The Shadow is a collection of serialized dramas, originally in pulp magazines, then on 1930s radio and then in a wide variety of media, that follow the exploits of the title character, a crime-fighting vigilante in the pulps, which carried over to the airwaves as a “wealthy, young man about town” with psychic powers. One of the most famous pulp heroes of the 20th century, The Shadow has been featured in comic books, comic strips, television, video games, and at least five motion pictures. The radio drama is well-remembered for those episodes voiced by Orson Welles.
Introduced as a mysterious radio narrator by David Chrisman, William Sweets, and Harry Engman Charlot for Street and Smith Publications, The Shadow was fully developed and transformed into a pop culture icon by pulp writer Walter B. Gibson.
The Shadow debuted on July 31, 1930, as the mysterious narrator of the Street and Smith radio program Detective Story Hour. After gaining popularity among the show’s listeners, the narrator became the star of The Shadow Magazine on April 1, 1931, a pulp series created and primarily written by the prolific Gibson.
Over the years, the character evolved. On September 26, 1937, The Shadow radio drama officially premiered with the story “The Deathhouse Rescue”, in which the character had “the power to cloud men’s minds so they cannot see him.” This was a contrivance for the radio; in the magazine stories, The Shadow did not have the ability to become literally invisible.
Even after decades, the unmistakable introduction from The Shadow radio program, long-intoned by actor Frank Readick Jr., has earned a place in the American idiom: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” These words were accompanied by an ominous laugh and a musical theme, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Le Rouet d’Omphale (“Omphale’s Spinning Wheel”, composed in 1872). At the end of each episode, The Shadow reminded listeners, “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay…. The Shadow knows!”
Detective Story Hour
In order to boost the sales of their Detective Story Magazine, Street and Smith Publications hired David Chrisman of the Ruthrauff & Ryan advertising agency and writer-director William Sweets to adapt the magazine’s stories into a radio series. Chrisman and Sweets felt the upcoming series should be narrated by a mysterious storyteller with a sinister voice, and began searching for a suitable name. One of their scriptwriters, Harry Engman Charlot, suggested various possibilities, such as “The Inspector” or “The Sleuth.” Charlot then proposed the ideal name for the phantom announcer: “… The Shadow.”
Thus, beginning on July 31, 1930, “The Shadow” was the name given to the mysterious narrator of the Detective Story Hour. The narrator was voiced by James LaCurto and, later, Frank Readick. The episodes were drawn from the Detective Story Magazine issued by Street and Smith, “the nation’s oldest and largest publisher of pulp magazines.” Although the latter company had hoped the radio broadcasts would boost the declining sales of the Detective Story Magazine, the result was quite different. Listeners found the sinister announcer much more compelling than the unrelated stories. They soon began asking newsdealers for copies of “that Shadow detective magazine,” even though it did not exist.
Recognizing the demand and responding promptly, circulation manager Henry William Ralston of Street & Smith commissioned magician Walter B. Gibson to begin writing stories about “The Shadow.” Using the pen name of Maxwell Grant and claiming that the stories were “from The Shadow’s private annals as told to” him, Gibson wrote 282 out of 325 tales over the next 20 years: a novel-length story twice a month (1st and 15th). The first story produced was “The Living Shadow”, published April 1, 1931.
Gibson initially fashioned the character as a man with villainous characteristics, who used them to battle crime, and in this was the very first superhero in the modern century for modern times complete with a stylized imagery, a stylized name, sidekicks, super villains and a secret identity. Clad in black, The Shadow operated mainly after dark, burglarizing in the name of justice, and terrifying criminals into vulnerability before he or someone else gunned them down. The character was a film noir anti-hero in every sense; Gibson himself claimed the literary inspirations for The Shadow were Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The House and the Brain.
Because of the great effort involved in writing two full-length novels every month, several guest writers were hired to write occasional installments in order to lighten Gibson’s work load. These guest writers included Lester Dent — who penned the Doc Savage stories — and Theodore Tinsley. In the late 1940s, mystery novelist Bruce Elliott would temporarily replace Gibson as the primary author of the pulp series. Richard Edward Wormser, a reader for Street & Smith, wrote two Shadow stories.
The Shadow Magazine ceased publication with the Summer 1949 issue, but Walter B. Gibson wrote three new “official” stories between 1963 and 1980. The first of these began a new series of nine updated Shadow novels from Belmont Books, starting with Return of The Shadow under his own by-line. But the remaining eight, The Shadow Strikes, Beware Shadow, Cry Shadow, The Shadow’s Revenge, Mark of The Shadow, Shadow Go Mad, Night of The Shadow, and The Shadow, Destination: Moon, were not penned by Gibson but by Dennis Lynds under the “Maxwell Grant” byline. In these last eight novels, The Shadow was given psychic powers, including the radio character’s ability “to cloud men’s minds” so that he effectively became invisible, and was more of a spymaster than crime fighter.
The character and look of The Shadow gradually evolved over his lengthy fictional existence.
As depicted in the pulps, The Shadow wore a black slouch hat and a black, crimson-lined cloak with an upturned collar over a standard black business suit. In the 1940s comic books, the later comic book series, and the 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin, he wore either the black slouch hat or a wide-brimmed, black fedora and a crimson scarf just below his nose and across his mouth and chin. Both the cloak and scarf covered either a black doubled-breasted trench coat or regular black suit. As seen in some of the later comics series, the hat and scarf would also be worn with either a black Inverness coat or Inverness cape.
But in the radio drama, which debuted in 1937, The Shadow became an invisible avenger who had learned, while “traveling through East Asia,” “the mysterious power to cloud men’s minds, so they could not see him.” This revision of the character was born out of necessity: Time constraints of 1930s radio made it difficult to explain to listeners where The Shadow was hiding and how he was remaining concealed. Thus, the character was given the power to escape human sight. Voice effects were added to suggest The Shadow’s seeming omnipresence.
In order to explain this power, The Shadow was described as a master of hypnotism, as explicitly stated in several radio episodes.
In print, The Shadow’s real name is Kent Allard, and he was a famed aviator who fought for the French during World War I. He became known by the alias of The Black Eagle, according to The Shadow’s Shadow, 1933, although later stories revised this alias as The Dark Eagle beginning with The Shadow Unmasks, 1937. After the war, Allard seeks a new challenge and decides to wage war on criminals. Allard fakes his death in the South American jungles, then returns to the United States. Arriving in New York City, he adopts numerous identities to conceal his existence.
One of these identities—indeed, the best known—is Lamont Cranston, a “wealthy young man about town.” In the pulps, Cranston is a separate character; Allard frequently disguises himself as Cranston and adopts his identity (“The Shadow Laughs,” 1931). While Cranston travels the world, Allard assumes his identity in New York. In their first meeting, Allard/The Shadow threatens Cranston, saying that he has arranged to switch signatures on various documents and other means that will allow him to take over the Lamont Cranston identity entirely unless Cranston agrees to allow Allard to impersonate him when he is abroad. Terrified, Cranston agrees. The two men sometimes meet in order to impersonate each other (“Crime over Miami,” 1940). Apparently, the disguise works well because Allard and Cranston bear something of a resemblance to each other (“Dictator of Crime,” 1941).
His other disguises include businessman Henry Arnaud, who first appeared in Green Eyes, Oct. 1932, elderly gentleman Isaac Twambley, who first appeared in No Time For Murder, and Fritz, who first appeared in The Living Shadow, Apr. 1931; in this last disguise, he pretends to be a doddering old janitor who works at Police Headquarters in order to listen in on conversations.
The Shadow appears as Henry Arnaud in “Atoms of Death,” “Buried Evidence,” “Death Jewels,” “Death Premium,” “Death Ship,” “Green Eyes,” “House of Silence,” “Murder Trail,” “Quetzal,” “Realm of Doom,” “The Black Master,” “The Blue Sphinx,” “The Case of Congressman Coyd,” “The Circle of Death,” “The City of Doom,” “The Condor,” “The Embassy Murders,” “The Five Chameleons,” “The Ghost Murders,” “The Man From Shanghai,” “The Plot Master,” “The Radium Murders,” “The Romanoff Jewels,” “The Seven Drops of Blood,” “The Shadow Unmasks,” “The Shadow’s Shadow,” and “Wizard of Crime.”
The Shadow appears as Isaac Twambley in “No Time for Murder,” “Guardians of Death,” “Death Has Grey Eyes,” “The Stars Promise Death,” “Dead Man’s Chest, and “The Magigal’s Mystery.”
The Shadow appears as Fritz in at least 23 Shadow novels: “The Living Shadow,” “Hidden Death,” “The Ghost Makers,” “The Crime Clinic,” “Crime Circus,” “The Chinese Disks,” “The Dark Death,” “The Third Skull,” “The Black Master,” “The Voodoo Master,” “The Third Shadow,” “The Circle of Death,” “The Sledge Hammer Crimes,” “The Golden Masks,” “The Ghost Murders,” “Hills of Death,” “The Hand,” “The Racket’s King,” “The Green Hoods,” “The Crime Ray,” “The Getaway Ring,” “Masters of Death,” and “The Crystal Skull.”
For the first half of The Shadow’s tenure in the pulps, his past and identity are ambiguous, supposedly an intentional decision on Gibson’s part. In The Living Shadow, a thug claims to have seen The Shadow’s face, and thought he saw “a piece of white that looked like a bandage.” In “The Black Master” and “The Shadow’s Shadow,” the villains both see The Shadow’s true face, and they both remark that The Shadow is a man of many faces with no face of his own. It was not until the August 1937 issue, “The Shadow Unmasks,” that The Shadow’s real name is revealed.
Kent Allard appears as himself in at least twenty-eight Shadow novels: “The Shadow Unmasks,” “The Yellow Band,” “Death Turrets,” “The Sealed Box,” “The Crystal Buddha,” “Hills of Death,” “The Murder Master,” “The Golden Pagoda,” “Face of Doom,” “The Racket’s King,” “Murder for Sale,” “Death Jewels,” “The Green Hoods,” “Crime Over Boston,” “The Dead Who Lived,” “Shadow Over Alcatraz,” “Double Death,” “Silver Skull,” “The Prince of Evil,” “Masters of Death,” “Xitli, God of Fire,” “The Green Terror,” “The Wasp Returns,” “The White Column,” “Dictator of Crime,” “Crime out of Mind,” “Crime Over Casco,” and “Dead Man’s Chest.”
In the radio drama, the Allard secret identity was dropped for simplicity’s sake. On the radio, The Shadow was only Lamont Cranston; he had no other aliases or disguises.
The Shadow also faces a wide variety of enemies, ranging from kingpins and mad scientists to international spies and “super-villains,” many of whom were predecessors to the rogues’s galleries of comic super-heroes. Among The Shadow’s recurring foes are Shiwan Khan (The Golden Master, Shiwan Khan Returns, and The Invincible Shiwan Khan)–who appears in the feature film portrayed by John Lone–The Voodoo Master (The Voodoo Master, The City of Doom, and Voodoo Trail), The Prince of Evil (The Prince of Evil, The Murder Genius, The Man Who Died Twice, and The Devil’s Paymaster, all written by Theodore Tinsley), and The Wasp (The Wasp and The Wasp Returns).
The series also featured a myriad of one-shot villains, including The Red Envoy, The Death Giver, Gray Fist, The Black Dragon, Silver Skull, The Red Blot, The Black Falcon, The Cobra, Zemba, The Black Master, Five-Face, The Gray Ghost, and Dr. Z.
The Shadow also battles collectives of criminals, such as The Silent Seven, The Hand, The Salamanders, and The Hydra.