The Shadow of Fu Manchu

A gong sounds and Gerald Mohr ominously intones “The Shadow…of Fooo ManChoo.”

There is a long period of eerie organ music at the beginning and end of each episode; this is because the show was recorded for Syndication. The long organ music is space for the local announcer to make his plug.

During the period following the Boxer Rebellion, the West was filled with fears of “the Yellow Peril.” The Rebellion had been pushed by a Secret Society, and there was a dread of these Societies gaining influence in the Chinatowns of American and European cities.

Author Sax Rohmer became familiar with the reputation of “Mr. King” in London’s Asian districts. Supposedly, Mr. King had a piece of the action in most illegal activities in the district; at the mention of King’s name, Chinese merchants became visibly terrified. Rohmer used Mr. King as the inspiration for his master villain, Fu Manchu.

Dr. Fu Manchu had an incredible intellect, and an incredible invisible empire. Dr. Fu had “all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources… of a wealthy government, which… has denied all knowledge of his existence… Dr. Fu Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.”

Fu Manchu would become the model for many arch villains: Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon, Lo-Pan from Big Trouble in Little China, Dr. Yen-Lo in The Manchurian Candidate, and James Bond’s adversary, Dr. No.

The Fu Manchu stories would be serialized in Collier’s Magazine in 1913. The first of several radio incarnations of the stories would be on The Collier Hour over the Blue Network starting in 1927. Probably the most popular incarnation was the syndicated The Shadow of Fu Manchu, recorded in the winter of 1938-39. Lou Marcelle, the uncredited narrator of the film Casablanca, played the evil Doctor. The actor’s identity was hidden for many years, until identified by radio historian Elizabeth McLeod in 2002. Two well known character actors took the roles of Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie: Hanley Stanford of Blondie and Baby Snooks; and Gale Gordon, Mayor LaTrivia of Fibber McGee and Molly and Principal Osgood in Our Miss Brooks. Paula Winslow played the lovely and seductive Karamaneh (one of Fu’s most dangerous agents, Karamaneh was sold as a slave to the Dr. as a child. She falls in love with Dr. Petrie and saves our heroes many times.) Gerald Mohr (The Adventures of Philip Marlowe) narrated and played several small roles.

Much of Fu Manchu seems less than politically correct, especially as China is becoming an important trading partner, and given the great contributions of Chinese-Americans. But the Fu Manchu stories are a product of their times.

In the end, The Shadow of Dr. Fu Manchu is diabolical fun in a grand criminal manner.

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