Mysterious Being of the Night
The Pulp Years
by Todd D. Severin and Keith Holt
Like all successful endeavors, The Shadow was soon copied by other publishers hoping to cash in on his success. The Phantom Detective, The Spider, Operative 5, Secret Agent X, Wu Fang and The Green Lama immediately hit the newsstand, marking the beginning of the single character renaissance. Street and Smith even capitalized on the success of the genre, creating an extended line of character magazines, reviving Nick Carter and introducing their newest adventure character, Doc Savage, whose popularity would rival that of even The Shadow.
By 1936, Gibson was contracted to prepare scripts and plots for The Shadow radio show, while still under contract to script The Shadow's novel exploits. Realizing that even the durable Gibson could eventually falter, the publishers hired Theodore Tinsley to script four novels a year, to ease Gibson's burden.
Tinsley's Shadow was faithful to Gibson's vision in essence, thanks to
the watchful eye of editor John Nanovic, who remained vigilant of continuity
and prevented glaring mistakes and contradictions from entering The Shadow's
pages. Tinsely did, however, introduce his own feeling to the character.
From his first novel, "Partners of Peril" published November 1, 1936, Tinsley,
an accomplished pulp fictionist with prior work in Action Stories and Black
Mask , subterfuged his pages with a strong undercurrent of sexual danger
and partially clad, or frankly naked women. His Shadow was more fallible,
narrowly escaping death one adventure at a time. The stories were more
violent, with wave after wave of danger assaulting The Shadow without the
complexity of plot that Gibson introduced. Torture and sadomasochism became
real in these stories, always told amidst the cacophony of detonating explosions
and blaring automatics.
Single issue characters continued to thrive and Gibson introduced a new magazine to showcase various characters. Crime Busters, proved to be a success, and Gibson, under the name of Maxwell Grant to attract Shadow readers to the new magazine, added the production of eight Norgil the Magician stories a year to his lengthy writing list. Street and Smith, not yet satisfied with their enormous success, wanted to add another title to their run of single character magazines, and asked Gibson and Lester Dent to work together to develop a new character combining the talents of The Shadow and Doc Savage. From this meeting of the minds, The Avenger, was born and launched in his own magazine, written by Paul Ernst under the name of Kenneth Robeson. The Shadow's success at this time was unfathomable. He transcended every medium, appearing not only on radio, but in comic strips, comic books and Big Little books, as well as on the movie screen in several films and a 15-chapter serial. He became a household commodity, dominating the Sunday, 5:30 P.M. time slot on the radio, appearing twice a month in his own magazine, plus embellishing everything from games to toys to household products.
Like all successful endeavors, however, there eventually comes a fall, and with The Shadow, the beginning of the fall was marked by the introduction of Margo Lane to the pulps in 1941. Stories from that point on were never able to capture the magic of the Golden Years from 1931 to 1939. Fewer supporting characters were introduced, fewer menacing villains, and fewer new plot lines. The radio show's influence became more prominent in the pulps, siphoning away some of the pulps creativity. Cranston's identity as The Shadow was no longer a secret from the agents; Moe Shrevnitz, the competent cab driver, was reduced to the popular radio bumbler, Shrevvy; and (although Gibson never completely lowered himself to the radio's gimmick) hints were dropped that at times The Shadow had the power to cloud men's minds to become invisible.
Oversaturation had drained the mystery out of The Shadow, and without mystery, there was no Shadow.
In 1943, paper shortages associated with W.W.II forced The Shadow to return to a monthly format and a new digest size. While, this proved to be too confining a format for the expansive tales that Gibson liked to weave, the one move that proved most fatal to The Shadow's success was the firing of John Nanovic as editor. At this time, pulp sales were down across the board and several Street & Smith editors were lost to the military draft. Readers tastes had changed from the violent world of the 1930's, and the pulps were unable to make the transition swiftly enough to maintain their popularity. Street & Smith began instituting a sweeping realignment of their offices to focus their attention on publishing woman's magazines, and moved the pulps to the back burner.
The editorial changes that followed in The Shadow Magazine, killed the momentum
initially created by Ralston, Nanovic and Gibson. The number of words allotted
to The Shadow stories was reduced from 60,000 to 45,000, which cramped
Gibson's atmospheric writing and didn't allow him space to develop his
complex plots. The stories were reduced to violent action burners from
start to finish without the trademark Gibsonesque twists and turns. The
new editorial board dictated that Gibson focus his writing on whodunits
based around Cranston and Margo, forcing him to abandon evil geniuses,
the sanctum and the agents.
In 1946, Babette Rosemund, a woman who soundly disliked the pulp tradition, took over as editor of The Shadow. At this time, Gibson was involved in a contract dispute with Street & Smith, regarding his role as creator of The Shadow. In a moment of absolute corporate near-sightedness, Street & Smith unceremoniously fired him, informing him by letter that they had found a new man to become Maxwell Grant.
With that note, the man who had created The Shadow was dropped from the title.
The writing chores were turned over to Bruce Elliot, who worked with Gibson scripting The Shadow Comics. Rosemund then recrafted the magazine. The Shadow Magazine of the thirties was replaced with Shadow Mystery which featured cutting edge mystery fiction. While the writing in this new pulp was palatable, the major problem was that The Shadow no longer existed in it. Instead, Lamont Cranston became the hero, solving mysteries with the police. All hints of a secret identity were ignored. The Shadow lost all his superhuman qualities. His guns remained holstered, his laugh rarely pealed across the pages. Removed were the cast of supporting characters and the villains. The agents and the gadgets. The Shadow's laugh and his blazing 45's. Fifteen years of Gibson's creativity, obliterated in a single stroke.
Elliot wrote fifteen Shadow novels between March 1946 and January, 1948. In 1947 the magazine fell back to bimonthly and then to quarterly as sales continued to fall. Eventually, William de Grouchy took the editorship away from Rosemund and immediately turned to Gibson to help restore the magazine. Gibson responded with a return to the inspired stories of the early 1930's, but by then the die had already been cast. In the summer of 1949, The Shadow Magazine folded.