“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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