Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Shadow: Historical Background 1929 - 1931

This past week I learned that the Dick Tracy comic strip was first published on October 4, 1931 - that's just 6 months after the first issue of The Shadow was published (April 1, 1931).  As I thought about these two fictional crime fighters, I started digging into what was happening in the US at this time that made The Shadow and Dick Tracy so popular.  In my opinion, part of their appeal and popularity can be attributed to real life crime stories that were ever present in the headlines.  Maybe the American public had enough of gangsters and wanted to read about crime fighters putting an end to them and their nefarious ways.

In this article I wanted to put a spotlight on what was happening in the years from 1929 through 1931.  I want to paint a background picture of what was going on when The Shadow pulp magazine began to be published in 1931.  What newsworthy events captured the headlines and the attention of Americans in those years?  Here are some of the events and facts!


  • Herbert Hoover is President, having beaten Alfred E. Smith in the election of 1928.
  • February 14, 1929:  The St Valentine's Day Massacre happens in Chicago when 7 members of the Northside gang are gunned down by henchmen of mobster Al Capone.
  • October 29, 1929:  The US stock market crashed and this marked the beginning of the Great Depression which lasted for 12 years.  Both the US and Europe were impacted.
  • The Broadway Melody was the top money-making movie in 1929 and also won the Academy Award for Best Picture.


  • The planet Pluto is discovered.
  • The Castellammarese War erupts in New York City to see who will control the Italian-American mafia
  • Mahatma Gandhi begins his campaign of civil disobedience in India.
  • Birds Eye frozen food products are introduced in 18 retail stores in Springfield, MA.
  • Gang wars continue in Chicago between rival factions including Al Capone's.
  • Cartoon character Betty Boop makes her debut.
  • All Quiet On The Western Front won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Betty Boop


  • US unemployment reaches over 16%.
  • Droughts, soil erosion and dust storms in the mid-west create the beginning of the Dust Bowl.
  • The Empire State Building is completed and opens for business.
  • The Star Spangled Banner becomes our national anthem.
  • Eliot Ness and his agents ("The Untouchables") begin raids against illegal breweries and stills (impacting the pockets of Al Capone!).
  • Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi and Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff premier in US theaters.
  • Dick Tracy comic strip begins.
  • April 1, 1931 - The Shadow magazine publishes its first issue!

These are just a few of the events that happened between 1929 and 1931.  Wow, what a time it was.  I hope this brief article helps you frame a backdrop of the world that The Shadow magazine entered in 1931.  

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Power to Cloud Men's Minds!

The Shadow character in Shadow Comics is able to make himself invisible by using hypnotic powers.  In Shadow Comics #11, we have the first instance of The Shadow becoming invisible.  Then, it Shadow Comics #12, it's revealed that he learned this "trick" in Tibet!   

However, in Shadow Comics #71 (published December 27, 1946*) in the story "The Black Pagoda" we are given more details on The Shadow's invisibility powers.  In the opening page of that story we are told, "Bound on his first post-war trip to Tibet, where, under the tutelage of The Great Lama, he learned the secret of clouding men's minds..."  Now we know that after the War (this must be referring to World War 1), Lamont Cranston traveled to Tibet and was taught the mesmeric trick of invisibility from The Great Lama.

In Nostalgia Ventures Shadow #4, there is a reprint of an an article that originally appeared in Shadow Comics volume 2, number 7, October 1942 (This would be Shadow Comics #19, published on August 28, 1942*).  The article was entitled, "A Plea" and gave more detailed information on The Shadow of the comic books and how he gained the power of invisibility.  The article begins, "In the unending, daily, deadly war which The Shadow wages on the underworld, he has three weapons.  They are his brains, cool, clear and unique in its ability to extract information from the tiniest bit of evidence.  His miraculous ability with guns is the result of a naturally good eye, a strong pair of wrists and constant practice.  The third is his ability to cloud men's minds so that, to all intents and purposes, he becomes invisible."

The article tells us that, for reasons that cannot be shared, The Shadow traveled to the forbidden city of Lhassa in Tibet.  It is there that he encountered a great power - a collection of 10 minds that projected themselves in the image of a young boy.  This great power presented The Shadow with the ability to become invisible.  The Shadow is told, "Because your life is clear, and devoted to the good of mankind, we endow you with the power to cloud men's minds.  Men will think you are invisible.  It is a potent weapon, and one that you must use with care."**

In the comic books, The Shadow learned his powers of invisibility in the forbidden city of Lhassa in Tibet!  There is a bit of a continuity issue between Shadow Comics #19 and #71.  According to issue #19, a collection of 10 minds gave him the power but in #71 it is The Great Lama who gives him the power.  Maybe this can be resolved by thinking that The Great Lama is the same as the 10 minds!?!

From a historical background, Tibet was the focus of pop culture in the early 1940s as a man by the name of Theos Bernard had returned to the United States in the late 1930s after spending time in India and Tibet.  Theos Bernard claimed he was the first white lama (teacher) and published books and articles on his experiences in Tibet.  It could be due to Bernard's popularity The Shadow comics decided Lamont Cranston had also made a trip to Tibet!!

In the 1994 The Shadow movie, Lamont Cranston had fought in World War I and after the war had gone missing for 7 years.  Those missing seven years were spent traveling the world and eventually settling in Tibet as an opium dealer.  Lamont Cranston is kidnapped by a Tibetan holy man, a Tulku, who taught him to cloud men's minds, to fog their vision through the force of concentration, leaving visible the only thing he can never hide..his Shadow.  

This is interesting in that both in the comic and the movie, Lamont Cranston learns how to make himself invisible from a spiritual leader in Tibet.  

*Mike's Amazing World of Comics
**Gibson, Walter B., Tollin, Anthony, Murray, Will, 2007, "The Murder Master" and "The Hydra" Two Classic Adventures of The Shadow, pp 68-69, Nostalgia Ventures, Inc.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Shadow Club (1994) Membership Kit

One of the tie-ins to the 1994 The Shadow movie was a Shadow Club membership.  The club was advertised in the official movie magazine and other places as well.  I was able to get a membership kit and would like to share its contents with you!

The Shadow Club membership came in an envelope marked "CONFIDENTIAL FOR YOUR EYES ONLY" in all red and had the image of The Shadow Club in the lower left.  Interestingly, the return address for the club was G.A.R.C. Inc out of Orlando, Florida.  The club newsletter indicates that the Great American Ring Club (GARC) seemed to be running and responsible for the club.

Issue 1 (January 1995) of The Shadow News was included.  I was pretty impressed with the newsletter as it has noted Shadow scholars/historians such as Anthony Tollin and Will Murray as contributors.  Will Murray contributes an article entitled "Fiery Opal" which gives the historical background of The Shadow's girasol ring.  There are also facts about The Shadow movie, a chronology of The Shadow in print and some other good little articles.  

Shadow Club members also received a Certificate of Membership certifying them as an "authorized and accredited agent" of the club.  Agents signed the lower right portion and The Shadow's signature is on the lower left!

Once you've signed the Certificate of Membership, you can start flashing your Special Agent membership card.  

Club members received an "autographed" picture of The Shadow.  I wrote more about it here.

The Shadow Club also had a secret code.  There were six variations of the code printed on a small (4 1/4" X 5 1/2") card.  

The final pieces of the membership kit were The Shadow Club ring and badge (button).  

I don't know if there were ever any further issues of The Shadow Club newsletter printed and sent out.  Also, I'm not sure how long the club stayed in existence after the movie premiered.  These are things that I'm looking to see if I can find some answers!

The Shadow Club membership kit would have been something fun and exciting for a kid to have received in the mail.  I was excited when I was finally able to find one complete!  I hope you've enjoyed this brief look at another tie-in to the 1994 The Shadow movie!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Romanoff Jewels? Not Quite!!!

This weekend my family and I went to an International Festival held in Raleigh, NC.  We really enjoyed it and we will definitely go back.  As we were walking around the different booths, we came across the one for Russia.  I immediately began to wonder if they would have anything about Tsar Nicholas from The Shadow stories The Red Menace and The Romanoff Jewels.  I began searching for a clew among the items they had for sale!

Then I found it!  Nestled among the Russian nesting dolls was a nesting doll featuring the Romanoffs!  It featured Tsar Nicholas, Empress Alexandra and their son Alexei.  When you opened it up, inside were paintings of Nicholas' daughters.  I found it sitting between nesting dolls of Putin and Lenin!

Here is a picture of the Romanoff nesting doll with a partial view of Putin on the left and Lenin on the right and various other nesting dolls around it.  The second picture I cropped out some of the other dolls to exclusively look at the Romanoffs.  I wish I had taken more pictures, especially of the inside dolls.  

While this was nowhere near a great discovery like the Romanoff jewels, it was still a small connection to history and a connection to two of my favorite Shadow stories!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

"Autographed" Photo of The Shadow!

One collector's item I've been on the trail for is an "autographed" picture of The Shadow from the 1994 movie.  I had seen pictures of it and as I researched the picture I learned that it was part of The Shadow Club membership kit for the movie.  After a lot of searching and looking, I was finally able to get a complete Shadow Club membership and the much coveted Shadow picture!  

Here's a scan of the picture I received.  It's in pretty good shape, just a few slight dents and minor crinkles.  It is a 5" X 7" picture of The Shadow and his two .45 automatics.  If you've seen the movie you'll recognize that this is a scene from the beginning of the film when The Shadow rescues Dr. Roy Tam.  The picture also features The Shadow's "autograph."

I'll write more about the membership kit in a future article!  


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Historical Background - The Lunch Wagon

One thing I really enjoy is digging into the history from a Shadow story.  From learning some of the slang from the times or other aspects of life in the 1930s and 1940s it is always a lot of fun and I end up learning a lot.  This article will look at a small part of the very first Shadow story, "The Living Shadow" that published in April of 1931.

In "The Living Shadow" we have a villain named English Johnny who is also in the lunch wagon business.  Not only does English Johnny play a part in the story, there's also some great action that takes place in one of English Johnny's lunch wagons that involves The Shadow!  What in the world is a lunch wagon?  That's what I wondered as I read the story so I had to investigate!

To some degree, lunch wagons started out as the food trucks of the late 1800s and early 1900s.  In 1872, Walter Scott parked a covered wagon in front of a newspaper office in Providence, Rhode Island and sold food items out of it to reporters and others.  In New York City in 1893, the Church Temperance Society operated a lunch wagon from 7:30pm to 4:30am and offered warm food and beverages to workers in the hopes of keeping them out of the saloons.  

1893 magazine cover featuring a lunch wagon

A lunch wagon complaint from 1907

Lunch wagons began to be massed produced and started including stoves, sinks, refrigerators and places for customers to sit.  Several manufacturers built them and an enterprising person could purchase one and go into the lunch wagon business for themselves!

As time went on, lunch wagons became less mobile and more stationary.  Based on the action that takes place in The Shadow story, the picture below is what I imagine English Johnny's lunch wagon looked like!

That's just a brief look at the history of the lunch wagon!  I hope it adds some background perspective whenever you read about them in the pages of The Shadow!!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Cry Shadow!

Cry Shadow! was the fourth Shadow paperback published by Belmont Books.   It was published on April 1, 1965.  Dennis Lynds authored the book and used the Maxwell Grant pen-name on the cover.

Compared with the other two Shadow stories I've read by Dennis Lynds, it wasn't as good as Shadow Beware.  I'm not saying it was a bad story or there was no action, it was good and well written, but just not as suspenseful and action-packed as Shadow Beware.  

Let me give a spoiler alert before I get into a brief review of the story.  I'm going to reveal information about the characters and the ending, so if you don't want to know them until after you read the book yourself, you may want to skip the next section!

The story begins with The Shadow stopping two thieves in an art gallery.  They are attempting to steal a pretty worthless statue, compared to anything else they could have taken!  While The Shadow questions the two thieves, one of them is killed by a poison dart.  That sets the story in motion as The Shadow discovers that the murdered two-bit art thief was actually a master craftsman at creating counterfeit money plates!  The Shadow uncovers an international counterfeit money ring, being run out of an old WWII German U Boat off the coast of New England.  An art gallery was shipping the counterfeit currency (American, Russian, etc.) around the world in hollowed out boards of its shipping crates.  By the end of the story, the counterfeiters are either dead or captured, the U Boat is sunk, and the counterfeit ring has been smashed by The Shadow!

The Shadow:
We learn a few new things about The Shadow and there is one big revelation about his past.  The minor things we learn are he uses both his mental powers and a special ointment to aid in the healing and recovery of two broken fingers.  He learned safecracking and lock picking techniques from Walter Pettibone.  The Shadow can speak most languages of the world.

The big revelation we have about The Shadow is found on pages 91 and 92 where it's revealed that Cranston served with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II!  The OSS was an intelligence gathering organization of the United States that was founded in June 1942 and was dissolved in September of 1945.  It was the predecessor of the CIA.  We are told that Lamont Cranston had been a Colonel in the OSS and had "done much work against the forces of Facism in the war." (page 92)  On one mission, he had slipped into the heart of Japan aboard a PT boat!  This is awesome and interesting background!  In the Belmont book series, Lamont Cranston is always described as having blonde hair with some gray in it.  Supposing he was 20 years old when he joined the OSS in the early 1940's, he would be in his mid to late 40s during the time these stories take place (mid 1960s).   

The Shadow's sanctum is hidden in his offices as Lamont Cranston.  It is here - lighted only with a blue light - that The Shadow does much of his communicating with his agents.

In this story The Shadow uses the disguises of Lamont Cranston, and for the first time in this series he uses the disguise of Henry Arnaud!  Shadow fans will recognize that name as it is one of the frequent disguises used by The Shadow in the pulp stories.  Henry Arnaud is described as a business man and financier.  The Shadow uses a makeup kit to disguise himself as Arnaud.  Arnaud is taller than The Shadow and Lamont Cranston, so The Shadow wears special built up shoes to be taller.  Then, with special putty and fluid from a hypodermic needle injected beneath his skin, The Shadow molds his face to look like Arnaud's.  "...the broken and broad nose of Henry Arnaud appeared.  The nose was the result of Arnaud's early boxing career, and was well known to the world." (page 105)  The Shadow uses a special bridge to elongate his jaw, and special tape to make his left eye droop (another of Arnaud's boxing injuries!).  He uses a special dye to make his hair almost white.  "Finally, clenching his fist and narrowing his left hand with the plasticity of bone and sinew he learned from his years of yoga, he slipped on the ugly artificial hand, the reported result of losing his left hand in an automobile accident twenty years ago."


Margo Lane.  Margo is described as The Shadow's most trusted agent.  She goes undercover twice in this story.  First, as Molly, a prostitute who becomes the girlfriend of a criminal The Shadow is tracking.  Second, as Ellen Morgan, secretary to Henry Arnaud (one of The Shadow's alter-egos).

Burbank.  Burbank does his usual role of facilitating communication between The Shadow and his agents.  We learn he records all agent reports and maintains these records.  He does deep investigation into records for The Shadow.

Stanley.  Stanley chauffers Lamont Cranston around in his Rolls Royce.  He's described as one of The Shadow's most trusted agents.

Moe Shrevnitz.  Shrevvy is described as small and peppery and wears a leather cap.  In this story he is used by The Shadow as a look out and observer while in his taxi cab.

These are the only agents in this book.  However, also included are regulars Detective Joe Cardona and Commissioner Weston.