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Boston Blackie

Boston Blackie is a fictional character who has been on both sides of the law. As originally created by author Jack Boyle (born before 1880; died circa 1928), he was a safecracker, a hardened criminal who had served time in a California prison. Prowling the underworld as a detective in adaptations for films, radio and television, the detective Boston Blackie was "an enemy to those who make him an enemy, friend to those who have no friend."

Literature

Jack Boyle's stories first appeared in the early 20th Century. "The Price of Principle" was a short story in the July, 1914 issue of The American Magazine. Boyle's character also turned up in Cosmopolitan. In 1917, Redbook published the novelette, "Boston Blackie’s Mary," and the magazine brought the character back with "The Heart of the Lily" (February, 1921). Boyle's stories were collected in the book, Boston Blackie (1919), reprinted in 1979 by Gregg Press. Boyle died in 1928.

Films

The earliest film adaptations were silent, dating from 1918 to 1927. Columbia Pictures revived the property in 1941 with Meet Boston Blackie, a fast, 58-minute "B" feature starring Chester Morris. Although the running time was brief, Columbia gave the picture good production values and an imaginative director (Robert Florey). The film was successful, and a series followed.

In the Columbia features, Boston Blackie is a reformed jewel thief who is always suspected when a daring robbery is committed. In order to clear himself, he investigates the crime personally and brings the actual culprit to justice, sometimes using disguises. An undercurrent of comedy runs throughout the action/detective series.

Chester Morris gave the Blackie character his own personal charm: he could be light and flippant or stern and dangerous, as the situation demanded. His sidekick, "The Runt," was always on hand to help his old friend. George E. Stone, one of the most sympathetic character players in movie history, played Runt in all but the first and last films (Charles Wagenheim and Sid Tomack, respectively, substituted for Stone when he was not available). Blackie's friendly adversaries were Inspector Farraday of the police (played in all the films by Richard Lane) and his assistant, Sgt. Matthews. Matthews was originally played as a hapless victim of circumstance by Walter Sande; he was replaced by Lyle Latell, who played it dumber, and then by comedian Frank Sully, who played it almost imbecilically.

Blackie and Runt were often assisted in their endeavors by their friends: the cheerful but easily flustered millionaire Arthur Manleder (almost always played by Lloyd Corrigan; Harry Hayden and Harrison Greene each played the role once), and the streetwise pawnbroker Jumbo Madigan (played by Cy Kendall or Joseph Crehan). A variety of actresses (including Rochelle Hudson, Harriet Hilliard (Nelson), Adele Mara, and Ann Savage) took turns playing various gal-Friday characters.

The films are highly typical of Columbia's B product of the 1940s, with an assortment of veteran character actors (including Clarence Muse, Marvin Miller, George Lloyd, Byron Foulger), new faces on the way up (Larry Parks, Dorothy Malone, Nina Foch, Forrest Tucker) and stock-company players familiar from Columbia's features, serials, and short subjects (Kenneth MacDonald, George McKay, Eddie Laughton, John Tyrrell). The series was also a useful training ground for promising directors (Edward Dmytryk, Oscar Boetticher, William Castle). The series ran until 1949.

List of "Boston Blackie" films

Silent Films

1940s Columbia Films

Radio

The Boston Blackie radio series, also starring Morris, began June 23,1944, on NBC as a summer replacement for The Amos 'n' Andy Show. Sponsored by Rinso, the series continued until September 15 of that year. Unlike the concurrent films, Blackie had a steady romantic interest in the radio show: Lesley Woods appeared as Blackie's girlfriend Mary Wesley. Harlow Wilcox was the show's announcer.

On April 11, 1945, Richard Kollmar took over the title role in a radio series syndicated by Frederic W. Ziv to Mutual and other network outlets. Over 200 episodes of this series were produced between 1944 and October 25, 1950. Other sponsors included Lifebuoy Soap, Champagne Velvet beer, and R&H beer.

While investigating mysteries, Blackie invaribly encountered harebrained Police Inspector Farraday (Maurice Tarplin) and always solved the mystery to Farraday's amazement. Initially, friction surfaced in the relationship between Blackie and Farraday, but as the series continued, Farraday recognized Blackie's talents and requested assistance. Blackie dated Mary Wesley (Jan Miner), and for the first half of the series, his best pal Shorty was always on hand. The humorless Farraday was on the receiving end of Blackie's bad puns and word play.

Television

Kent Taylor starred in the half-hour TV series, The Adventures of Boston Blackie. Syndicated in 1951, it ran for 58 episodes, continuing in repeats over the following decade.

Comic Books / Graphic Novels

Scripter Stefan Petrucha and artist Kirk Van Wormer created the graphic novel, Boston Blackie (Moonstone Books, 2002), with a cover by Tim Seelig. A jewel heist at a costume ball goes horribly wrong, and the five-year-old son of the wealthy Greene family disappears and is presumed dead. The body is never found. The main suspect is Boston Blackie, who is still haunted seven years later by what happened that night. Drawn back into the case, he finds the truth of what happened that night is awash in a watery grave.

A sequel to the graphic novel was published years later.

Influences on popular culture

  • A 1957 Daffy Duck cartoon, Boston Quackie, is a direct parody of the serial, with Daffy as the detective - who needs everyone else's help to solve his case.
  • Jimmy Buffett's song "Pencil Thin Mustache" mentions Boston Blackie, as does The Coasters' song "Searchin'" and some versions of "The Wabash Cannonball".
  • Boston Blackies, a bar and grill chain with five Illinois locations, is designed with a dark Art Deco look and a pulp style illustration behind the bar.
  • Type designer Nick Curtis of Nick's Fonts in Gaithersburg, Maryland created a bold blackface font called Boston Blackie as a variation on Old English.
  • In a 1966 episode of Bewitched ("Samantha's Thanksgiving to Remember", Season 4, Episode 12), "Boston Blackie" is mentioned in fond remembrance by Aunt Clara (Marion Lorne), who confuses him as attending the First Thanksgiving with famous Pilgrims. The episode's writers, credited as "Tom and Helen August", were in fact Alfred Lewis Levitt and his wife Helen Levitt.

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