Celebrate the 75th Anniversary of “War of the Worlds”

WHYY celebrates the 75th anniversary of “War of the Worlds,” Orson Welles’ ingenious use of the new medium of radio which struck fear into an already anxious nation.

Original 1938 radio broadcast and new documentary

Orson Welles’ radio production of The War of the Worlds was first heard on this date 75 years ago.

The documentary War of the Welles tells the back-story of the production, correcting many myths, and explaining why it works as a radio broadcast. Both the 1938 rebroadcast and the new radio documentary are introduced by sci-fi icon George Takei, star of the Star Trek TV and film series.

Airs on WHYY-FM,
Oct. 30 at 9 p.m.

War of the Worlds original radio broadcast —

Airs on WHYY-FM,
Oct. 30 at 10 p.m.

War of the Welles documentary teaser —

American Experience: War of the Worlds

Shortly after 8 p.m. on the Halloween Eve, 1938, the voice of a panicked radio announcer broke in with a news bulletin reporting strange explosions taking place on the planet Mars, followed minutes later by a report that Martians had landed in the tiny town of Grovers Mill, New Jersey. Although most listeners understood that the program was a radio drama, the next day’s headlines reported that thousands of others plunged into panic, convinced that America was under a deadly Martian attack. It turned out to be H.G. Wells’ classic The War of the Worlds, performed by 23-year-old Orson Welles.

From Radio TimesThe legacy of The Mercury Theater on the Air’s War of the Worlds

October 1938 was a time when fear and anxiety was an undercurrent in the United States – the country was still in a deep, economic depression, Hitler had just invaded Czechoslovakia, and the planet Mars and its Martians were in the popular culture. Many people couldn’t afford telephones and other domestic comforts but a radio was in most homes. This year marks the 75th anniversary of The Mercury Theater on the Air’s Halloween Eve radio broadcast adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel, The War of the Worlds. Director Orson Welles and company created a short-lived panic throughout the country for some listeners who thought the show about an Alien invasion was real. The fictitious alien landing was supposed to be near Princeton, N.J., in Grovers Mill. We’ll discuss the epic event with LAURENCE MASLON, Arts professor at the Graduate Acting Program at NYU and NATHAN GABRIEL, assistant professor of acting and directing at the University of Louisiana.