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The Shadow

''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. Detective Story had 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. Four years later, during the summer of 1936, Blue Coal, which sponsored Detective Story, agreed to sponsor a new program capitalizing on that 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.''

In 1930, New York-based pulp magazine publisher Street and Smith sponsored a radio program called ‘’Detective Story,’’ which was to advertise their magazine of the same name. Each episode was a dramatization of a story in the current issue. As a gimmick, the host of the program (who introduced each week’s episode and gave a pithy comment at the end) was called ‘’The Shadow’’ and spoke in sinister, chilling and memorable tones. Listeners indeed flooded to the news-stands. But it wasn’t to buy ‘’Detective Story.’’ They wanted ‘’the magazine that told about the Shadow.’’ Street and Smith decided they’d better take advantage of this opportunity as quickly as possible.

Fortunately for Street and Smith, writer Walter Gibson was in town from Philadelphia. A prolific feature writer for newspapers (daily tricks, puzzles, intelligence tests, explanations of ancient mysteries, methods of fake spirit mediums, crooked carnival games, etc), he also was a ghostwriter for the top magicians of the day: Houdini, Thurston, and Blackstone. He had most recently done a book called Houdini’s Escapes, and had come to New York to arrange for a sequel, Houdini’s Magic, as well as a book called Modern Card Tricks for Blackstone.

On his way back home, he had stopped at Street and Smith to line up some articles. ‘’Since I was an article writer with a flair for fiction, I could be the very man to turn out the story that he [Blackwell, Street and Smith editor] needed, particularly as my journalistic speed would enable me to meet a prompt deadline.’’

Gibson and Frank Blackwell, Street and Smith’s editor, discussed the story. Blackwell wanted a character who would be a fighter against organized crime (which at that time was assuming alarming proportions in America) and Gibson came up with a ‘teaser’ immediately. ‘’…I suggested an opening scene with a cloaked figure emerging from a night fog to prevent a desperate young man from taking a suicide plunge from a high bridge. Thus befriended, the young man would swear loyalty to his rescuer and thereby become involved in exciting adventures with other persons who had been aided by the same benefactor, all being united in the common cause against crime. Blackwell told me to go ahead with the first novel, promising me three more on a quarterly basis if it proved satisfactory.’’

Gibson returned home and quickly wrote a half dozen chapters and an outline for the rest, which he took back to Blackwell for approval. ‘’It was fortunate that I did, for in the rush to get the new magazine scheduled, the art department [who apparently didn’t want to design a new cover on such short notice for an experiment] had come up with the only available cover that seemed suitable. It showed a man in Chinese costume with upraised hands casting a shadow on the wall behind him. So I injected an Oriental angle into the story…’’

The first novel was titled, appropriately, The Living Shadow, and appeared under the byline Maxwell Grant. Gibson chose the pseudonym by combining the names of a couple of magic dealers. The main protagonist was actually Harry Vincent, the man whom The Shadow had rescued from suicide.

The following three novels were The Eyes of the Shadow, The Shadow Laughs, and The Red Menace. It was in these four novels that the origin of The Shadow was gradually revealed. ‘’I had covered some of [The Shadow’s] more important capabilities in the first novel, [in the second novel] was the time to touch on facts that might reveal his personality. To battle crime successfully and keep trusted agents constantly on the job he would need a millionaire’s income and status to go with it. So I pictured him in a New Jersey mansion some twenty odd miles outside New York City with a retinue of servants, late model cars as required, an airplane at a nearby private airport, and best of all, a tower room equipped with all the latest radio gadgets, including some that were not yet invented.’’ He was also given the name Lamont Cranston.

Lest the reading public think after the second novel that they knew all about The Shadow, in the third book (each Shadow novel was 70,000 words long, and appeared in The Shadow magazine along with other, shorter crime stories) when the ‘real’ Lamont Cranston, returning from an extended trip to South America, begins to doubt his sanity, as he learns that during his absence, various people had seen him at his home. The truth is revealed when The Shadow comes to him and explains why he was impersonating the millionaire. ‘’…the imposture enabled him to make contacts with important people and move in social circles where no one would suspect his dual identity while he was fighting crime as The Shadow.’’ Cranston immediately agreed to help the Shadow, and relinquishing his identity once more, headed off to Europe.

‘’The fourth story…not only wrapped up various phases of The Shadow’s background but also added some finer facets as well….I delivered the four stories at intervals of approximately one month each, completing the year’s quota in four months, and I thought I was free to get back to my other work.’’ Had he but known.

In early May, 1931, the first issue hit the news-stands and immediately sold out. The print order for the second issue, The Eyes of the Shadow was immediately doubled, and by the time the third issue came out, it was decided to make The Shadow a monthly. Gibson continued to write the novels with his incredible speed. This was fortunate because soon The Shadow was to come out twice a month. To sum it up, this pulp magazine was incredibly popular, lasting for 18 years, until the Summer of 1949 for a total of 325 issues, 282 of them written by Grant.)

Walter Gibson in later days

Four years after the magazine’s debut, Street and Smith decided that they wanted to do a radio program based on The Shadow’s characterization in the novels.

Go to The Shadow on the Radio

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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