The Shadow Knows—Ha, Ha, Ha!

ShadowI recently came across an old, yellowing paperback in my attic, “The Living Shadow” originally published in 1931 and again in 1959.  The storyline was so different from the later radio shows, I had to go to Google to sort it out.

In the book, The Shadow has no mysterious powers to cloud men’s minds that he learned while traveling in the Orient.  He is not invisible but merely lurks in the darkness with his broad coat collar turned up and his wide-brimmed fedora pulled low.  When moving between the dark areas, people invariably mistake him for a shadow, implausible as that seems.  He relies on disguises as much as lurking in shadows.  “Lurking” was difficult to depict in the radio show, so they gave him the power of invisibility to accompany his mocking laugh. (I think this photo is from a still later comic book version.)

And, you thought The Shadow was really Lamont Cranston, wealthy man-about-town, right?  Ha! He fooled even you.  The Shadow, according to the story, was Kent Allard, a WWI fighter pilot who faked his death so he could assume any identity.  “Lamont Cranston” was only one of many.  In my book, he is Fritz, an elderly janitor in the police station where he can overhear conversations.  He can even fool a Chinese man into believing he is his brother from China, speaking the local dialect, I assume.  The Shadow recruits devoted agents to do pieces of the work, but each knows little of the overall plan. All of this excessive secrecy and the effort to orchestrate it seems paranoid and more of an impediment than help in solving a crime.   There must be an easier way.

The original author was Maxwell Grant, an obviously fake name, and even he claims to be merely repeating what The Shadow tells him.  The author was really Walter Gibson who wrote over 300 episodes.  The publishers wanted the pseudonym so they could use multiple authors, and there were a few others but none nearly as prolific as Gibson.  Gibson was happy with the arrangement because he was somewhat embarrassed by the triviality of The Shadow series.  (This arrangement was common in other book series.  The publishers determined the plot and farmed out the actual writing to authors who wrote under the pseudonym.)

Towards the end of the book, there is a curious insertion, just two paragraphs unconnected to the plot, that asserts the radio Shadow is the real Shadow.  None of the other employees has ever seen him.  No one seems to know how he gets in.  I suspect this implausible explanation was added for the 1959 publication when the radio program was better known than the books. (If you could believe the rest, certainly you could believe this.)

As I finished the book, I realized there were no female characters.  None.  No waitresses, no secretaries, no wives, and certainly no girlfriends (shadows make poor lovers).  Was that common in 1930s’ fiction, or just a characteristic of Walter Gibson?  The later radio programs introduced Margo Lane as Lamont Cranston’s love interest, and, a few years later, she appeared in the novels, but she was much resented by the true fans (which says a lot about the fans).  She was “Margo” in print, “Margot” on radio.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
This entry was posted in Popular culture, Writers and Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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