Hear 22-Year-Old Orson Welles Star in The Shadow, the Iconic 1930s Super Crimefighter Radio Show

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Every fan of old-time radio, the fruit of a “gold­en age” on the Amer­i­can air­waves which last­ed from the 1920s until tele­vi­sion took hold, can tell you the answer: The Shad­ow knows. Though he’s appeared in pulp-era mag­a­zines and nov­els as well as comics, movies, and even video games, the mys­te­ri­ous crime­fight­er, known by day as “wealthy young man about town” Lam­ont Cranston, made his biggest mark on the good old wire­less, around which lis­ten­ers gath­ered to hear him dis­pense his own brand of psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly deliv­ered jus­tice from 1937 to 1954.

The Shad­ow became, in many ways, the pro­to­type of the super­hero, espe­cial­ly Bat­man and oth­ers who do their job not with fan­tas­ti­cal super­pow­ers but with their wits, their wealth, and the host of advanced devices and obscure tech­niques at their dis­pos­al. (Assum­ing, of course, you don’t con­sid­er the Shad­ow’s nev­er-ful­ly-explained abil­i­ty to “cloud men’s minds” fan­tas­ti­cal.) This also makes him some­thing of a pro­to-James Bond, the tech­ni­cal­ly human but seem­ing­ly invin­ci­ble British Secret Ser­vice agent who debuted on the page the year before The Shad­ow end­ed his run on the radio. Like James Bond, The Shad­ow exists inde­pen­dent­ly of the many actors who have por­trayed him, but just as most acknowl­edge Sean Con­nery as the defin­i­tive Bond, Orson Welles stands as The Shad­ow to beat.

In fact, the New York­er’s Alex Ross titled his pro­file of Welles’ career, look­ing back from the 100th anniver­sary of the radio-the­ater-film auteur’s birth, “The Shad­ow,” acknowl­edg­ing aspects of the man’s cre­ative per­sona as well as the pro­gram on which he, at the ten­der age of 22, “achieved radio star­dom as a hyp­no­sis-induc­ing vig­i­lante” — and also found a source of mon­ey to fun­nel straight into his own high­er-brow and more social­ly con­scious pro­duc­tions under the New Deal’s Fed­er­al The­atre Project. (Ross quotes Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt jok­ing­ly call­ing Welles the “only oper­a­tor in his­to­ry who ever ille­gal­ly siphoned mon­ey into a Wash­ing­ton project.”)

Now you can lis­ten to more than 30 Welles-star­ring episodes of The Shad­ow free at the Inter­net Archive. When the show made its debut, it ran for 26 episodes spon­sored by Blue Coal, a name fans will know as well as they know Lam­ont Cranston’s. Then came a sum­mer series spon­sored by Goodrich Safe­ty Sil­ver-Town Tires. “For many years it was believed that the syn­di­cat­ed Goodrich series had run for 15 episodes,” say the accom­pa­ny­ing notes, “until a com­plete col­lec­tion of record­ings sur­faced in the estate of a for­mer Goodrich exec­u­tive and it was real­ized that the sum­mer sea­son had been a full 26 episodes — and that 11 full episodes star­ring Welles had been dis­cov­ered that had not been heard since they orig­i­nal­ly aired 70 years ago.” A sud­den, dra­mat­ic appear­ance by The Shad­ow just when we least expect­ed it — how very like him.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The War of the Worlds: Orson Welles’ 1938 Radio Dra­ma That Pet­ri­fied a Nation

Orson Welles Turns Heart of Dark­ness Into a Radio Dra­ma, and Almost His First Great Film

Orson Welles’ Radio Per­for­mances of 10 Shake­speare Plays

A Christ­mas Car­ol, A Vin­tage Radio Broad­cast by Orson Welles and Lionel Bar­ry­more (1939)

Stream 61 Hours of Orson Welles’ Clas­sic 1930s Radio Plays: War of the Worlds, Heart of Dark­ness & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.