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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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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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

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Jack Boyle and the Innkeeper’s Daughter

August 29, 2011 at 8:11 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

One of the oddest anecdotes that my ongoing research has brought to light comes from the pen of a writer other than Jack Boyle.  Instead, it appeared in the syndicated newspaper feature “Modern Parables” written by columnist and author Fulton Oursler  –  but, nonetheless, it raises questions about the creator of Boston Blackie.  Published in March 1950, the story was circulated more than two decades after Boyle’s death.  Here is the piece in its entirety:

 

“The Innkeeper’s Daughter”
By Fulton Oursler (from his MODERN PARABLES column of 3/5/50)

One of the strangest stories I know happened to the late Jack Boyle, fiction writer.  He was late on the deadline for a magazine yarn, and found himself
helpless at his typewriter.  For some reason, he was unable to to write; his mind was obsessed with another plot.  The story, struggling in his mind to be born, was not anything he wanted to write.  But he finally surrendered and now his fingers fairly flew over the keys: within two hours the manuscript was finished.  Then he read it over.  “This crazy piece is no good,” he said, tossing it aside.  Not for two years was he to look at it: not until an editor wired for a story in a hurry.  Once again the author read that unlikely tale.  It told of two brothers who enlisted in the war.  One night, while sleeping in a front line trench, the younger man had a dream.  He saw a battle coming to an end, smoke lifting, the coming of morning.  In deepening light he beheld a ladder into the sky.  Up this ladder two men were climbing.  One of the two was trying to climb upward, while the other held
stubbornly back.  The dreaming brother ran to the bottom of the ladder calling: “What does it mean?”  The lower of the figures replied: “There are two of me – there are two of everybody.  One is my higher, the other my lower self.  The higher self would rise, the lower holds back.”  The dreamer awoke, to receive word that his brother had been killed.  That was Jack’s queer manuscript, which soon was published in a magazine.  And then the author got a letter from an innkeeper’s daughter.

“To me your story of the higher and lower self is a matter of life and death.  I was in love with a boy named Ned.  When the war came, he enlisted, and we were married the night before he left.  He told me when we said good-by that if anything happened to him, his spirit was going to come back to me.  “He was killed four days before the Armistice was signed.  Ever since then I have been trying to get the message he promised me, but it has never come.  Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer; I went into an empty room in my father’s hotel, resolved to die.  But I noticed a magazine lying on the bed.  It was open at your story.  Now I have got to know whether that story is just made up – or whether it is true.  Did it really happen?  If it is true, then I think the reason Ned can’t get through to me is because my lower self is holding me back.  I am willing to follow my other self.  Please – is the story true?  If not, I can’t wait any longer.”

Jack felt strange as he sat down to answer her.  The story, he told her, was really true in its meaning for her.  The reply he got was astonishing.  She was going all the way to  France, where she would be a clerk, cataloging graves in the American cemetery where her husband was buried.  “You see,” she wrote, “I am going to be near him.”  More months passed by and then came the last letter Jack was ever to have from her:

“I want you to know how glad I was that I waited.  I am in a hospital here with tuberculosis.  The doctors tell me there is absolutely no hope.  In three months at the most I shall be with Ned.  Hasn’t God been good to me?”

 

This vignette is a total puzzle to me.  Is Mr. Oursler referring to Jack Boyle of Boston Blackie fame?  By the 1950s, Boyle was hardly a household name any longer, so Oursler’s mention of “Jack Boyle, fiction writer” with no further elaboration is surprising.  Even more curious is the story he relates.  Despite having unearthed some 40 of Boyle’s tales (his entire output of fiction, to the best of my knowledge), I have found no published counterpart to this unlikely yarn.  It’s certainly atypical of the remainder of his canon, but that is not proof that the story is not his.  So the question remains, is this an anecdote of another Jack Boyle, a fabrication, or are more Boyle stories still lurking out there, waiting to be discovered?

JBF 8/29/11

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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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