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:

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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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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The Secret of the Steamer COLON

July 19, 2016 at 9:19 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Not so long ago (April 13, 2015, for those of you keeping score), I wrote a post discussing the long unseen, unexpurgated version of Jack Boyle’s story “The Woman Called Rita.”  In its original incarnation, the tale was a sequel to “Boston Blackie’s Mary,” opening with Blackie’s attempt to flee the country in the wake of his escape from prison in the previous story.  Boyle’s original version of this yarn revealed that Blackie and Mary planned to flee to Central America aboard the steamship Colon, only to be thwarted by a mechanical failure in the ship’s boiler room.

It’s interesting to note that there really was an ocean-going vessel out of San Francisco known as the Colon,  owned by the city’s Pacific Mail Steam Ship Company and sailing a regular route between New York and Panama.  In fact, the Colon made her trans-Pacific run for many decades, so when Jack Boyle needed a realistic means of spiriting his criminal hero out of the country, the Pacific Mail’s trusty steamer was an excellent option.

SS Colon

the Steamship Colon

Though Blackie and Mary never managed to make their escape to Central America, nevertheless the Colon once carried a cargo precious to Jack Boyle.  In fact, the steamer had a major influence on his family’s history.  Note the following item from the July 24, 1873 edition of the San Francisco newspaper The Daily Alta California:

Boyles aboard Colon

Among the passengers reported arriving in San Francisco that July were S.A. Boyle and O.M. Boyle … known less formally as Sarah Boyle (Jack’s grandmother) and Olin McClintock Boyle (Jack’s father).  Prior to 1873, both were lifelong inhabitants of the East Coast.  But after studying at West Point and working on several newspapers in Pennsylvania, Olin decided to take a chance on finding his fortune out West (apparently bringing his mother along for the trip).  It was the Colon that brought the Boyle family to California, where eight years later Jack would be born.

It’s hardly surprising that when Jack needed a ship on which his main character might depart to make a fresh start, he chose the Colon.  Not only would many readers of the time find the name familiar, but the steamer also held a place in his own family history.  Sadly, Blackie and Mary were never to make their passage to another life upon her decks, but the Colon certainly played a part in changing the lives of the Boyle family.

By the way, while Blackie and Mary never managed to sail for Panama, not many months later they did take a momentous voyage aboard a steamship.  And that vessel had a real-life counterpart whose history inspired one of Boston Blackie’s most elaborate heists.  But that’s a story for another blog post.

JBF  7/19/16

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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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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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THE BOSTON BLACKIE BOOK – 2016 PROGRESS REPORT #2

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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THE BOSTON BLACKIE BOOK – 2016 PROGRESS REPORT #1

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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