Canon City – Convict #6606 and the Mysterious J.J. Moore

April 15, 2019 at 9:06 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Who was J.J. Moore?  While his name is obscure today, newspaper reports from early 1915 connect him to Jack Boyle’s most famous literary creation.  The February 6, 1915 edition of Colorado’s The Loveland Daily Herald even identified Moore as “the Blackie of magazine and convict fame.”  It went on to mention Moore’s 1914 stint in Canon City Penitentiary (at the same time Jack Boyle was incarcerated there), as well as his servitude on the Fall River road gang.  Since Boyle later claimed that he had based Boston Blackie on a real-life underworld figure, is it possible that inmate J.J. Moore was his inspiration for the character?

Based on the Herald’s information, the idea is certainly tempting.  And subsequent news items paint Moore as quite the dubious character.  The Herald reported that, shortly after Moore’s release from the state’s custody, writer Rufus Steele accused him of “going back to his old habits.”  Scant days later, The San Francisco Chronicle revealed that Moore had repaid Steele with “two black eyes, sundry other bruises, and another dent in his reputation.”  Then, in early March the Dayton Daily News reported that Moore had been taken into custody at the order of Federal District Attorney Francis M. Wilson, and would be “arraigned on Monday on a charge of violating the Mann white slave act.”  Quite the rough customer, indeed.

However, no matter how appealing the words of The Loveland Daily Herald may make the hypothesis that J.J. Moore was the “real” Boston Blackie, there’s one major flaw in the theory.  A February 21, 1915 item in The Kansas City Star makes short work of the idea, with the comment that “J.J. Moore is the author of the Boston Blackie stories … under the pen name of ‘Convict 6606’.”  The San Francisco Chronicle was even more to the point in their February 11, 1915 issue, stating “The J.J. Moore referred to … is John A. Boyle or Jack Boyle, formerly a newspaper man …” 

So J.J. Moore was not Boston Blackie, but Jack Boyle.  How Boyle came to be living in Colorado under an assumed name is unknown, but hardly surprising.  When he had been arrested for forgery in Utah half a decade earlier professing the name W.R. Ellis, the July 7, 1910 edition of The Salt Lake Tribune identified him as “J.A. Boyle, alias at least a dozen other names …”  In fact, most printed references to Boyle circa 1914 – 15 primarily refer to him as Moore (suggesting that he may have actually served his time in Canon City Penitentiary under the false name).  Even while his initial Boston Blackie stories were appearing in The American Magazine, newspapers were identifying him in the manner of the final paragraph in the following piece from The Wichita Weekly Eagle (June 5, 1914):

Wichita Eagle 6-5-14

Regardless of what alias he was employing, this report from the Weekly Eagle provides a couple of major pieces to the puzzle of Jack Boyle’s early life.  Not only does it document how he is purported to have overcome his opium addiction (no mean feat), but it also establishes when he entered the confines of Canon City Penitentiary.  If the June 1914 article’s contention that he “was sent from Denver eight months ago” is accurate, then Jack Boyle started his sentence with the state of Colorado around October 1913.  And Boston Blackie was conceived within those prison walls sometime during that eight-month period.  What Jack was up to in the years between his August 1911 release from San Quentin and his Denver arrest in October 1913 is still anyone’s guess, but little by little the gaps in his life are narrowing.

 JBF – 4/15/19


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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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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:


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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Blackie & Mary’s Screen Debut

August 9, 2016 at 9:11 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Over the years, many performers have portrayed Boston Blackie and his beloved Mary, in media ranging from cinema to radio to television.  First seen in illustrations for the pages of The American and The Red Book magazines , the “first couple” of the underworld was given form by artists such as N.C. Wyeth and W.H.D. Koerner.  But the first flesh and blood pair to bring the characters to life on the silver screen were Bert Lytell and Rhea Mitchell, in Metro Pictures’ 1918 production Boston Blackie’s Little Pal.

Rhea Mitchell & Bert Lytell

the screen’s original Blackie & Mary

Lytell looks appropriately suave and dashing in the role of Blackie, with Mitchell a fine image of Mary.  And director E. Mason Hopper’s cinematic interpretation of the Red Book tale seems to adhere closely to Jack Boyle’s original plot (as evidenced by this item from the September 14, 1918 issue of Exhibitor’s Herald):

Exhibitors Herald 9-14-18

Lytell would play Blackie again in the 1919 offering Blackie’s Redemption, but that production saw actress Alice Lake assume the role of Mary.  However, her performance in Boston Blackie’s Little Pal endows Rhea Mitchell the indisputable title of cinema’s first Boston Blackie’s Mary.

Mary & Blackie pic

JBF  8/9/16

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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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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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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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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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The Myth of Horatio Black

June 29, 2015 at 10:05 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The internet would have you believe that Boston Blackie’s real name is Horatio Black.  This is the answer swiftly yielded by any casual Google search, and the pedigree behind the name sounds quite plausible.  However, as is the case with most easy answers, it falls short of the facts.

To begin with, “Horatio Black” suggests that the nickname “Blackie” sprang from the character’s family surname.  But Jack Boyle himself refutes this notion in the very first Boston Blackie tale, “The Price of Principle” (American Magazine – July 1914). The introduction of the character reveals that his “piercing black eyes and New England birthplace had won him his nickname …”  So Blackie’s creator expressly establishes that his colorful sobriquet is derived from his commanding eyes, and not from a variation of his family name.

Some sources suggest that the name Horatio Black originated in an unspecified episode the 1945-49 syndicated radio series BOSTON BLACKIE, in which actor Richard Kolmar played the lead.  This seems unlikely though, when you consider the series’ June 6, 1945 installment “Mrs. Boston Blackie.”  The episode revolves around the appearance of a woman who claims to be married to Blackie, brandishing a marriage certificate as proof.  On the document, the groom’s name is — Boston Blackie.  If the writers of the radio series had given the character any other name, surely they would have put it on his marriage papers.  But there’s a more compelling reason that the name Horatio Black couldn’t have risen from Blackie’s radio incarnation.

The simple fact of the matter is that, as far as Boston Blackie is concerned, the name Horatio Black can be traced back at least as far as 1943 — two years prior to the radio series’ debut.  In March of that year, Columbia Pictures released AFTER MIDNIGHT WITH BOSTON BLACKIE, the fifth in their series of Blackie b-movies starring Chester Morris.  In the film, Blackie’s name is revealed as Horatio Black by the daughter of a former underworld friend.  This may or may not be the first appearance of the name in conjunction with Blackie, but the timing of it definitively establishes that the name was not an invention of the radio series.  However, 1943 was a long time after Blackie’s 1914 debut in print.  Rather than trying to verify the origin of Horatio Black, the bigger question is, did Jack Boyle ever provide a civilian name to his most famous creation?

The first hint of an answer appears in “Boston Blackie’s Mary” (Red Book Magazine – November 1917).  The story explicitly names Blackie’s wife Mary Dawson, despite the fact that she was previously Mary Harris in “A Thief’s Daughter” (American – October 1914) before the pair were married. Dawson is again presented as Mary’s name in “A Problem in Grand Larceny” (Red Book – December 1918), cementing the idea that this is, indeed, Blackie’s surname.  Then, in “The Face in the Fog” (Cosmopolitan Magazine – May 1920), detective Huk Kant greets Boyle’s protagonist as Blackie Dawson, removing all doubt that, canonically, the name belongs to both Blackie and Mary.

While Jack Boyle provided his criminal hero a surname relatively early in the series, it wasn’t until he penned his final tale of the character that he divulged his full given name.  On May 9, 1925, The Los Angeles Times published the seventh installment of Boyle’s serial “Daggers of Jade.”  In it, he presents us with “John Dawson, once known by the the police of every city from Maine to California as Boston Blackie …”  So, with his swan song story of his most popular character, Jack Boyle reveals that Boston Blackie is John Dawson.

In truth, the reality seems almost banal.  Horatio Black seems a more dashing name for a safecracker than the workaday John Dawson.  But perhaps it’s not too surprising that Jack Boyle settled on the name John for his rogue hero.  After all, his own name was John Alexander Boyle.

JBF 6/29/15

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