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 Myth of Horatio Black

June 29, 2015 at 10:05 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The internet would have you believe that Boston Blackie’s real name is Horatio Black.  This is the answer swiftly yielded by any casual Google search, and the pedigree behind the name sounds quite plausible.  However, as is the case with most easy answers, it falls short of the facts.

To begin with, “Horatio Black” suggests that the nickname “Blackie” sprang from the character’s family surname.  But Jack Boyle himself refutes this notion in the very first Boston Blackie tale, “The Price of Principle” (American Magazine – July 1914). The introduction of the character reveals that his “piercing black eyes and New England birthplace had won him his nickname …”  So Blackie’s creator expressly establishes that his colorful sobriquet is derived from his commanding eyes, and not from a variation of his family name.

Some sources suggest that the name Horatio Black originated in an unspecified episode the 1945-49 syndicated radio series BOSTON BLACKIE, in which actor Richard Kolmar played the lead.  This seems unlikely though, when you consider the series’ June 6, 1945 installment “Mrs. Boston Blackie.”  The episode revolves around the appearance of a woman who claims to be married to Blackie, brandishing a marriage certificate as proof.  On the document, the groom’s name is — Boston Blackie.  If the writers of the radio series had given the character any other name, surely they would have put it on his marriage papers.  But there’s a more compelling reason that the name Horatio Black couldn’t have risen from Blackie’s radio incarnation.

The simple fact of the matter is that, as far as Boston Blackie is concerned, the name Horatio Black can be traced back at least as far as 1943 — two years prior to the radio series’ debut.  In March of that year, Columbia Pictures released AFTER MIDNIGHT WITH BOSTON BLACKIE, the fifth in their series of Blackie b-movies starring Chester Morris.  In the film, Blackie’s name is revealed as Horatio Black by the daughter of a former underworld friend.  This may or may not be the first appearance of the name in conjunction with Blackie, but the timing of it definitively establishes that the name was not an invention of the radio series.  However, 1943 was a long time after Blackie’s 1914 debut in print.  Rather than trying to verify the origin of Horatio Black, the bigger question is, did Jack Boyle ever provide a civilian name to his most famous creation?

The first hint of an answer appears in “Boston Blackie’s Mary” (Red Book Magazine – November 1917).  The story explicitly names Blackie’s wife Mary Dawson, despite the fact that she was previously Mary Harris in “A Thief’s Daughter” (American – October 1914) before the pair were married. Dawson is again presented as Mary’s name in “A Problem in Grand Larceny” (Red Book – December 1918), cementing the idea that this is, indeed, Blackie’s surname.  Then, in “The Face in the Fog” (Cosmopolitan Magazine – May 1920), detective Huk Kant greets Boyle’s protagonist as Blackie Dawson, removing all doubt that, canonically, the name belongs to both Blackie and Mary.

While Jack Boyle provided his criminal hero a surname relatively early in the series, it wasn’t until he penned his final tale of the character that he divulged his full given name.  On May 9, 1925, The Los Angeles Times published the seventh installment of Boyle’s serial “Daggers of Jade.”  In it, he presents us with “John Dawson, once known by the the police of every city from Maine to California as Boston Blackie …”  So, with his swan song story of his most popular character, Jack Boyle reveals that Boston Blackie is John Dawson.

In truth, the reality seems almost banal.  Horatio Black seems a more dashing name for a safecracker than the workaday John Dawson.  But perhaps it’s not too surprising that Jack Boyle settled on the name John for his rogue hero.  After all, his own name was John Alexander Boyle.

JBF 6/29/15

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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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