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The Shadow
Mysterious Being of the Night
The Pulp Years

by Todd D. Severin and Keith Holt

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Henry William Ralston, the general manager of Street & Smith, the leading pulp publisher of the 1930's, had achieved enormous success with his magazines Popular, Western Story and Love Story, but he became concerned when sales on his detective weekly, Detective Story Magazine , began to slump.

Since its inception in 1915, Detective Story Magazine, had stood alone as the leader in detective fiction. But by 1929, fierce competition by Black Mask and Flynn's had taken a large bite out of Street & Smith's dominance in the market. Detective Story Magazine countered by importing the works of Agatha Christie and Edgar Wallace, but it wasn't enough to restore the eroding sales. Finally, Street & Smith resorted to radical measures.

They turned to radio.

Airing for the first time at 8:30 P.M., Eastern Standard time, on Thursday night August 2, 1930, the Detective Story Hour featured a dramatization of a short story culled from the pulp magazine. Devised as an advertising scheme to lure new readers to the newsstand, the show proved to be a success and every Thursday night that followed, the narrator- an actor named James LaCurto- read another installment from the upcoming issue. What happened next wasn't exactly clear, as record keeping in those early days of radio was extremely haphazard, but sometime in the fall of 1930, a radio writer, Harry Charlot, created a name for the previously anonymous narrator.

He called him The Shadow.

It's possible that the name derived from a novelette titled, "The Shadow of Wall Street," published in February 1929 in another Street & Smith magazine, Fame and Fortune. In this story, George C. Jenks, using the pen name Frank S. Lawton, scripted a tale of a mysterious figure who protected innocent investors from the clutches of evil financiers. The cover of this issue presented a mysterious hooded figure, while the prose commented on his "awful glittering eyes," and his "mocking laugh."

Whether or not this mysterious character was the inspiration behind Charlot's creation of the name shall forever remain a mystery, as Charlot was murdered just a few years after The Shadow's inception, his body found in a Bowery flophouse. Regardless, the role of the Detective Story Hour narrator was changed dramatically and LaCurto subsequently began each episode with the now famous catch-phrase, "Crime does not pay- The Shadow knows," followed by a murderous, blood-curdling laugh.

The radio promotion proved to be an earth-shattering success. Perhaps too successful. The mocking laugh of The Shadow was so compelling that listeners completely misunderstood that his purpose was to promote Detective Story Magazine. The public clamored to have more of this fiendish creation and flocked to the magazine stands in droves to pick up the latest issue of The Shadow. The only problem was, no such magazine existed.

Quick to realize the quandary that he was in, Ralston ordered Frank Blackwell, the editor in chief of Detective Story Magazine , to orchestrate the creation of the magazine that the public wanted. Time was of the essence since it was essential that they capitalize on The Shadow while excitement over the radio show was strong, and perhaps more importantly, Street & Smith had to protect their copyright on the name before another publisher stole it from under them. Ralston turned over an unpublished Nick Carter manuscript that he felt could be re-written to introduce the new character. He ordered the magazine to be issued on a trial quarterly basis, thereby allowing time to assess the public's enthusiasm for the magazine before committing to publish a second issue.

With the basic premise established, all Blackwell needed was someone who could write the story under a nearly impossible deadline. Someone with a flare for words and adventure. Someone who could write incredibly fast.

That someone was Walter B. Gibson.

In one of the most fortuitous events in publishing history, Walter B. Gibson, with portable typewriter in hand, chose that particular day in December of 1930 to stop by the office of Frank Blackwell.

By 1930, Gibson had already established a career for himself as an authority on magic, having ghost-written material for the greatest magicians of the time including Houdini, Blackstone, Thurston and Dunninger. In addition, he had worked as a reporter for the Philadelphia North American and Evening Ledger and had dabbled in fiction and dramatic non-fiction by contributing articles to Ghost Stories and True Detective, as well as, editing Tales of Magic and Mystery and True Strange Stories.

In December of 1930, Gibson had completed a book titled, Houdini's Escapes, compiled from Houdini's personal notes, and had gone to New York to arrange for a sequel when, on a whim, he stopped by Street & Smith to sell some articles. In Gibson, Blackwell found the answer to his prayers. As an article writer with a talent for fiction, Gibson was capable of producing quality material under a tight deadline. Further, Gibson's experience in the realms of magic and the bizarre, brought a unique and imaginative angle to The Shadow's character.

Blackwell discussed his ideas for The Shadow with Gibson, who prior to their meeting, had been considering writing his own mystery about a nebulous, mystical hero, adept in the ways of magic. Gibson suggested an opening scene whereby a cloaked figure would emerge from the night fog to prevent a desperate young man from making a suicide plunge off of a high bridge. Once saved, the young man would swear allegiance to his savior and unite with him in the war against crime. Blackwell decided to scrap the Nick Carter manuscript and gave Gibson the go ahead to write the 70,000 word piece, promising him three more novels on a quarterly basis should the first one prove satisfactory.

Gibson returned to Philadelphia, unpacked his Underwood portable and got right to work. Being a seasoned newspaper man, he felt certain that he could tackle any writing assignment handed to him, but his experience with fiction was limited and he soon found himself puzzled over basic concerns such as the names of his characters and the length of his chapters. Gibson solved his problems by pulling a novel by Horatio Alger Jr. off his shelf and using it as the pattern for the first Shadow novel, down to the number of pages and use of chapter titles. Gibson quickly finished the first six chapters and returned to Blackwell's office with the final outline for approval. And it was a good thing he did. In their rush to get the issue out onto the stands, and also in their desire not to invest much money into an untested product, the Street & Smith art department decided to reuse a previously published cover painting from Thrill Book, October 1, 1919. This painting, featuring a snarling Chinese man with arms upraised and casting a shadow on the wall behind him, was to be the cover for the first issue of The Shadow. The only problem was that it had absolutely nothing to do with the novel that Gibson was scripting. Quickly, Gibson rushed home and worked an Oriental angle into the story to match the fantastic cover art.

By mid-January of 1931, Gibson delivered the final manuscript titled "Murder in the Next Room" (later changed to the more familiar "The Living Shadow"). Blackwell immediately authorized Gibson to write the next three installments of The Shadow and asked him to create a pen name for himself. It was common practice in those days for authors of novel series to operate under an assumed name, as it provided the publishers a means to maintain the appearance of continuity should their main writer move on to other material or be unable to meet a deadline. Gibson pondered this decision for a moment before he combined the names of two of his magic dealer acquaintances and created the Nom de plume, Maxwell Grant.

From that moment on, Maxwell Grant became the raconteur through which The Shadow revealed his latest battles in the war against crime.

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