The Old-Time Radio Show The Shadow

Outline of the history and characters of the Shadow radio show. Describes differences between the radio show and the fictional novels.

Who was the character called "The Shadow?"

On July 31, 1930 a sinister voice came over the radio into American Homes. The voice of the Shadow appeared for the first time. In the beginning the Shadow was not a crime fighter. He was a mysterious narrator of mystery tales taken from the pages of Street & Smith's Detective Story Magazine. The publisher Street & Smith began to use radio as an advertising medium to promote their fiction publications. The Shadow was a perfectly creepy teller of tales promoting Street & Smith.

This format continued until 1935 when creative differences between Street & Smith and NBC called a halt to the Shadow on the air.

Who wrote the fictional stories of the Shadow?

In December 1930 a young writer named Walter Gibson was approached to write fiction accounts of Shadow adventures. It would begin an incredible writing career for Gibson. He wrote 283 Shadow novels totaling over 15 million words. Gibson's Shadow was a mysterious nocturnal creature who fought crime with a mirthless laugh and two .45 automatic pistols. His black cloak and glowing red girasol ring brought terror to criminals. He worked with a network of agents who brought him information and assisted in the pursuit of justice.

What was the format of the old-time radio program?

On September 26, 1937, the Shadow reappeared on radio with the voice of Orson Welles playing the part. The Shadow was now a full-fledged character on radio, not just narrating and introducing stories. The Shadow had an identity as Lamont Cranston, a wealthy man about town. He was accompanied by Margo Lane, originally played by Agnes Moorehead. Margo Lane was the only person who knew that Lamont Cranston and the Shadow were one and the same. No other agents assisted the Shadow, as did in the Walter Gibson fictional accounts. This radio Shadow had hypnotic power to make himself invisible to those around him and he possessed mental telepathy to read minds. Orson Welles played the Shadow from 1937 through March 1938. The Shadow became the highest rated radio show on the air at that time.

In September of 1939, a new voice of the Shadow appeared in the form of radio actor Bill Johnstone. Later in 1939, Agnes Moorehead left the show and was replaced by Marjorie Anderson as Margo Lane. The plot lines began to follow the standard formula of Margo Lane being in danger and the Shadow rescuing her from the clutches of evil. Bill Johnstone would be the voice of the Shadow for five seasons, until March 1943.

Bret Morrison took over the Shadow role in 1943 for one season. John Archer and Steve Courtleigh took the Shadow role through the 1944-45 season. Bret Morrison then returned to be the Shadow for the duration of the program's run which lasted until December 26, 1954.

The Shadow radio program became a part of American culture with its mystic phrase, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" The show used its popularity to try and deter crime with its admonition, "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay!" Every listener knew that the Shadow was out there, fighting the forces of evil and bringing wrong-doers to justice.

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