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The Shadow - Doc Savage Quest

The Shadow Pulp Magazine & Radio Series
by Bill Laidlaw

The first Shadow magazine came out in 1931, inspired by a radio series, sort of. Allow me to explain.
The Shadow was first heard on the radio in 1929. An uncredited announcer calling himself The Shadow introduced dramatized radio versions of love stories from Street & Smith romance magazines. This series flopped and only lasted one season, though I'm sure it had nothing to do with causing the stock market crash... No recordings exist but one can imagine a certain unintended sleazy quality, "Hi, I'm The Shadow. Here's a story of young lovers that I watched from the shadows."
When the series returned in 1930, gone were the romance stories. Instead, the Shadow introduced stories adapted from Street & Smith's Detective Story magazine. This format was a hit and ran through 1936 on the Mutual radio network, though again no recordings are known to exist of the Detective Magazine radio version of The Shadow. This worked so well that it caused another problem - people were going to news stands and asking for "that Shadow magazine." Street & Smith knew a good thing when they saw it and hired Walter B. Gibson (a professional stage magician and frequent fiction contributor) to write a new character called The Shadow.

The Shadow magazine was such a success that publisher Henry Ralston also created a companion magazine the following year Doc Savage, The Man Of Bronze, written by Lester Dent. Though Walter B. Gibson and Lester Dent would write most of the novel-length stories for their respective magazines to the end (in the late 1940s), S&S used a fictional "house name" for the authors, in case the writers ever had to be replaced. Dent later also wrote a series of novellas for S&S's Crime Busters magazine known as The Gadget Man series (1937-40). Walter B. Gibson wrote 283 of the over 300 Shadow novel-length stories printed in The Shadow Magazine and other writers did an additional fifty Shadow stories as Maxwell Grant.

Throughout the 1930s, there were a number of imitators trying to cash in on the success of The Shadow and Doc Savage, but none of them lasted. It wasn't until the late 1930s that comic books inspired by the two crimefighters caught on: Batman (The Shadow) and Superman (Doc Savage, plus Margo Lane's sister Lois).
Despite tremendous popularity of both Doc Savage and The Shadow, Hollywood wasn't interested. Only a few low-budget Shadow movies were made, and two Batman serials (see Batman page), and color Superman cartoons (a href="/mn/nnn/SupermanTrivia.html">click here if you can name even the first one) starting in 1940, which met with little success. In the Shadow movies, he wore black and used a whip (an idea apparently lifted from swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks movies) instead of two blazing guns, and the Batman serials were even worse. Picture an overweight actor in a gray t-shirt, black shorts, a 20ish Boy Wonder, in an open-air Model T as the Batmobile ... I kid you not! No wonder it took 20 years for Hollywood to take another chance with Batman in 1966.

There were two Doc Savage radio series but neither one really took off and were cancelled after just one season. No known recordings of either series exist. Decades later, NPR (Nat. Public Radio) serialized two Doc Savage novels for radio. The Shadow fared better on radio of course, and there was even a series of 15-minute serialized Superman stories on radio. The first four episodes were the origin story, and later Batman "guest starred" in some episodes when the actor playing Superman was away (see Batman page).

By the late 1930s, the radio network met with Street & Smith to launch a full-fledged radio version of The Shadow. Two actors were considered for the part: Orson Welles and Brett Morrison, who had both been in a teenage contest sponsored by the Chicago Drama League in 1930. Morrison won the contest but wasn't available, so they hired the 2nd-place winner, Orson Welles, in 1937. It was not the only time they had something in common, either. In 1931, Morrison starred in a week-long serial radio version of Bela Lugosi's Dracula, and years later Welles played Dracula (his version based more directly on the gothic novel) for the Mercury Theatre series. After just one year, Welles left for other radio and movie projects. Bill Johnstone took over the radio role September 1938 but also eventually left. Morrison was next and ended up playing the role for The Shadow's remaining years (1944-56), over a decade on radio. In 1945, Morrison was away for awhile and Broadway actor Steve Cortley filled in, at the time he was playing Abraham Lincoln on stage. Frank Readick (the original S&S Detective radio host) was the only one who could do the Shadow's distinctive laugh, so he did the open and close as The Shadow for its entire run on radio: The weed of crime bears bitter fruit, the Shadow knows ...
Agnes Moorehead played Margo Lane 1937-39, followed by Grace Matthews. There were also three other actresses who played the role for relatively short lengths of time. Six actors played Commissioner Weston over the years, the best known was radio great Santos Ortega. Three actors played Shrevie the Cab Driver including Alan Reed (best known to TV fans as the voice of Fred Flintstone), and Keenan Wynn.

If you want to find The Shadow's theme music at a record store, it was adapted from Orphale's Spinning Wheel (Le Rouet d'Omphale, Opus 31) by Saint-Saens. Most radio shows used a house orchestra playing public-domain music to save money and The Shadow was no different.
The print version of The Shadow and Doc Savage had an average of five men helping the title character. But since the radio version of The Shadow was only a half hour including commercials (the equivalent of a 30-page short story), they were all five replaced by a new character, girlfriend Margo Lane, and Shrevie was reduced to an occasional appearance as a dim-witted cab driver who didn't even know who the Shadow was.

In the radio version, The Shadow was a former adventurer named Lamont Cranston who learned the power of invisibility willingly. The print version is even more mysterious - The Shadow's true identity is never revealed to the readers: Lamont Cranston (an adventurer, pilot and WW1 spy) is simply a name he uses as his identity whenever (to be continued)

Return to The Shadow homepage
This page sponsored by Victory Bonds and Victory Stamps
Doc Savage homepage
TV Listings for fans of science fiction, fantasy & horror on
A look at The Shadow Magazine, 1931-49
The Shadow movie description/review by Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (you will need to click the password to enter the Shadow movie page)

There have been 16 issues of the Doc Savage Quest, send SASE to Bill Laidlaw, 524 Printz Rd, Arroyo Grande CA 93420 (home address) for price list until I figure out how the computer scanner works...

Click here to hear The Shadow laugh again (the Shadow movie themesong has been moved to the Shadow movie page. You will need to click the password there to enter)

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