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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The Case of the Pummeled Publisher

August 23, 2016 at 10:53 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Given the notoriety Jack Boyle garnered in the journalistic world after falling victim to opium addiction, it is often forgotten that he was once a very respected newsman in San Francisco.  Here is a rare glimpse from the days of J.A. Boyle, up-and-coming reporter, as seen in the April 24, 1902 edition of The San Francisco Call.

SF Call 4-24-1902

The case under discussion here is that of Fred “Young Dutchy” Hansted, accused of assaulting Thomas Garrett, publisher of The San Francisco Post, in broad daylight on a city street.  Why Jack Boyle was in court to relay word that Garrett was unable to leave the hospital is unclear.  He is known to have worked for The Post later in the decade, but is thought to have been employed by The San Francisco Examiner in 1902.  On the other hand, Jack is known to have worked for a number of newspapers in that area between 1900 and 1909, often moving back and forth between them.  So it’s entirely possible that he worked for both The Post and The Examiner at various points in 1902.  Regardless, it is odd that he is cited here as addressing the court, rather than attending the proceedings as part of his duties covering the crime beat.

For that matter, the entire circumstance surrounding the assault trial seems odd.  Early reports indicated that Fred Hansted witnessed the assault on Thomas Garrett, and rushed to the publisher’s defense.  After Hansted helped him to safety, Garrett was then reported to insist that the police detain him so the publisher could file charges against him.  After months of court appearances and continuances, a jury ultimately acquitted Hansted in October 1902.  Whether or not the true assailant was ever caught, and why Garrett tried to lay the blame on Hansted, seems now to be lost to history.  Though the idea was dismissed at the time, at least one contemporary report of the incident conjectured that the entire affair was a publicity stunt to increase exposure for The Post.  So even during his days as a legitimate journalist, Jack Boyle was involved (at least peripherally) in a questionable situation or two.

JBF  8/24/16

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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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BREAKING NEWS … An Exciting Boston Blackie Discovery!

March 26, 2015 at 8:12 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

How many Boston Blackie stories did Jack Boyle publish?  This has been a point of contention for years.  H.K. Fly’s often-reprinted 1919 collection presented seven Blackie tales, which for nearly a century were the only specimens of Boyle’s writing available in book form.  But when this volume was republished by Gregg Press in 1979, Ed Hoch’s introduction to the new edition pointed out that further Blackie exploits were chronicled in the AMERICAN, RED BOOK and COSMOPOLITAN magazines.  Ultimately, examinations of these periodicals brought to light another fourteen Blackie yarns, increasing the series’ total count to twenty-one.  For years, this was thought to represent Boyle’s complete output on his most celebrated creation — until the advent of the internet.  In the 21st century, research online revealed a “missing” Blackie story, serialized in THE LOS ANGELES TIMES five years after Boyle published his last story in THE COSMOPOLITAN.  This curtain call to the Boston Blackie adventures was eventually reprinted in Coachwhip Publications’ 2012 collection BOSTON BLACKIE & FRIENDS, definitively setting the count of the complete Blackie saga at twenty-two.

Until now.

I’m thrilled to announce the discovery of not one, but TWO hitherto unknown Boston Blackie stories, both from the pen of Jack Boyle.  The pair, written in a period during which Boyle’s literary output had primarily turned away from his rogue hero, has languished for more than ninety years in the pages of a publication not typically associated with the author.  Through a kindness of Providence, their existence was discovered in time to allow for their inclusion in my upcoming collection THE COMPLETE BOSTON BLACKIE.  Of course, preparing the texts for publication will mean a further delay in a project that is already behind schedule, but I’m happy to run beyond my original deadline if it means presenting all twenty-four installments of the Blackie canon in their entirety.

And speaking of the Blackie canon in its entirety, let me go on record to confirm that ALL of Jack Boyle’s published Blackie stories do still exist.  Some speculation to the contrary has arisen on Amazon’s pages reviewing Coachwhip’s BOSTON BLACKIE & FRIENDS.  At least one post on that site postulates that the stories “The Poppy Girl’s Husband” and “Miss Doris, Safecracker” may be lost to the crumbling pages of magazines originally considered a disposable medium of entertainment.  Thankfully, such speculation is incorrect.  I have located copies of both tales, as well as an alternate version of “The Poppy Girl’s Husband,” based on Jack Boyle’s original text but re-imagined by an entirely different author.  There’s always the possibility that another unknown story could surface, but there is no danger that any of the currently known Blackie stories is “lost.”  My goal is to have the complete collection available in both print and digital editions by the end of 2015.  Stay tuned for further details …

JBF  3/26/15

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H.K. Fly’s BOSTON BLACKIE

May 24, 2011 at 8:03 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

To some extent, the long-defunct New York publishing house The H.K. Fly Company is the reason that anything is known today about Jack Boyle.  In
1919, they issued the only hardcover collection of any of Boyle’s work.  Otherwise, every word the man wrote was relegated to the rather impermanent world of magazines and newspapers.  Of course, as a character, Boston Blackie has transcended the written medium, gaining a life of his own in cinematic and broadcast entertainment.  But the original stories of Jack Boyle have all but faded away.  If not for the 1919 hardback BOSTON BLACKIE, his work could easily have been buried in the crumbling pages of the popular magazines of the early 20th century, lost today to all but the most devoted antiquarians.

Fortunately, H.K. Fly did release seven of the early Boston Blackie tales in their 1919 hardbound collection, ensuring that at least a portion of Boyle’s canon would remain in bookstalls and libraries for decades to come.  And of course, it was for the Gregg Press 1979 reprint of that 1919 volume that Ed Hoch pursued the first serious research into the life of Jack Boyle.  In turn, it was that 1979 reprint that spurred me to begin my own research efforts to expand the world’s knowledge of Boston Blackie’s creator.  If not for The H.K. Fly Company and that one book from 1919, the rest of this quest could never have begun.

However, the Fly volume has also spawned a common misconception – that the original Boston Blackie saga consists of seven stories.  For years, a great many readers have assumed that the 1919 collection gathered all of Boyle’s Blackie tales.  Ed Hoch went a long way toward dispelling this in his 1979 introduction, pointing out the earlier quartet of stories which debuted in several 1914 issues of THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE.  Still, the thought that Fly’s BOSTON BLACKIE is a “complete collection” frequently persists.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While the company is to be
commended for preserving seven excellent Blackie yarns for posterity, Boyle wrote a total of twenty-two stories featuring his most famous creation
between 1914 and 1925.  Not to mention, several of his other magazine pieces included characters that first appeared in the Blackie stories.  So, in the final accounting, The H.K. Fly Company presented readers with less than one-third of the Blackie saga.

Over the years, these “unknown” stories began to surface as my research into Boyle’s career progressed.  At first, I only gave attention to the uncollected Blackie tales, but as story after story came to light, I began to realize what an unsung body of work Jack Boyle left behind.  My best efforts
have unearthed 42 stories from Boyle’s typewriter, each drawn from the author’s unique perspective of a professional writer with intimate personal
knowledge of the criminal underworld.  They are compelling fiction, and I’ve been moved to the conviction that they do not deserve to be forgotten.  So it was an exciting day, earlier this year, when a publisher expressed not just interest, but actual excitement over the prospect of releasing my research in conjunction with a complete collection of Jack Boyle’s fiction.  I’m hesitant to jinx myself by divulging too many details until the official announcement of the book’s release, but I’m ecstatic at the thought of seeing all of Boyle’s stories in print after nearly a century of obscurity. The collection is slated for release in 2014, marking the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Boston Blackie’s first appearance. Stay tuned for more details …

JBF 5/24/11

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Ed Hoch & Jack Boyle

May 9, 2011 at 8:32 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Edward Hoch’s introduction to BOSTON BLACKIE is frustrating.  I say this with the greatest respect, because it is also the best essay published to
date on the life and career of Jack Boyle.  When Mr. Hoch sat down to compose his introduction to Gregg Press’ 1979 reprint of Boyle’s one and only book, practically nothing was known about the creator of Boston Blackie.  Hoch did a remarkable amount of research (without the benefit of the internet, in those days prior to the information super-highway) to give the world some idea of the man behind the character.  Before his efforts, no scholarship existed on Jack Boyle at all, and my own research would have been virtually impossible without the foundation he laid.  I owe Ed Hoch a
great debt.

At the same time, it’s frustrating to see citations in print across the internet (and elsewhere) quoting “facts” which simply aren’t true.  All of these citations stem back to Hoch’s introduction, the definitive source for information on Jack Boyle.  But occasionally Hoch’s scholarship missed the mark.  In particular, it is frequently stated that Boyle was born in Chicago, and later moved west.  Without meaning to be overly blunt, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Like most readers, I took Hoch’s statement as fact, because he was the expert.  As my own research took shape over the years, however, I came to realize that the only mention of Boyle’s birth in Illinois seemed to be in his introduction.  Where did that tidbit of information come from?

Luckily, I made one really smart move when I decided to pursue my own investigation of Jack Boyle – I wrote to Ed Hoch.  Ed was very pleasant to correspond with, and exceptionally gracious to an upstart amateur trying to unearth information that had eluded a professional like him.  He was
delighted that someone was following in his footsteps, trying to divine a clearer picture of Jack Boyle.  During our correspondence, I asked Ed where
he got the impression that Boyle had been born in Chicago, and he responded that he found it in the autobiographical sketch published in THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE.  Eagerly, I dug out my own copy of that sketch, but soon found myself disappointed.  It contained no references at all to Boyle’s birth.  Somewhere along the way, Ed had gotten the notion that Boyle was a Chicago boy, and the idea wormed its way into print.  Which is no big deal, except that now practically everyone who writes more than two sentences about Jack Boyle says he was born in Illinois (in spite of census records which have long since proven otherwise).

Of course, Ed Hoch is far from being the only writer to put forth erroneous information about Boyle and Blackie.  At least one major cinema reference
book attributes the creation of Blackie to a totally different author (don’t believe anyone who tells you that George Randolph Chester was the father of Boston Blackie).  And in the earliest stages of my own scholarship, even I fell guilty to perpetuating misinformation, before discovering a few errors in my research.  Once an idea has been committed to paper, it is very hard to erase from the realm of “common knowledge.”

Regardless of such errors, Hoch’s 1979 essay is the seminal work on Jack Boyle, unlocking the door through which all future scholars must pass.  I
regret that Ed passed away in 2008, before my Boston Blackie project found a home with a potential publisher, and that I had been out of touch with
him for quite a few years.  I think he would have been intrigued to read the items on Boyle’s life which have surfaced in the last few years.  But who knows … perhaps Ed knows more about Boyle now than the rest of us ever could.  Perhaps out there in the Beyond he and Jack are sharing a drink and a chuckle together, spinning the best yarn yet about Boston Blackie.  At any rate, I hope so.

JBF  5/9/11

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Boston Blackie

April 26, 2011 at 7:46 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s probably unfair of me to call Jack Boyle forgotten.  Certainly, a simple Google search of “Boston Blackie” will turn up references to him, and there are snippets of info about his life buried in documents scattered across the Internet.  But virtually all of that material is DEEPLY buried, and Boyle’s name is scarcely a fraction as recognizable to the general public as that of his most enduring creation.

Not that Boston Blackie is a household name these days either.  Still, unlike his creator, Blackie has managed to maintain a toehold in the  consciousness of the American public.  He is mentioned in songs like The Coasters’ Searchin’ and (more recently) Jimmy Buffet’s Pencil Thin
Moustache.  And, of course, his adventures are fondly remembered by a great many fans of old-time radio and b-movie mysteries.

For the uninitiated among us, Boston Blackie is a hero on the wrong side of the law.  In his best-remembered incarnations (the movies, radio, and tv
series of the 1940s-50s), he is a reformed thief with a heart of gold, usually at odds with the police because of his criminal past.  However, this characterization is a far cry from the initial concept first presented in Jack Boyle’s earliest stories.  While his Blackie definitely possesses the benevolent streak which helped endear him to audiences for decades, he initially appears as a hardened criminal and opium addict.  Later tales wean him of his drug dependence, and move Blackie closer and closer to the reformed status he enjoys in later decades.  Regardless of which version of the character you prefer, Boston Blackie always makes for ripping good entertainment, and his creation was a defining moment in Jack Boyle’s life.

Of course, I was scarcely aware of most of this the day I unwittingly took my first tentative steps down the trail of Blackie and Boyle.  The afternoon I returned that reprint of BOSTON BLACKIE to the public library, and followed a whim to dig up Boyle’s earliest tales from THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE, I had no intention of embarking on a decades-long research project.  I just wanted to read a few more stories, and maybe find out a
little bit more about their author.  There was something magical about handling those crumbling magazines from 1914 though – almost intoxicating –
and the original illustrations by N.C. Wyeth alone were stunning enough to justify pulling the aged periodicals from the depths of the library’s
archives.  The autobiographical sketch published with these earliest Blackie tales was not credited to Jack Boyle, but appeared under the byline No. 6606 (Boyle’s convict number in the penitentiary where he was incarcerated).  With his identity obscured in this manner, the sketch provided little in the way of specific data about the author, instead relating anecdotes primarily related to his addiction to opium and his fall from grace as a journalist. So, while fascinating reading, the piece gave only vague clues to Boyle’s early life.

But what clues they were!  They spoke of a successful professional brought to ruin, the pursuit of a fugitive from justice, armed robbery, corruption in law enforcement, and an insider’s view of the criminal underworld. In many ways, Boyle himself was beginning to sound even more intriguing than
the fictional characters he wrote about.  Surely there was more I could ferret out about this man.  How could he have gone from success to disgrace to extreme success and then obscurity?  My intrigue was deepening.  So, putting aside those issues of THE AMERICAN, I began contemplating how I
could go about finding out more …

JBF 4/26/11

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It Began Innocently Enough …

April 13, 2011 at 8:01 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

In many ways, this whole thing started for me with a man named Doyle, not Boyle.

Back in the mid-1990s, I was a fresh-faced kid, a few years out of college and recently married, working in the records division of a downtown law firm.  Mr. Doyle was a gentleman also in the firm’s employ, who knew of my enthusiasm for all things nostalgic, vintage radio drama in particular.  One afternoon he gave me a box of cassette tapes he had purchased some years earlier, a sampler of programs from radio’s golden era.  Among the recordings were several episodes of BOSTON BLACKIE starring Dick Kolmar.  I had never heard BOSTON BLACKIE before, but recalled the title as one of a handful of shows that my parents had mentioned over the years as being among their families’ weekly entertainments.  Something about the title, and the fact that my folks had listened to the series long ago, sparked my interest, and I listened to those tapes first.

I can’t honestly say that the production held me riveted, but the shows were a pleasant afternoon’s diversion, and a reminder that I had once read that the BOSTON BLACKIE radio series had its basis in an older literary character.  At the time, I was an avid reader of early twentieth century crime fiction, so on a whim I looked up Boston Blackie at my local public library.  To my delight, they held a reprint of the sole volume published about the character way back in 1919.  I devoured the collection in a matter of days, thoroughly enjoying my first taste of the “real” Boston Blackie as originally conceived by his creator.  But who was this Jack Boyle, who had created such an amiable rogue as Blackie?

Fortunately for me, the reprint which I held contained an excellent introduction by mystery writer Edward D. Hoch detailing background on the author and his notorious brainchild.  However, I soon learned that precious little was known about Jack Boyle.  A former newspaper man, corrupted by drug addiction, Boyle had written his earliest tales of Boston Blackie from a prison cell.  They became popular with the reading public, and upon his release from incarceration a few years later, Boyle went on to a successful writing career with Blackie at its foundation.  Movies were made about Blackie as early as 1918, and continued to be made well into the 1940s.  His exploits were later successfully adapted to both radio and television, and mentions of him have even made their way into a few popular songs over the years.  But despite Blackie’s longevity, after the mid-1920s Jack Boyle seems to have just faded away.  Given the success of his work, how could this happen?

The day I went to return the book, I spotted a passage in its introduction which had previously escaped my notice.  Ed Hoch commented that the earliest Blackie stories, published in THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE along with an autobiographical essay composed by Boyle to introduce the series, were not included in the 1919 book.  So there was more information available out there!  Issues of THE AMERICAN from the 1910s are pretty scarce, and the odds of my library holding copies were overwhelmingly slim, but I decided to check just on the off chance.  To my astonishment, our collection held precisely the issues I needed, and I scurried excitedly to the Periodicals Desk anticipating the intriguing new info I could be on the verge of unearthing …

So, with his random gift, Mr. Doyle unwittingly unleashed my curiosity, setting me on a collision course with Jack Boyle and his shady world of letters and lawlessness.  But at that point, I had no hint where my new-found interest was leading me …

JBF 4/13/11

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