Little Bits of History

Lurking Evil

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 26, 2011

Orson Welles

September 26, 1937: Orson Welles becomes the title character as the old announcer for Detective Stories gets his own 30-minute radio show – The Shadow. The Shadow character was created by Walter B. Gibson in 1931. The Shadow’s creation was more accident than design. In 1930, the character’s name belonged to the announcer for Detective Stories. This radio broadcast drew its stories from the pulp fiction of the era. Pulp fiction being inexpensive magazines printed on cheap paper from the 1920s through 1940s.

Smith & Street, pulp magazine publishers, created a radio program in order to boost sales for their print media. However, the announcer proved to be a more compelling entity than the Detective Stories themselves. Smith & Street commissioned Gibson to write stories with the announcer as the hero. Gibson went on to write 282 of the 325 Shadow books.

The Shadow (had many alias identities but Lamont Cranston was the most frequently used) went skulking about in dark hat, cape, and often a black or red silk mask using nefarious skills to intimidate criminals. Eventually it was revealed that he had traveled to the mystical Far East and learned to cloud minds so as to be invisible. Orson Welles took the lead role when still an unknown radio personality. Two years later, Welles would produce his famous Halloween scare, The War of the Worlds.

A female contrast to Welles’ voice was added with Producer Clark Andrews naming The Shadow’s “friend and companion” after his girlfriend, Margo Lane. The Shadow became such a hit that a series of comic books were added and eventually over 300 novels were written. There were two attempts to bring The Shadow to the small screen and several full length movies were produced. In 1947, Welles hoped to produce his own version and commissioned Charles Lederer to pen a script. Welles could not secure the film right to the character he made famous a decade earlier.

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” – John Archer’s introduction to The Shadow

“Orson Welles was an actor, so he believed in it while he was doing it.” – John DiDonna

“Nobody who takes on anything big and tough can afford to be modest.” – Orson Welles

“I don’t say that we ought to all misbehave, but we ought to look as if we could.” – Orson Welles

Also on this day:
The Parthenon – In 1687, part of the Parthenon was destroyed during a bombing attack by the Ottoman Turks.
Apples – In 1774, Johnny Appleseed was born.

“Isn’t there … anyone?”

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 31, 2010

Monument erected October 1998 commemorating where the Martians "landed" in Van Nest Park, Grover's Mill, NJ. (Photo by ZeWrestler)

October 30, 1938: Shortly after 8 PM the radio broadcast of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds with adaptations by Orson Welles and Howard Koch airs on CBS’s Mercury Theatre On The Air. The action took place in modern day Grover’s Mill, New Jersey and the program was to simulate a music presentation interspersed with live newscasts of the disaster. It is possibly the most successful radio program in history.

The 55-minute show played opposite a wildly popular show starring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. It was known that after an initial 12 minutes, Bergen’s bit was followed by music. Over at CBS, there was an initial warning that the upcoming program was a dramatic presentation. However, many people were not listening at that time, but switched over when Bergen’s program switched to music. The new listeners were not aware that it was a dramatization, but believed that the “newscasts” were true news. Repeated warnings were aired during the last 15 mintues of the show, and as a finale as well.

Welles had his cast prepare by listening to broadcasts of the Hindenburg disaster to catch the proper mood and tone for the “newscasts.” The format had been used by BBC in London in 1926 for short pieces, but this program was new in both location and in length of the work. Of the 1.7 million people who tuned in, 1.2 million were “very excited” by the “news” but few did anything concrete with this excitement.

However, in New Jersey, where the action was supposedly taking place, a crowd did gather where the spaceship had “landed.” Police came for crowd control, contributing to the chaos. CBS was castigated for the panic, but no punishment was ever handed out. In fact, the broadcast is played yearly in the spirit of Halloween pranks. There is also a monument in the park noting the place where the Martians landed in 1938.

“Isn’t there anyone on the air? Isn’t there anyone on the air? Isn’t there … anyone?” – newscaster, Ray Collins, from The War of the Worlds broadcast

“Doubts and mistrust are the mere panic of timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer, and the large mind transcend.” – Helen Keller

“Fear cannot be banished, but it can be calm and without panic; it can be mitigated by reason and evaluation.” – Vannevar Bush

“It made our hair stand up in panic fear.” – Sophocles

“The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear – fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable.  What he wants above everything else is safety.” – Henry Louis Mencken

Also on this day, in 1973 the Bosphorus Bridge was completed, linking Europe and Asia.