Walter B. Gibson
and compiled by George Knowles
Walter Brown Gibson was a stage magician, prolific author, and
creator of The Shadow
character for a fictional detective/crime series of which he wrote
some 283 out of 325 novels. Gibson also wrote more than 187 books on such diverse subjects
as: magic, psychic phenomena,
hypnotism, spiritualism, astrology, mind
games, true crimes, mysteries, judo
and ju-jitsu, paper-craft,
rope knots, yoga and more...
Gibson was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on the 12th
September 1897, his parents were Alfred Cornelius Gibson, a wealthy manufacturer
of gas fitting equipment, and his wife May Gibson (nee Whidden).
Being fairly well to do, May Gibson gave birth her son attended by Dr.
Donlon and a nurse called Susan Appleton in their own home at 703 West Phil
Elena Street, Germantown, Pennsylvania.
Gibson’s interest in magic began at an early age,when in
1905 at the age of 8, he attended a birthday party in Manchester, Vermont.
During the party games that followed he was given a string to follow and
told there would be a surprise for him at the end of it.
There was, at the end of the string he found a trick box, and so started
his life long interest in magic and mysteries.
Throughout his early teens Gibson devoured all he could find about magic
and spent hours entertaining his family
By 1912 Gibson was seeking out magic shops and had also
developed a passion for mystery books. At
school he showed a particular propensity for literature and writing, and wrote
his first mystery story “The Hidden Will” for the Wissahickon School
Magazine of Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia. Later in 1916, while a student at Peddie School in
Hightstown, New Jersey, he won a literary prize for a mystery story called
“The Romuda”. When ex-president
William Howard Taft (the 27th president of the USA 1909-13) was invited to hand
out prizes to senior students on graduation day, he said to Gibson “I hope
your story will be the beginning of a long literary career”.
After graduating from Peddie School, Gibson attended
Colgate University in the Village
of Hamilton, Madison County, New York, but left
before graduating to join a carnival and perform magic.
His first real job was in the insurance business, but his main
interest continued to be magic and writing.
In efforts to combine the two, he quit insurance and started out on a
career as a reporter. From 1922 to
1931 he wrote for the Philadelphia North American and later for the syndicated
Evening Ledger. He also freelanced editing a magic magazine called The Seven Circles
while contributing mystery stories to others magazines like True Strange
This was the golden age of the stage magician and magic
entertainment in America, and Gibson covered
all the major magic shows in the city. He wrote about such big name performers as
Howard Thurston (1869-1936), Harry
Blackstone (1885-1965), Joseph
Dunninger (1892 - 1975) and
Harry Houdini (1874-1926).
He also ghost wrote articles and books on
magic and spiritualism for them
using a variety of pennames and pseudonyms.
While working at the Evening Ledger, Gibson wrote a series of
daily “After Dinner Tricks”, which were placed with the Ledger Syndicate.
These consisted of about 150 words each with illustrations.
When he started these he had hoped the feature would last a year, but it
proved so successful it lasted three years and led to a succession of other
daily features spanning the next ten years to 1931.
Gibson’s out-put was prolific, over the next ten years he
produce 1,080 “After Dinner Tricks” features, 940 “A Puzzle a Day”
features, 600 “Teasers” combining puzzles and quizzes, 1,920 “Brain Tests
or Intelligence Quizzes” with illustrations, and 240 “Intelligence Tests”
with illustrations. He also wrote
1,770 “Magic Made Easy” features and 150 “A Trick A Day” features.
At the same time he was producing short features stories on Crime,
Numerology and Science. In total he produced 6,800 daily articles that appeared at a
rate of 680 a year.
Not content with writing daily’s, Gibson also wrote numerous
weekly feature articles consisting of 50 articles on “Miracles - Ancient and
Modern”, 50 articles on “Bunco Games to Beware Of”, 16 articles on
“Master Mysteries of Magic”, 16 articles on “Human Enigmas” and 26
articles on “Easy Magic You Can Do”. In
addition, for his friend Howard Thurston (1869-1936) who at the time was the
premier stage magician in America, he wrote “50 lessons in Magic” and an
additional 50 tabloid pages about him. He
also wrote another 20 tabloid pages for his other stage magician friend, Harry
Between 1926 and 1932, Gibson also wrote a number books using
various pen names or pseudonyms, such as:
“The World’s Best Book of Magic”, Thurston’s “200
Tricks You Can Do” and “200 More Tricks You Can Do”,
Blackstone’s “Secrets of Magic” and “Modern Card Tricks”.
Under his own name he wrote: “The
Book of Secrets”, “Houdini’s Escapes” and “Houdini’s
Magic”, which he compiled from Houdini’s own notes.
Many of his books have been continuously in print over the years.
In 1931 Gibson was
approached by the pulp fiction magazine publisher Street & Smith, who
wanted a writer to produce a
pulp magazine series called “The Shadow”, based on the character of a
popular “Detective Radio Drama”. He was asked to create a pen name for the Shadow’s author
rather than use his own name, so that other authors could be used to write
the stories without confusing the readers.
This suited Gibson, who was by then a known author of non-fiction, and
preferred to use pseudonyms
for his fictional work, so for the Shadow
he adopted the pen name Maxwell Grant.
Initially he was given a year contract to deliver four
quarterly pulp book stories of 75,000 words, but when the first two editions of
“The Shadow” quickly sold out, the publication was turned into
monthly. In March 1932 he was given
another contract to deliver 24 stories at 60,000 words each, which enabled “The
Shadow” to be published twice a month.
This was the largest output ever demanded of a writer in a single year,
more particularly as it involved stories featuring a single character.
Gibson completed the assignment in 10 months, and added four more stories
in the remaining two months. In the
following ten years Gibson produced over 280 pulp novels about the Shadow.
Through all this time he maintained an estimated 1 Million words a year in his annual
& Smith publisher’s -
Composing room -
Gibson was such a prolific man of words by this time that his
achievements prompted the Corona Typewriter Company to use him in an
advertisement for selling their typewriters.
In 1933 Gibson was pictured in a life-sized window display developed by
Corona in New York City:
A RECORD WITH A RECORD-MAKER.
CHAMPIONS - THE CORONA AND THE SHADOW.
Corona is a good typewriter, but Maxwell Grant
is a great type writer
THE SHADOW is one of the most amazing types in
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, it was Gibson’s
prolific writing that kept the publishing firm of Street & Smith in
business. Gibson wrote the Shadow
stories under the pseudonym of Maxwell
Grant, but as they were written under contract, he didn’t own copyright
to them. As Gibson moved on to
other writing projects, so other authors
used the Maxwell Grant pen name: Theodore
Tinsley wrote 27 Shadow stories between 1936 and 1943, and Bruce Elliott wrote
15 Shadow stories between 1946 and 1948. After
eighteen years and 325 issues, The Shadow ceased publication in 1949.
However, due to the success and popularity of the books, Gibson
later sued Street & Smith for more royalties, settling out of court for
Throughout his writing career Gibson used many pen names, some
say as many as 60, as well as Maxwell
Grant, a name he devised from his friendship with two stage magicians, Max
Holden of New York and U. F. Grant of Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Holden did a hand shadow act, while Grant did a shadow illusion.
Among the many other names he adopted for himself were:
John Abbington, Andy Adams, Ishi Black, Douglas Brown, C. B. Crowe, Felix
Fairfax, Wilber Gaston, Maborushi Kineji, Gautier LeBrun, Rufus Perry and P. L.
After the war Gibson
became occupied with other projects, and from 1946 became more involved
with writing books, while at the same time contributing crime stories for
Fact Detective Magazine. Many of
the books he produced were paperbacks, written under his many pen names.
Under his own name he wrote two mystery books called “A Blond For Murder”
and “Looks That Kill”.
Over the next few years
he also wrote books about magic, children’s novels and short mystery stories.
Among his more popular books during this period was a series of 23
crime novelettes with a magical theme, for which he created another fictional
character called “Norgil the Magician” (re-issued in 1977).
He also wrote scripts for popular radio dramas, which included:
The Avenger, Nick Carter, Chick Crater and Frank Merriwell, as well as
scripts to be used as teaching tools on commercial, industrial, scientific and
On the 24th August 1949 Gibson married his third
wife Litzka Raymond.
Litzka was an author in her own right; she was also a musician (a harpist), a stage performer and a businesswoman.
She had previously toured the world performing with The Great Raymond
(her second husband), making her well acquainted with Gibson’s world of magic.
She and Gibson not only had a magical relationship, but a literary one as
They made their home in a large farmhouse in Eddyville, New
York, which soon became the center of their intellectual and productive life.
All the various rooms in the house contained a typewriter reserved for
each type of book he was working on. With
so many typewriters in simultaneous operation, he could work upstairs or
downstairs, and shift from one subject to another.
with third wife Litzka
Shortly after they were married, and to commemorate the end of
his Shadow books, Litzka had a ring custom-made for her husband.
It was designed to resemble a fire opal, or girasol ring that the Shadow
had received decades earlier as a gift from the Czar of Russia whom he had
befriended. The ring was a regularly mentioned element in many of the
Shadow stories and was often prominently featured on its magazine covers.
Litzka commissioned the ring to be crafted from sterling silver, with a
glass stone that was amber in colour with a touch of red.
She then had the ring inscribed with the words “Walter B. Gibson From
Lamont Cranston”. Gibson loved
the gift, and he wore it to every public function.
custom-made “Shadow Ring”
next 20 years Gibson
and Litzka worked together writing and publishing many books on magic and a
whole host of other subjects. Perhaps
their best-known collaboration was “The Complete Illustrated Book of the
Psychic Sciences” (1966). Some
of Litzka’s own books were “How to Read Palms”, “Lessons in
Palmistry” and “Care of the Hair and Hairdos”.
Litzka also used the pen
name of Leona Lehman,
under which she wrote
“Latin American Dances” and “Dancing for All Occasions”.
From 1961 through to his death in 1985, Gibson concentrated
almost exclusively on books. From
1926 to 1985 when his first hardcover book appeared, Gibson wrote a total of 187
books, some of which continue to be re-issued.
He also contributed 668 articles
to periodicals, created 283 stories of The Shadow, wrote 48 syndicated
feature columns, reported the adventures of the Shadow and Harry Blackstone in
394 comic books and newspaper strips, helped develop 147 radio scripts, and
created many other works under various pseudonyms. Among his better-known books are: The Master Magicians and The Bunco Book,
which continue to be re-issued, plus: The Complete Illustrated Book of Card
Magic (1969), Popular Card Tricks (1972), Secrets of Magic
(1973), New Magician's Manual (1975), The Book of Magic
(1978), Walter Gibson's Big Book of Magic (1980).
Gibson’s whole life had always been about magic and mystery,
and in his writings developed a deep interest in natural phenomena and the
psychic sciences. From his
friendship with the leading magicians of the day, he had gained a complete
knowledge of stage magic, which helped to lift his creative mind to higher
levels. His knowledge and use of
magic was even recognized by the elite magic fraternity, and in 1971 the
Academy of Magical Arts awarded him a Literary Fellowship, which they followed in
1979 by awarding him a Masters Fellowship.
At the age of 88 years on Friday the 06th
December 1985, Walter Brown Gibson died at a
Benedictine Hospital in Kingston, New York. Sometime after his
death, Litzka, then aged 84
herself, had the un-enviable task of sorting through and cleaning out her
husband’s many years worth of collecting and performing mementos.
On top of which her first husband had also left many items to her, and
then there was her own magic act paraphernalia left over from her performance
days. Many of these items filled
the house and a big barn to overflowing and so her only recourse was to call in
the auctioneers to oversee a house clearance sale.
The sale of the Gibson estate contents attracted much attention
from fans and collectors alike. Many
of the items sold were from Gibson’s magazine and book collection, and at
least a dozen collectors now own one of his many typewriters.
Jim Steranko (the American
graphic artist, comic book writer-artist-historian, better known for his
comic-book work with the 1960’s superspy feature “Nick Fury, Agent of
S.H.I.E.L.D”, who had illustrated the book covers for the 1977 reprints of Norgil
the Magician pulp magazine stories), bought an important one-of-a-kind
item, a custom-built writing desk that Gibson had used for decades. The one item left by Gibson that Litzka
could not bare to sell, was the iconic Shadow Ring that she gifted away to a
friend. More recently however, that same ring together with several
other items was sold on an Internet auction for $9,000.00.
Reference Library Copyright (c) 1996 Helicon Publishing and Penguin Books Ltd
Microsoft ® Encarta ®
2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Written and compiled on
the 06th February 2008 © George Knowles
wishes and Blessed Be
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Ady / Vera Chapman /
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