San Quentin – Convict # 24700

September 26, 2017 at 10:21 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

As previously mentioned here, details regarding Jack Boyle’s life between the years 1908 and 1914 are largely a blank.  However, a huge piece of that puzzle has recently come to light, due in no small part to the wonderful folks at the California State Archives.  Thanks to their kind assistance, we can now establish when Jack was incarcerated in the San Quentin penitentiary, and on what charges he was convicted.  Despite what some have contended, he was not San Quentin’s Convict No. 6606, and he was not there for participating in an armed robbery.

Jack Boyle’s San Quentin mugshot circa Dec. 1910

According to prison records, 29 year-old, 6 foot 5/8 inch, 175 pound John “Jack” Boyle was received at San Quentin on December 17, 1910, just in time for the Christmas holidays.  Once a noted reporter under the byline J.A. Boyle, inside San Quentin’s walls his identity became Convict # 24700, imprisoned for violation of Section 476.  For those of us not immediately conversant with the California Penal Code, it’s worth noting that Section 476 covers the passing of worthless checks and related acts of forgery.  So despite the tale of armed robbery Jack spun in his 1914 memoir “A Modern Opium Eater,” his stint in San Quentin resulted from his penchant for cashing hot checks.

The veracity of the robbery story itself is suspect, particularly as a re-worked version of it surfaced quite a short time later in one of Jack’s literary efforts — a work of fiction for The Sunlight Magazine titled “The Human Tiger.”  It makes more sense that his stint in San Quentin was for the lesser offense of forgery, given that his term in the infamous California penitentiary was fairly brief.  The prison’s internal records quote conflicting release dates for Jack, but confirm that he served ten months at the most.  He was back on the streets no later than October 17, 1911.

And at that point, he dropped from public view again for another three years.  But his 1911 discharge from the California prison system firmly establishes one thing — Jack Boyle did not write the first Boston Blackie stories in San Quentin.  It would be almost another three years before Blackie would make his debut in The American Magazine, by which time Jack was an inmate of another prison.  In 1914 he was serving a stretch as Convict No. 6606 in the Canon City penitentiary near Denver, Colorado (on yet another forgery conviction).  So Canon City was the birthplace of Boston Blackie.

JBF  9/26/17



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San Francisco – 1909: The Portola Club

November 15, 2016 at 9:45 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Jack Boyle’s life between the years of 1908 and 1914 is a bit of a mystery.  Despite having published an autobiographical essay in 1914 — “A Modern Opium Eater” — Boyle gave relatively few specifics regarding the years of his drug addiction.  The essay relates a few anecdotes, and mentions multiple jail terms, but is curiously stingy with specific places and dates.  In truth, the period between his fall from grace as a journalist and the publication of his early efforts in fiction six years later under the pseudonym No. 6606 is largely a blank.

However, bits and pieces of Boyle’s “lost” years do occasionally surface.  In “A Modern Opium Eater,” Jack shares this tidbit:  “After I abandoned newspaper work I dabbled in many semi-legitimate businesses.  I occupied myself with prize-fight promotion, gambling clubs and stock tricks, all verging on swindles …”  While certainly indicative of the downward spiral at the verge of which he was upon, this admission is still rather lacking in specifics.  But it ties in nicely with the following item from the April 24, 1909 edition of The San Francisco Call:


Of course, it’s difficult to prove definitively that the J.A. Boyle who served as the founding president of the Portola Club was the same disgraced journalist, John A. “Jack” Boyle.  But another aspect of the Call‘s article is very suggestive.  It identifies the club’s secretary as George W. Schilling … and when he had been sporting editor for The San Francisco Examiner, one of Jack Boyle’s employees was George W. Schilling.  (For further info on Boyle and Schilling, see the August 17, 2015 entry to this blog, “The Misadventures of Jack Boyle – circa 1907”.)   

So in the Spring of 1909, Jack Boyle was the president of a sporting club.  This seems a fairly wholesome pursuit for a shady opium addict … until you reflect on Boyle’s comment that he dabbled in prize-fight promotions which bordered on swindles.  It would seem that part of the reason the Portola Club came into being was to facilitate Jack Boyle’s schemes connected to the sport of boxing.

JBF  11/15/16

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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

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Black Dan Pays

June 3, 2015 at 8:20 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

In April 1920, Variety ran an item announcing the negotiation of a contract between Jack Boyle and Henry M. Hobart, head of Cosmopolitan Productions. The agreement granted the film company first option on the screen rights to ten stories written by Boyle, most of which were slated for publication in upcoming issues of Cosmopolitan Magazine. The ten titles under option were “A Problem in Grand Larceny,” “An Answer in Grand Larceny,” “The Daughter of Mother McGinn,” “Alias Prince Charming,” “The Face in the Fog,” “Boomerang Bill,” “The Beauty Fountain,” “Grandad’s Girl,” “The Painted Child” and “Black Dan Pays.” Remarkably, nearly all of these stories did find their way to the silver screen within a few years, but this list of titles also presents a puzzle. Jack Boyle never published a story called “Black Dan Pays.”

At first glance, this wouldn’t seem to be much of a mystery. Boyle did write a story titled “Black Dan” for the October 1919 issue of Cosmopolitan, detailing Boston Blackie’s devotion to an underworld comrade and his sacrifice of his own freedom to prevent his friend’s dog (the titular Black Dan) from being wrongfully put to death. It would seem obvious that the Cosmopolitan editorial staff shortened Boyle’s original title of “Black Dan Pays” to simply “Black Dan” before taking the story to press. But the puzzle is actually a bit more complicated.

Certainly, this wasn’t the first time one of Boyle’s titles had been altered by a publisher. His autobiographical sketch, “A Modern Opium Eater” (American Magazine – June 1914) which prefaced the first series of Boston Blackie stories, was initially advertised as “Opium: Maker of Criminals.” Likewise, September 1918 correspondence between Red Book Magazine editorial staff and artist W.H.D. Koerner references their recent purchase of a Jack Boyle story titled “Queens of Camouflage.” Given the timing of this correspondence, and the fact that no story by that name ever appeared in the magazine, it is likely that “Queens of Camouflage” was Jack Boyle’s working title for his tale which Koerner illustrated for the December 1918 issue of Red Book, “A Problem in Grand Larceny.” However, the path to “Black Dan Pays” is even more convoluted.

The key to the mystery is held in the 1931 publication Catalogue of Stories and Plays Owned by Fox Film Corporation, from Los Angeles’ Times-Mirror Press. The catalogue is an inventory of all literary works purchased for adaptation to the screen by Fox, and among its listings is the story “Black Dan Pays” by Jack Boyle. Apparently, Cosmopolitan Productions passed on their first option of the story, and Boyle subsequently sold it to Fox. The catalogue contains the further notation that the story was first published in the September 1919 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine, and that Fox eventually released it as a silent motion picture in 1923 under the title BOSTON BLACKIE. In reality, nothing by Jack Boyle appeared in the September 1919 Cosmopolitan, but Fox’s 1923 film BOSTON BLACKIE is fairly well documented. Multiple sources, including The American Film Institute Catalogue of Feature Films, 1921 – 1930, cite the source material for the film as Cosmopolitan’s November 1919 story “The Water-Cross.”

This makes a certain amount of sense, as “The Water-Cross” features a return appearance from the dog Black Dan. In the story’s climax, Dan repays Blackie’s previous kindness by leading him out of the thick of a manhunt to safety. Bluntly, Black Dan pays … his debt to Boston Blackie. So, “The Water-Cross” is the basis for BOSTON BLACKIE, and “Black Dan Pays” is Jack Boyle’s original title for “The Water-Cross.”

Fox Film Corporation released BOSTON BLACKIE on May 6, 1923 but, curiously, the title “Black Dan Pays” continued to surface amidst confusion. More than six weeks after the film’s premiere, the June 30, 1923 issue of the motion picture trade publication Exhibitor’s Herald touted Fox’s release of BLACK DAN PAYS, starring William Russell. And as late as November 11, 1923, Montana’s The Anaconda Standard announced William Russell’s three newest films – ALIAS THE NIGHT WIND, TIMES HAVE CHANGED and BLACK DAN PAYS. To further confuse matters, scenarioist Paul Schofield excised the canine character Black Dan from his screen adaptation of Jack Boyle’s story, rendering the title BLACK DAN PAYS nonsensical. Makes one wonder what Boyle thought of all the mutations his story underwent – from a simple title change on the printed page to a radical overhaul of the narrative that appeared on screen.

JBF 6/3/15

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