Boston Blackie is a fictional character created by author Jack Boyle (October 19, 1881 – October 1928). Blackie, a jewel thief and safecracker in Boyle’s stories, became a detective in adaptations for films, radio and television—an “enemy to those who make him an enemy, friend to those who have no friend.”
Actor Chester Morris was the best-known Blackie, playing the character in movies and on radio in the 1940s. Boston Blackie is the role for which Morris is best remembered.
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 crime is committed. In order to clear himself, he investigates personally and brings the actual culprit to justice, sometimes using disguises. An undercurrent of comedy runs throughout the action/detective series.
In one of these films, “After Midnight with Boston Blackie,” the character’s real name was revealed to be Horatio Black.
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 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, Sergeant 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 even dumber.
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 movies 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, Lloyd Bridges) 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, including Edward Dmytryk, Oscar Boetticher, William Castle, and finally Seymour Friedman (who went on to work prolifically in Columbia’s television department). The Boston Blackie series ran until 1949.
The Boston Blackie radio series, also starring Morris, began June 23, 1944, on NBC as a summer replacement for Amos ‘n’ Andy. 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. Richard Lane played Inspector Faraday. Harlow Wilcox was the show’s announcer.
On April 11, 1945, Richard Kollmar portrayed Blackie in a radio series syndicated by Frederick 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 invariably 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.
Kent Taylor starred in the Ziv-produced half-hour TV series The Adventures of Boston Blackie. Syndicated in 1951, it ran for 58 episodes, continuing in repeats over the following decade. Lois Collier appeared as the inevitable love interest and Frank Orth as the perpetually exasperated Lt. Farraday. This time, Blackie was set in Los Angeles, and the character enjoyed the use of several exotic sports cars as he battled on behalf of those who have no friends. Whitey was the precocious dog. Among the guest stars were veteran actors Roscoe Ates, Russ Conway, and John M. Pickard.