“The Master-piece,” Anne Brigman, circa 1930
Print postcard, linen texture.
The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay.
Dabbling in old time radio inevitably brought me to “The Shadow” — a character I’d heard about periodically when I was growing up. My Dad had been a fan of the radio program and film serials when he was a kid, and he was fond of rattling off that tagline you see in this blog post’s headline. (The radio shows were broadcast in to the mid-1950’s, long after they started in 1937.) I also remember the character from the truly unfortunate 1994 feature film with Alec Baldwin, which I actually saw in the theater with my college girlfriend. (The less said, the better. About the movie, I mean.) The Shadow is also cited periodically as an influence in the creation of my own favorite iconic dark detective, Batman.
The Shadow has a loooooooong, varied and occasionally confusing history – spanning radio, pulp magazines, comic books, television and film. He’s still being portrayed in comics. DC Comics released a crossover with Batman last year that looks interesting, and the incomparable Matt Wagner produced a couple of books in 2015 and 2016 that I’d love to get my hands on. (He fights Grendel!!!)
The radio shows are a lot if fun, just like the antique horror and mystery programs that I’ve linked to here at the blog. And, just like those, they’re easily found on Internet. (How my Dad might have marveled at that!) They’re definitely more campy. And I suppose that makes sense, as they seem aimed at children, whereas the horror shows seem intended for general audiences or just adults. The period commercials for Blue Coal are a weird glimpse into the past, too. If I had to name one thing that I found annoying about all of the old time radio shows I’ve found, it’s the omnipresence of that damned organ music. (Was it just a cultural staple of the time?)
If “The Shadow’s” stories are a bit hokey, the show’s voice acting and production are just terrific. I particularly like the actor performing The Shadow for the episode in the first link below — “Death is a Colored Dream” (1948). I believe it is Bret Morrison. (And I was surprised to learn that the famous Orson Welles only voiced the character for a year or so a decade earlier.)
But what’s most interesting is the character’s inception. He didn’t start out as a character in a story at all … “The Shadow” was simply the name of the generic host for a series of unrelated mystery stories comprising “The Detective Story Hour” in 1930. After a surprising fanbase developed around the creepy-sounding host (voiced at the time by Frank Readick, Jr.), people started asking for stories featuring “The Shadow” at the news stand. Street & Smith commissioned writer Walter B. Gibson to write up some tales featuring a supernatural detective; the first came out in 1931. The iconic character was just sort of made-to-order for confused customers who might have thought he already existed. That “Shadow” later arrived at the airwaves in 1937, with Welles voicing him.
Seriously, though, I totally need to get my hands on “Grendel vs. The Shadow.”
It isn’t in Texas and it isn’t a tavern. It’s a family-owned, all-night burger joint that’s been around since 1930. And it’s awesome.
That shot of Church Street is awful. But I’m including it anyway, because New Yorkers simply cannot fathom how empty these streets can be — and quiet! So often Roanoke seems like a scene in “The Quiet Earth” (1985).
It was hardly more than a chapbook, really — it was a hand-printed pamphlet informally published in 1928 by Auden’s friend and fellow Briton, the poet and essayist Stephen Spender (second photo). Auden would have been about 21 at the time. In other words, Auden’s career began in a manner not unlike many indie poets today.
Only about 45 copies of Poems were released. The book is today considered one of the rarest in 20th Century literature.
To make matters just a bit more confusing, Auden’s next two books of poetry, in 1930 and 1934, were likewise entitled simply Poems. (And the 1930 book had two editions.) Oddly, Auden wanted no distinctive title for any of the books because he thought a title might distract the reader from the content of the poems themselves.) The 1930 volume was accepted for publisher Faber & Faber by none other than T.S. Eliot, who was one of his earliest influences.
Today is Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday.
Rosenmeyer’s lithograph below depicts him on one of his characteristic solitary walks; this one is on the High Bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx. For a little interesting background on it, see this entry at the Ephemeral New York website.