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

Advertisements

Permalink Leave a Comment

Jack Boyle at a Glance

April 6, 2015 at 1:00 AM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Much has been written here about Jack Boyle as the creator of Boston Blackie, all peppered with various hints and intimations about his checkered history.  But who was he, and why was he so uniquely suited to write the tales of the underworld which brought him such success in his lifetime?  While this subject could cover entire volumes, let’s take a look at the highlights of Boyle’s life at a glance.

Jack Boyle was born in California in 1881, somewhere in the vicinity of Oakland and San Francisco.  He grew up around Santa Clara, and in his early adulthood became a newsman and reporter (following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who had both published newspapers in the 1800s).  Beginning around 1900, he was employed by various papers in San Francisco, and by 1907 had worked himself into editorial and managerial positions.  However, his professional success took a toll on him, and around 1909 he became a habitual user of opium, to combat the stresses of his job.  His habit soon became an addiction, which quickly spelled the end of his journalistic career in California.  His professional disgrace was followed by a rapid spiral into a life of crime, in order to feed his continuing opium craving.

By 1914, Boyle had run afoul of the law on multiple occasions, and had served prison sentences in both California and Colorado, on a variety of charges from forgery to armed robbery.  While serving out a sentence near Denver, he began writing stories from his prison cell.  These proved to be the first tales of his criminal hero Boston Blackie, and they were picked up for publication in THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE.  Late in 1914, Boyle was released from prison, and returned to working in the world of newspaper and magazine writing.  In 1917, he revived Boston Blackie for a new series of stories in THE RED BOOK MAGAZINE, and these tales found a strong following with the reading public.  The following year, his work continued to appear regularly in RED BOOK, and Boston Blackie came to the silver screen in the first of many feature films to be adapted from his adventures.  Soon the popularity of these features opened the door for Boyle to embark on a new career as a Hollywood screenwriter, while still producing fiction for nationally known magazines.  In just a few short years, Boyle had gone from drug addicted felon to successful and celebrated author.

However, to paint Boyle’s story as one of disgrace to triumph is a lopsided portrait, at best.  While it’s tempting to view his rise from the shadows of a prison cell to national prominence as a success story, the reality is far less black and white.  The entirety of Jack Boyle’s career is a strange mixture of success and scandal.

In truth, there are indications that his 1914 release from prison was acquired under false pretenses, and his subsequent activities in Denver culminated in his fleeing the state within a matter of months.  His February 1915 arrival in Missouri was no less turbulent, with Boyle being arrested in Kansas City just days after taking up residence there.  Despite his rocky start in the community, Boyle managed to establish himself in the city, securing a reporting position with THE KANSAS CITY POST, and setting up housekeeping with a woman named Violet.  During his time in THE POST’s employ, he traveled to Iowa gathering story material, and became embroiled in some questionable dealings relating to the investigation of a set of ax murders in the town of Villisca.  Boyle’s time in Kansas City ended as scandalously as it began, when he was arrested in January 1917, accused of running an opium den.  While legitimate speculations can be made about the veracity of this charge, and the possible political motivation behind Boyle’s arrest, what cannot be argued is that Boyle ultimately skipped bail and fled to Wisconsin.

With wife Violet in tow, he settled in the Baraboo, Wisconsin area in the summer of 1917.  At this point, he shifted his primary professional focus away from journalism, concentrating more on the production of fiction for popular magazines.  It was during this period that he renewed his acquaintance with editor Ray Long, and began contributing frequently to THE RED BOOK MAGAZINE.  The years of 1918 to 1920 were a time of prosperity for Boyle, with the popularity of Boston Blackie (both in print and on movie screens) reaching international proportions.  He continued publishing frequently in RED BOOK, but also signed a contract in 1919 to write Blackie stories exclusively for THE COSMOPOLITAN MAGAZINE.  His writings were also seeing print in newspapers and magazines overseas, and Hollywood was purchasing the screen rights to much of his output.  The world wanted to hear the stories that Jack Boyle had to tell.

But by the end of 1920, his fortunes started to shift.  While his career roared along full-steam, things in his personal life began to disintegrate.  In April, Boyle signed a mortgage on a second home, a ranch in Colorado, and in June he and Violet decided to spend the summer at their new property.  Sometime during this holiday, things turned sour.  Boyle separated from his wife around January 1921, leaving the taxes on the ranch unpaid, and moving to New York.  In July, Boyle officially lost his ranch to foreclosure, and the following month Violet filed for divorce from him in the Colorado courts.

Spending a year in New York, Boyle met and married a woman named Elsie Thomas, and moved to Los Angeles sometime in 1922.  While he continued to write for the magazine market, his move to the west coast also marked his leap into the world of screenwriting.  Spurred by the film industry’s continuing interest in adapting his magazine stories, Boyle began writing original scenarios directly for the studios.  However, in the summer of 1923 his new Hollywood life was thrown into turmoil, with the arrival of his first wife, Violet, and her claims that their divorce had never been finalized.  Over the next year, she publicly decried him as a bigamist, and made repeated demands for a financial settlement to complete their divorce.

Despite his success at transitioning into work in the film industry, scandal continued to plague Boyle throughout his Hollywood years.  In August 1924, he was arrested for passing bad checks in a Los Angeles grocery.  He had further run-ins with the law over the frequent escapes of his pet – a full-grown bear – which ran loose through the north Hollywood suburbs.  In September, newspapers reported a violent argument between his two wives, which ended in Elsie giving Violet a severe beating.  In October, Violet again filed for divorce from Jack, and Elsie was temporarily committed to a psychiatric ward after several unsuccessful attempts to kill herself.  Finally, in November the California courts awarded Violet her divorce, ordering Boyle to pay her one hundred dollars a month in alimony.

Around 1926, Boyle moved from Hollywood to a home in nearby Hermosa Beach. His magazine output had slowed over the previous years, though sporadic stories bearing his byline continued to appear while he pursued his work as a screenwriter.  But by ’26, even his screen assignments began to thin.  In 1927, he and Elsie moved back to New York, taking an apartment in Greenwich Village.  He was still reported to be dabbling in screenplays, and in December he published his last short story for RED BOOK.

Late in the summer of 1928, Boyle and Elsie took an extended trip back to the Pacific coast, where he engaged in some work as a publicist for the Oregon State Democratic Committee.  Late in the night of October 15, 1928, he suffered acute kidney failure in a hotel room in Portland, Oregon, and died just three days shy of his 47th birthday.

So ends the strange and sordid tale of Jack Boyle (or at least a thumbnail sketch of it).  Of course, Boston Blackie remained a popular subject of movies, radio and television shows well into the 1950s, with the character even seeing a minor revival in the 21st century as the protagonist in a pair of graphic novels.  But where Blackie has endured, Boyle has largely faded into obscurity.  Which is a shame, because in many ways his life was even more interesting than the yarns he wrote.  My upcoming book, THE COMPLETE BOSTON BLACKIE, will include a far more in depth look at the life and times of the author.  But in the meantime, be sure to check back here for further glimpses into the colorful life of Jack Boyle.

JBF 4/6/15

Permalink 2 Comments

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

Permalink 11 Comments