The Shadow

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Overview | Significance | Background | Plot | Cast | Resources | Episodes

Overview

The Shadow (1930-1954) was an OTR crime series about a young man who used a mysterious power to "cloud men's minds" and thwart criminal activities.

Significance

Beyond radio drama, pulp magazine series, and novels, The Shadow became one of the most famous action heroes of the 20th century, inspiring comic strips, comic books, television shows, video games, motion pictures, and other radio dramas like The Whistler. For one year, 26 September 1937-18 September 1938, Orson Welles starred in fifty-two episodes during both the regular season (26 episodes) and the summer season (26 episodes). This was the first time in the series when "The Shadow" was a character in the episodes rather than just the announcer.

Background

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!

At the end of each episode, the narrator reminded listeners: The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. . . . The Shadow knows!

Trying to boost sales of Detective Story Hour, Street and Smith Publications, the nation's oldest and largest publisher of pulp magazines, began adapting its print stories into radio shows. On 31 July 1930, the first episode of Detective Story Hour aired with a mysterious narrator known only as "The Shadow." After a brief tenure with Detective Story Hour, The Shadow narrator hosted segments of The Blue Coal Radio Revue, Love Story Hour, and a CBS mystery anthology show until March 1935.

In the meantime, Street and Smith developed a lively market for stories and novels about The Shadow, and wanted a radio show starring a master crime fighter like the one described in their publications.

On 26 September 1937, the first episode of The Shadow, starring 22-year old Orson Welles in the title role, was broadcast. The Shadow now had a name: Lamont Cranston, "a wealthy young man about town," who, "while traveling through East Asia," learned "the mysterious power to cloud men's minds, so they could not see him."

After Welles left in 1938 to form The Mercury Theatre on the Air, The Shadow was played by Bill Johnstone for five seasons, Bret Morrison for ten years, John Archer, and Steve Courtleigh.

Plot

Lamont Cranston, amateur criminologist, secretly uses his powers "to cloud men's minds, so they could not see him" to twart criminals and protect citizens.

Cast

Lamont Cranston (Orson Welles)
Margo Lane (Agnes Moorehead. Replaced by Margot Stevenson, 10 April 1938)
Police Commissioner Weston
Announcer (Ken Roberts)

Resources

The Shadow radio logs at Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs website
Orson Welles episodes at Internet Archive website
Episodes at Old Time Radio Researchers Group Library
Plot summaries and credits at Radio Gold Index website

Episodes

Totals

Total episodes: 815 (approximate)
Surviving episodes: 600 (approximate)
Total Orson Welles episodes: 52
Surviving Orson Welles episodes: 32

Timeline

31 July 1930-26 December 1954
Mutual Broadcasting System (MBS)
26 September 1937-18 September 1938 (starring Orson Welles)
Mutual Broadcasting System (MBS)

Exemplary Episodes

The first three and last three surviving Orson Welles episodes.

  • Episode 87

    The Death House Rescue
    Episode 87, 26 September 1937

  • Episode 90

    Murder by the Dead
    Episode 90, 17 October 1937

  • Episode 91

    The Temple Bells of Neban
    Episode 91, 24 October 1937

  • Episode 125

    The Tomb of Terror
    Episode 125, 19 June 1938

  • Episode 134

    The Caverns of Death
    Episode 134, 21 August 1938

  • Episode 135

    Death under the Chapel
    Episode 135, 28 August 1938