The first two will be companion publications, released under the umbrella title PRISON STRIPES, REVOLVER SHOTS, & OPIUM SMOKE: THE COLLECTED FICTION OF JACK BOYLE.  Volume One of this pair will be THE COMPLETE BOSTON BLACKIE and Volume Two will be THE CLAWS OF THE TONG.  Between the two, they will collect every known short story by Jack Boyle, along with related essays, illustrations, and further ephemera.  The third volume is a slimmer collection, bearing the working title BOSTON BLACKIE STILL AT LARGE!  It will encompass vintage material about Blackie written by authors other than Jack Boyle.

In order to keep from being completely overwhelmed by these endeavors, I’m concentrating on getting just THE COMPLETE BOSTON BLACKIE to press first.  The good news is, the great majority of the work on this one is done.  The volume is slated to contain 25 short stories by Boyle, 23 of which have been re-typeset and proofread.  Two related stories by other authors also scheduled for inclusion are set and proofed, as well as four brief essays detailing various aspects of the Boston Blackie phenomenon.  Two longer essays are still in the works.  The first, “The History of Boston Blackie,” is three-quarters complete, while the second – a biographical sketch of Jack Boyle – is only in the outline phase.  My goal is to have “The History of Boston Blackie” complete by the end of January, and the piece on the life of Jack Boyle done in April.

Once the essays are complete, the remaining two Blackie stories will need to be re-typeset.  Then, the entire text and illustrations will need to be formatted.  After that, the book will finally be ready for publication.  I’m going to be optimistic, and shoot for having the e-book and softcover editions available in June, with a hardcover version out later in the year.  Again, these are only projections, and not set in stone, so be sure to check back here periodically for further news.  I’ll be posting an update every four to six weeks, to keep everyone abreast of the progress.  In the meantime, feel free to comment here if you have any thoughts about the work in development.

JBF  1/4/16

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December 19, 2015 at 10:43 AM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

In honor of the season, I’m pleased to present here the only Christmas story featuring Boston Blackie ever written by Jack Boyle:

Boston Blackie, the master cracksman of the “mob” of safe-blowers that had given the detective force the most strenuous and profitless month’s work in its history, emptied tray after tray of diamonds into the chamois-skin sack held by his youthful assistant, the “Cushions Kid.”  The haul was a gigantic one.  The door of the big strong box lay wrecked on the floor.  Inside the safe the stock of gems that had attracted thousands of Christmas shoppers to the window display of Lundstrom & Company lay at the mercy of the thieves.  Rapidly Blackie searched the safe, throwing aside gold bracelets, watches, and costly trinkets of every description.  He took only diamonds and money.  Both are well-nigh impossible to identify.

The crime was a climax in effrontery.  Forty feet away from the safe on the main street of the metropolis the night traffic of the city flowed past the store’s front doors.  Within half a block the presses of three big morning dailies had just commenced to roar.  On the corner an eager crowd of newsboys, a dozen or more pallid-faced nighthawks and a couple of policemen laughed and bandied just as they waited for a paper and the “owl” cars.  In the midst of all this Blackie had cracked the safe undetected.

With a skillfully-made skeleton key he and Cushions had entered the candy store next door to the jewelry firm.  In a half hour they had burrowed through the wall of plaster and lath and were beside the jewelry safe.  The glazed windows of the office in which the safe stood hid them from the street.  It was Blackie’s task to blow the safe without breaking this glass.  With a manufacturer’s plan of the safe before him he had spent long hours studying the problem, computing the risk.  Blackie was a crook who reduced everything to simple arithmetic.  For a one-thousand-dollar job he took a certain amount of risk, for ten thousand dollars exactly ten times that risk.  But if the trick involved ten times the unit of danger and promised but nine times the money, it was abandoned.  The Lundstrom job was more than risky – it was all but foolhardy.  But, though the danger was great, the loot was greater.

And now the “trick” was accomplished.  The noise of the explosion, slight though it was, had been effectively drowned by the staccato explosions of an automobile engine, apparently stalled a few doors away.  Emptying the last of the diamond drawers, Blackie motioned Cushions back through the wall and noiselessly followed.  Standing at the street door of the candy store, they stopped, listening.  Seemingly intent on his reluctant carburetor, “Jimmy the Joke” whistled cheerfully as he worked, giving them thereby the safety signal.

Blackie unlocked the door, stepped out and turned to relock it.  In the middle of the bar Jimmy’s tune changed suddenly, sharply.  Now it sounded the dreaded warning “coppers.”  The safe-blower turned the key like a flash and stepped away from the door toward the middle of the sidewalk.  He was too late.  A gray-clad Pinkerton watchman had turned the corner less than a dozen feet away and had seen the cracksman at the door.

Cushions, white to the lips, slipped his right hand into his sleeve where he carried a revolver after the fashion of the gunmen of the Chinese tongs.  The watchman reached for his whistle.  There was a tense half second in which life and death hung on equally balanced scales.  Then Blackie strode forward, gripping Cushions’ elbow in imperative negation as he passed.

“Why, here’s the very man we want!” he cried out, glad surprise in every tone.  “Watchman, I’m Mr. Archibald, manager of our other candy store on Mission Street.  Here’s my card.  Our cashier telephoned me an hour ago that she was not sure she had locked the safe and was worried about it.  I thought it best to come down and make sure.  It was locked, but, my man, it might not have been.  That brings me to my business with you.  We are carrying considerable money just now, and I’d appreciate it if you would give us a little extra care until after the holidays.  The safe is in plain sight from the windows, as you see.”  He motioned the watchman to the window of the candy store and indicated the safe, which was manifestly intact and locked.  Blackie jingled the keys he had used in locking the door and dropped them into his pocket.

“Just look out for us for the next fortnight, and – ah – drop in and present that card to the cashier on Christmas Eve.  I think she will have a little token of our appreciation for you.  Have a cigar?  Good night.  Chauffeur, drive me home – 1816 Page Street.”  The address was spoken loud enough for the watchman to hear. 

Blackie and Cushions stepped into the car.  Jimmy threw in the clutch and leaped forward.

Behind them the slow-witted Pinkerton underling stared at the card in his hand in indecision.  It bore the name “B.S. Archibald” and the address was 1816 Page Street.  That was where the gentleman had told the chauffeur to take him.  The lingering doubt vanished. 

“Gee, that there was a close shave,” the man muttered to himself, wiping his dripping brow.  “I hadn’t no doubt I’d run foul of a gang of burglars right in the act.  I might ‘a’ known he was too well-dressed and educated-like to be a burglar.  Suppose I’d tried to arrest him – the manager of the store!  They’d given me the sack, sure, at the office.  A man can’t be too careful in this business.  He’s got to go slow … Yes, the safe’s sure all right.”  He studied it carefully, and then, satisfied, passed on down the block, trying the doors.

This vignette first appeared in the August 1914 issue of The American Magazine as part of Jack Boyle’s tale “The Story About Dad Morgan.”  Merry Christmas!

JBF  12/19/15

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December 6, 2015 at 11:14 AM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Jack Boyle’s one enduring character is Boston Blackie.  Though he did craft tales with other protagonists (Huk Kant and Pep Kirby, among the more memorable), none of these have captured the imaginations of readers, movie-goers and television viewers like Blackie.  Still, it should be noted that Boyle had an indirect hand in the birth of another popular mystery character of the 1930s and ‘40s – Stuart Palmer’s sleuthing school teacher Miss Hildegarde Withers.  Tom and Enid Schantz, founders of The Rue Morgue Press, tell the story this way:

Sometimes a seemingly ordinary event shapes a person’s life, even though it might take years before its significance is recognized. Such an event overtook 12-year-old Stuart Palmer as he was working his way through the pine bookcase in the attic of his family’s summer place in rural Wisconsin when he came across a small yellow volume with an intriguing sketch on the cover. It was The Houseboat on the Styx by John Kendrick Bangs, an 1896 collection of humorous sketches featuring the “shades” or ghosts Stuart Palmerof famous literary characters. Among the literary personages making an appearance was Sherlock Holmes, the world’s first private consulting detective … When the Palmer family returned to their winter home in Baraboo, Wisconsin, Stuart rushed to the local library where “the acidulous spinster librarian” handed him, “with a disapproving sniff,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Valley of Fear, the second of the four full-length Sherlock Holmes novels. He quickly worked his way through the canon, practically memorizing passages from The Adventures and The Memoirs, failing only to find a copy of His Last Bow. It turns out that the library’s copy had been checked out to the town’s only ex-convict, who skipped town the next day with his girlfriend. The ex-con was Jack Boyle, whose lone book, Boston Blackie, would be filmed many times and many years later. Call it irony or call it coincidence, but the screenwriter for one of those films was Stuart Palmer. Boyle left behind him numerous unpaid bills and even more empty whiskey bottles, prompting the parents of Baraboo to hold him up to their offspring as an example of the evils of drink and the futility of making a living as a writer. “It was then,” Palmer said, “that I definitely chose what was to be my life’s work.”

So Jack Boyle’s example (dubious though it may have been) inspired Stuart Palmer to become a professional writer, which in turn led to the creation of the quintessential school teacher turned sleuth, Hildegarde Withers.  The anecdote of Palmer and the Baraboo library’s missing volume of Sherlock Holmes is delightful, and the picture it paints of Boyle as a bit of a scoundrel has the ring of truth.  Tom and Enid Schantz initially related this incident on their Rue Morgue Press website in July 2004, and later incorporated it into their excellent essay “The Many Puzzles of Stuart Palmer” (published in the 2013 Mysterious Press reprint of Palmer’s The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla).  The story offers a rare treat – a small glimpse into Jack Boyle’s life in Baraboo.  However, despite the vignette’s air of authenticity, there are a few problems with its details.

The first is an issue of timing.  Palmer was born in 1905, which dates the events of this anecdote around 1917 (if he was, indeed, twelve when he began devouring the Sherlock Holmes canon).  But Boyle didn’t move away from Baraboo until around May 1920 (relocating to a ranch he purchased in Colorado), so the story must have taken place a few years later than Palmer’s recollection.  Also, the woman who accompanied Boyle upon his departure was not a girlfriend, but his wife Violet.

Another inconsistency in this narrative arises from the statement that Stuart Palmer was the screenwriter of one of the Boston Blackie movies.  While he did author a number of screenplays in the 1930s and ‘40s (including several for such b-movie mystery series as Bulldog Drummond and The Falcon), Palmer’s name does not appear in connection with any of the Blackie films.  It is possible that his work was uncredited, or perhaps that he contributed the teleplay for an as yet undocumented installment of the Boston Blackie television series.  However, it seems more likely that a mistake is at play here.  Palmer was responsible for the story to the 1935 feature film One Frightened Night.  This film bears no relation to Boston Blackie, but in 1944 Columbia Pictures released an entry in their Blackie series titled One Mysterious Night.  Could the attribution of a Blackie screenplay to Palmer arise from a simple confusion of two similar titles?

Though a minor point, one further discrepancy in this anecdote bears mentioning.  Sherlock Holmes does not appear in John Kendrick Bangs’ 1896 collection A Houseboat on the Styx.  But he is a major character in its 1897 sequel, The Pursuit of the Houseboat.  Small variations from fact such as this, and the question of the year in which Boyle made off with the Baraboo Library’s copy of His Last Bow, suggest this anecdote sprang from a later reminiscence from Stuart Palmer.  The passage of years often robs a recollection of accurate detail, but not of the significance of its story.  Late in the second decade of the 20th century, Baraboo, Wisconsin played home to two generations of influential crime writers – one established, and the other in the infancy of his career.  Without even actually meeting, Jack Boyle nudged Stuart Palmer onto the path of writing.  So without knowing it, the creator of Boston Blackie was an element in the genesis of Miss Hildegarde Withers and dozens of popular mysteries for decades to come.

JBF 12/6/15

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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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