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Pulp History of The Shadow

In 1930, magazine publisher Street and Smith sponsored a radio show promoting stories from their Detective Story Magazine. Ironically the fictional narrator of the show, The Shadow, had become very popular with the listeners. Numerous requests from people for "that Shadow Detective Magazine" compelled Street and Smith to create one. A writer was needed. Fast.

Walter B. Gibson had written articles in the newspaper about everything from puzzles to con-artist spirit mediums. He also ghostwrote for magicians Houdini, Thurston, and Blackstone. The Street and Smith editor-in-chief , Frank Blackwell, asked him to do a story about The Shadow. If the story was good, he would write more on a quarterly basis. Gibson came up with the idea of a suicidal man who is rescued from his fate by The Shadow. In return, he would work for him as an agent in the fight against crime. Over the next three novels, the character of The Shadow was fleshed out. Since Street and Smith owned the character, Gibson created a pen name from a combination of names of magic dealers he knew: Maxwell Grant.

The first novel, The Living Shadow, hit newsstands in April of 1931, selling out in over a month. Its success meant that more stories were needed, and it would be produced in a monthly format, then later biweekly starting in 1932. Rival publications followed with their own character pulp magazines, such as The Phantom and The Spider.

Gibson would write most of the 334 Shadow novels. Theodore Tinsley was hired to write four novels a year under the Maxwell Grant pseudonym from 1936 to 1943. Lester Dent, who would go on to write the Doc Savage series, wrote one story in 1932 entitled The Golden Vulture when Street and Smith asked him to produce a Shadow story as a tryout. It was forgotten until 1938. Gibson was called in to alter the story as it swayed from the Shadow character that readers knew so well.

During World War II, rationing of paper forced the magazine back to its monthly format. By then, Gibson was already writing stories for The Shadow Comics. After the war, the magazine was combined with Mystery Magazine and the length of the stories cut in half. Bruce Elliot was hired to write the stories for this new digest form for the next two years. In 1948, the magazine returned to its original size and quarterly format with Gibson doing the stories. The last quarterly Shadow Magazine was published in summer of 1949. Paperback novels had finally taken over the pulps of yesteryear. It was only a matter of time that The Shadow would appear in this new format.

Starting in 1963 and ending in 1967, Belmont Books published a series of all-new Shadow stories. The first novel was written by none other than Walter B. Gibson, appropriately entitled The Return of The Shadow. Dennis Lynds would write the rest of the series under the Maxwell Grant pseudonym.

For a more in-depth look at The Shadow in the pulps >>


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