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Valentine, Jimmy. Jimmy Valentine was created by “O. Henry,” the pseudonym of William Sydney Porter (Cisco Kid, Jeff Peters), and appeared in “A Retrieved Reformation” (Cosmopolitan, Apr. 1903), which was turned into a play, Alias Jimmy Valentine (1910). He also appeared in the radio program Alias Jimmy Valentine (1938-1939).

Jimmy Valentine is a top safe-cracker, someone capable of breaking into any safe anywhere. He has a wide range of equipment available to him and what he can't buy he makes; he has even invented some tools for himself. He has done some time, but his string of successes is much larger than his failures. He works alone, gets away clean, and enjoys the high life.

But one day in Elmore, Arkansas Valentine sees Annabel Adams: "Jimmy Valentine looked into her eyes, forgot what he was, and became another man." Jimmy becomes "Mr. Ralph Spencer," a shoe salesman, "the phoenix that arose from Jimmy Valentine's ashes--ashes left by the flame of a sudden and alternative attack of love." He meets and woos Adams, impresses everyone in Elmore, and becomes a respected member of the community and Annabel's fiancé. Unfortunately, Annabel's younger sister is accidentally locked in the vault of a bank. Jimmy is faced with the choice of cracking the safe and revealing himself--and he knows that his pursuer, Ben Price, is close on his heels--or letting the sister die. Jimmy smoothly opens the safe and then reveals himself to his pursuer, who tells him, "Guess you're mistaken, Mr. Spencer. Don't believe I know you" and then walks away.

* I'm including the Jimmy Valentine story, play, and radio shows in the Best of the Encyclopedia list because they are historically important. O. Henry was of course a popular writer during his prime, and his patented brand of fiction--sharp but sentimental--is on display in "A Retrieved Reformation." The story is certainly entertaining, and one can see why it became popular for long enough to be the source of the Jimmy Valentine radio program in the late 1930s. But what the modern reader may not realize is that the story was not just popular but really popular, enough to be turned into a play by the end of the decade and popular enough to essentially establish the rogue hero concept in American popular fiction. There were certainly rogue heroes before Valentine, but he was the first indubitably American rogue hero, and he appeared at a time when the dime novel dominance on the field of popular fiction was ending but when the pulps were only just beginning to take off. In that gap, in that creative silence, "A Retrieved Reformation" sounded like thunder, and influenced many (many) other writers. 

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