Today in History: Martians Invaded Earth (Theatrically Speaking)
On October 30, 1938 — 76 years ago today — a 23-year old Orson Welles caused nationwide panic among some radio listeners when he presented a theatrical radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’s 19th century science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds
, updated from its original setting in Victorian England to the U.S. and delivered mostly as breaking news.
Although the radio show began by describing what was about to occur as a presentation of this novel, many people tuned in a bit late and only heard “breaking news” that sounded to them like reality — Martians were invading the Earth and firing “heat-rays” and releasing poisonous gas after being shot at by National Guard troops. The Martians landed in a field in Grovers Mills, New Jersey, quickly annihilated 7,000 National Guardsmen who had attacked them, then moved on to Chicago and St. Louis. The acting by Welles’s team was so good that some listeners believed the fictional news announcers were terrified by what was happening and panic spread quickly throughout the nation. In retrospect, some analysts have concluded that few people were actually panicked by the broadcast, but that newspapers inflamed the idea of a nationwide panic by printing exaggerated stories.
Because the radio show caused such an uproar, at least in the competitive newspaper press, the Federal Communications Commission investigated the program; but it found no wrongdoing. Nonetheless, Orson Welles feared that the controversy over this broadcast would ruin his career. But what happened was that the notoriety generated by this particular broadcast helped him secure a contract with a Hollywood studio where, in 1941, he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in Citizen Kane
— a movie that many critics have called the greatest film in the history of American cinema.
•_War of the Worlds_ Radio Broadcast: Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" Radio Broadcast
•Orson Welles apologizes: George Orson Welles apologizes for the The War of the Worlds broadcast (October 31 1938)
•Orson Welles interviewed by Dick Cavett: Orson Welles bitches about Harry Cohn
•YouTube interviewed by Merv Griffin: Orson Welles' Last Interview (Merv Griffin Show 1985)
•YouTube interviewed by Michael Parkinson: Orson Welles - Interview (1974)
•New York Time headline: http://20thcenturyhistory.blogspot.com/2010/10/october-30th-orson-welles-terrifies.html
•Daily News headline: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/history/2013/10/orson_welles_war_of_the_worlds_panic_myth_the_infamous_radio_broadcast_did.html
•Herald Examiner headline: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-8Z89D2rdLT4/UnFfkeZBAyI/AAAAAAAAkqw/aANJipw0kyQ/s400/war+of+the+worlds.jpg
•Boston Daily Globe headline: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-8Z89D2rdLT4/UnFfkeZBAyI/AAAAAAAAkqw/aANJipw0kyQ/s400/war+of+the+worlds.jpg
•Wilmington Morning News headline: http://delmarvahistory.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/wilmington-war-of-worlds-broadcasting.jpg
•The Frederick Post headline: http://www.rarenewspapers.com/view/578001
•Orson Welles delivering broadcast: http://0.tqn.com/y/history1900s/1/L/X/I/1/waroftheworlds.jpg