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The Shadow
Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men?

''Who knows...what the hearts of men
.....The Shadow knows...ha hah hahaha hahah.'' The Shadow, who
aids the forces of law and order, is in reality Lamont Cranston,
wealthy young man-about-town. Years ago in the Orient, Cranston
learned a strange and mysterious secret, the hypnotic power to
cloud men's minds so they cannot see him. Cranston's friend and
companion, the lovely Margot Lane, is the only person who knows
to whom the voice of the invisible Shadow belongs. Today's drama....
Read Shadow Episode Synopses
The Death House Rescue
Reflection of Death

Listen to a Shadow episode a day at
Shadow Radio Theatre.

1. Summary
2. How it all began - the origin of The Shadow Magazine
3. The Shadow on the radio - starring Orson Welles
4. Replaced by Bill Johnston
5. Enter Bret Morrison
6. Brief segue for John Archer
7. The Return of Morrison
8. The End of the Shadow

In the 1930s, anthology radio programs always had a host with a name and a schtick - 'Mr. First Nighter, The Man in Black, etc. The program Detective Story started it all, with a host known as 'The Shadow.' So popular was this unknown man that a magazine, called The Shadow was created to protect the character copyright. The first issue, The Living Shadow was a smash hit. The Shadow was given an identity - Lamont Cranston, a network of agents, contacts with the police and the underworld, and incredibly varied and exciting crimes to solve.

Four years later, during the summer of 1936, Blue Coal, which sponsored Detective Story, agreed to sponsor a new program on the now even more famous and popular magazine character. The series, starring the young Orson Welles as The Shadow and Agnes Moorehead as Margot Lane, debuted on September 26, 1937, over the Mutual and Yankee networks, with ''The Death House Rescue.'' After 26 episodes, Orson Welles left the program, and was succeeded by Bill Johnstone. A couple of actors and years later, it was Bret Morrison who obtained the role and made it his own, starring as The Shadow for over ten years. When The Shadow went off the air, it was still popular, but the handwriting of television was on the wall as far as sponsors were concerned, and that's where they were pouring their money. On December 21, 1954, Bret Morrison and Gertrude Warner stood before a mutual microphone to transcribe the final episode. ‘’Murder By the Sea’’ was aired five days later, and The Shadow’s mocking laugh was heard for the last time by a generation of people who had grown up with the character.

First episode: September 26, 1937, ''The Death House Rescue.''
Last episode: December 25, 1954: ''Murder By The Sea.''

Today, when those 'in the know' think of the Shadow, they ''imagine the sinister tones of Frank Readick, dripping with poisonous venom, or envision the boyish Lamont Cranston portrayed by the young Orson Welles, who grew to possess a mature sophistication during the five years Bill Johnstone portrayed the famous role, acquired a hardboiled determination during John Archer's season, and developed a forceful elegance during Bret Morrison's decade long tenure.''

Four years after the debut of The Shadow Magazine, Street and Smith decided that they wanted to do a radio program based on The Shadow’s characterization in the novels. The Shadow had continued as announcer for Detective Story…but continued to do nothing more than announce the episodes, as before. The character also hosted a program called Blue Coal Revue. He had a short lived program of his own in January 1932, but it was not similar to the magazine, and failed quickly.

During the summer of 1936, Blue Coal, which sponsored Detective Story, agreed to sponsor The Shadow, this time based on the character fleshed out by Walter Gibson. The writing job was assigned to Edward Hale Bierstadt. His first script, ‘’The Death House Rescue,’’ featured Harry Vincent. But there was a creative disagreement. Bierstadt’s scripts were turned over to other writers, who extensively modified them. Harry Vincent was replaced by Margot Lane, Cranston’s ‘constant friend and companion,’ created by the producer Clark Andrews to provide a 'vocal contrast' for Orson Welles (and to interest women in the program).

There were other changes from the source material (of course). The Shadow’s ability to merge with darkness and arrive anywhere unexpectedly and unseen, along with his hypnotic powers that formed a feature of the novels, were combined on the radio as a faculty to ‘’cloud men’s minds so they cannot see him.’’ The radio Shadow, during Orson Welles tenure, could 'read' men's minds as well, but this power was gradually phased out.

The new series, starring the young Orson Welles as The Shadow and Agnes Moorehead as Margot Lane, debuted on September 26, 1937, over the Mutual and Yankee networks. Its title was ‘’The Death House Rescue.’’ [The script reproduced in The Shadow Scrapbook, is the first draft script, in which Harry Vincent appears and Margot doesn’t.] ‘’The Death House Rescue’’ is available in the collection of five cassettes called The Shadow: The Lost Episodes.

Orson Welles in costume as The Shadow.
Unlike many dramatic shows, The Shadow was performed in front of an audience.
The actors dressed in 'normal' clothes. However, for publicity photos for the
various magazines, they would dress 'in costume.'

Margot Lane was originally portrayed as a capable partner who could be depended upon to rescue The Shadow at least as often as she required rescuing herself. However, after script editor Edith Meiser’s departure [Edith Meiser, most well known as the creative force behind the Sherlock Holmes radio program] the character of Margot Lane was reduced to a standard radio damsel in distress, ‘’captured midway through each program by that week’s homicidal killer…until The Shadow’s triumphant mocking laugh announced her rescue was at hand.’’ [Walter Gibson didn’t put Margot into the Shadow magazine until 1941.]

The first episode gives a hint of the relationship between Lamont Cranston and Margot Lane:

‘’Lamont,'' Margot says earnestly, ''give it up.’’

‘’Give what up, my dear? Drinking coffee?’’

‘’I’m serious, Lamont Cranston! When I foolishly let you know that…[she loved him] do you remember what you said? It will be exactly five years next week.’’

‘’But there’s still so much to do, Margo.’’

‘’Well then let somebody else do it! Don’t you realize that you can’t keep on like this for ever. Someone’s certain to identify you. And when that someone does, someone else is certain to kill you! ‘’

‘’Perhaps. But until they do…darling, stop frowning.’’

‘I don’t mean necessarily to give up your work, Lamont. But this other. Let The Shadow just disappear, and come out openly. Join the organized forces of law and police.''

‘’Won’t you realize, Margo, that my entire usefulness to the organized forces of law and police, lies in my remaining outside those forces? In remaining always…the Shadow. Would they approve my methods, would they believe in my science?’’

‘’You would make them believe. You could make them approve.’’

‘’And in doing so reveal my secrets, my knowledge. Reveal them, and eventually let them fall into the hands of organized crime. No, Margot. No one must ever know. No one but you. Why do you think I’ve devoted countless hours to investigating electrical and chemical phenomena. Why do you think I went to India, to Egypt, to China? What do you think I studied in London, Paris and Vienna? Except to learn the old mysteries that modern science has not yet rediscovered. The natural magic modern psychology is beginning to understand, and well, magic that wouldn’t seem so natural…I studied and learned…for a purpose, my dear.’’

Welles portrayed The Shadow for twenty-six episodes sponsored by Blue Coal. He then recorded fifteen summer programs for Goodrich Safety Silvertown tires. Welles had a unique method of working that kept his co-stars on their toes. Because he was busy with his theatre work, he skipped rehearsals – subordinates read his lines and marked up his script. Welles usually arrived only minutes before the Broadcast and performed his role ‘cold.’ Welles said: ‘’Not rehearsing…made it much more interesting. When I was thrown down the well into some fiendish snake pit, I never knew how I’d get out.’’

Welles left the series after the summer season to produce his own program, The Mercury Theatre on the Air.. Bill Johnstone, a Scottish-born former reporter became the new Shadow for a season. Welles returned again for the summer season – another 13 episodes, and then left for good, with Johnstone once more taking over the role. Agnes Moorehead didn’t leave her role as Margot Lane until 1940, when she relinquished it to Marjorie Anderson, who played the role until her untimely death, from throat cancer, in 1944. Other actresses to play Margot were Marion Sharkley, Laura Mae Carpenter, Lesley Woods, Grace Mathews, and Gertrude Warner.

Bill Johnstone as Lamont, Agnes Moorehead as Margo.
Actors read their lines from the script. The microphones were angled
so that only the sound of the actor's voices could be caught and transmitted.
The crackle of papers being dropped to the floor after they were read was inaudible.

By the time Bill Johnstone left the role in 1943, The Shadow was the ‘hottest drama on the Sunday airwaves’. Chicago-bred Bret Morrison won the role over 100 other competitors, and continued to play the role for more than a decade.

Morrison came to New York after stints in Los Angeles and Chicago radio, followed by a tour of Army duty supervising New England recruitment of WACs. It was while he was in New York ‘’doing a job for Uncle Sam’’ that he heard the sponsor needed a new Shadow, auditioned, and got the job. Morrison frequently performed in The Shadow’s famous black slouch hat and cloak for the entertainment of the huge audience that gathered each Sunday evening to view the live broadcast from Broadway’s Longacre Theatre. Morrison also sang professionally at nightclub and cabarets, and was an avid collector of Rolls Royces and other vintage cars.

Bret Morrison as Lamont, Grace Mathews as Margo.
Broadcasting booths were cramped, and actors usually performed
around the same microphone, rather than each one having their own.

The Shadow lost its East Coast sponsor, Blue Coal, when the anthracite market collapsed in 1949. (The Shadow had several sponsors simultaneously – Carey Salt commercials went out to the midwest, Balm Barr went to the south, and the U.S. Air Force sponsored it on the Pacific Coast. The logistics of broadcasting the right commercials to the right geographical areas at the right time gave the master control at MBS (Mutual Broadcasting Station) a good case of the jitters.) However, other sponsors stepped into the East Coast breach, including Wildrrot hair oil, Camel cigarettes, and Tide. During its last season, however, it could not find a sponsor anywhere – for all the businesses were pouring their money into the new medium of television - but it ran as a sustainer. Its ratings were still very high, but this was no longer enough.

On December 21, 1954, Bret Morrison and Gertrude Warner stood before a mutual microphone to transcribe the final episode. ‘’Murder By the Sea’’ was aired five days later, and The Shadow’s mocking laugh was heard for the last time.

Most, but unfortunately not all, episodes of The Shadow are still in existence. Only a couple of episodes starring John Archer still exist, for example, and much of the 1950s episodes are also lost somewhere in the shadows....

The Shadow Scrapbook, Walter B. Gibson and Anthony Tollin, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979
The Shadow: The Lost Shows, Anthony Tollin, 1988, Advance Magazine

1. The Dossier on The Shadow on Radio
2. Broadcasts today on When Radio Was
3. Jerry Haendiges'Complete Shadow episode log
4. The Shadow
5. The Shadow Zone
6. The Pulps: The Shadow

This page last updated on January 30, 2002.

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