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:

sf-call-4-24-09

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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The Other Jack Boyles

June 29, 2011 at 9:45 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

When I first dove into this project two decades ago, I hadn’t realized that one of my biggest stumbling blocks would be the name “Jack Boyle.” Try running a Google search on it, and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s an exceptionally common name, and even a casual pass at it will yield a staggering number of hits corresponding to scores of different people.  Without a doubt, there is only one creator of Boston Blackie, but history has given the world a multitude of Jack Boyles. Trying to narrow things  down to a single man brings the old cliché “a needle in a haystack” to mind.

Among my many such hindrances, the chief culprit is a major league baseball player known as “Honest Jack” Boyle.  This fellow gives me grief on several levels.  Not only do he and writer Boyle have the nickname “Jack” in common, but both also share the christian name John A. Boyle.  Also, both lived at roughly the same time (the late 19th century into the early 20th), so it’s impossible to use chronology alone to distinguish the two.  “Honest Jack” was born in Ohio, and made his major league debut in 1886 with the Cincinnati Red Stockings. His sports career extended through 1898, with stints playing for such teams as the St. Louis Browns, the Chicago Pirates, the New York Giants, and the Philadelphia Phillies.  After retiring from the game, he became a successful saloon owner, until his death from Bright’s Disease in 1913.

Still another successful Jack Boyle had a career which flourished during the early days of the 20th century (much to my chagrin).  This gentleman was a popular comedian and vaudeville performer, whose name appeared in newspaper announcements across the country in the 1910s and ‘20s.  He and partner Dave Kramer toured as “The Happy-Go-Lucky Pair,” and he also performed with fellow entertainer James Hussey.  Vaudeville’s Jack Boyle died July 8, 1933 in Lynbrook, near Long Island.

The 1920s alone had no shortage of Jack Boyles.  Along with the vaudevillian Boyle, a sportsman bearing the moniker received sporadic attention from the newspapers of the 1920s and ‘30s.  Little of his later career seems to have been documented, but for a time he was a noted West Coast boxing promoter, owning a gym in Los Angeles.  Also during this decade, a fictional Jack Boyle hit the scene.  In 1924, Dublin dramatist Sean O’Casey wrote JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK, featuring a drunken scoundrel named Captain Jack Boyle.  The show was the second installment in O’Casey’s “Dublin trilogy,” and became one of the most performed Irish plays of the 20th century.

Moving from Drama to Dance, another notable Jack Boyle began a screen career as a dancer and choreographer in the mid-1930s.  Jack Boyle Jr. was
born in Illinois in 1916, and broke into movies as an uncredited dancer in COLLEGE HOLIDAY (1936).  It is tempting to speculate that Boyle Jr. might have been the son of the Jack, since Boyle the writer did have connections to Chicago around 1916.  However, it seems unlikely, since writer Boyle was in and out of prison for so much of the mid-1910s.  One distinction of Boyle Jr. was a friendship with songwriter George M. Cohan.  His career extended well into the 1960s, with appearances on both the large and small screens.

The world of music has also had a noteworthy Jack Boyle, though not in the form of a musician.  Jack Boyle the promoter launched his career in the
early 1960s in the Washington DC area, running music clubs and night spots such as the Cellar Door and the Crazy Horse.  He later moved into full-time concert promotion, earning a reputation as a skilled negotiator and a tough-but-fair businessman.  Officially retired, in 1996 he was honored in
a New York ceremony for his profound and lasting impact on the concert business.

These half dozen characters are by no means the only Jack Boyles who confound any researcher digging for information about the creator of Boston
Blackie.  But they are the six most common Jacks who obscure the trail, and bedevil the hapless sap who thinks it would be fun to learn a bit more
about an obscure early 20th century crime writer.  The Jack Boyles of history have my respect, but they can also be the bane of my existence.

JBF  6/29/11

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