Monday, November 14, 2005

Tribute to The Shadow

I've been a huge fan of old time radio for many years. The Shadow has been at the forefront of my favorites list since the beginning because of my own father's love for the character. The memories he often shared of listening to those radio programs in his youth were probably what sprouted my own love for the genre.

The Shadow
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Shadow was best known as the hero (or anti-hero) of a long-running network radio show and pulp magazine. Later, he was featured in comic books, television and motion pictures. The voice of the Shadow was heard for the first time on July 31, 1930.

The Shadow was originally the announcer of the radio show, Detective Stories, whose plots were taken from a pulp magazine of the same title published by Street and Smith Publications in the 1930s. During this period, the Shadow was played first by James LaCurto, then by Frank Readick. The radio show was intended to boost circulation of the Detective Stories magazine, but it backfired on the producers. Listeners found the announcer much more memorable than the radio stories themselves, and flocked to newsstands demanding issues of "The Shadow Magazine", which did not exist. Street & Smith were smart enough to respond to the demand, and they hurriedly commissioned Walter B. Gibson to start writing stories about The Shadow for a new magazine. Gibson wrote almost all of the more than 300 Shadow stories over a twenty-year period--about one novel-length story per month--under the pen name of Maxwell Grant.

Gibson's ingenious characterization of the Shadow lay in adopting elements usually applied to evil and sinister villains, and instead giving them to his hero crimefighter. Thus we have a figure in black, working by night, breaking and entering in the interests of justice, terrifying criminals and finally gunning them down. The Shadow was truly a noir superhero.

The Shadow evolved somewhat over his popular lifetime. In the magazines, he was always an elusive crimefighter who masked his features under a slouch hat and black cape. Originally, though, he was "shadowy" because of his skill at concealing himself and hiding in the shadows. Later, and in his radio shows, he was genuinely invisible because "while travelling in the Orient he learned the mysterious power to cloud men's minds, so they could not see him." (Most have assumed this power was hypnotism, while some have argued for Qi.)

In the original pulp series his real identity was Kent Allard, famous aviator, and "Lamont Cranston" was merely his most common disguise. In the radio series this was changed, and "Lamont Cranston, handsome young man-about-town" became the real identity of the Shadow.

The first radio show featuring the Shadow as an adventure character aired on the Mutual Radio Network on September 26, 1937. The catch phrase of the radio show, which has become a part of American culture, was a deep, sepulchral voice intoning, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" followed by eerie laughter.

While the Shadow for the new series was played by Orson Welles, the signature line was spoken by the previous radio Shadow, Frank Readick (using a water glass held next to his mouth for echo). Other actors who played the role over the years included Bill Johnstone, Brett Morrison (the longest tenure, with ten years in two separate runs), John Archer, and Steve Courtleigh.

Apart from a syndicated summer series in 1938, the Shadow was a Sunday afternoon fixture for Mutual until December 26, 1954. The Shadow Magazine ended with the summer 1949 issue, although Gibson wrote three new "official" stories between 1963 and 1980.

It has been suggested that the modern superhero concept owes much of its origin to The Shadow. In particular, Batman shares many similarities with the original superhero noir. In fact, one of the reasons it was decided that Batman would not carry a sidearm was that he would look too much like the Shadow to be seen shooting a gun.


The character has been depicted in comic books several times. The Shadow was first depicted in comics by Vernon Greene in 1938. The most acclaimed depiction was in the 1970s Shadow comic written by Dennis O'Neil and Mike Kaluta published by DC Comics. Other noteworthy Shadow comics from DC were created by Howard Chaykin, Andy Helfer and Kyle Baker, and Gerard Jones and Eduardo Barreto.

The character has been adapted for film numerous times. The movie The Shadow Strikes was released in 1937, and starred Rod Larocque in the title role. Larocque returned to the following year in International Crime, although in this version "The Shadow" was merely a radio gimmick. A serial starring Victor Jory and two short subjects starring Kane Richmond were each made in the 1940s. An interesting fact is that Richmond's Shadow wore a black face-mask similar to the type worn by the serial hero 'The Masked Marvel'.

A 1994 feature film version of The Shadow, starring Alec Baldwin, recast the story yet again. In this version, Lamont Cranston was a disaffected veteran of The Great War (World War I) who drifted through Asia and ultimately became a brutal warlord and opium smuggler. Cranston was then kidnapped by a Tibetan order of monks and brought to their monastery. A tulku, their leader, recognizing the power of harnessing Cranston's inner darkness, reformed and trained him to use that darkness against evil rather than for it. Cranston learned how to confuse and control the minds of others, particularly how to become invisible except for his shadow. His nemesis in the film was an evil warlord and fellow telepath named Shiwan Khan, the last descendant of Genghis, played by John Lone. Cranston's lover and partner-in-crimefighting, Margo Lane, was played by Penelope Ann Miller. The film was intended to launch a new franchise, but was commercially unsuccessful and no series resulted.

Dark Horse Comics published three mini-series based on the movie's version of the character. It also published a two-part team-up between The Shadow and Doc Savage, another well-known pulp hero.

The Shadow has been adapted into the Wold Newton family.

An analogue of The Shadow, Bret Leather, The Spider, also shows up in Warren Ellis' Planetary series as a member of Doc Brass' (Doc Savage) group of superheroes.

For a link to the original Wikipedia article, click here.

Other great Shadow related links you should definitely click on:

And, for your listening pleasure, I've uploaded one of my own MP3 files of The Shadow radio program for you to download. Click here.


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