There is one radio character, from the earliest days of broadcasting, who’s reach not only spanned decades as an on-going concern, but has continued to retain a hold on the minds of both kids and adults alike. The Shadow, born out of radio and pulp fiction’s inter-dependence on each other in the earliest days, began as a narrator of Detective Story Hour, a host that introduced crime stories and directed listeners to the Street and Smith’s companion magazines that were available on the racks, where most of these stories came from. For nearly seven years this was the format of the show, but both the radio audience and readers of the magazine agreed that this mysterious “Shadow” was much more interesting than the characters in the other stories. The writer’s had no issue with changing things up, as continuity wasn’t an issue back then, and so very quickly they took the character in a different direction.
A couple of things happened in 1937. Mutual Broadcasting took over distributing The Shadow, and Street and Smith began developing the character of The Shadow, introducing a supporting cast and hopping onto the “costumed adventurer” bandwagon that was popular in those days. It also helped that the lead – a playboy by the name of Lamont Cranston – was being voice by the godfather of radio broadcasting, a maverick who defied while establishing convention and craft, Mr. Orson Welles. While his tenure on The Shadow was only two years, it was enough to solidify the tone and direction of the program from there on out, and Margo Stevenson helped make the character of Margo Lane what it became later, even when veteran actress Agnes Moorehead played her during the later years.
The Shadow worked best in a radio environment, because his key power was to cloud men’s minds, making him hard to see unless The Shadow comes out of the dark, so to speak. Live organ accompaniment was the standard for years on this program, cut for syndication, and while there was certainly foley effects happening too, they largely relied on character voices and good stories to keep the theater of the mind at work. For an all-audio environment, this kind of story is perfect, and sustained over 20 years of shows and broadcasts.
While Orson was certainly the most famous person to play the character on the radio, he was certainly not the only one, nor the one who played The Shadow the longest. Bret Morrison, known for his work on The Adventures of Superman, Suspense and X-Minus One, played the character for 10 years, and William Johnstone played the character for five years, between his Lux Radio Theater appearances, and his work on Escape. In today’s program, we feature a story each portrayed by these veteran radio actors. Paired with Bret Morrison is the incomparable Grace Matthews, portraying Margo Lane, where the highly distinguished Agnes Moorehead played her opposite of William.
Where the detective fiction we brought you last year certainly segues into the kind of story that you will hear on The Shadow, he is certainly more attuned to the adventure / heroic fiction trope, with a much darker angle. This might have been one of the first things in media to scare large groups of people all at once, instead of the way books only acted on individuals. However the character was perceived at the time, he has come to embody all that is dark and foreboding in radio broadcasting, and is a great addition to our strange holiday season.
The Shadow Christmas Special!
Part I: Who Knows What Evil Lurks In The Hearts Of Men?
01.) Austin FM Theme * Paco Jones * Austin FM Theme * Self-Released (2016)
02.) See How Pretty, See How Smart [Excerpt] * Melvins * The Maggot * Ipecac Records (1999)
03.) The Stockings Were Hung * The Shadow * 24 December 1939 Broadcast * The Mutual Network (1939)
Part II: The Shadow Knows!
04.) The Gift of Murder * The Shadow * 21 December 1947 Broadcast * The Mutual Network (1947)