Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, July 20, 2020


Openers:  Four men were in Sargon's back room that night.

What their names were didn't matter, because nobody used his right name in Martinique -- not if he could help it.

There ere the times when the island was dominated by the Vichy government, when a man's life was valued only in terms of his wits,  what these men were was known only to themselves -- individually.

In those days, almost everything was illegal in Fort de France, the capital of Martinique.  Tension smoldered the hidden fires of Mount Pelee, the towering volcano which twenty years before had all but blasted the island off the map.

What might blast Martinique next was anybody's guess.

-- "Maxwell Grant" (Walter B. Gibson), A Quarter of Eight (originally from The Shadow Magazine,October 1, 1945)

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?  The Shadow knows!"  And so did millions of radio listeners and readers in the Thirties and beyond.

The Shadow had a humble beginning on July 31, 1930, as the mysterious narrator of Detective Story Hour, a radio program created by Street & Smith to promote their pulp magazine Detective Story Magazine.  Soon they discovered that customers were going to newsstands asking for "that Shadow detective magazine."  Realizing that they has a good thing, they began planning a magazine featuring the character.  They hired Walter B. Gibson to develop and flesh out the character.

Gibson (1897-1985) began his career as a reporter and crossword puzzle writer for Philadelphia newspapers.  In 1928, he was recruited to edit True Strange Stories for MacFadden Publications; the magazine lasted for eight issues (March 1929 to November 1929) and Gibson used the pseudonym "Webster Scofield" on the masthead.  Beginning in the late Twenties, Gibson -- a professional magician -- wrote over a hundred books on magic, the occult, various games and tricks, true crime, and psychic phenomena.  He was a ghost writer for Harry Houdini, Howard Thurston, Harry Blackstone, sr., and Joseph Dunniger.  Gibson wrote at least five of the Biff Brewster juvenile mysteries as "Andy Adams."  He novelized Preston Sturges' The Sin of Harold Diddledock, published as by popular humorist Harry Hirshfield; Hirshfield had been contracted to write the book but couldn't, so Gibson stepped in.  He adapted a number of Rod Serling's scripts for The Twilight Zone for two collections.  As a homage to the magician Blackstone, he created Blackstone, the Magic Detective for both the radio and comic books.  He wrote many comic book stories for twenty-two separate titles from nine publishers.

The first Shadow story from Gibson appeared nine months after the narrator of Detective Story Hour first appeared.  It was The Living Shadow, the first of 325 Shadow novels to appear in The Shadow Magazine, and Gibson wrote 282 of them.  (The remaining Shadow stories were written by Bruce Elliot, Theodore Tinsley, Richard Wormser, and Lester Dent (the author of the Doc Savage series).

The popularity of The Shadow led to a radio series on Mutual radio, beginning on September 26, 1937.  For the first year, Orson Welles voiced the character; later The Shadow was voiced by Bill Johnstone, Brett Morrison, John Archer, and Steve Courtleigh.  The radio series lasted for 17 years, ending on December 26, 1954. 

The radio Shadow was different from the pulp character.  In the pulps, the Shadow's secret identity was Kent Allard, a World War I flying ace.  After the war, Allard falsifies his death in the South american jungles; he returns to America to fight crime under a number of aliases.  On the radio, he is Lamont Cranston, a  wealthy young man about town.  The radio also introduced Margo Lane as Cranston's love interest.  The pulps also had the Shadow as Cranston, but this Cranston was a real person whose identity The Shadow assumes,  Gibson hated the idea of The Shadow having a love interest but eventually also introduced her to the pulp stories.  The radio Shadow had "the mysterious power to cloud men's minds, so they could not see him."  The pulp Shadow's identity and background remained ambiguous during the first half of its run.  The Shadow also had a large roster of "assistants" to help him in his adventures; most of these assistants were cut out of the radio episodes for the sake of simplicity.

Fourteen years after The Shadow Magazine, Belmont Books began a series of nine new Shadow novels under the :Maxwell Grant" pen name.  The first of these was actually penned by Gibson, and the remainder by Dennis Lynds.  Over the years, The Shadow novels have been reprinted in fits and starts by various publishers, sometime with editing both light and heavy.  In 2006, Sanctum Books began issuing the novels in omnibus editions; 151 volumes and two annuals were published through this January, covering 279 of the original novels.  Due to the expiration of their license to reprint to saga, three of The Shadow's adventures -- all written by Bruce Elliot -- remain without a reprint.

The Shadow has also appeared in numerous comic books from 1940 until the present day, a daily comic strip that ran or two years in the early Forties, and a series of films from various studios, beginning in 1930 and culminating in 1994's The Shadow, starring Alec Baldwin.

This past week it was announced that The Shadow will return.  Best-selling author James Patterson will release a number of new Shadow novels, beginning in the Fall of 2021.   Something to look forward to.

Over his career, Walter B. Gibson wrote over 15,000,000 words about The Shadow, and that doesn't count his other writing.  At his peak, Gibson wrote some 168,000 words a year.  His legacy left an enduring mark on american popular culture.


  • Raymond Chandler, Later Novels & Other Writings.  a Library of America edition containing the novels The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye, Playback, the movie script Double Indemnity (written with Billy Wilder). five essays, and eleven letters.  It's hard to believe that I first read most of these more than half a century ago.  They still remain fresh today.
  • Joseph L. French, editor, Great Sea Stories.  this volume combines the two Great sea Stories volumes that French had edited, "with such additions from today's [i.e., 1943 or earlier] stirring tales of the sea as carry on the spirit in which the original stories were gathered."  together,"  A total of 29 stories, mainly fictional, from such authors as Wilkie Collins, James Fenimore Cooper, Richard Dana, Bret Harte, Victor Hugo, Jack London, Captain Marryat, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, W. Clark Russell, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Frank R. Stockton.
  • "George Gilman" (Terry Harkness), Edge #5:  Blood on Silver, Edge #15:  Paradise Loses, and Edge #49:  Revenge Ride,  Violent westerns all "not for the faint-hearted."  Edge is the "meanest, most vicious killer the West has ever seen."  "Because he has no pity, follows no rules, and lives only to win, he always has the edge."  The series, beginning in the early 70s and continuing through the 80s, was wildly popular and ran for 61 volumes, most being reprinted several times.  Blood on Silver brings Edge to the Comstock silver lode, where he faces off against the Tabor Gang, led by a renegade Quaker, a band of brutal Shoshone Indians, and an African giant.  Paradise Loses takes Edge to the town of Paradise, run by severe and uncompromising Puritans, who do not hesitate to use a whipping post, a pillory, or a stake stacked with brushwood for burning.  Revenge Ride has Edge teamed up with "a hot-blooded pair of hard women on the corpse-littered trail of a homicidal losr, whose bound for Mexico and a fortune in gold."
  • Otto Penzler, editor, Dangerous Women.  An anthology of 17 original crime and suspense stories about the fair (and very deadly) sex.  The  authors are Ed McBain, Michael Connelly, Joyce Carol Oates, Walter Mosley, Laura Lippman, Nelson DeMille, Thomas H. Cook, Andrew Klavan, John Connolly, Lorenzo Carcaterra, J.A. Jane, Ian Rankin, Jay mcInerney, S. J. Rozan, anne perry, Elmore Leonard, and Jeffrey Deaver.  With a line-up like that, how can you go wrong?

Florida Man:  Gosh, I didn't have to write anything about Florida Man today because Leigh Lundin covered it pretty well in his column for Sleuthsayers yesterday.   Check it out.

Sleepy Time:  Today would have been the 85th birthday of legendary singer Sleepy La Beef, who died last year on December 26, and whose final performance had been just four months earlier.  He was born Thomas Paulsley LeBeff in Smackover, Arkansas (isn't that a great name?), the youngest of ten children whose father farmed cotton and watermelons.  He earned the nickname "Sleepy" because he had a lazy eye.

When he was eighteen he moves to Houston and began singing gospel music on the local radio and less religious stuff with bar bands, and on such country radio programs as Louisiana Hayride.  During the 1950s he stuck mainly to rockabilly music and expanded to a more country style in the mid-Sixties.  His wide repertoire included "root music, old time rock and roll, Southern gospel and hand-clapping music, black blues, Hank Williams-style country.  We mix it up real good."  He had over a thousand songs that he could perform at a moments notice.  He was indefatigable on stage.  That, and his looming six foot six inch presence, help make his concerts -- at one time he was performing 300 days a year -- unforgettable.  I saw him over twenty years ago at Boarding House Park in Lowell,!

The link below takes you to his June 25, 1988 performance at the Amesbury Day celebration in Amesbury, Massachusetts.  The play list will give you an idea of his range:  "Jumbalaya," "You're Humbugging Me," "Hello, Josephine," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Lost Highway." "Poke Salad Annie," "These Boots Are Made for Walking," Welcome to My World." "Your Cheatin' Heart." "Move It on Over," "Life Turned Her That Way," "Big Mamu," "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights," "Loving Cajun Style," "School Days," "Little Queenie," "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "Whole Lot of Shakin'," "I Got It," "Have Some Fun Tonight," and "Boogie Woogie Man."

Rollo:  Speaking of anniversaries, on this date in 911, the Viking leader Rollo laid siege to Chartres, France.  This may sound familiar to those who watched National Geographic's television series Vikings, which imagined Rollo as the brother of Ragnar Lothbrok (Ragnar himself was a legendary character who may of may not have been real).  Rollo was born about 860 AD somewhere in Scandinavia of either Danish or Norwegian stock and was perhaps of noble lineage.  A fierce warrior, Rollo successfully led his band of Vikings in a siege of the strongly defended, highly fortified city of Chartres.  Charles III (known as Charles the Simple) rallied his forces to rout Rollo's men.  Rollo made a defensive wall by slaughtering the livestock from his ships; the sight and smell of the rotting corpses stymied Charles' men and apace was negotiated with the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte.  rollo was given the Duchy of Normandy in exchange for vassalage, religious conversion, and a vow to defend the Seine's estuary from Viking incursions.  Well before that time, the Normans or their descendents had conquered England, Southern Italy, parts of Africa, Ireland, Wales, and made incursions into Byzantium.  Rollo's descendent William I of England is the 32nd great-grandfather of the current queen, Elizabeth II.  Legend has it that Rollo was also an ancestor of Charlemagne.

Not bad for a man who shares the name with a candy bar.

Good News:

Just for the Heck of It:  Here's a 1942 anti-Hitler cartoon, The Ducktators:

Today's Poem:
A Still Moment

Take a moment.
Put the worries behind.
Take in the beauty around.
Let it relax your mind.

Watch the golden glow
Of the rising morning sun.
Embrace the peaceful aura
Of the break of dawn.

Savor the soft caress
Of the gently moving breeze.
Listen to its nifty tune
Among the swaying trees.

Enjoy the lovely scene
Of a floating butterfly.
Graceful flight and happy tweets
Of a bird perched up high.

Peruse the evening sky
In its dazzling splendor.
The wide and open pallet
Merging shapes and colors.

Relish the locing sight
Of children having fun.
Skipping feet and carefree voices
Under the setting sun.

Spare a still moment
Every once in a while.
Take in the beauty around.
Take it in with a smile.

-- Abimbola T. Alabi

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