Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Shadow Knew

So, as part of my ongoing off and on read-and-out-the-door project, I've been sorting through our mystery shelves: getting rid of some, putting some on the keeper pile, and reading some to decide which way they go. Looks like we'll be getting rid of about half and keeping about half.  So far most of the Dick Francis and Tony Hillerman have gone, with the Ellis Peters, Rex Stout, and Agatha Christie to follow. Among the read/skim/decide is an mini-omnibus collection of two THE SHADOW novels from 1946 by Walter Gibson ("Maxwell Grant"). I won't be keeping this one, but I'm glad I read it, if only for the Introduction, in which Gibson reminisces about the 'great German airship' fears of 1909 (the UFOs of the day, as Gibson himself points out), and his brief mention of his stories being turned into radio plays:

"[In the summer of 1936] I was working on my 121st Shadow novel in Gray, Maine, when I received word from the publishers, Street & Smith, that arrangements had been made for a Shadow radio series to be based upon my novels. The scripts had been assigned to Edward Hale Bierstadt, who had done the Warden Lawes show, and he was expecting me to contact him on Great Chebeague, one of the largest islands in Casco Bay. So I drove over to Falmouth Foreside and made the trip on the passenger boat, Nellie G. Bierstadt and I spent the day going over his script, which was excellent, and I stayed so late that I had to charter the Nellie G. for a special return trip to the mainland. A thick fog had set in . . ." 

Now, I know the name Edward Hale Bierstadt, as the man who wrote the first book on Dunsany* back in 1917 (revised and expanded edition 1919) and played a large part in bringing Dunsany's plays (and eventually Dunsany himself) to America. But I hadn't known what happened to him after about 1919 or so. Turns out he had a long and varied career, not dying until 1970, but his interests had shifted more from fantasy plays to true crime, becoming something of an expert on the subject. He even wrote a piece on the Scopes Trial. So with his background as a playwright and his interest in criminology, it makes sense that about two decades after his discovery and promotion of Dunsany he'd wind up writing radio plays for a mystery series.

That it should be THE SHADOW -- one of the most famous and fondly remembered of all radio shows, and Orson Welles' first major starring role** -- shows he clearly had some talent. Gibson's brief account I quoted makes it sound as if Bierstadt wrote the very first script, the one which wd have introduced the characters and established the outlines the show was to follow.  I have not been able to confirm this, the online listing of all episodes for the radio-show lacking scriptwriter information for the first few weeks. But from another source I was able to confirm that Bierstadt wrote the scripts for episodes #10 ("CIRCLE OF DEATH", broadcast November 28th 1937) and #12 (THE DEATH TRIANGLE, broadcast December 12 1937), so he definitely had a hand in it, and v. early on.

So, an interesting connection between two unexpected points, Dunsany's otherworldly drama and a legended radio show of the Thirties (and beyond).

--John R.

*there are now six, that I know of.
**with Agnes Moorhead as Margo Lane

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