John Archer; Actor, Radio Announcer Who Uttered Introduction to ‘The Shadow’


John Archer, one of the many radio announcers who intoned the indelible radio introduction, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” and who as an actor appeared in one of the first science fiction films, has died. He was 84.

Archer died Sunday in Redmond, Wash., of lung cancer, said publicist Deborah Kelman.

Answering his own momentous question with, “The Shadow knows” and the show’s signature menacing laugh, Archer announced “The Shadow” weekly crime drama from a New York City theater for several months in 1944 and 1945.

He kept none of the scripts from the show, which ran from 1930 to 1954 and featured such luminaries as Orson Welles and Agnes Moorhead. But when a friend gave him a script in 1991, he signed and noted copies for the Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound to sell for $100 each.


“As we finished each page of a radio script, we dropped it on the floor,” Archer told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at the time. “Who knew that pile of litter would be valuable someday?”

When Archer read the Shadow’s introductory remarks in an offstage echo chamber, he was already a radio veteran. He got his start in that medium and returned to it for decades to support his work on film and stage.

Born Ralph Bowen in Osceola, Neb., Archer studied cinematography at UCLA, but graduated during the Depression when few entertainment jobs were available. He worked as an exterminator and an aerial photographer until a director saw him in a Los Angeles restaurant and invited him to an on-air audition.

The radio show was “Gateway to Hollywood” in 1938, which for 13 weeks featured two newcomers performing a play with an established celebrity. The two winners in the talent contest earned an RKO Radio Pictures contract. Archer and actress Alice Eden won the contracts and appeared together in “Career,” a film released in 1939 starring Anne Shirley and Edward Ellis.

Archer got leading roles in B pictures and smaller parts in major productions, including “Guadalcanal Diary” in 1943 and “White Heat” in 1949 with James Cagney. Hoping that Broadway credits would enhance his Hollywood appeal, he sought roles on the New York stage and starred in such shows as “One Man Show,” “Strange Bedfellows” and the musical “The Day Before Spring.”

But in his early career he still relied on radio to pay the rent. In addition to “The Shadow,” his voice was heard on radio’s “The FBI in Peace and War” and a daily soap opera called “Amanda of Honeymoon Hill.”


In 1950, Archer had the leading role in the pioneering science fiction film “Destination Moon.” Co-scripted by sci-fi author Robert Heinlein, the film won an Academy Award for special effects. It was a favorite of Archer’s.

“The moonscape was fabulous,” he said in 1991, “and we moved on wires to simulate weightlessness.”

Archer appeared in the film “Sherlock Holmes in Washington” opposite his first wife, actress Marjorie Lord, who is best remembered as Danny Thomas’ second wife in the popular television series “Make Room for Daddy.”

Among Archer’s more than 50 films were “Ten Thousand Bedrooms,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “City of Fear,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Apache Rifles,” “I Saw What You Did” and “How to Frame a Figg.”

Archer also ventured into television in such movies as the 1976 “Amelia Earhart” and in frequent appearances on such durable series as “Perry Mason” and “Bonanza.”

He is survived by his wife of 43 years, Ann; their children, John and Lisa Archer; and two children from his marriage to Lord, Gregg Archer and Oscar-nominated actress Anne Archer.


The family said Archer requested that no services be held.