Walter B. Gibson

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For other people of the same name, see Walter Gibson (disambiguation).
Walter Brown Gibson
Born September 12, 1897
Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died December 6, 1985
Kingston, New York, United States
Pen name Maxwell Grant (shared)
Occupation Author & Magician
Nationality American
Genre Pulp magazines, comic books, comic strips, Magic, Psychic phenomena, Yoga, Hypnotism, True crime, Games

Walter Brown Gibson (September 12, 1897 – December 6, 1985) was an American author and professional magician, best known for his work on the pulp fiction character The Shadow. Gibson, under the pen-name Maxwell Grant, wrote "more than 300 novel-length" Shadow stories, writing up to "10,000 words a day" to satisfy public demand during the character's golden age in the 1930s and 1940s.[1] He also authored several novels in the Biff Brewster juvenile series of the 1960s. He was married to Litzka R. Gibson, also a writer, and the couple lived in New York state.

Early life[edit]

Walter Brown Gibson was born on September 12, 1897, in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Alfred Cornelius Gibson (1849–1931) and May Morrell Whidden Gibson (1863–1941).

Gibson graduated from Colgate University in 1920 where he was a brother of Delta Kappa Epsilon, and began working "for newspapers in his native Philadelphia as a reporter and crossword-puzzle writer,"[1] specifically for the Philadelphia North American, and later The Evening Ledger. In 1928 Gibson was asked by Macfadden Publications to edit True Strange Stories; he did, for a time, identified as Walter Scofield, commuting back and forth to New York.[2][3] In 1931, after submitting some crime stories for Detective Story Magazine, he was asked by publishers Street & Smith to produce the first print adventure of The Shadow, who at that stage was merely a voice, the mysterious narrator of the Street & Smith-sponsored Detective Stories radio drama.[1] It was Gibson who created all the mythos and characterization of The Shadow, including his alter ego of wealthy playboy Lamont Cranston.

The Shadow[edit]

Main article: The Shadow

The popularity of the radio show's narrator inspired the show's sponsors (Street & Smith) to translate the character into print, and Gibson was duly asked to produce 75,000 words for the first quarterly issue of The Shadow pulp magazine.[1] This first Shadow story was published on April 1, 1931, just nine months after the character's appearance on the airwaves. Six months later, The Shadow was headlining a new radio show, and his pulp adventures—written by Gibson under the house pseudonym Maxwell Grant—were going from strength to strength; launched as a quarterly publication, "within months, the magazine was on a twice-monthly schedule," causing Gibson to produce the equivalent of 24 novels per year.[1] Described as a "compulsive writer," Gibson is estimated to have written, at his peak output, 1,680,000 words[1] a year and at least 282 of the 325 Shadow novels.[4]

As the Shadow character spun off into a daily syndicated comic strip, monthly comic books, movies and parlor games, Gibson went with him, scripting many of those comic book stories and the syndicated newspaper daily, as well as serving as consultant on the very popular Sunday night radio show.[1]

Gibson is recognized as the creator of much of The Shadow's mythos, although his tales often conflict with the better-known radio show version. For example, Gibson's Shadow is, in reality, Kent Allard, a former WWI aviator, who sometimes posed as playboy Lamont Cranston. On the radio show, The Shadow was Cranston, a "wealthy young man about town." Similarly, Shadow companion Margo Lane arose not from the pulp novels but from the radio program; she was added to offer a contrasting female voice to the show's audience. In 1941 Gibson grudgingly added Margo Lane to the pulp novel stories and even hinted at her having a power of invisibility.

Magic, non-fiction, and other works[edit]

Gibson wrote more than a hundred books on magic, psychic phenomena, true crime, mysteries, rope knots, yoga, hypnotism, and games. He served as a ghost writer for books on magic and spiritualism by Harry Houdini,[1] Howard Thurston, Harry Blackstone, Sr., and Joseph Dunninger.[5] Gibson wrote the comic books and radio drama Blackstone, the Magic Detective. starring a fictionalized version of Harry Blackstone. Gibson also introduced the famous "Chinese linking rings" trick in America, and invented the "Nickels to Dimes" trick that is still sold in magic stores to this day. He "wrote extensively on Houdini and his escape tricks and sleight-of-hand,"[1] and became involved after Houdini's death with Houdini seances. Houdini was known as much for his investigations into – and exposure of – false mediums, and after his death, his wife Bess held seances for ten years in an attempt to contact the deceased magician. She then passed this role on to Gibson, who for many years helped preside over the Houdini Seances in the 1970s and 1980s at New York's famous Magic Towne House with such well-known magicians as Milbourne Christopher, Dorothy Dietrich, Bobby Baxter, and Dick Brooks. Before Gibson died, he passed on the responsibility of doing the Houdini Seances to Dorothy Dietrich,[6] currently of The Houdini Museum [7] in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Under the pen name Andy Adams, Gibson is credited with writing at least five of the twelve novels in the Biff Brewster juvenile adventure and mystery series for adolescent boys: Brazilian Gold Mine Mystery, Mystery of the Mexican Treasure, Mystery of the Ambush in India, Egyptian Scarab Mystery, and Mystery of the Alpine Pass.[8]

With his wife Litzka R. Gibson (née Gonser[1]), he co-wrote The Complete Illustrated Book of the Psychic Sciences (Doubleday, 1966), a 404-page book which explains how to practice many popular forms of divination and fortune-telling, including astrology, tasseography, graphology, and numerology. Litzka also wrote her own books on topics as diverse as palmistry, dancing, and personal hygiene, sometimes under the pen-name Leona Lehman.

Gibson wrote a Batman prose story which appeared in Detective Comics #500 (March 1981).[9]

On Halloween 1936, the Late Harry Houdini's Wife conducted a "Final Houdini Séance" on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. At the conclusion of the failed séance, she put out the candle beside a photograph of Houdini that was said to have burned for ten years. She then passed the torch to Walter.

Appearances in fiction[edit]

He is a featured character in the Paul Malmont novel The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, which was published by Simon & Schuster in 2006, and in the sequel The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown also Simon & Schuster in 2011. In addition, Gibson is the protagonist, along with Orson Welles, in a historical mystery by Max Allan Collins, The War of the Worlds Murder, published by Berkley Books in 2005.

While not appearing directly, in P. N. Elrod's "Bloodlist," Jack Fleming mentions that he knows the author of the Shadow Magazine, and when he comes across a mobster guard reading "Terror Island" thinks to himself that he'll "have to write to Walter and tell him about his mobster fan."

Gibson references[edit]

  • Cox, J. Randolph, Man of Magic & Mystery, A Guide to the Work of Walter B. Gibson. Scarecrow Press, 1988, ISBN 0-8108-2192-3. (A comprehensive Gibson bibliography, including essays on his various works.)
  • Shimeld, Thomas J., Walter B. Gibson and The Shadow. McFarland & Company, 2004, ISBN 0-7864-1466-9. (A comprehensive Gibson biography with an emphasis on The Shadow.)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Saxon, Wolfgang, "Walter B. Gibson, the Creator of 'The Shadow,' Dead at 88" in The New York Times, Saturday, December 7, 1985.
  2. ^ "Galactic Central". Galactic Central Publications. Retrieved August 2, 2010. 
  3. ^ Shimeld, 2005, p.60.
  4. ^ "A Million Words a Year For Ten Years," by Walter Gibson, Writer's Digest, March 1941.
  5. ^ "James Randi's Swift – July 14, 2006". Randi.org. July 14, 2006. Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  6. ^ Williams, Michael. "TNSJournal". Retrieved October 29, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Houdini Museum". Retrieved January 22, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Biff Brewster Series". Series.net. Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  9. ^ Manning, Matthew K.; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1980s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. Writer of pulp icon the Shadow, Walter Gibson, spun a prose story of the Dark Knight, illustrated by Tom Yeates. 

External links[edit]