No. 6606’s Last Bow

September 19, 2016 at 8:12 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

In honor of mid-September, with summer slowly slipping into autumn, here’s a seldom-seen bit of advertising from 102 years ago this very month:

thiefs-daughter-ad

This bit of vintage promotion comes from the September 26, 1914 issue  of The Literary Digest, hyping (among other things) the last of Jack Boyle’s original quartet of Boston Blackie stories.  “A Thief’s Daughter” was the final yarn to bear Boyle’s No. 6606 pseudonym, and the first appearance of Blackie’s beloved Mary.  With illustrations from N.C. Wyeth, the tale made for an excellent final bow to Boyle’s American Magazine readers.  It would be another three years before Boston Blackie would surface again, in the pages of The Red Book.

JBF  9/19/16

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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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HAPPY HOLIDAYS, FROM BOSTON BLACKIE

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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Unseen Boston Blackie … The “Lost” Images

May 4, 2015 at 1:00 AM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

When The American Magazine published the quartet of tales which introduced Boston Blackie to the world in 1914, readers were treated not only to the watershed stories of Jack Boyle’s literary career, but also to the graphic artistry of a master illustrator.  These early Blackie yarns were graced by illustrations from rising American artist N.C. Wyeth.  Each story was accompanied by several original Wyeth compositions, all rendered in beautiful black and white.  Several excellent artists illustrated Blackie’s magazine adventures over the years – W.H.D. Koerner and Lee Conrey, to name just a pair – but Wyeth’s work on the series is in a class by itself.

Which makes it all the more exciting to discover a couple of Boston Blackie images that have never been published the way Wyeth originally rendered them.  While The American presented these pieces gorgeously in black and white, the artist painted at least some of them in full color.  So, while Wyeth’s work on Boston Blackie has been available to the public for literally as long as the character has existed, almost no one has seen the paintings the way they actually appeared resting on the artist’s easel.

Happily, the Brandywine River Museum in Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania is home to many of the original canvases of N.C. Wyeth, and among them are at least two full color images from Jack Boyle’s very first set of Boston Blackie tales.  These images cannot be reproduced here (as they are copyrighted to the Brandywine Museum), but for your enjoyment I will present links to them as they appear on the museum’s website:

http://brandywine.doetech.net/Voyager/image.cfm?ImageKey=9785&ImageFile=/VoyagerImages/BRM_93.23.jpg&TableKey=OBJECT:1213155

This first painting was highlighted in the October 1914 story “A Thief’s Daughter,” and features an image of Mary, before her marriage to Blackie, preparing opium for a group of her father’s friends.  Blackie is among the group.

http://brandywine.doetech.net/Voyager/image.cfm?ImageKey=9493&ImageFile=/VoyagerImages/BRM_96.1.13.jpg&TableKey=OBJECT:1278033

And this image comes from the September 1914 tale “Death Cell Visions,” in which Blackie and his cellmate are visited nightly by a ghostly apparition.

While Wyeth’s Blackie illustrations are among the finest done for the series, apparently N.C. Wyeth himself was less than thrilled to be doing such commercial work.  The Brandywine’s notes on the “Death Cell Visions” piece include the following comments:           

In May, 1914 Wyeth wrote, “To-day on my easel stands a canvas vividly portraying two murderers in a death-cell. The apparition of a hideous blood stained face stares at them from the wall. It is only by using my utmost power of control that I do not get up from this note and destroy the damned thing! But patience! I see the opening clear, where I can choose what kind of thing shall be my output.”           

Regardless of Wyeth’s feelings regarding his commercial work, his illustrations for Boston Blackie’s debut run in The American are fantastic visualizations of Jack Boyle’s scenes, and are well worth the effort of any Blackie fan to view them.  Many more are available on the Brandywine’s website, accessible simply by running the name Blackie though their catalogue’s keyword search.  I highly encourage everyone to take the time to give it a look.

JBF 5/4/15

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