The man behind The Shadow

Ever wondered why The Shadow spent so much time protecting the wealth of millionaires or skulking about in huge, old mansions? The answers are apparent in a new biography of Walter B. Gibson.

It’s the most complete biography yet of The Shadow’s “raconteur,” written by 26-year-old Thomas J. Shimeld, an admirer of Gibson and his magic.

As an amateur magician, we’re told Shimeld met and befriended Gibson’s nephew Wendel (also a magician) who provided him with access to Uncle Walter’s diaries, the inspiration for this book.

We learn Gibson was a privileged youth. His wealthy Philadelphia family owned a gas works and built a tremendous mansion in which the Gibson children were raised. Shimeld documents Gibson’s early years through diaries he maintained throughout most of his life until the end.

A word of warning: It may be a bit unsettling for fans of The Shadow to find the larger-than-life confidant of the Master of Darkness “celebrated (his and wife Litzka’s wedding anniversary) with hairdos.”

“Walter B. Gibson and The Shadow”
Author: Thomas J. Shimeld
Price: $45
Publisher: McFarland & Co.

Shimeld spends a good deal of time on Gibson’s early work with Houdini and as ghostwriter for other famous magicians. We learn quite a bit about Gibson’s third wife Litzka and perhaps more than we needed to about his health during his final years. Frankly, more time could have been spent on his extraordinary nearly two decades writing The Shadow, but as Gibson himself admits, he was too busy to keep extensive diaries of that period.

The book is filled with interesting photos of Gibson’s Eddyville, N.Y., home and insights into his post-Shadow lifestyle (he liked to eat out). Gibson’s diaries express his frustrations over The Shadow reprint and movie efforts.

I have to admit when I ordered “Walter B. Gibson and The Shadow,” I thought for $45 this better be good (at least one pulp specialty dealer is offering it for $42 including shipping). The book is hardcover, but with no dustjacket, the full-color cover printed directly on the book. I was a bit disappointed to find a mere 160 pages of actual biography and not as much as I would have liked about The Shadow days (an appendix sets forth in detail Gibson’s father’s account of the Lincoln conspiracy trials). For die-hard fans of The Shadow or Gibson, however, this is one of those must-haves, no matter the cost.