The Shadow is a collection of serialized dramas, originally on 1930s radio and then in a wide variety of media, that follow the exploits of fictional vigilante The Shadow. 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 seven 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 legendary pulp writer Walter Gibson.
The Shadow debuted on July 31, 1930, as the mysterious narrator of the Street & 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.
As the years passed, the character evolved. On September 26, 1937, The Shadow radio drama officially premiered with the story "The Deathhouse Rescue" and imbued the character with "the power to cloud men's minds" — the ability to become completely invisible — a trait associated with the character for years after the show ended. Even after decades, the unmistakable introduction from The Shadow radio program, intoned by actor Frank Readick Jr., has earned a place in the American idiom: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh! The Shadow knows..." These words were accompanied by a haunting theme song, Le Rouet d'Omphale, composed by Saint-Saëns.
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 & 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 far more compelling than the unrelated stories. They soon began asking newsdealers for copies of "that Shadow detective magazine," even though it did not exist.
Gibson initially fashioned the character as a man of villainous elements who used them to battle crime. Clad in black, The Shadow operated predominantly 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 noirish anti-hero in every sense, likely inspired by mentalist Joseph Dunninger and illusionist Howard Thurston, both close friends of Gibson. 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 strenuous 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 — and disastrously — replace Gibson as the primary author of the pulp series.
The Shadow Magazine ended with the Summer 1949 issue. Gibson wrote three new "official" stories between 1963 and 1980. He later began a short series of updated Shadow novels for Belmont Books starting with Return of The Shadow under his own name. This novel was followed by The Shadow Strikes, Beware Shadow, Cry Shadow, The Shadow's Revenge, Mark of The Shadow, Shadow Go Mad, Night of The Shadow, Destination: Moon, all of which were written by Dennis Lynds under the "Maxwell Grant" byline. The Shadow was given mental powers in these later books, including the radio character's ability "to cloud men's minds" so that he effectively became invisible.
In the pulps written by Gibson, The Shadow wore a slouch hat and a black, crimson-lined cloak with an upturned collar (while in the later comic books and the 1994 film he wore a crimson scarf around the lower part of his face). He skulked in the shadows using his skill at concealing himself.
However, in the radio drama which debuted in 1937, The Shadow became an invisible avenger who had learned "the mysterious power to cloud men's minds, so they could not see him" while "traveling through East Asia." 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. As such, the character was given the power of complete invisibility.
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 secret identity was Kent Allard, a famed aviator. During World War I, Allard was both a flying ace and a spy who fought for the French. He was known by the alias of The Black Eagle ("The Shadow's Shadow," 1933), although later stories revised this alias as The Dark Eagle ("The Shadow Unmasks," 1937). After the war, Allard sought a new challenge and decided to wage war on criminals. Allard faked his death in the South American jungles then returned to the United States. Arriving in New York City, he adopted numerous identities to conceal his existence. One of these identities was Lamont Cranston, a "wealthy young man about town." In the pulps, Cranston was a separate character; Allard frequently disguised himself as Cranston and adopted his identity ("The Shadow Laughs," 1931). While Cranston traveled the world, Allard assumed 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. Cranston agrees. The two men sometimes met in order to impersonate each other ("Crime over Miami," 1940). Apparently, the disguise worked well because Allard and Cranston bore something of a resemblance to each other ("Dictator of Crime," 1941).
His other disguises included businessman Henry Arnaud, elderly gentleman Isaac Twambley, and Fritz, a doddering old janitor who works at Police Headquarters in order to listen in on conversations.
For the first half of The Shadow's tenure in the pulps, The Shadow's past and identity were ambiguous, supposedly an intentional decision on Walter Gibson's part. There were numerous hints throughout the early pulps, long before Gibson created The Shadow's Kent Allard identity, that The Shadow was hideously disfigured. 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 managed to see The Shadow's true face, and they both remarked that The Shadow was a man of many faces with no face of his own. It was not until the August 1937 issue of The Shadow, "The Shadow Unmasks," that The Shadow's true identity of Kent Allard was revealed.
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 character was created for the radio drama and, four years later, was introduced into the pulp novels. Her sudden appearance in the pulps annoyed readers and generated a flurry of hate mail printed in The Shadow Magazine's letters page.]]
Though initially wanted by the police, The Shadow also worked with them and through them, notably gleaning information from his many chats with Commissioners Ralph Weston and Wainright Barth at the Cobalt Club (unlike the 1994 film, Barth and Cranston were not related in the pulps). Weston believed that Cranston was a rich playboy who dabbled in detective work. Another police contact was Detective Joe Cardona, who was a key character in many Shadow novels and a capable officer.
In contrast to the pulps, The Shadow radio drama limited the cast of major characters to The Shadow, Commissioner Weston and Margo Lane (created specifically for the radio series) as it was believed the abundance of agents would make it difficult to distinguish between characters. Clyde Burke and Moe Shrevnitz (identified only as "Shrevvy") made occasional appearances, but not as agents of The Shadow. Shrevvy was merely an acquaintance of Cranston and Lane.
Some of the numerous one-shot villains The Shadow fought included: 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, and The Gray Ghost.
The Shadow also battled collectives of criminals, such as: The Silent Seven, The Hand, The Brothers of Doom, and The Hydra.
In early 1930, Street & Smith Publications hired David Chrisman and Bill Sweets to adapt the Detective Story Magazine to radio format. Chrisman and Sweets felt the program should be introduced by a mysterious storyteller. A young scriptwriter, Harry Charlot, suggested the name of "The Shadow." Thus, "The Shadow" premiered over CBS airwaves on July 31, 1930, as the host of the Detective Story Hour, narrating "tales of mystery and suspense from the pages of the premier detective fiction magazine." The narrator was first voiced by James LaCurto, but became a national sensation when radio veteran Frank Readick, Jr. assumed the role and gave it "a hauntingly sibilant quality that thrilled radio listeners."
While functioning as a narrator of The Blue Coal Radio Revue, the character was recycled by Street & Smith in October 1931, to oddly serve as the storyteller of Love Story Hour.
In October 1932, the radio persona temporarily moved to NBC. Frank Readick again played the role of the sinister-voiced host on Mondays and Wednesdays, both at 6:30 p.m., with LaCurto taking occasional turns as the title character.
Readick returned as The Shadow to host a final CBS mystery anthology that fall. The series disappeared from CBS airwaves on March 27, 1935, due to Street & Smith's insistence the radio storyteller be completely replaced by the master crime-fighter described in Walter B. Gibson's ongoing pulps.
Welles did make a credible Shadow, two years before his notoriety as the mastermind of Mercury Theatre on the Air's production of War of the Worlds. After Welles departed the show in 1938, Bill Johnstone was chosen to replace him and voiced the character of The Shadow for five seasons. Following Johnstone's departure, The Shadow was portrayed by such noted actors as Bret Morrison (the longest tenure, with ten years in two separate runs), John Archer, and Steve Courtleigh as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow.
Lane was described as Cranston's "friend and companion" in later episodes, although the exact nature of their relationship was unclear. In the early scripts of the radio drama the character's name was spelled "Margot." The name itself was originally inspired by Margot Stevenson the famous Broadway ingénue who would later be chosen to voice Lane opposite Welles' Shadow during "the 1938 Goodrich summer season of the radio drama."
Street & Smith published 101 issues of the comic book Shadow Comics from #1 - vol. 9, #5 (March 1940 - Sept. 1949) Archie Comics published an eight-issue series, The Shadow (Aug. 1964 - Sept. 1965) under the company's Mighty Comics imprint. At first, The Shadow depicted was loosely based on the radio version, but with blonde hair. In issue #2 (Sept.. 1964), the character was transformed into a campy superhero by writer Robert Bernstein and artist John Rosenberger. In the mid-1970s, DC Comics published a critically acclaimed, 12-issue series (Nov. 1973 - Sept. 1975) written by Dennis O'Neil and initially drawn by Michael William Kaluta (#1-4 & 6). Faithful to the pulp-magazine and radio-drama character, the series guest-starred fellow pulp fiction hero The Avenger in issue #11. The Shadow appeared in DC's Batman #253 (Nov. 1973), in which Batman teams with an aging Shadow and reveals The Shadow as his "greatest inspiration". In Batman #259 (Dec. 1974), Batman again meets The Shadow, and we learn The Shadow saved Bruce Wayne's life when the future Batman was a boy. In the late 1980s, another DC reincarnation was created by Howard Chaykin, Andy Helfer, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Kyle Baker. This version brought The Shadow to modern-day New York. While initially successful, this version was not popular with traditional Shadow fans because it depicted The Shadow using Uzi submachine guns and rocket launchers, as well as featuring a strong strain of black comedy throughout. It was canceled after an issue in which The Shadow's head was transplanted onto a robot body.
From 1989 to 1992, DC published a new series, The Shadow Strikes, written by Gerard Jones and Eduardo Barreto. This series was set in the 1930s, and returned The Shadow to his pulp origins. The series featured The Shadow's first team-up with Doc Savage, another popular pulp hero. The stories in this series often led The Shadow into encounters with well-known celebrities of the 1930s, such as Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, union organizer John L. Lewis, and Chicago gangsters Frank Nitti and Jake Guzik. In issue #11, The Shadow meets a radio announcer named Grover Mills — a character based on the young Orson Welles — who has been impersonating The Shadow on the radio. The character's name is taken from Grover's Mill, New Jersey — the name of the town where the Martians land in Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. Dark Horse Comics published two miniseries based on The Shadow. "In the Coils of Leviathan" was published in 1993. "Hell's Heat Wave" was published in 1995. Both were written by Joel Goss and Michael Kaluta, and drawn by Gary Gianni. A stand-alone collection was published in 1994 as "The Shadow and the Mysterious Three," again written by Joel Goss and Michael Kaluta with Stan Manoukian and Vince Roucher taking over the drawing chores over Kaluta's layouts. A two-issue adaptation of the 1994 film, The Shadow, was adapted from a script by Goss and Kaluta and drawn by Kaluta from cover to cover. Dark Horse also published a team-up between The Shadow and Doc Savage in 1995.
In 1994, the character was adapted once again into a feature film, The Shadow, starring Alec Baldwin as Yin-Ko/Lamont Cranston/The Shadow and Penelope Ann Miller as Margo Lane. Cranston was depicted as a brutal warlord and opium smuggler. He was 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. Yin-Ko then 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 Khan, played by John Lone. Their struggle eventually ended when Cranston threw a mirror shard into Khan's head; surgery saved his life, but it removed a small but critical piece of the frontal lobe of his brain, and thus the source of his telepathic powers. This movie combined the two versions of The Shadow (the radio and pulp novel versions) into one, with the aforementioned ability to cloud minds combined with the trench coat, slouch hat, and dual .45s.
On October 16, 2007, Sam Raimi stated that: "I don't have any news on 'The Shadow' at this time, except that the company that I have with Josh Donen, my producing partner, we've got the rights to 'The Shadow.' I love the character very much and we're trying to work on a story that'll do justice to the character.
The second attempt in 1958 was called The Invisible Avenger, which compiled the first two unaired episodes and was released theatrically instead. This film was later re-released in 1962 as Bourbon Street Shadows, with additional footage meant to appeal to "adult" audiences. Starring Richard Derr as The Shadow, The Invisible Avenger centers upon Lamont Cranston investigating the murder of a New Orleans bandleader. The film is notable as the second directorial effort of James Wong Howe, one of the greatest cinematographers in film history.