By Liam Nolan
As historian A. Brad Schwartz said: “On Halloween morning, 1938, Orson Welles awoke to find himself the most talked about man in America.”
The night before, Welles and his Mercury Theatre on the Air had performed a radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, converting the 40-year-old novel into fake news bulletins describing a Martian invasion of New Jersey.”
Some listeners mistook those bulletins for the real thing. A man who lived in Grovers Mill said, “Some of the local people put their families in their cars and drove out of town.” He thought they might well have thought the end of the world was near.
Anxious phone calls to police, newspaper offices, and radio stations convinced many journalists that the broadcast had caused nationwide hysteria. Twenty-three-year-old Welles’s face and name were on the front pages of newspapers coast-to-coast, along with headlines about the mass panic his CBS broadcast had allegedly inspired.
The primary medium of entertainment in the USA was radio; Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, and a gallon of petrol cost 10 cents. Listeners thought the fictional broadcast was an actual news report. It caused panic.
Future actor, director and filmmaker Welles narrated the show’s prologue for an audience believed to be in the millions. ‘War of the Worlds’ was the Halloween episode of Welles’s own series ‘The Mercury Theatre on the Air’.
The programme began with an innocuous performance of dance music: “From the Meridian Room in the Park Plaza Hotel in New York city, we bring you the music of Ramon Raquello and His Orchestra.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Welles, as the narrator, said, “we interrupt our programme of music to bring you a special bulletin. Martians have landed in New Jersey. At 8:50 p.m. a huge flaming object, believed to be a meteorite, fell on a farm in the neighbourhood of Grovers Mill, New Jersey.
“Incredible as it may seem, those strange beings who landed in the Jersey farmlands tonight are the vanguard of an invading army from the planet Mars.”
Aliens, apparently exiting from a cylinder, were said to be attacking humans with a heat ray — people were getting irradiated by laser beams, and were screaming and dying.
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