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Listening to people discussing St. Valentine's Day with Sydney ABC radio talkback presenter James Valentine, we recalled a once popular song, Look out for Jimmy Valentine. It went something like this:

Look out, look out, look out for Jimmy Valentine
For he's a pal of mine,
A sentimental crook with a touch that lingers
In his sand-papered fingers
He can find the combination of your pocketbook.
Look out, look out, for when you see his lantern shine
That's the time to jump right up and shout Help!
He'd steal a horse and cart,
He'd even steal a girlie's heart
When Jimmy Valentine gets out.
Who, we wondered, was Jimmy Valentine? We searched the internet, and found the answer on a most unlikely website - that of a leading US law firm, Stein, Mitchell & Mezines, of Washington DC. One of its partners, Jacob A Stein, apart from having a distinguished law career of more than 50 years, has also made a name for himself as a successful author.

One of his web pages reproduces an article, Bing Crosby, Gus Edwards, O. Henry, and Alias Jimmy Valentine, from his Legal Spectator column in The Washington Lawyer Magazine, July/August 2001. It's an engrossing story, well worth reading.

Here's what we discovered, after searching several other sites as well:

Jimmy Valentine was a safecracker who met William Sydney Porter when both young men were serving prison terms. When Porter was released he moved to New York and began writing short stories under the name O Henry.

One of those stories, A Retrieved Reformation, told what happened to Jimmy Valentine after he was freed. The story, first published in 1891, was dramatized by another writer, Paul Armstrong, in 1909 and renamed Alias Jimmy Valentine. It opened in New York at Wallack's Theatre on Broadway, and was a smash hit, chalking up 155 performances. (That's when people began singing Look Out for Jimmy Valentine.) It was revived at the Gaiety Theatre on Broadway in 1921.

Alias Jimmy Valentine was made into a silent film first in 1915, and again (starring William Haines and Lionel Barrymore) in 1928. A third film, The Return of Jimmy Valentine, based on a story by W. Scott Darling, Wallace Sullivan, and Paul Armstrong Jr. was released in 1938.

You can read Stein's account of O Henry's story, revealing just what did happen to Jimmy Valentine, by clicking HERE.

Better still, enjoy O Henry's classic story in full, by clicking on A Retrieved Reformation.

Other Links




Internet surfers can find a collection of hilarious Valentine rhymes posted on dozen of websites, once again without any mention of their authors' names. They are said to be entries in a competition for the best rhyme with the most romantic first line but the least romantic second line. Here's a selection:

I see your face when I am dreaming
That's why I always wake up screaming.
My feelings for you no words can tell
Except for maybe "Go to hell."
Of loving beauty you float with grace;
If only you could hide your face.
I thought that I could love no other
Until, that is, I met your brother.
Kind, intelligent, loving and hot
This describes everything you're not.
I want to feel your sweet embrace
But don't take that paper bag off your face.
I love your smile, your face, your eyes-
Damn, I'm good at telling lies!
I saw your face as you walked by
But then I saw a better guy.
My darling, my lover, my beautiful wife:
Marrying you screwed up my life.
My love, you take my breath away.
What have you stepped in to smell this way?
What inspired this amorous rhyme?
Two parts vodka, one part lime.
Roses are red, violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet, and so are you.
But the roses are wilting, the violets are dead,
The sugar bowl's empty and so is your head.

Some websites attribute these amusing rhymes to the Washington Post. Others say they were entries in a radio contest, or attribute them to that prolific writer, Anonymous. A prolonged search has failed to find the original version. If you know where they were first published, or who wrote them, please tell us.

Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

Story first posted March 2004

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