Tuesday, September 12, 2006

For Gibson, Crime Did Pay

It isn’t only The Shadow who knows about this one: Today marks what would have been the 109th birthday of Walter Gibson, the mondo-prolific Germantown, Pennsylvania-born author responsible for writing (under the pen name “Maxwell Grant”) somewhere in the vicinity of 300 Shadow books, published during the 1930s and ’40s. A magician and friend of Harry Houdini, Gibson also penned more than 100 books over his lifetime about legerdermain, games, and physical phenomena, plus thousands of early syndicated newspaper pieces having to do with puzzles and brain teasers.

It was in 1931 that he switched from syndicated writing to concocting mystery stories, being hired by publishers Street & Smith to compose yarns featuring The Shadow, a “noirish antihero” born on the radio (though not originally portrayed by deep-voiced actor/director Orson Welles; it wasn’t until 1937 that Welles began to make The Shadow, aka Lamont Cranston, the compelling radio presence many older folks still remember today). By the late 1940s, though, Gibson was moving more and more into novel writing. In 1946, he saw a pair of mysteries published under his own name, A Blond for Murder and Looks That Kill. As well, he started ghost-writing works for other people, such as “mentalist” Joseph Dunninger (possibly, the inspiration for the Shadow character). On top of the books he turned out as Gibson and Grant, he also churned forth works under noms de plume such as Ishi Black, Felix Fairfax, Maborushi Kineji, Gautier LeBrun, Rufus Perry, and P.L. Raymond.

Gibson died in December 1985, at age 88. However, he’s been “resurrected” twice in fiction over the last year, first as the protagonist in Max Allan Collins’ novel The War of the Worlds Murder, and more recently as the co-star (along with another real-life pulp master, Lester Dent, of Doc Savage fame) in Paul Malmont’s debut novel, The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril.

BUT THERE’S MORE: To download and listen to some of the old Shadow radio shows, click here. If you’d like to listen to a brief interview with Gibson, taped in 1977, click here.

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