ORSON WELLES: We know now that in the early years of the 20th century, this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than Man’s, yet as mortal as his own....[:12]
By the late 1930s, most scientists had dismissed the idea of a civilization on the planet Mars. Yet among the general public, the notion was still popular, with many believing that giant “canals” crisscrossed the Red Planet. So 75 years ago tonight, when a CBS radio show announced that Martians were invading Earth, many people weren’t hard to convince.
The Mercury Theater on the Air was doing a production of the H.G. Wells novel “War of the Worlds.” The production was led by Orson Welles, an actor and director who would soon make his mark in the movies.
Although the program was clearly introduced as a dramatization of the book, it was produced as a series of news bulletins wrapped around bits of music. It even included an “official” announcement from a voice that sounded a lot like that of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Listeners who tuned in late mistook the play for a real invasion. Thousands called the police, newspapers, and radio stations to find out what was going on. At the show’s end, Orson Welles reminded the audience that it was all just a bit of Halloween fun. But by the next morning, CBS was under seige and Welles was a national celebrity — all thanks to the most famous radio play in history: an attack from Mars.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013
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