Downtown Wichita Falls, Texas, in the mid 1940’s was a bustling metropolis for a boy of 7 just away from the farm and ranch community where he was born. My father, a cook and cowboy by trade, had just started as one of the first cooks for the Casa Manana restaurant in 1947. He moved us to an apartment on Ohio Street, right across from the Gem Theater, between 7th and 8th Streets. It’s here that we would stay for the next three years. The Gem Theater became a magic palace for a young mind. But it had to share that distinction with the rest of the magic that was Wichita Falls. I attended San Jacinto and Carrigan elementary schools, as well as Reagan Junior High, and belonged to the Boys Club on 6th Street. Please join, and share your stories and pictures through a Guest Blog, of early Wichita Falls - or your home town. Contact me at or leave a comment. We could use old pictures of movie houses, drive-in theaters, and other nostalgic pictures related to our youths.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Media And The Shadow

The Media And The Shadow

As a child, one of my favorite radio dramas was The Shadow, the mysterious man who could cloud men’s minds and thwart evildoers in a thirty-minute broadcast. The Shadow had an odd beginning. An announcer on Street & Smith’s Detective Hour began calling himself The Shadow, and listeners ran to the newsstands looking for Street & Smith’s Shadow magazine. It didn’t take Street & Smith long to copyright the character by introducing a pulp magazine featuring The Shadow.
The Pulp Shadow by Walter Gibson

Walter Brown Gibson created and wrote the original stories under the Maxwell Grant house name. The pulp Shadow was quite a bit different from the radio Shadow that appeared afterwards. The first novel appeared in 1931. He was a mysterious personage who wore all black – patterned somewhat after Dracula, and could fade into the shadows. He didn’t ‘cloud the minds of men’. But radio was a theater of the mind, while pulp novels presented printed text for readers.
The Comic Book Shadow

         Street & Smith got into the comic books when they saw Superman selling millions of copies. Pulps were lucky to sell 7 or 8 hundred thousand copies, and that was their more popular titles. So in the 1940’s The Shadow made his appearance in comic books and newspaper comic strips. Since 1973, there have been several comic book adaptations of The Shadow, each apparently losing much of the true background of the original character, until modern comic book versions only visually resemble the character created by Walter Gibson in 1931.
         But that wasn’t the end of it. There was a 15-chapter serial from Columbia in 1940 starring Victor Jory. Several minor movies were produced early on, but three late 1940's from Republic proved successful, though somewhat comedic. Even a TV pilot was shot, which thankfully didn’t make it. The 1984 movie starring Alec Baldwin proved fairly successful, though it was a mixture of the pulp and radio Shadow.
Paperback Shadow Novels

         Although the pulp Shadow ran for 325 novels, and was highly popular during the pulp era, for some reason paperback publishers failed to reach out to the character. In 1963, Belmont Books brought out a new series of The Shadow, updating the character to the popular spy rage of the time. Walter Gibson was brought in for the first issue, then Dennis Lynds wrote eight more stories, and the series ended. In 1969, Bantam reprinted the first pulp novel in a new series to run along side their extremely popular pulp hero, Doc Savage. Unfortunately, The Shadow only lasted seven issues. Some blame the covers for its failure. A final paperback series was again brought out in 1974 from Pyramid/Jove, lasting for 23 issues, with some great covers by comic book artist, Steranko. There were some hardback editions that also appeared, but overall, the series just didn’t seem to catch on to modern readers. Tony Tollin, of Sanctum Books, has done better. He has reprinted over 150 Shadow novels in his double novel series, reprinting the novels in facsimile format, including illustrations, and reaching new fans of the character. His goal is to release all 325 Shadow novels.
         The Shadow has reached all media formats, and has been considered one of the most iconic characters ever created in fiction. Yet he appears to remain mysterious to the modern generation.
         A shame.

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