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“The War of the Worlds”—Orson Welles's realistic radio dramatization of a Martian invasion of Earth—is broadcast on the radio on October 30, 1938.
Welles was only 23 years old when his Mercury Theater company decided to update H.G. Wells’s 19th-century science fiction novel The War of the Worlds for national radio. Despite his age, Welles had been in radio for several years, most notably as the voice of “The Shadow” in the hit mystery program of the same name. “War of the Worlds” was not planned as a radio hoax, and Welles had little idea of how legendary it would eventually become.
The show began on Sunday, October 30, at 8 p.m. A voice announced: “The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the air in ‘War of the Worlds’ by H.G. Wells.”
Sunday evening in 1938 was prime-time in the golden age of radio, and millions of Americans had their radios turned on. But most of these Americans were listening to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy “Charlie McCarthy” on NBC and only turned to CBS at 8:12 p.m. after the comedy sketch ended and a little-known singer went on. By then, the story of the Martian invasion was well underway.
Welles introduced his radio play with a spoken introduction, followed by an announcer reading a weather report. Then, seemingly abandoning the storyline, the announcer took listeners to “the Meridian Room in the Hotel Park Plaza in downtown New York, where you will be entertained by the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.” Putrid dance music played for some time, and then the scare began. An announcer broke in to report that “Professor Farrell of the Mount Jenning Observatory” had detected explosions on the planet Mars. Then the dance music came back on, followed by another interruption in which listeners were informed that a large meteor had crashed into a farmer’s field in Grovers Mills, New Jersey.
READ MORE: How 'The War of the Worlds' Radio Broadcast Created a National Panic
Soon, an announcer was at the crash site describing a Martian emerging from a large metallic cylinder. “Good heavens,” he declared, “something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now here’s another and another one and another one. They look like tentacles to me … I can see the thing’s body now. It’s large, large as a bear. It glistens like wet leather. But that face, it… it … ladies and gentlemen, it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it’s so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate.”
The Martians mounted walking war machines and fired “heat-ray” weapons at the puny humans gathered around the crash site. They annihilated a force of 7,000 National Guardsman, and after being attacked by artillery and bombers the Martians released a poisonous gas into the air. Soon “Martian cylinders” landed in Chicago and St. Louis. The radio play was extremely realistic, with Welles employing sophisticated sound effects and his actors doing an excellent job portraying terrified announcers and other characters. An announcer reported that widespread panic had broken out in the vicinity of the landing sites, with thousands desperately trying to flee.
The Federal Communications Commission investigated the unorthodox program but found no law was broken. Networks did agree to be more cautious in their programming in the future. The broadcast helped Orson Welles land a contract with a Hollywood studio, and in 1941 he directed, wrote, produced, and starred in Citizen Kane—a movie that many have called the greatest American film ever made.
“Jitterbugs” and “Crack-pots”
By Lee Ann Potter
The panic made the front page of
the Chicago Herald and Examiner.
(Records of the Federal Communications Commission, RG 173)
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. From the Meridian Room in the Park Plaza in New York City, we bring you the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra."
The sounds of "La Cumparsita" began to fill the airwaves. But within moments, the performance was interrupted by a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News, telling of strange explosions of incandescent gas occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars.
This dramatic approach - a performance interrupted by periodic news bulletins - is how writer Howard Koch adapted H. G. Wells's classic novel The War of the Worlds for radio broadcast. On October 30, 1938, the actors of The Mercury Theatre on the Air, led by twenty-three-year old Orson Welles, presented the adaptation on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). Within the first forty minutes of the program, the actors had vividly described Martians landing in New Jersey and decimating the state.
It was Halloween Eve. As Welles explained at the end of the broadcast, the adaptation of The War of the Worlds was a holiday offering - "The Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying Boo!" But although CBS made four announcements during the broadcast identifying it as a dramatic performance, at least one million of the estimated nine to twelve million Americans who heard it were deeply scared by that "Boo" - scared into some sort of action.
In the days following the broadcast, newspapers across the country described both the fear and the actions. Headlines proclaimed, "Mars Invasion in Radio Skit Terrifies U.S.," "H.G. Wells's Book and Orson Welles's Acting Bring Prayers, Tears, Flight, and the Police," "Radio Fake Scares Nation," and "Here's the Story That Scared U.S." News stories told of the behavior of listeners. Thousands, particularly along the eastern seaboard, had telephoned local police stations for confirmation. It was estimated that more than two thousand calls came in to New York's police headquarters within one fifteen-minute span. Listeners in areas far from the East Coast called, too - mostly to check on the condition of loved ones. Others telephoned one or more of the ninety-two stations that broadcast the performance. Some called newspapers - the New York Times switchboard counted 875 calls. Many people headed for local police stations others loaded their families into their cars and drove away from the areas mentioned in the broadcast. There were numerous stories of traffic jams.
After the performance, hundreds of listeners vented their emotions in writing. For example, 1,770 people wrote letters to the main CBS station (WABC in New York), and 1,450 wrote to the Mercury Theatre staff.
And more than six hundred contacted the newly formed Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The letters, telegrams, and petitions to the FCC now reside in two boxes within Record Group 173, Records of the Federal Communications Commission, at the National Archives.
The FCC had been established just four years earlier, by the Communications Act of 1934, to regulate interstate and international communications. Its establishment reflected the growing importance of radio in American life. Although the law specifically prohibited the commission from censoring broadcast material or from making any regulation that would interfere with freedom of expression in broadcasting, these restrictions were either misunderstood or overlooked by nearly 60 percent of those who contacted the FCC.
Many of the writers asked FCC chairman Frank P. McNinch to "do what you can to stop H G Wells [sic] Mercury Theatre." Others encouraged the commission to prevent such broadcasts in the future and to punish Orson Welles. Claude W. Morris of Chicago told the commission, "I hope you will lawfully prevent such broadcasts in the future and, if possible, severely discipline all participants." Most of those who complained also shared personal stories with the commission about how the broadcast affected them, their families, or their communities. Claude L. Stewart of Meadville, Pennsylvania, sent a telegram to the commission stating, "Mercury Theatre of air not only in bad taste but dangerous stop my wife and several other women confined to beds from shock and hysteria." The city manager of Trenton, New Jersey, asked the commission to take action "to avoid a reoccurrence of a very grave and serious situation . . . which completely crippled communication facilities of our Police Department for about three hours."
One week after the broadcast, Hadley Cantril, a Princeton University psychologist, began a study of the panic caused by the broadcast. Over a period of about three weeks, Cantril and his research team conducted detailed interviews with 135 people, 100 of whom were known to have been upset by the performance. In 1940 he published his findings in The Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic.
In the interviews, the listeners revealed many reasons for their fear. Some said it was because the performance did not sound like a play. Radio had become an accepted vehicle for important announcements. In recent weeks, listeners had become accustomed to having broadcasts interrupted by important late-breaking news related to Neville Chamberlain's meeting with Adolf Hitler in Munich, Germany. Others said their fear was caused by the prestige of the speakers. The fictitious characters included professors, astronomers, military officials, and even a secretary of the interior. Still others indicated that they could readily imagine the scenes that were described. The places mentioned were familiar, particularly to listeners in New York and New Jersey. And the actors repeatedly indicated difficulty in believing what they were seeing. The listeners could relate to their confusion.
In addition to Cantril's study, numerous other surveys were conducted following the broadcast. Two of the largest were by CBS and the American Institute of Public Opinion. They found that between 40 and 50 percent of the listeners had tuned into the broadcast late. Many had turned their dials away from the most popular program of the week, The Chase and Sanborn Hour, starring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, after the first act had ended. Others tuned in at the suggestion of neighbors or relatives who had called them regarding the Martian broadcast.
Not everyone who listened was scared into some sort of action. Many who were initially frightened simply looked outdoors, turned the dial to see if another station was carrying the "news," or consulted a newspaper listing that described the evening's broadcast schedule.
Millions of other listeners were delighted by the performance. Many of them, too, wrote letters. Of the 1,770 people who wrote to the main CBS station about the broadcast, 1,086 were complimentary. In addition, 91 percent of the letters received by the Mercury Theatre staff were positive. And roughly 40 percent of the letters sent to the FCC were supportive of the broadcast.
These letters focused on the entertainment value of the program, discouraged censorship, encouraged rebroadcasting the performance, and in many cases, offered sharp criticism of those who had complained. The singer Eddie Cantor sent a telegram to the FCC urging the commission to consider the future of radio as public entertainment. He stated that "the Mercury Theater [sic] drama . . . was a melodramatic masterpiece . . . censorship would retard radio immeasurably and produce a spineless radio theater as unbelievable as the script of the War of the Worlds." Rowena Ferguson of Nashville, Tennessee, encouraged the commission to consider the consequences of potential censorship by warning, "The evils of a [sic] censorship are more far-reaching and harder to handle than instances of error in judgement on the part of broadcasters." Mrs. Lillian Davenport of Texarkana, Texas, told the commission that "how anyone with the intelligence above that of a two-year-old child could be frightened by it is utterly incomprehensible." And J. V. Yaukey of Aberdeen, South Dakota, characterized the Mercury Theatre as a "radio high-light" and poked fun at some of the other listeners. He told the commission,
M. B. Wales of Gastonia, North Carolina, suggested to the commission that "if you take them [broadcasters] to task over this [the broadcast], won't you also have to stop fairy tales and stories about Santa Claus to keep a gullible public from becoming excited." Even children wrote to the commission. In a handwritten note, twelve-year-old Clifford Sickles of Rockford, Illinois, told the commission, "I enjoyed the broadcast of Mr. Wells [sic] . . . I heard about half of it but my mother and sister got frightened and I had to turn it off."
In the aftermath of the broadcast, The Mercury Theatre on the Air obtained corporate sponsorship from the Campbell Soup Company and became The Campbell Playhouse. Orson Welles received a multifilm deal from RKO Pictures. And ordinary citizens, the broadcast industry, and the government all gained a much deeper awareness of the power of radio.
A version of this article with teaching activities appeared as the "Teaching With Documents" feature in the May/June 2002 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies. Since 1977, education specialists at the National Archives have been contributing "Teaching With Documents" articles to the journal, providing access to National Archives holdings and suggesting creative strategies for integrating primary sources into classroom instruction. For more information, write, call, or e-mail the Education Staff (NWE) at the National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001 301-837-3478 [email protected]
The author wishes to thank National Archives colleague Tab Lewis for his research assistance with this article.
Note on Sources
Letters and telegrams cited in this article are in the Office of the Executive Director, General Correspondence files, 1927—46, Records of the Federal Communications Commission, Record Group 173, National Archives at College Park, Maryland.
The main secondary sources consulted were Hadley Cantril, The Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic (1940), Susan J. Douglas, Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination, from Amos 'N' Andy and Edward R. Murrow to Wolfman Jack and Howard Stern (2000) Ron Lackmann, The Encyclopedia of American Radio: An A—Z Guide to Radio from Jack Benny to Howard Stern (2000) David Thompson, Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles (1996) Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, This Is Orson Welles (1998).
Today in Literary History – October 30, 1938 – Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast
On October 30, 1938, one day before Halloween, Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre of the Air actors broadcast an adaptation of War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel about aliens invading the Earth.
Welles’ adaptation was played as a real time radio broadcast of increasingly frightening news bulletins interrupting a program of dance music.
A story quickly developed that the broadcast caused widespread panic among radio listeners who took the drama to be a real news story of a Martian spaceship landing in New Jersey.
The story became exaggerated over the next few days, fuelled partly by CBS, the radio network that broadcast the show, and partly by Welles himself, not exactly someone averse to publicity, duplicity and controversy.
They got publicity by denying the panic and keeping the story alive. The story of the “panic” only grew larger over the years.
The truth is that very few people were fooled by the broadcast, as historians and sociologists have long ago proved.
First of all, the Mercury Theatre’s audience was tiny, only about 2% of the listening audience.
It was up against two very popular Sunday night shows including Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy’s hugely popular variety show.
Secondly, most radio listeners in those days were not “channel surfers” so the stories of people tuning in to the middle of the show and hearing the panicked newscasters describing the mayhem of the aliens in New Jersey is unlikely.
Also, Welles’ show wasn’t carried on the full network, so couldn’t have been heard in many ares.
One reason for the initial stories about panic came from the tabloid press. Newspapers had been losing ad revenue to their new radio competition and were happy to show radio as irresponsible and dangerous.
Plus, they loved a good story back then as much as they do now. (I hesitate to call it “fake news” since that phrase has become a bit tarnished, but..)
Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds 75 Years Later – What Would the FCC Do Now?
This is the 75 th anniversary of the Mercury Players broadcast of the Orson Welles production of the War of the Worlds – a radio broadcast that seemingly scared many Americans into thinking that the country was under attack by Martians, that my home state of New Jersey had been overrun, and that the rest of the country would be soon to follow. PBS’s American Experience just ran a great documentary about the production – talking about Wells’ decision to delay an announcement that the program was a fictional production, not a real invasion, long after his network superiors ordered that announcement after the phone lines of the network were tied up. Also tied up were the phone lines of emergency responders, and it supposedly even caused people to leave their homes to flee the path of the oncoming invaders. The PBS program talked about how the FCC opened an investigation of the program, and how Congress demanded that laws be passed to prevent such a broadcast from happening again. Essentially, through some well-publicized apologies by Welles and others involved in the program, and a promise by the network to take steps to prevent it from happening again, the FCC closed its investigation and no law was passed by Congress. Even though the government did not act 75 years ago, it is interesting to look at how the FCC has changed since that time, and why such a broadcast would not fly under FCC rules today.
Most prominent among the FCC rules adopted since the famous broadcast is the FCC’s rule against “hoaxes.” As we’ve written before (usually just before April Fools’ Day), this rule (Section 73.1217) forbids broadcasters from airing programs that are false where it is foreseeable that the broadcast will tie up the resources of first responders or that the broadcast will otherwise cause harm to people or damage to property, and where such harm is in fact caused. Applying that rule to the War of the Worlds broadcast would mean that the radio network (and its affiliated stations) could likely be looking at big fines were such a broadcast to be made today. While a broadcaster could certainly argue (as was done at the time) that no rational person would believe that the Martians were really invading, the fact that the network was deluged with calls, and that the network warned its director to air a disclaimer (which was delayed for dramatic effect) would likely defeat any such arguments.
In today’s society, we seem much less willing to allow any program that upsets audiences or potentially imperils safety in any way. In recent years, the few times that a television program utilized an on-the-spot news format for an entertainment program, the disclaimers were prominent and repeated, and usually there were many pre-show announcements that warned the viewer that the program that was upcoming was only a dramatization. Where there is even an innocent hoax, especially when it goes tragically bad, there is worldwide outrage, as was the case when the Australian radio team called the hospital of Princess Kate earlier this year. Times have changed, and the media has changed. We are unlikely to see a War of the Worlds recreation any time soon, so it’s very unlikely that 75 years from now PBS or its successor will be celebrating the commotion caused by a contemporary program.
TopicsDavid Oxenford Partner
David Oxenford represents broadcasting and digital media companies in connection with regulatory, transactional and intellectual property issues. He has represented broadcasters and webcasters before the&hellip
David Oxenford represents broadcasting and digital media companies in connection with regulatory, transactional and intellectual property issues. He has represented broadcasters and webcasters before the Federal Communications Commission, the Copyright Royalty Board, courts and other government agencies for over 30 years.
Panic in the streets? How Orson Welles' 1938 "War of the Worlds" broadcast really went down
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the century's great creative minds: Orson Welles.
Director, actor, and writer, his "Citizen Kane" is widely regarded as the greatest film ever made.
And his 1938 Halloween Eve radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" was an early lesson in the power of viral media.
Perhaps you’ve heard the stories. Panic in the streets, families jumping into their cars and fleeing town, mass hysteria.
Author and Orson Welles historian Brad Schwartz suggests that that’s not the whole story.
In his book, Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, Schwartz explains that the degree to which the public was terrified by the broadcast was greatly exaggerated by the news media.
“Because the show made headlines the next day, because it became this national event, a lot of people felt the need to write in describing their experiences,” he says.
According to Schwartz, a small percentage of those letters were from people who were genuinely scared by the broadcast. “But in the larger sense,” he says, “most people who heard the show were not frightened.”
The majority of people wrote to Welles and to the FCC to talk about the fact that they hadn’t been frightened and to reveal larger fears they had about what this incident said about the power of media.
Schwartz tells us that most people expressed concern surrounding the implications of someone using the medium to do something that sounds realistic, but is not.
“That’s something that they dealt with then, something that we’re still dealing with today,” Schwartz says.
The 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast is still an iconic point in the history of radio, and Schwartz says that without it and the following attention from the news, Orson Welles may not have become the international celebrity and Hollywood mastermind we remember.
“The hysteria existed but it was smaller than people tend to think,” he says. “And the larger story, the headlines and kind of the narrative of the nationwide mass panic, that was fake news of a much larger and more serious kind.”
Brad Schwartz will be one of the moderators at the upcoming University of Michigan symposium celebrating the centenary of filmmaker and actor Orson Welles, June 8-10 at the Hatcher Graduate Library on the University of Michigan campus.
A Meteorite Hits Grovers Mill
Another news bulletin announces, "It is reported that at 8:50 p.m. a huge, flaming object, believed to be a meteorite, fell on a farm in the neighborhood of Grovers Mill, New Jersey, twenty-two miles from Trenton."
Carl Phillips begins reporting from the scene at Grovers Mill. (No one listening to the program questions the very short time that it took Phillips to reach Grovers Mill from the observatory. The music interludes seem longer than they are and confuse the audience as to how much time has passed.)
The meteor turns out to be a 30-yard wide metal cylinder that is making a hissing sound. Then the top began to "rotate like a screw." Then Carl Phillips reported what he witnessed:
It's been 80 years since Orson Welles' 'War of the Worlds' radio broadcast terrified the nation
Listeners in 1938 thought the fictional broadcast was a real news report.
'War of the Worlds' radio scare turns 50 in 1988
The year is 1938. The cost of a gallon of gas is 10 cents. Franklin D. Roosevelt is president. The primary medium of entertainment is the radio, and it caused panic in the eastern United States after listeners mistook a fictional broadcast called "War of the Worlds" as an actual news report.
On Oct. 30, 1938, future actor and filmmaker Orson Welles narrated the show's prologue for an audience believed to be in the millions. "War of the Worlds" was the Halloween episode for the radio drama series "The Mercury Theatre on the Air."
"Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin," the broadcast began. "Martians have landed in New Jersey!"
Understandably, many who heard this became overwrought with worry that an invasion from Mars actually was underway in a small Northeastern town.
"At 8:50 p.m., a huge flaming object, believed to be a meteorite, fell on a farm in the neighborhood of Grovers Mill, New Jersey," the announcer stated.
The rest of the half-hour broadcast followed the style of a typical evening broadcast as it was interrupted by news bulletins, perhaps making the story feel even more authentic, despite the broadcast announcing multiple times that it was a theatrical rendition of H.G. Wells' 1898 novel of the same name.
"I have a grave announcement to make," the broadcaster stated. "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."
A particularly alarming portion of the story occurred as aliens, apparently emerging from some sort of cylinder, were attacking people nearby with a heat ray. This fictional encounter caused a panicked reporter -- supposedly on the scene -- to be suddenly cut off from the broadcast.
The broadcast ended after returning from a break and following a survivor who fled with the alien invasion. At this point, the Martians had been defeated by microbes.
Erika Dowell, associate director and curator of modern books and manuscripts at Iowa University's Lilly Library, said Welles' first-person narratives was part of what made the broadcast feel so real.
"Even if he was switching between narrators, he was making it first person -- not an omniscient narrator guiding the storyline," Dowell said, according to the university. "He also did a lot of interesting things with sound effects and used those in ways to make the reporting seem believable."
People likely didn't hear much of the broadcast, instead focusing in on the urgent-sounding news bulletins that cut in, experts told ABC News in 1988, on the 50th anniversary of the radio drama.
"People were vulnerable in 1938, and they were worried about the war, worried about the economy and perhaps were a little bit upset and nervous because it was Halloween," Dr. Joel Cooper, psychology professor at Princeton University, told ABC News in 1988.
Listener Henry Sears told ABC News in 1988 that "everyone" was "going after their shotguns and going to Grovers Mill," but the mass hysteria reported after the broadcast may have actually been sensationalized.
Popular myth detailed people flooding out of their homes in a panic, but several theories have emerged in recent years suggesting that no widespread panic occurred -- especially since most people probably were listening to the comedy variety show, "Chase and Sanborn Hour," which aired at the same time, the Telegraph reported.
The broadcast fueled skepticism around radio, a relatively new form of mass communication, according to the library, which houses a collection of Welles' work.
Every year, the town of Grovers Mill celebrates the anniversary of the broadcast that made it a household name, holding costume contests, seances and Mars-themed events.
The community even erected a monument in its Van Nest Park, marking the spot where Martians supposedly landed in 1938, according to NJ.com.
The radio show inspired the 1975 Emmy award-winning made-for-television movie, "The Night That Panicked America." Steven Spielberg also directed a 2005 film, "War of the Worlds," loosely based on Wells' novel.
In April, BBC began filming a three-part drama based on the 1898 work, but the aliens will invade Britain instead of a sleepy New Jersey farm town, Variety reported. The drama will otherwise be a "faithful adaption" of Wells' book, according to the network.
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The Sentinel’s view of the aftermath was a bit more severe—it is worth noting here that the Journal Company also operated a radio station, WTMJ, whereas the Sentinel was owned by the Hearst chain of newspapers. The paper also reported a spike in phone traffic, with many calls from people “indignant” that false information would be out on the airwaves. One woman called the paper, asking in a trembling voice if there was any chance of “those monsters getting this far west.” Another caller reported that his 16-year-old daughter was sick with a “heart attack” after hearing the program and yet another had spent the entire evening frantically trying to wire relatives out east. “That’s a terrible thing to do,” the man said. “We were thinking of going out of town, and we went all around and warned our neighbors. We made fools of ourselves. We’re going to sue the broadcasting company.” Informed that the show had put on by Welles, a native of Kenosha, the fellow found a bit of humor in the situation. “Well, it was so darn realistic I might have known someone from Wisconsin was in it.”
The one thing that the papers seemed to agree on was that most radio listeners in the city probably never even heard the show. The Journal reported that Milwaukee was most definitely a “Charlie McCarthy town,” a reference to the wooden dummy star of The Chase and Sanborn Hour, the NBC variety program airing opposite Welles’ War of the Worlds show. WISN’s station manager, Gaston Grignon, told the Sentinel the most interesting aspect of the “panic” as far he was concerned was that enough people were listening to Welles to register any kind of response at all.
Since the broadcast, the story of the “panic” it inspired has taken on a life of its own, fueled in no small part by Orson Welles himself, who was happy to make the chapter part of his personal artistic mythology. The myth survived—and still survives—in part because of its “lessons” about mass hysteria, group-think and the dangers of propaganda. But back in 1938, the story faded from the public consciousness in just a few days, replaced by news of war and brutality that, oddly enough, couldn’t stir up much of a panic at all.
PRALLSVILLE MILLS PRESENTS
On the Eve of Halloween 1938, a young actor/director broadcast a radio drama based on a 40-year-old novel: The War of the Worlds. While the original broadcast had a relatively low audience, the impact it had and continues to have, on American Culture is staggering. But how much of that impact was reality, and how much has been exaggerated over the years? Were there riots in the streets from panicked listeners, or did most of the audience simply enjoy a well-done piece of theatre? Did Orson Welles know he would frighten listeners, or was this an unintended accident? Attend this illustrated lecture, and learn the real story! Hosted jointly by Historic Voices and Delaware River Mill Society.
*After registering, you will receive a confirmation email confirming that you are registered.
We suggest you set a reminder on your calendar.
Supported in part by a grant from NJ Department of State, Division of Travel and Tourism.
What if Orson Welles's War of the Worlds Broadcast Was Real?
Hello there. I'm Milton Lawson, a comic writer based in Houston TX. I've written "Roger Ebert and Me" and "Winter Sale." The Ebert comic was a finalist at the Ghost City Comics Competition. I'm the writer of a new graphic novel, "ORSON WELLES: WARRIOR OF THE WORLDS".
The book follows this premise: what if the events described in Orson Welles's infamous radio broadcast was not an adaptation of H.G. Wells, but rather, something that really happened?
The structure of the story is inspired by "Citizen Kane." When Orson Welles dies, he leaves Paula, a lifelong friend and filmmaking collaborator, a clue that leads her to search for answers. Welles left many mysteries and unfinished projects behind &ndash both as a filmmaker and an alien-hunter.
The trailer for the comic is narrated by the voice actor Maurice LaMarche, whose imitation of Welles is marvelous:
Each chapter in the book is illustrated in a different style, often inspired by a film from Welles's career. A number of extraordinary talents will be contributing art to the book. Erik Whalen (Spirit Drifters) is the anchor of the team, drawing the first chapter, some interlinking segments, as well as a noir-flavored chapter inspired by "The Third Man." Rem Broo (The End Times of Bram & Ben) draws a chapter filled with sci-fi space action. Jorge Santiago Jr. (Spencer and Locke) draws a steampunk action chapter. Martyn Lorbiecki (Earworm) draws a vibrant chapter inspired by Welles's real-life trip to Brazil in 1942. Renton Hawkey (Ronin Digital Express) is the cover artist and also draws a chapter involving Welles and a historic moment in the history of theater.
We are running a Kickstarter campaign to bring this project to life &ndash and we need your support! It's a total indie effort. We've set an ambitious goal, but with your help, we can take you on a journey through Orson Welles's storied career &ndash but with, y'know, aliens, secret government agencies, space armadas, and it's all focused on unraveling the mystery of Welles's final words upon his deathbed. What was his "Rosebud?" We plan to answer that question in an epic sci-fi and filmmaking story that will span two graphic novel volumes.
Welles left behind a ton of unfinished films
At the time of his death in 1985, Welles left behind a large number of unfinished film projects. These are perhaps one of the most tragic details of Welles' life, given how the complicated, difficult filmmaker was so intensely devoted to his work. They were also, as the British Film Institute notes, mostly independent projects that reflected the endless, lifelong war of creative control that Welles waged with other film studios. One of the oldest projects was a 1939 adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novella, Heart of Darkness, while Welles had been more directly working on a 1980s film version of King Lear when he died.
Some of these attempts are little more than enigmatic fragments, like the test footage for Heart of Darkness. Others were close to completion, like the film that would be released as The Other Side of the Wind in 2018. Quite a few were incredibly frustrating simply because we never got to see the completed project, says Vulture, like the on-again, off-again Don Quixote film that Welles started in 1955 and was still talking about revisiting decades later. He never got the chance to finally finish it.