The Shadow knows!
To which most of my UK readers will go – “Who?”
Which is a bit of shame really, as The Shadow was a multi-media sensation before such terms were even invented.
He first appeared on American radio in 1930 as the narrator of “Detective Story Hour”, complete with his “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” catchphrase and a sinister spooky laugh. (Both can be heard here.)
The stories were from publishers Street & Smith’s pulp magazines (now part of the Conde Nast empire) and radio listeners were soon demanding copies of The Shadow Magazine.
The only problem was that The Shadow Magazine didn’t exist.
Spotting the obvious gap in the market, the publishers hired former magician Walter Gibson to write the first Shadow pulp novel. (Gibson’s previous work had included being Houdini’s ghost writer.)
The magazine was a huge success and Gibson wrote at a prodigious rate – turning out two Shadow novels a month for over a decade.
The Shadow of the pulp magazines was a mysterious masked crimefighter, a scourge of the underworld who operated through a network of agents and was a master of disguise.
While this may seemed clichéd now, you have to remember that the first Shadow novel was written in 1931 – pre-dating Superman by seven years and Batman by eight. (In fact the first ever Batman story bears extremely strong resemblance to a Shadow story.)
And even today, some aspects of The Shadow are decidedly odd. His habit of laughing to himself all the time, even when being shot at or discovering murder victims is a tad disconcerting.
And then there’s his secret identity – or identities.
When The Shadow first appeared, it seemed he was really Lamont Cranston, millionaire playboy. But then it turns out that The Shadow had taken the place of the *real* Lamont Cranston, who had been “encouraged” to take a long trip abroad while The Shadow lived in his house and spent his money…
Eventually, it was revealed that The Shadow was really Kent Allard, daredevil aviator, who everyone thought had disappeared in the jungles of South America years before.
While all this was going on, The Shadow’s radio career had taken a turn for the worse, with him somehow ending up as the narrator of “Love Story Hour”…
(No. Really. Not sure if he used the “What evil…” line though.)
Things markedly improved in 1937 when the actual Shadow radio drama began, with Orson Welles as The Shadow. (Yes *that* Orson Welles.)
The radio Shadow didn’t have the complicated triple identity thing – he was simply Lamont Cranston. As compensation, he had “the lovely Margo Lane” as a sidekick (one year before Lois) and “the ability to cloud men’s minds”. (In other words, he could turn invisible, which is a very cost effective special effect on the radio.)
The radio show continued after Welles departed to scare the bejebus out of everyone with his War of the Worlds broadcast and lasted until 1954.
The magazine had ended by then, with the last issue appearing in 1949. There’d also been Shadow comics and film serials.
In the 60’s and 70’s, some of the original pulp stories were republished and in 1994 the Shadow film appeared, starring Alec Baldwin
With me being British, this was the first I’d heard of The Shadow. While it’s not going to win any Oscars, it’s exceptionally entertaining and has brilliant sets and costume design. You also get the sense that The Shadow isn’t entirely sane, which is as it should be.
Later on, (through a Radio 4 documentary of all things) I learned about the radio series and later still I discovered the pulp novels.
I’ve talked before about my love of pulp novels and their garish covers – The Shadow’s covers were exemplars of this. So needless to say, I was very pleased to discover that a company had began republished the stories.
Sanctum Books have published 45 Shadow reprints so far and I’ve bought them all. Each reprint has two novels (there were 325 Shadow stories written, so there’s still quite a few to go.)
The latest one I’ve read was “Atoms of Death” (“Of Death” features in the title of quite a few Shadow stories, including Cards of Death and River of Death.)
Atoms of Death is a very pleasing tale, featuring disintegration rays, a mad scientist and The Shadow getting the real Lamont Cranston into even more trouble.
And now there’s talk of another Shadow film, possibly directed by Sam Raimi – 80 years old and The Shadow still has a lot of potential.