Original artwork by Dean Zachary
This week we’re releasing our recreation of The Shadow: The Little Man Who Wasn’t There, which gives me the opportunity to geek out a bit about this coolest of vigilante heroes.
I’ve loved the character of The Shadow since grade school. I was introduced to him through comic books, where he matched my fondness for heroes who didn’t possess fantastical powers. From there, I discovered the radio shows, mainly through cassette tapes bought in blister packs from the aisles of Wal-Mart or the Cracker Barrel gift store. (These tapes were a large part of the inspiration behind Chatterbox.) I was first in line for the lame1994 movie starring Alec Baldwin. More recently, I’ve enjoyed delving into the original pulp novels in beautiful reprint editions from Nostalgia Ventures.
Along the way, I’ve learned a bit more about Walter B. Gibson, the man behind The Shadow. Gibson was an unbelievably prolific writer, and is credited with writing 282 of the 325 Shadow pulp novels released under the pen name Maxwell Grant. (At times, he was writing two complete novels a month.) Not only that, but Gibson was an accomplished magician, and I was amazed to discover that he was ghost-writer and friend to another of my early-20th-century obsessions, Harry Houdini.
Gibson did not create The Shadow. The character was originally introduced in 1930 as a narrator for the radio show Detective Story Hour, back when radio shows mainly existed to help sell pulps. When people at the newsstands started clamoring for “The Shadow” magazine, publishers Street & Smith knew they’d better act fast. Walter B. Gibson was brought on to flesh out the character, and he did so in a big way. He created The Shadow’s iconic appearance, along with his battery of secret agents and his identity as Lamont Cranston (which was later overturned in the pulps, by the way).
The classic radio version of The Shadow, who first appeared in 1937, was a considerably different character. In an effort to tone down the violence of the pulps, he was stripped of his twin .45s, most of his agents, and his ties to the underworld dwellers of Chinatown. The radio Shadow was more of a gentleman detective in the vein of The Thin Man. But this version wasn’t a total loss. Radio gave us Margo Lane, who was so popular she began appearing in the pulp stories as well. The Shadow was granted “the hypnotic power to cloud men’s minds, so they cannot see him.” And of course, radio gave us indelible performances by Orson Welles, Bill Johnstone, Brett Morrison, and others as the man of mystery himself.
Running for 17 years, the radio show had its share of highs and lows. (Later seasons seemingly featured Margo being abducted by a different mad scientist each week.) But “The Little Man Who Wasn’t There,” written by science fiction author Alfred Bester, always stood out to me as a show that features all the best parts of The Shadow: A clever mystery, a cast of colorful characters, and one of those thrilling climaxes in which The Shadow reveals -- to the criminals and to us -- that he does, in fact, have the upper hand.
We recorded the show (along with Meridian 7-1212) in response to a request from Jack Ward of The Sonic Society, who was looking for a contribution to his “Summerstock Playhouse,” where contemporary audio theater companies recreate some of their favorite OTR shows. Recording the show was great fun, and it gave me, at age 31, the chance to reconnect with a character I had loved at 13. What a thrill to work with such a great cast and crew on this production, and to have the opportunity to read those iconic opening and closing lines:
"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"
"The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows!"