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Radio History of The Shadow

Pulp magazine publisher Street and Smith decided that instead of advertising their magazines on newsstands, they would try something new: radio. In 1930, they sponsored a weekly show called the Detective Story Hour featuring adaptations of mystery stories from their magazine of the same name. The shows were first announced, then later narrated by a strange and shadowy figure named - appropriately - The Shadow. The voice was done by James La Curto, and later Frank Readick Jr.

Much to Street and Smith's amazement, it was the narrator that became more popular than the show. Audiences were requesting for "that Shadow Detective Magazine". Walter B. Gibson was soon hired to write what would become one of the most successful pulp novel series in the 1930s and 1940s. In the meantime, The Shadow remained a narrator for other radio shows such as Blue Coal Radio Revue and Love Story Hour (another Street and Smith magazine) during 1931-1932. During 1932, he had gotten his own show, but still remained a narrator.

In 1937, the fourth season of The Shadow radio show featured a 22-year-old actor named Orson Welles, who would later scare the country with his Mercury Theater radio adaptation of H. G. Well's The War of The Worlds. He would leave the role in 1938 to pursue an acting and directing career.

The title character was given the power to "cloud men's minds so they cannot see him". This was at odds with the pulp novel character, who used stealth, a pair of .45s, and the occasional magic trick. Another difference was that The Shadow's alter ego was Lamont Cranston, though fans knew otherwise that he was really Kent Allard. The radio Lamont was given a leading lady, named Margo Lane (played by Agnes Moorehead), who knew the true identity of The Shadow. The Lamont in the pulp had none; in fact Margo didn't appear in the pulps until a few years later. Nevertheless, the show proved just as popular as the pulp series.

Many actors and actresses would assume the roles of The Shadow/Lamont Cranston, and Margo Lane over the years. The main ones were: Orson Welles (1937-1938), Bill Johnstone (1938-1943), John Archer (1944-1945), Bret Morrison (1943-1944, 1945-1954), Agnes Moorehead (1937-1940), Majorie Anderson (1940-1944), Grace Matthews (1946-1949), and Gertrude Warner (1949-1954). Other actors to play the roles included Kenny Delmar, Steve Courtleigh, Margot Stevenson, Margot Anderson, Jeanette Nolan, Marion Sharkley, Laura Mae Carpenter, and Lesley Woods.

The show ran for 21 seasons in total, and was broadcast across the United States and some parts of Canada via the Mutual Network. Depending on the region of the country, there were different sponsors for the show. For example, Blue Coal sponsored the show over the East Coast radio stations. Children eagerly listened in as the sponsors gave away prizes such as glow-in-the-dark rings. Today, these are now prized collector's items.

Unfortunately, the show did not last for long. On December 26, 1954, the last episode, Murder by the Sea, was aired. The Shadow's presence on the radio had come to an end.

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