The Riddle of the Bogus Boyle – Revisited!

March 7, 2016 at 10:02 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Last year, I published an entry on April 27, 2015 titled “The Riddle of the Bogus Boyle,” in which I presented an item from the magazine The Writer.  It spoke of an impostor who stole the identities of both Jack Boyle and fellow author Courtney Ryley Cooper in the early 1920s, bilking money from publishers and movie producers through the imposture.  At the time, I pointed out that the physical description of this literary hoaxer sounded suspiciously like the man who impersonated author Rufus Steele in Denver, Colorado around 1914, a one-time crony of Jack Boyle before the pair had a violent falling out.  While my comments were only educated speculation, further information has come to light which warrants giving the incident a second look.  The May 22, 1920 edition of The Los Angeles Herald included an item titled “Cooper Disowns Double in $800 Film MixUp,” detailing how the infamous impostor collected $800.00 from two Los Angeles film producers for stories he contracted to write as Courtney Ryley Cooper.  The article offers these enlightening comments from the real Mr. Cooper:

“Judging from the description of the gentleman, he is the person whom I exposed in Denver several years ago while he was masquerading under the name of Rufus Steele, the San Francisco author, claiming incidentally that he wrote under the name of Jack Boyle.  At that time he stated that his real name was William Steele and that he lived somewhere in Oklahoma  …  The funny part of it is he cannot write a line.  And the worst of it is that he doesn’t give poor Jack Boyle a chance.  Boyle’s a real flesh and blood person — but he’s only a nom de plume whenever Steele’s impersonations — if this is Steele — get up steam and start working.”

Still not proof positive that it was William F. “Rufus” Steele who stole the identities of Boyle and Courtney Ryley Cooper ninety-five years ago, but it certainly sounds as though Cooper believed it to be so.  And I can’t help but agree with him.

JBF  3/7/16



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The Riddle of the Bogus Boyle

April 27, 2015 at 1:00 AM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

In early 1921, several trade publications catering to the writing and movie-making industries carried items similar to the following announcement from the April issue of the Boston based publication THE WRITER:

An impostor has been impersonating Courtney Ryley Cooper and Jack Boyle and these two writers have sent a printed circular of warning to editors.  They describe the man as six feet tall, with long hair brushed back from his forehead and strongly resembling Raymond Hitchcock in mannerism, cast of countenance, and general build, especially in size and shape of mouth and chin.  His name is not known … The Cooper-Boyle man is reported as having worked in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Texas, and the South in general, passing bad checks, etc.

That an impostor scammed money by passing bad checks in Jack Boyle’s name is ironic, as the real Boyle was arrested several times over the years for actually committing that particular crime himself.  Likewise, it’s interesting that someone should assume the identity of Jack Boyle in the 1920s, as he had been party to a literary imposture just seven years earlier.  In 1914, Boyle was granted early parole from the Canon City Penitentiary in Colorado, largely due to the efforts of celebrated San Francisco author Rufus Steele, who was visiting Denver at the time.  Upon his release, Boyle secured employment with THE SUNLIGHT MAGAZINEa newly-founded Denver publication, and soon was able to convince author Steele to submit stories and articles to the fledgling magazine to help establish a readership.  The endeavor collapsed in a matter of weeks, however, when it was revealed that the man calling himself “Rufus” Steele was, in fact, a charlatan named Wililam F. Steele, who had been travelling the country impersonating the well-known west coast writer.  Boyle claimed to be ignorant of the deception, but did admit that he had written everything appearing in THE SUNLIGHT under Steele’s byline.

So, in 1914 Jack Boyle was “innocently” involved in the theft of another writer’s identity, though accounts from the period identify the impostor himself as William F. Steele.  Strange that Boyle should be party to a literary imposture, only to have his own identity stolen in a similar circumstance by an unknown fraudster just a few years later.  Or is the impostor so unknown?


The man pictured on the left above is actor Raymond Hitchcock, a popular performer on the silent screen.  The 1921 announcement in THE WRITER says that the man impersonating Boyle bore a resemblance to Hitchcock in countenance and build.  Pictured on the right is is William F. Steele, known literary impostor who passed himself off as Rufus Steele on multiple occasions, both before and after his association with Jack Boyle.  While the two are not identical, there is a more than passing resemblance between them.

Can it be mere coincidence that Boyle’s identity was stolen by a man who resembled Raymond Hitchcock, when he had previously been associated with just such a man in a scheme to impersonate a well-known writer?  While the connection is unlikely to ever be definitively proven at this late date, a visual comparison certainly suggests that William F. Steele probably expanded the scope of his literary impersonations to trade off the celebrity of his old crony Jack Boyle.  Since this is all merely educated speculation, whether or not Boyle suspected the identity of his impersonator is open to debate.  But given that the Denver newspapers reported a falling out between the pair in 1914 which culminated in Boyle giving Steele a public beating, I suspect I can guess the outcome had Jack encountered his old friend again in 1921.

JBF 4/27/15

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