Remembering ‘The Shadow’

Published 12:00am Saturday, November 3, 2012

“Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men?” If you grew up in the 1940s and 1950s, you can probably answer that question: “The Shadow knows.”

I bought a tape album of some radio shows when I was on a shopping excursion with several friends some time ago. I couldn’t wait to get home to slip one in the tape player. The first one I chose began with the above quotes.

Those words were from an old-time radio detective show, “The Shadow.” CBS first aired it in 1937 as “The Detective Story” program. After soon gaining popularity, it was renamed “The Shadow.” The show opened with some eerie music followed by those familiar words and some loud, evil-sounding laughter. Among his prowess as a super crime-fighter, the mysterious “Shadow” claimed the ability to “cloud men’s minds.” That year, 22-year-old Orson Wells, in his first national exposure, began portraying the voice of “The Shadow.” The radio series ran through 1954, although he only kept the role a year. “The Shadow” kept my parents and me on the edge of our seats as we huddled close to the radio in our living room during the 1940s.

Numerous popular radio detective shows floated through the airways in the 1940s and 1950s. Among them was “The Adventures of Philip Marlowe.” It came on the scene in 1948 and ran through September 1950. The story of this hard-boiled detective returned in a television mini-series in 1986.

The “Boston Blackie” show began on radio in 1944, but I do not recall listening to it. I remember the “Boston Blackie” 1951-53 television series. To this day when I see a chase on television where the good guys chase the bad guy up stairs and into high places, I always think of that show. It seems like there was always one of those chases at the end of every “Boston Blackie” episode.

“My name’s Friday,” were familiar words from “Dragnet.” It ran on radio from June 1949 to February 1957, and on television from December 1951 to August 1959. Following the first four notes of the opening musical theme, “Dum-de-dum-dum,” an announcer introduced each show with, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.” A revival of the series ran from January 1967 to April 1970. I remember that the always intense, no nonsense Detective Friday’s statement, “Just the facts,” found its way in the dialogue sometime during the episode. Jack Webb developed the show after observing actual police procedures in Los Angeles. He portrayed Detective Joe Friday.

Another show included in the tapes was “Gangbusters.” It depicted actual cases from FBI files with the permission of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Each program began with wailing sirens, squealing tires, and the rat-a-tat of machine guns. It appeared first in 1936 and ran strong until 1957. More than 100 of the FBI’s most wanted criminals were apprehended after their descriptions ran on the show.

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