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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Boston Blackie: Complete and Uncut (At Last!)

April 13, 2015 at 1:00 AM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Since passing into the public domain, the 1919 “novel” BOSTON BLACKIE has been reprinted numerous times in the early 21st century.  Available in digital, print, and audio editions (often at little or no cost), the seven stories it encompasses are the most familiar portion of Jack Boyle’s body of work.  And yet, anyone who has read it will not recognize the following scene, missing from the Blackie canon since its publication in 1917:

 

A pallet was spread on the floor in the Mission attic in which Boston Blackie, university graduate, safe-cracker and escaped convict, had taken refuge after his flight from San Gregorio Penitentiary.  On it lay Blackie, a block of wood supporting his head Chinese-fashion, while his long, deft fingers rapidly toasted oozy drops of opium into nut-brown smoking-pellets.

The room was in darkness save for the dim light shed by a tiny opium lamp covered by a conical tin chimney.  The smoker’s fingers, twirling the sizzling pills on a yen hok in the slender shaft of light above the lamp, cast gigantic shadows on the walls and ceiling – grim, fantastic, strangely shaped shadows that seemed a visible expression of the troubled mind of the man beneath them.

Boston Blackie was oppressed by an unreasoning but insistent sense of impending trouble and unseen danger.  His mind, keen, alert and supernormally intuitive, sought in vain to place the intangible menace.  Often, it seemed, his mentality, projecting itself into the darkness about him, almost reached and drew aside the black curtain that hid the lurking mystery.  But each time the unrealized vision faded and left him staring at dancing, meaningless wall-shadows.  Suddenly, unbidden and unconnected with any conscious thought, a picture gripped his mind.  He saw a shadowy figure, bound hand and foot and standing alone on a raised platform with head and face hidden by something dark and sinister.

“The black cap of the hangman,” he whispered, twisting uneasily on his pallet.  “This has been a strange day and a stranger night,” he thought.  “Trouble hangs in the air.  To-day was to have seen Mary and me safe at sea, with fear and danger forever behind us.  By every possible human computation of chances, we should be.  But night finds us still here in a world of enemies.  And thoughts of a hangman haunt my mind!  Why?  Chance!  There is no such thing.  Something holds us here for good or evil – evil, probably.  Well, if it must come, let it.  But it’s hard on Mary.  Poor Mary!  Poor little girl!”

Boston Blackie and Mary, partner of all the hazards of his life, had taken passage for Central America on the steamer Colon.  In his own country Blackie was a man with a price on his head – an escaped convict.  For days he and Mary had waited for the hour of the Colon’s sailing – Blackie with keen impatience, Mary with the fierce longing of a hunted creature seeking refuge for herself and her mate.  Almost on the hour of departure a steam-pipe had burst in the Colon’s engine room.  Two days would be required for repairs.  It was on the first of these that Blackie now lay on his pallet twirling pellets of opium, while a sixth sense warned him of danger still to be met. 

An hour passed.  The shadows still danced on the wall and ceiling.  The pills still hissed and bubbled in the heat of the tiny flame.  A step sounded on the stair.

“Mary at last!” exclaimed Blackie in tones caressingly tender.

 

This *lost* sequence from “The Woman Called Rita” is just one example of the deleted material lurking within the pages of THE RED BOOK MAGAZINE, excised when Boston Blackie was converted from periodical to hardcover publication.  While the 1919 book played a crucial role in making Blackie accessible to a readership for many decades, it also ensured that Jack Boyle’s original, unexpurgated texts were all but forgotten.  Virtually no one has read the full-length versions of “Boston Blackie’s Mary,” “The Woman Called Rita,” “Fred the Count,” “Boston Blackie’s Little Pal,” “A Problem in Grand Larceny,” “An Answer in Grand Larceny” and “Alibi Ann” in almost 100 years.

With that in mind, I’ve taken pains to return to the original magazine texts in preparing my upcoming volume, THE COMPLETE BOSTON BLACKIE.  Much the way that films are often given an extended director’s cut these days, I’m working to present Jack Boyle’s extended author’s cut of these not-so-familiar stories.  So, if you’ve read BOSTON BLACKIE (or even the more recent collection BOSTON BLACKIE & FRIENDS), my volume will still hold more than a few surprises for you.

JBF 4/13/15

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