The Shadow” — The Origin

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”
“The Shadow knows”

With that, one of the most successful pulp characters was introduced to the radio and magazine audience. Even today, that phrase is recognized and the character remembered: the Shadow, who possessed the hypnotic power to “cloud mens’ minds”.

But The Shadow had a convoluted history: he didn’t always have that power; in fact, he wasn’t a pulp character in the first place!

Magazine publishers Street and Smith wanted a mysterious announcer to host their radio dramas based on stories plublished in their Detective Story Magazine. The result was the Shadow, who would introduce the stories on radio: other candidates for the character’s name were “the Inspector” and “the Sleuth”. They received an immediate and unexpected success: buyers began asking the newsstands for the “Shadow” magazine. Seeing an opportunity, Street and Smith asked pulp writer Walter Gibson to create the character for the new Shadow Magazine.

A prolific pulp author, Gibson was also a stage magician and hypnotist and a close friend of magicians Joseph Dunninger and Howard Thurston. Using the pen-name of Maxwell Grant, Gibson would eventually write 282 of the 325 stories published, writing one almost every two weeks: he had a system that let him write quickly and economically. Guest authors wrote the remaining stories, including pulp author Lester Dent, author of the Doc Savage novels. 1 Gibson also ghost-wrote books on stage magic with such luminaries as Harry Houdini, Harry Blackstone and Joseph Dunninger, and wrote or co-wrote (with his wife) a number of books on magic, yoga, and psychic phenomena, including a book on hypnosis entitled “Hypnotism Through the Ages”.

Gibson created the Shadow, based, he said, on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s story ‘The Haunted and the Haunter’ (also known as ‘The House and the Brain’). Secretly, the Shadow was Kent Allard, aviator, but he took the name and persona of playboy Lamont Cranston to mingle with the upper-class: he would take other identities in his war on crime. He also used a number of agents, sometimes recruiting them when he saved them from crime. He was a mysterious figure that dispensed justice in the traditional pulp style, depending on his powers of stealth to appear from the shadows.

When the Shadow returned to radio, several changes were made. Gone was Kent Allard, the Shadow was always Lamont Cranston. The character of Margo Lane, the Shadow’s female sidekick, was added, who would eventually become part of the pulp magazine stories, too. And, most importantly, to explain his preternatural ability to conceal himself, he was given the hypnotic power to “cloud mens’ minds” that he learned in the Orient: that power would eventually find its way back into the pulp series, as well.

The radio stories include at least two stories involving hypnosis and mental control: ‘The Hypnotized Audience’ where the antagonist hypnotizes an entire audience in order to kidnap the state governor to have him release his brother who is currently sentenced to be executed that night, and another whose antagonist possessed mental powers of psychic domination. Both were stopped by the Shadow, of course.

After the war, the pulps declined but were not forgotten. In the 1970’s, DC Comics revived the Shadow (and another pulp hero, the Avenger) in a short-lived but well-received series. The Shadow of the comics was an amalgamation of both the radio and pulp characters: he did not have the “power to cloud mens’ minds”, preferring to rely on his twin .45 automatics, but he did wear a curious girasol (red fire opal) ring , once owned by Rasputin and reputed to be the source of his hypnotic prowess, that he used as a hypnotic focus. The title featured the work of comics writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Wm. Michael Kaluta, the definitive Shadow artist.

  1. The Lester Dent / Doc Savage connection with the Shadow is also curiously coincidental: Superman’s secret identity of Clark Kent came from Doc Savage’s first name of Clark and the Shadow’s first name of Kent.

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