Walter B. Gibson - Wizard of Words
by William V. Rauscher
The writer, like the priest, must be exempted from secular labor. His work needs a frolic health; he must be at the top of his condition.
Walter B. Gibson was a dear and respected friend for many years, and one of the most incredible, remarkable men I have ever known.
In the December 1985 issue of American Heritage, Paul Rosta refers to St. Nicholas Magazine in his article entitled "The Magazine That Taught Falkner, Fitzgerald, and Millay How To Write." He points out that when many of our greatest authors were children, they were first published in the pages of this magazine. So it was for a seven-year-old boy named Walter B. Gibson, whose first published work was a puzzle in the October 1905 issue. Walter's puzzle was entitled, "Enigma." This was his first literary effort, and read:
"(4) Change this figure to another system of notation and it will give the name of a rare old plant."
In Walter's young creative mind, he envisioned that if the number "(4)" is changed to the Roman Numeral IV, that was the name IVY, and that was a plant. This puzzle was the beginning of an enormous future output, yet to be realized by his many fans. From that time until his death on Friday, December 6, 1985, at 88 years of age in Benedictine Hospital, Kingston, New York, Walter provided the world with non-stop mental productivity and creative adventure. He has since left to the world one of the greatest outpourings of literary effort in the history of writing. Now he is gone, but his world of unusual books, articles and stories, along with the memory of his magnetic and compelling personality, remains.
Just as I read one of his books in my early teens, so others will read his works long into the future. Walter's contributions to the lives of generations to come will remain a constant.
In looking over the many shelves of his various works, I am reminded of Gilbert Highet's statement about books:
These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but MINDS alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice ... and just as the touch of a button on our set will fill the room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space, and hear him speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to heart.
Walter was born September 12, 1897 at 2:00 p.m. in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and was baptized Walter Brown. He was the son of Alfred Cornelius Gibson, who manufactured gas fixtures, and May (Whidden) Gibson. With Dr. Donlon and nurse Susan Appleton in attendance, Walter entered this world in the southeast corner room of his parents' home at 703 West Phil Elena Street in Germantown, Pennsylvania.
Walter's propensity for literary achievement was noted early in his career. He often referred to himself as a teenage bookworm. He also developed a very early interest in the art of magic. In 1905 he attended a party in Manchester, Vermont. He was given a string to follow, and told there was a surprise for him at the end of the string. There lay a trick box, and thus was born an interest in magic, which remained with him throughout his life.
Young Walter also enjoyed articles on magic in his favorite St. Nicholas Magazine. By 1912, when he was 15, he was seeking out magic shops. He also discovered that he loved mystery of all kinds. He wove this interest in magic and mystery throughout his writings, whether they were novels, puzzles, science, psychics, crime stories or books and articles about unique personalities.
Walter B. Gibson became the ideal example of a professional writer. He was a composite of many minds, centered in a generous and friendly personality. He truly enjoyed people and conversation, and he was constantly challenged by mental projects that found their way to his written pages. Creating fiction, nonfiction, almost any subject, posed a challenge for him, and he met each challenge with the same enthusiasm. Perhaps it might be a hardback book, or a booklet which detailed the lives of the presidents. It might be a book on Yoga, or How to Tie Knots, or Hypnotism Through the Ages. The range and breadth of subject matter which he tackled was vast, and his research retention ability was awesome. When publicity appeared on Halley's Comet, which made its appearance in 1986, Walter had already written of it years before. He once told me, "Bill, I would like to live to be 100 years old, so Willard Scott could mention it on the Today Show, but then again, I think I might like to go out on Halley's Comet like Mark Twain."
All the various rooms in Walter's home contained a typewriter. In some of those typewriters, pages of uncompleted articles or projects remained even at the time of his death. With so many typewriters in simultaneous operation, he could work upstairs or downstairs, and shift from one subject to another.
In 1912, Walter wrote a mystery story for the Wissahickon School Magazine of Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia, Pa. He held a great affection for this school, and often talked about his student days. In 1984 he said: "Eighty years ago I walked up the steps to class in Chestnut Hill Academy. You know what I want to do, Bill? I want to walk up those steps again and into that same classroom and say, 'Boys, here I am after 80 years, back again.' Oh, Bill, there is so much I want to do." Walter did return to Chestnut Hill Academy to perform magic for the students. He had an insatiable desire to accomplish. To work was to write, and to write was to make things happen. He had a sense of urgency about getting things done. Accomplishment took precedence. He was dominated by the need to be productive.
In 1916, while Walter was a student at the Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey, he won a literary prize for a mystery story called "The Romuda." Ex-president Taff handed out the prizes earned by seniors at the Peddie graduation, and told young Walter, "I hope your story will be the beginning of a long literary career."
After graduation from Peddie, Walter attended Colgate University. His first "real job" was in the insurance field, but still he continued to write. Between 1922 to 1931 he was a professional writer as a reporter with the Philadelphia North American, and later The Evening Ledger. His brother Theodore also attended Colgate, where he taught mathematics and wrote the Colgate song, titled "Fight For The Team."
An interesting incident related to his writing days in Philadelphia happened when I was with Walter in 1976, when we attended the Society of American Magicians' Convention in Philadelphia, Pa. The convention was headquartered in the Bellevue Stratford Hotel. On the second evening of the convention I joined Walter and a group for dinner. As the others left the table after dinner, Walter suddenly said, "Bill, come with me." We left the hotel and headed up the narrow side streets. Suddenly we were in front of a small building in which was housed a restaurant. Walter looked up at the front as if time vanished and said, "I lived here. That was my room right up there, and I wrote news articles and some Shadow stories here. Come on in!" We entered and the maitre d' at his standup desk said, "How many for dinner, sir?" Walter seemed to be right at home. Walking by him he replied, "That's okay, I used to have a room here, and I wrote some Shadow stuff here. That area up there was my room." Walter seemed to be right at home. Then he noticed three men were having dinner, went over to the table to sit with them, and casually began conversation. Before I knew it, Walter was telling them about the Shadow; they were hypnotized into listening, as if zapped by the fire opal in "The Shadow's" ring. One of the gentlemen was Harry Fox, the then Deputy Police Commissioner of Philadelphia, and a Shadow fan. Walter recounted a story about the Shadow's agent coming in on a train, and seeing a car go off the Girard Avenue Bridge. In the story the Shadow even strolled by the eagle at Wanamaker's Department Store in Philadelphia. (later purchased and now known as Lord and Taylor).
While with The Evening Ledger, Walter placed a series of daily "After Dinner Tricks" with the Ledger Syndicate. These articles consisted of 150 words each, with drawings. At its conception, he hoped the feature would last a year. It lasted three years, and led to a succession of daily features. Walter did 1,080 releases of "After Dinner Tricks," 940 releases of "A Puzzle a Day," 600 releases of "Teasers," which were a combination of puzzles and quizzes, 1,920 releases of "Brain Tests" which was the first popular version of Intelligence Quizzes, or IQ's with illustrations. He followed with 240 Intelligence Tests with illustrations. In addition there were 1,770 releases of "Magic Made Easy," and 150 releases of "A Trick A Day." This was in addition to constant releases of short series on Numerology, Crime Clues, and Science Questions. A total of 6,800 daily articles appeared at a rate of 680 a year. This may be an all-time record.
At the same time, Walter produced a weekly series 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 50 lessons in Magic for Howard Thurston, the premier magician of America. These were quarter-page newspaper articles. There were also an additional 26 articles on "Easy Magic You Can Do."
Then the Crossword Puzzle craze hit in 1924. Always aware of a new public interest, Walter turned out more than 2,000 daily puzzles for the Ledger Syndicate, and helped popularize the crossword puzzle for all time. He created 14 per week for 2 years, and thereafter, 8 per week. He also did 50 tabloid pages for his friend Thurston, as well as 20 pages for another friend, Blackstone the Magician. By the end of mid-1931 he had produced some 50 full pages of puzzles.
Between 1926 and 1932, Walter wrote the following books: 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. He also wrote the Book of Secrets under his own name, plus Houdini's Escapes and Houdini's Magic, compiled from Houdini's own notes. Many of his books have been continuously in print over the years.
To translate Walter's variety of writings into formal wordage is an impossible task.. Many of the articles depend on illustrations. Excluding books, his total output approaches the equivalent of 2,000,000 words. What makes this phenomenal output unique is not the number of words, but the number of articles.
In 1931 Walter switched from syndicate writing to mystery fiction. He accepted a year's contract to deliver four stories involving a character to be called "The Shadow." These were 75,000 word pulps. When the first two sold out, the publication was then published monthly. In March 1932 Walter was given a contract to deliver 1,440,000 words, which meant 24 stories at 60,000 words each, during the coming year. Then the magazine could be published twice a month. This was the largest output ever demanded in a single year that involved stories featuring a single mystery character. Walter completed the assignment in 10 months, and he did four more stories in the next two months, for a total that year of 1,680,000 words!
This achievement prompted the Corona Typewriter Company to use his accomplishment in an ad selling their typewriters. In 1933 Walter was pictured in a life-sized window display developed by Corona in New York City that proclaimed, "MAKING A RECORD WITH A RECORD-MAKER. TWO CHAMPIONS - THE CORONA AND THE SHADOW. Corona is a good typewriter, but Maxwell Grant is a great type writer -- and THE SHADOW is one of the most amazing types in all fiction."
In later years a headline summarized his Shadow story output by saying, "A Million Words A Year for Ten Straight Years." If the writing of these novels under Walter's pen name of Maxwell Grant is included, the actual average was much higher.
In March 1934 The Shadow Magazine became a monthly, and later it appeared every other month. Finally in the summer of 1949 it became a quarterly. By then Walter B. Gibson had written 282 Shadow novels as Maxwell Grant. It was only in the fifteenth year of writing "The Shadow" that he dropped below the million word a year average.
Walter also produced "The Shadow" comic scripts, along with 23 novelettes about a character called "Norgil the Magician," under the Maxwell Grant pseudonym. The novelettes totaled about 175,000 words. In 1946, under his own name, he created two 60,000 word mysteries entitled "A Blond For Murder," and "Looks That Kill."
The years 1946 to 1961 ushered in a new era in Walter's writing career. He was moving more and more into the book field, while at the same time creating true crime stories for Fact Detective Magazine. Many of his books were paperback handbooks, written under pen names. Other books were ghost written for people who were identified with specific fields, including Dunninger and Kreskin. Walter's fact crime stories ran close to 2,500,000 words. It is difficult to make a factual estimate of the total, so all books must be treated on an overall basis.
From 1961 on, Walter Gibson concentrated almost exclusively on books. Since most of these books can be listed, they can be counted on an overall basis covering more than 50 years -- from 1926, when his first hardcover book appeared, to 1985, when some of his works, including The Master Magicians and The Bunco Book, had been reissued. With some 125 titles, his word total runs from 6,250,000 words on a 30,000 average, to 7,500,000 on a 60,000 word average, with some of the larger volumes making up for the shorter books. Walter's actual wordage goes far beyond an estimated 29,000,000 total. He was certainly one of the most prolific authors of our time.
Walter used many pen names, but as Maxwell Grant he devised a special signature that became a trademark in his Shadow book autographs. This was a combination of "Walter B. Gibson" and "Maxwell Grant," woven together into one signature. Incidentally, the name "Maxwell Grant" was the result of his friendship with two magic dealers, Max Holden of New York and U. F. Grant of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Holden did a hand shadow act, and Grant did a shadow illusion.
In developing the character of "The Shadow," Walter said, "I needed an outstanding character, and I had been thinking of one who would be a mystery in himself, moving into the affairs of lesser folk much to their amazement. By combining Houdini's penchant for escapes with the hypnotic power of Tibetan mystics, plus the knowledge shared by Thurston and Blackstone in the creation of illusions, such a character would have unlimited scope when confronted by surprise situations, yet all could be brought within the range of credibility."
And so it was. Walter used his talent as a magician to implement his character. The editors were intrigued with his ideas, and so when Walter was 33 years old, he began his first novel.
Walter enjoyed going to comic book conventions and pulp conventions, and always wore his Shadow ring with its inscription inside from Lamont Cranston. I attended a pulp convention with Walter in 1981 in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and he was intrigued by the high prices being asked for original Shadow pulp novels. He delighted in signing his Shadow Scrapbook and Houdini Scrapbook, along with the original pulp novels, and watched them being sold at that time more than for $30.00 each. He reminisced back to 1963 when he told The New York Post, "The old idea of an avenging figure is just as good today as it ever was...The best mysteries always have centered around one character. Look at Sherlock Holmes, and Bram Stoker's Dracula."
Walter Gibson's special worlds created a kind of paradox in his personality. The real Walter was a day-to-day man of accomplishment. He was a man who lived in a world of inner visual situations that could be emptied by written words. Yet there was also an impractical side of Walter - a man who could not function in making repairs, building, cooking, or even remembering where he had left his coat. He once said, "I do not hammer nails. I cannot put up storm windows. If I mess up my hands, I am in real trouble. They have to be able to write and to type."
Walter was a man who chose interesting side roads instead of a direct route. He would say, "Let's go this way - it's shorter" - which it really wasn't, but it was more interesting! Once while going over the hills near Mohonk Mountain House, New York, we passed under some trees. Walter commented: "Boy, this is like going through the enchanted forest." He himself was an enchanting man, and wove this enchantment into his characters. Whether it was Norgil the Magician, who solved crimes long before a magic theme in a television crime show had ever been used, or Blackstone Magic Detective Comics, there was always mystery in Walter's writings. There were scripts for comics as teaching tools on commercial, industrial, scientific and political subjects. There were radio scripts for The Avenger, Nick Carter, Chick Crater and Frank Merriwell. So many of his novels had wonderful titles, like The Riddle of the Rangoon Ruby, Murder by Moonlight and Blackmail Bay.
Walter will be remembered in many ways by many people, but mostly by the general public for those famous words first spoken on September 26, 1937 on radio by then 22-year-old Orson Welles as "The Shadow," when he intoned in a sinister fashion: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows." Do you remember the chilling laugh? I do, because as a boy I waited each week for that radio program. I even sent for a "Shadow Ring," and can still hear the voice of the Shadow in my mind today! Little did I realize I would one day know the author personally, and at the end conduct his funeral.
As a writer, Walter felt when he worked he "entered a timeless sort of dimension. It is almost as though time stands still. The stories just come out of nowhere." So they did, just as the many characters he created, and the many names he adopted for himself: Walter B. Gibson, John Abbington, Andy Adams, Ishi Black, Douglas Brown, C. B. Crowe, Felix Fairfax, Wilber Gaston, Maxwell Grant, Maborushi Kineji, Gautier LeBrun, Rufus Perry, and P. L. Raymond.
For Walter, output meant money. Although much of the public is under the impression that writing is easy, in reality a writer's life is difficult. In the March 1941 issue of Writers' Digest, Walter offered certain suggestions regarding his own output of "The Shadow":
I have found out certain points regarding my own output. Here they are:
Working hours: I tried getting up at a reasonable or stated hour, to approach writing like a regular job. No good. Experience proved that I wasted the extra time I could have slept, and became tired earlier.
Peak of Progress: Roughly, after the first two thousand words, I begin to approach the peak, and reach it between three and four thousand. Generally good through five thousand, and sometimes longer.
Pauses: Whenever I want them, even when unjustifiable. The latter type encourage a return to work, with greater zeal.
Time to Quit: Never, until after the peak has been reached, though long pauses can be inserted, such as going somewhere to dinner, a party, or a show. Such excursions, however, must be made with intent to resume work upon return. After the peak, I quit whenever I want.
Reward for Merit: When writing, I take the fun first, and pay up for it. This has given me discrimination and wariness regarding fun.
In breaking off, I follow a method which I believe has been frequently suggested: that of quitting in the middle of a chapter, often in the middle of a paragraph, or even a sentence. Once when a car was tooting for me to go somewhere, I couldn't wait to put another page in the typewriter, so I ended up in the middle of a hyphenated word. In picking up the next day I found it was very easy, perhaps because of the novelty. I often end work when I pull out a page, regardless of whether the sentence has ended.
When I finish a story, I put a new page in the typewriter, and begin on the next. I regard it as a sure-fire system to keep up output. Every writer is bound to have something in him upon completion of a story that will be of value, if he uses it right then.
This plan, judging from tests that I have made, is more applicable to the short story than the novel length.
One Wednesday I had the best of all excuses. Trying to start the next story outline, I couldn't find an idea to go with it. It was a really tough nut that would take a few days to crack. The day was lousy, and I felt the same. I was in Maine, and unless I mailed the synopsis the next afternoon, John wouldn't get it until Monday, since the office is closed Saturday. So I gave myself a complete out and began to read a magazine that was around the house.
In it I found an article by a successful writer of mystery stories. It told how the source of inspiration, or what have you, can go dead or latent, leaving a writer more or less helpless until it returns. My agreement was so absolute, that it suddenly changed to horror. I was acknowledging a luxury that I couldn't afford. I went back to the typewriter, drove through the outline, and into the synopsis. The works was in the mail on Thursday, and the OK arrived Saturday. By Monday, I was deep into the story, a breeze to write from that synopsis.
Which proves that one source of inspiration is a good, swift, self-delivered kick in the pants.
Someone might answer this by telling me: "Maybe you don't need much inspiration, writing for your market."
I need just as much as if I were writing for another, because I'm not writing for any market. I have always written for readers, and have found it valuable to continue that policy. It keeps a writer from going stale, enables him to follow any trend, and sometimes to start one.
Asked if he enjoyed being a writer, Walter said: "I'd rather do any of a thousand other things. But whatever job I took, I'd spoil all the fun of it by wanting to write. So there it stands."
How this prolific author was able to turn out the Shadow stories at the rate recorded remains a mystery in itself.. There were times when he could not write fast enough to empty himself of the story. One such instance is mentioned in a May 15, 1937 article in the World Telegram.
"I did my most rapid story of all, however, in Michigan when I was a house guest. I wrote in the living room with the radio playing, three people talking and some others standing beside the typewriter to read each page as I knocked it out."
On Page Six of the hardback edition, The Weird Adventures of the Shadow, published by Grosset & Dunlap in 1966, Walter relates,
"One factor helped spark the stories. By keeping a dozen ahead I became so involved in new plots and situations, day and night, that when an issue came out I even enjoyed reading it; I often found myself wrapped up in a story that I had already forgotten."
What kind of feeling did Walter project in the character of The Shadow? Perhaps the enclosed quote from his story called "Grove of Doom" will help introduce a new generation to socialite Lamont Cranston, who becomes "Master of the Night"-
The disappearance of the detective, like that of Walter Pearson, was still a mystery; yet its occurrence did not pass unnoticed. One man, whose eagle gaze was fixed upon the grove, inferred that some disaster had taken place within the widespread beeches.
Lamont Cranston, on an upper fairway, commanded an angled view that enabled him to see all the land sides of the grove. His eyes watched the thirteenth fairway; they gazed toward Harvey Chittenden's estate of Lower Beechview; and at regular intervals they were focused upon the spot where Merrick should have come forth on his journey to the clubhouse.
Ending his round of golf, Lamont Cranston rested on the clubhouse veranda. For a full hour he had maintained close vigil upon that distant acreage of woods. He had seen Calvin Merrick enter; he had not seen the man emerge.
Afternoon was waning; soon twilight crept over the placid scene. Two hours and a half had passed since Calvin Merrick had gone into the grove of doom. Then did Lamont Cranston cease his watch. He entered the dining room and ordered dinner. He spoke to the attendant.
"I am arranging to stay here at the club," said Cranston. "Tell the clerk to have a room assigned to me."
In the evening, when soft moonlight spread its glow above the burnished beeches, Lamont Cranston went indoors and upstairs to his room. There, from a suitcase which he had brought with him, the calm-faced man brought forth two garments. One was a long black cloak, the other a slouch hat.
Donning these clothes, Cranston took on a strange, sinister appearance. His figure no longer possessed a human bearing. It was a form that might well have been conjured from another world.
White hands emerged from the folds of the cloak. Upon one finger of the left hand glistened a shining, mysterious gem of ever-changing hues. It was a rare fire opal, or girasol - the single jewel that symbolized The Shadow.
Black gloves slipped over the long, slender hands. Two automatics came into view, to be buried beneath the folds of the cloak. A hand invisibly extinguished the single light in the room. Completely obscured by darkness, the tall figure in black glided to the hallway and down the stairs.
A few minutes later, an almost imperceptible swish sounded as the cloaked being crossed the veranda. People were there, but none say the mystic personage in their midst. A patch of black flitted across the moonbathed grass. It was like the shadow of a passing cloud; unnoticed, despite the fact that the sky was cloudless.
That phantom shape glided on, down toward the mysterious grove.
A strange personage was at work tonight. A being of invisibility was setting forth to follow the course that had taken two men to their doom.
Beside the thirteenth green the flitting shape merged with the blackness beneath the fringe of overhanging beeches. No eye could have noted that absorption, no ear could have heard the slightest sound.
Lamont Cranston, guest at the Beechview Club, was temporarily absent. He had vanished, but a new presence had arrived. The Shadow, figure of darkness, had ventured forth into impenetrable gloom to seek the answer to the mystery that lay within the grove of beeches!
Where two men had dared by day and died, a single being was advancing through the darkness of night. The Shadow knew no fear!
Could he elude the clutch of death?
There was a somewhat prophetic element that makes a subtle appearance in many of these stories. Walter felt the faculty of memory also had psychic ability. In 1976, he told reporter Clair Huff, "Memory does not only concern things we remember from the past. It contains events of the future as well."
Walter often said a lot of his stories came out of nowhere. He related, "Often when writing mysteries I picked up ideas psychically of things that really did happen in the future." Once, long ago, while racing to cover the collapse of a local bridge with 30 people standing on it, Walter met and exclusively interviewed President Warren Harding who "just happened" to be passing on his way to Atlantic City.
In his stories, he created among many things - robot masterminds, suction cups for scaling walls; the use of the autogiro, predecessor of the helicopter; characters like Genghis Khan, who like the personalities in Bond stories and in Superman wanted to take over the world; searchlights that projected darkness instead of light, and in "Black Hush" had criminals using it to black out portions of New York (like the great blackout in 1977). Thee was also a remote radio system in The Shadow's house, an early example of a digital clock, and the use of mind power to cloud other people's thoughts. Last but not least, Walter developed the power of invisibility for his characters.
His interest in magic, friendship with the leading magicians of the past century, and a complete knowledge of stage magic, lifted his creative mind to even higher levels. Walter's talent and creative use of magic was always recognized by the magic fraternity, and in 1971 The Academy of Magical Arts awarded Walter a Literary Fellowship. In 1979 he was awarded the Masters Fellowship.
Walter's general view of life was positive, because he was a positive person. He said, "I live in positives. Time does not mean anything to me. I can be awake and still think I am talking with Houdini. It is all so real to me." He was truly a master of imagination with a computer brain, and seemed to possess the power of total recall. His variety of life experiences, along with the many interesting people who crossed his path, were all catalogued in his memory bank, and could be summoned on command/ In his mind he wove these experiences with real memories, and brought back the past in a colorful manner.
Walter could converse on a great variety of subjects, and in fact at times it was difficult to stop him from offering a full account of any subject mentioned in casual conversation. If you spoke of a United States President, he knew the man's entire history, and delighted in telling about it. His knowledge of a variety of subjects, including the Bible, was limitless.
In later years, his enjoyment of others centered around the telephone. Walter constantly called his friends, who were amazed at his alertness. They forgot his age, because Walter never dwelled on negatives. He waxed bold on historical happenings, and he shared his knowledge and experience freely. His friends will be ever grateful for those many times when their telephone rang, and instead of talking about the weather or his aches and pains, Walter related experience after interesting experience. He was generous with interviews, taping sessions, television programming, film producers and reporters. Walter shared. Walter gave.
A 380-page book of his works is still available, entitled Man of Magic and Mystery: A Guide to the Work of Walter B. Gibson by J. Randolph Cox, published by Scarecrow Press, Metuchen, New Jersey and London, 1988. This was a major effort to attempt a list of everything Walter wrote in his lifetime, which was an awesome task since Walter himself told me that even he did not know of everything he wrote. There is enough in that volume to substantiate Gibson as a prolific writer beyond belief.
In this life, Walter had a great blessing -- a devoted wife named Litzka, whom he married on August 24, 1949. She was herself a writer, a musician, a performer, a businesswoman and wife, and was the companion on whom Walter totally depended in his best years, and in his declining years. He called her "Angel," and she was a ministering one who surely earned her wings. Litzka had previously toured the world with The Great Raymond (her second husband), and was well acquainted with the realm of magic. She and Walter were not only a magical partnership, but a literary one as well. Their home in Eddyville, New York was a testament to an intellectual world, a productive and varied life, with friendships all over the globe.
The time came when frequent travel was no longer possible, but as Walter envisioned: "I do not travel around the world now, the world travels around me." Walter's body eventually failed, but his mind remained as keen as that of a young man. Apparently he was destined to live for many years - his sister, Helen, lived to be 99 years old. In his case the onset of physical disability frustrated him. The simple acts of moving about and writing became a dilemma for a man who could no longer accomplish what his mind craved. "I have to start a magazine." "I have to go to New York to see some people at Doubleday." "I should write the Blackstone story." "I have to call John Henry Grossman." "I have to get my nephew, Wendel, to take me to the Peddie School reunion." "They want me to speak in Chicago." and then, "My hands won't type." "My eyes are going." "I can't go upstairs." "I have never known such frustration as not being able to do something." "I don't need a nurse, I need a secretary."
Finally, Walter telephoned late one night. "Bill, I am in an awful mess. Right now I don't know whether to get up or to get down. I don't know whether to let the cat in or to let the cat out. I don't know whether to go to sleep or to stay awake. And besides that, every night about 3:00 a.m. Litzka makes me cocoa. I guess I will just stay awake and wait for my cup of cocoa."
After his death, tributes poured in from hundreds of friends, each feeling a special affection for the Wizard of Words. On Saturday, January 11, 1986 I, along with The Rev. Canon Robet J. Lewis, conducted a memorial service for Walter in St. John's Episcopal Church in Kingston, New York. Walter had touched the lives of so many people in such a variety of interests, and each somehow felt Walter belonged to them personally. In reality, Walter belonged to all.
Walter's death ended one of the last links with what has been termed "The Golden Age of Magic." Walter could not only do magic - he was magic. His interest in magic characterized his entire life. Cesareo R. Pelaez, who was then president of the Society of American Magicians, summarized the feelings of all the magicians of the world when he wrote the following to Litzka:
All magical hearts are with you today. We mourn the loss of one of the great writers of magic, indeed perhaps the greatest writer that Magic will ever know. Walter B. Gibson was a giant who walked with us for a time. Even as we grieve his loss, we celebrate the phenomenal legacy which he has endowed to all those who follow in his footsteps. On behalf of the National Council and of the worldwide membership of the Society of Magicians, please accept our sincere condolences and the assurance of our enduring affections for you and for the memory of Walter Gibson.
Walter left this world on St. Nicholas Day, December 6, 1985 - an appropriate day for his demise. He was a indeed a kind of St. Nicholas person - somewhat childlike, generous, great company, conservative, sharing, easy to be with, and easy to love. Walter was a wonderful friend I shall always remember, and shall always miss.
Will Murray, "The Shadow" historian, once said: "Walter consorted with legends, and created a legend." Now Walter, too, has become a legend.