But, Blackie … Is That Thing Street Legal?

March 12, 2018 at 9:58 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Some folks may wonder what sort of car Chester Morris drove in Columbia Pictures’ series of Boston Blackie b-movies.  After reading the following article from the March 2, 1969 edition of The Orlando Sentinel, you still really won’t be able to answer that question … but it sounds like an amazing machine:

I can only wonder what has become of this unique vehicle in the almost 50 years since this article was published.  I haven’t found any references to it around the internet, but hopefully someone out there has restored Blackie’s crazy custom ride to all its glory.

**UPDATE**      While reporter Bill Gentry connects the car in his article to Chester Morris’ Boston Blackie films, I believe he may have gotten his facts somewhat muddled.  The photograph accompanying his piece and his description of the vehicle’s low-riding rear boasting three fins evoke memories of the car driven by Kent Taylor during much of the second season of Ziv Productions’ syndicated Boston Blackie television series.  Multiple episodes are available on YouTube, for those curious enough to check it out.

JBF  –  3/14/18

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The Radio Debut of Boston Blackie (maybe?)

January 9, 2018 at 9:43 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

As discussed in my entry from February 29, 2016 (“Tune in For Boston Blackie”), Jack Boyle’s best loved law-breaker stole into the world of radio in 1944.  Chester Morris transported the character from the movie screen to the airwaves in an NBC summer series which premiered on June 23, 1944.

Or did he?  The following item from the March 19, 1943 edition of The Shreveport Times suggests that Boston Blackie may actually have seen his radio debut more than a year before the premiere of his weekly series:

By 1943, Chester Morris had been portraying Blackie for two years in a popular series of b-movies for Columbia Pictures.  And newspapers confirm that in March of that year he made an appearance on NBC’s west coast comedy series The Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou Show (clearly to promote the Columbia films).  But this announcement’s references to “Boston Blackie” (in quotations) makes it unclear whether Morris’ guest appearance was as Blackie or himself.  An alternate piece from the same day’s edition of The Tucscon Daily Citizen mentions Blackie only as Morris’ most famous role:

Unless a recording of the March 19, 1943 installment of The Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou Show (or at least a script) surfaces someday, we may never know if the episode truly featured the radio debut of Boston Blackie, or simply a visit from Chester Morris.  Either way, the broadcast was obviously a direct result of the Columbia film series, and marks Morris’ earliest promotion of Blackie in the medium radio.  For that reason alone, The Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou Show deserves a special footnote in the history of Boston Blackie.

Tommy Riggs & Betty Lou (November 1938)

Deepest thanks to vintage radio researcher extraordinaire Karl Schadow for bringing this “forgotten” bit of Boston Blackie history to my attention.  I’m indebted to you.

JBF  1/9/18

 

 

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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 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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