The War of the Worlds (radio)

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The War of the Worlds was an episode of the American radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series on October 30, 1938 and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. Directed and narrated by Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds.

The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast was presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested to many listeners that an actual Martian invasion was in progress. Compounding the issue was the fact that the Mercury Theatre on the Air was a 'sustaining show' (i.e., it ran without commercial breaks), thus adding to the dramatic effect. Although there were sensationalist accounts in the press about a supposed panic in response to the broadcast, the precise extent of listener response has been debated. In the days following the adaptation, however, there was widespread outrage. The program's news-bulletin format was decried as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast, but the episode launched Orson Welles to fame.

Welles' adaptation was one of the Radio Project's first studies.


[edit] Background

Monument erected, October, 1998, commemorating where the Martians "landed" in Van Nest Park, Grover's Mill, NJ. It is the only monument in the United States dedicated to an event which never took place.

H. G. Wells' novel is about an alien invasion of Earth, set in Woking, England at the end of the 19th century. The radio play's story was adapted by and written primarily by Howard Koch, with input from Orson Welles and the staff of CBS's Mercury Theatre On The Air. The action was transferred to contemporary Grover's Mill, an unincorporated village in West Windsor Township, New Jersey in the United States. The program's format was to simulate a live newscast of developing events. To this end, Welles played recordings of Herbert Morrison's radio reports of the Hindenburg disaster for actor Frank Readick and the rest of the cast, to demonstrate the mood he wanted.

About half of the 55 1/2 minute play was a contemporary retelling of events of the novel, presented as news bulletins in documentary style. This approach was not new. Fr. Ronald Knox's satirical "newscast" of a riot overtaking London over the British Broadcasting Company in 1926 had a similar approach (and created much the same effect on its audience). Welles had been influenced by the Archibald MacLeish dramas The Fall of The City and Air Raid, the former using Welles himself in the role of a live radio news reporter. But the approach had never been done with as much continued verisimilitude and the innovative format has been cited as a key factor in the confusion that would follow.

[edit] Plot Summary

The program, broadcast from the 20th floor at 485 Madison Avenue in New York City, starts with an introduction from the novel, describing the intentions of the aliens and noting that the adaptation was set in 1938, the year of the broadcast. The program continues as a weather report, then as an ordinary music show (actually the CBS orchestra under the direction of Bernard Herrmann) that is interrupted by news flashes about strange explosions on Mars. Welles makes his first appearance as "famous astronomer" Professor Richard Pierson, who refutes speculation about life on Mars.

The news grows more frequent and increasingly ominous as a cylindrical meteorite lands in Grover's Mill, New Jersey. A crowd gathers at the site and events are related by reporter "Carl Phillips." The meteorite unscrews, revealing itself as a rocket machine, and onlookers catch a glimpse of a tentacled, pulsating, barely mobile Martian before it incinerates the crowd with "Heat-Rays." Phillips' shouts about incoming flames are cut off in mid-sentence. (Later surveys indicate that many listeners heard only this portion of the show before contacting neighbors or family to inquire about the broadcast. Many contacted others in turn, leading to rumors and confusion.)

Regular programming breaks down as the studio struggles to keep up with casualty updates, firefighting developments and the like. A shaken Pierson speculates about Martian technology. The New Jersey state militia declares martial law and attacks the cylinder; a message from their field headquarters goes on about the overwhelming force of properly equipped infantry and the helplessness of the Martians in Earth's gravity until a tripod alien fighting machine rears up from the pit.

The studio returns to establish the Martians as an invading army with the obliteration of the militia force. Emergency response bulletins give way to damage reports and evacuation instructions while millions of refugees clog the roads. Three Martian tripods from the cylinder destroy power stations and uproot bridges and railroads, reinforced by three others from a second cylinder as gas explosions continue. An unnamed Secretary of the Interior advises the nation. (The "secretary" was intended to be a portrayal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, then President, but CBS insisted this detail, among others, be changed. The "secretary" did, however, sound like Roosevelt as the result of directions to actor Kenny Delmar by Welles.)

A live connection is established to a field artillery battery. Its gun crew reports damaging one machine and a release of poison gas before fading in to the sound of coughing. The lead plane of a wing of bombers broadcasts its approach and remains on the air as their engines are burned by the Heat Ray and the plane dives on the invaders. Radio operators go active and fall silent, most right after reporting the approach of the black smoke. The planes destroyed one machine, but cylinders are falling all across the country.

This section ends famously: a news reporter (played by Ray Collins), broadcasting from atop the CBS building, describes the Martian invasion of New York City — "five great machines" wading across the Hudson River, poison smoke drifting over the city, people running and diving into the East River "like rats", others "falling like flies" — until he, too, succumbs to the poison gas. Finally, a despairing ham radio operator is heard calling, "2X2L calling CQ ... Isn't there anyone on the air? Isn't there anyone on the air? Isn't there ... anyone?"

After an intermission which mentions the show's fictionality, the last third is a monologue and dialogue, with Welles returning as Professor Pierson, describing the aftermath of the attacks. The story ends, as does the novel, with the Martians falling victim to earthly germs and bacteria.

After the play, Welles breaks character to remind listeners that the broadcast was a Halloween concoction, the equivalent of dressing up in a sheet and saying "boo" like a ghost. Popular mythology holds this "disclaimer" was added to the broadcast at the insistence of CBS executives as they became aware of panic inspired by the program; in fact, it had appeared in Koch's working script for the play as presented in his 1968 book The Panic Broadcast'.

[edit] Public reaction

New York Times headline from October 31, 1938

Some listeners heard only a portion of the broadcast, and in the atmosphere of tension and anxiety leading to World War II, took it to be a news broadcast. Newspapers reported that panic ensued, people fleeing the area, others thinking they could smell poison gas or could see flashes of lightning in the distance.

Richard J. Hand cites studies by unnamed historians who "calculate[d] that some six million heard the CBS broadcast; 1.7 million believed it to be true, and 1.2 million were 'genuinely frightened'".[1] While Welles and company were heard by a comparatively small audience (in the same period, NBC's audience was an estimated 30 million), the uproar was anything but minute: within a month, there were 12,500 newspaper articles about the broadcast or its impact, while Adolf Hitler cited the panic, as Hand writes, as "evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy."[1]

Later studies suggested this "panic" was less widespread than newspapers suggested. During this period, many newspapers were concerned that radio, a new medium, would make them defunct. In addition, this was a time of yellow journalism, and as a result, journalists took this opportunity to demonstrate the dangers of broadcast by embellishing the story, and the panic that ensued, greatly.[2]

Robert E. Bartholomew suggests that hundreds of thousands were frightened in some way, but notes that evidence of people taking action based on this fear is "scant" and "anecdotal".[3] Indeed, contemporary news articles indicate that police were swamped with hundreds of calls in numerous locations, but stories of people doing anything more than calling the authorities typically involve groups of ones or tens and were often reported by people who were panicking themselves.

Later studies indicate that many missed the repeated notices that the broadcast was fictional, partly because the Mercury Theatre (an unsponsored "cultural" program with a relatively small audience) ran opposite the popular Chase and Sanborn Hour over the Red Network of NBC, hosted by Don Ameche and featuring comic ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and singer Nelson Eddy, three of the most popular figures in broadcasting. About 15 minutes into the Chase and Sanborn program the first comic sketch ended and a musical number began, and many listeners began tuning around the dial at that point. According to the American Experience program The Battle Over Citizen Kane, Welles knew the schedule of the Chase & Sanborn show, and scheduled the first report from Grover's Mill at the 12-minute mark to heighten the audience's confusion. As a result, some listeners happened upon the CBS broadcast at the point the Martians emerge from their spacecraft.

Many listeners were apparently confused. It must be noted that the confusion cannot be credited entirely to naïveté. Though many of the actors' voices should have been recognisable from other radio shows, nothing like The War of the Worlds broadcast had been attempted in the United States, so listeners were accustomed to accepting newsflashes as reliable.

Compounding the problem is that the working script had only three statements concerning the fictional nature of the program: at the beginning, at 40 minutes, and at the end. In fact, the warning at the 40-minute mark is the only one after the actors start speaking in character, and before Welles breaks character at the end. This structure is similar to earlier Mercury Theatre broadcasts: due to the lack of sponsorship (which often included a commercial message at the 30-minute mark during an hour-long show), Welles and company were able to schedule breaks at will, depending on the pacing of a narrative. Furthermore, the show's technique of jumping between scenes and narratives made it hard for the audience to distinguish between fact and fiction, so it is understandable that they were no more likely to perceive the three statements of the fictional nature of the program as being 'outside' the narrative, than they were to perceive the introduction (and subsequent interruption) of the music as being 'inside' the narrative.

While War of the Worlds was in progress, some residents in northeastern cities went to ask neighbors what was happening (many homes still did not have telephones). As the story was repeated, rumours began and caused some panic.

Contemporary accounts spawned urban legends, many of which have come to be accepted through repetition. Several people reportedly rushed to the "scene" of the events in New Jersey to see the unfolding events, including a few geologists from Princeton University who went looking for the "meteorite" that had fallen near their school. Some people, who had brought firearms, reportedly mistook a farmer's water tower for a Martian Tripod and shot at it.[4]

Initially Grover's Mill was deserted, but crowds developed. Eventually police were sent to control the crowds. To people arriving later in the evening, the scene really did look like the events being narrated, with panicked crowds and flashing police lights streaming across the masses.[citation needed]

Some people called CBS, newspapers or the police in confusion over the realism of the news bulletins. There were instances of panic throughout the US as a result of the broadcast, especially in New York and New Jersey.[5]

Seattle CBS affiliate stations KIRO and KVI broadcast Orson Welles' radio drama. While this broadcast was heard around the country, it made a deep impact in Concrete, Washington. At the point where the Martian invaders were invading towns and the countryside with flashes of light and poison gases, a power failure plunged almost the entire town of 1,000 into darkness. Some listeners fainted while others grabbed their families to head into the mountains. Others headed for the hills to guard their moonshine stills. One was said to have jumped up out of his chair and, in bare feet, run two miles to the center of town. Some men grabbed their guns, and one Catholic businessman got his wife into the car, drove to the nearest service station and demanded gasoline. Without paying the attendant, he rushed to Bellingham, Washington (50 miles away) to see his priest for a last-minute absolution of sins. He reportedly told the gas-station attendant that paying for the gas "[wouldn't] make any difference, everyone is going to die!"

Because phone lines as well as electricity were out, residents were unable to call neighbors, family or friends to calm their fears. Of course, the real story was not as fantastic as the radio drama: all that had occurred was that the Superior Portland cement company's sub-station suffered a short-circuit with a flash of brilliant light, and the town's lights went dark. The more conservative radio-listeners in Concrete (who had been listening to Charlie McCarthy on another station), calmed neighbors by assuring that they hadn't heard about any "disaster". Reporters heard soon after of the coincidental blackout of Concrete and sent the story over the newswire and soon the town of Concrete was known worldwide.[6]

Edgar Bergen and Don Ameche, who were continuing their Chase & Sanborn Hour broadcast on NBC, are often credited with "saving the world". It is said many listeners were reassured by hearing their tones on a neighbouring station.

[edit] Aftermath

In the aftermath of the reported panic, a public outcry arose, but CBS informed officials that listeners were reminded throughout the broadcast that it was a performance. Welles and the Mercury Theatre escaped punishment, but not censure, and CBS is believed to have had to promise never again to use "we interrupt this program" for dramatic purpose.[citation needed] However, many radio commercials to this day do start with the phrase "We interrupt this program".

A study by the Radio Project discovered that some who panicked presumed that Germans — not Martians — had invaded. Other studies suggest that the extent of the panic was exaggerated by contemporary media[citation needed].

When a meeting between H.G. Wells and Orson Welles was broadcast on Radio KTSA San Antonio on October 28, 1940, Wells expressed a lack of understanding of the apparent panic and that it was, perhaps, only pretense, like the American version of Halloween, for fun. The two men and their radio interviewer joked about the matter, though with embarrassment. KTSA, as a CBS affiliate, had carried the broadcast.

War of the Worlds and the panic have become examples of mass hysteria and the delusions of crowds.

In 1988, during the weekend nearest the 50th anniversary of the broadcast, West Windsor Township, in which Grovers Mills is located, held a Martian festival. Designed to attract tourist revenue, this included "Martians" firing "ray guns" and carnival rides and hucksters' stalls. The New Yorker magazine review began "It's not every day we get to see the Martians invade..."

[edit] Conspiracy theory

It has been suggested that War of the Worlds was a psychological warfare experiment. In the 1999 documentary, Masters of the Universe: The Secret Birth of the Federal Reserve, writer Daniel Hopsicker claims the Rockefeller Foundation funded the broadcast, studied the panic, and compiled a report available to a few. A variation has the Radio Project and the Rockefeller Foundation as conspirators.[7] In a theatrical trailer for his film F For Fake, Welles joked about such theories, jesting that the broadcast indeed "had secret sponsors".

While Mercury Theatre had no sponsor, CBS and the Rockefeller Foundation were contracting the leading crowd psychology researchers of the time; CBS had Edward Bernays, the Rockefeller Foundation had Ivy Lee. With the involvement of Frank Stanton in the Radio Project and his position in the CBS research department, it is possible the "creative curiosity" of Orson Welles came from conversations within these business circles. A detailed documentary on these circles and the ideas behind social manipulation was made by the BBC, called The Century of the Self.

There has been continued speculation that the panic generated by War of the Worlds inspired officials to cover up unidentified flying object evidence, avoiding a similar panic. U.S. Air Force Captain Edward J. Ruppelt[8], the first head of UFO investigatory Project Blue Book wrote, "The [U.S. government's] UFO files are full of references to the near mass panic of October 30, 1938, when Orson Welles presented his now famous The War of the Worlds broadcast."

[edit] Remakes and re-airings

Since the original Mercury Theatre broadcast, there have been many re-airings, remakes, reenactments and new dramatizations of the original.

  • In February 1949, Leonardo Paez and Eduardo Alcaraz produced a Spanish-language version of Welles's 1938 script for Radio Quito in Quito, Ecuador. The broadcast set off panic in the city. Police and fire brigades rushed out of town to engage the supposed alien invasion force. After it was revealed that the broadcast was fiction, the panic transformed into a riot and hundreds attacked Radio Quito and El Comercio, the local newspaper. In the days preceding the broadcast, El Comercio had participated in the hoax by publishing false reports of unidentified objects in the skies above Ecuador. The riot resulted in six (or more) deaths, including those of Paez's girlfriend and nephew. Paez moved to Venezuela after the incident. [9][10][3]
  • Many stations, particularly those that regularly air old time radio programs, re-air the original program as a Halloween tradition.
  • Buffalo station WKBW aired a modernized update in 1968, produced by the station's news department. In this version, revised for 1971 and 1975, Martians invaded the Niagara Falls area. Like the original, this also inspired panic, despite reassurances throughout that it was a dramatization.
  • Two different remakes created by writer/producer Bob Karson aired ten years apart, both on Halloween night. The first, "War of the Worlds 1987", on KHOW in Denver, ended with a 10-minute mostly ad-libbed monologue by Charlie Martin (the acerbic half of the Hal and Charlie morning show), in the station's bomb shelter, as the last man on earth. Karson's "War of the Worlds 1997" on Washington, D.C. station WBIG-FM treated the nation's capitol to a Martian invasion. In addition to a speech from Bill Clinton above the mayhem in Air Force One, this version has a scene where mayor Marion Barry tries to communicate with one of the capsules, and is zapped. (Both were played by actors.)
  • WTBQ radio in upstate New York aired local versions in 2006 and 2007, using a modified script with local actors from the Air Pirates Radio Theatre.
  • On October 30, 2008, Ball State University broadcast from Pruis lecture hall using the campus radio station, as well as numerous other local stations. The event was open to the public.

[edit] Television

On September 9, 1957, CBS's prestigious live television program, Studio One, opened its 10th season with Nelson Bond's The Night America Trembled, the first dramatization of the public panic to the radio adaptation of Wells' novel. The hour-long production was narrated by Edward R. Murrow and featured Ed Asner, James Coburn, Warren Oates, and Warren Beatty.

A 1975 television movie for ABC, Howard Koch and Nicholas Meyer's The Night That Panicked America, also dramatizes the public's panic to the broadcast but as a standard disaster movie (albeit one in which the disaster is assumed rather than actual). The production included Vic Morrow, Meredith Baxter, Michael Constantine, John Ritter, Will Geer, and Tom Bosley.

In 2006, Northwest Missouri State University aired a version of the broadcast on KNWT, the local student-run television network. One of the student-run shows, "ETC.", created a mock newscast, using both students and locals, and spliced it into the episode to look like a real interruption. KNWT did not show or mention any disclaimers about the newscast being fake.[citation needed]

[edit] Influence

It is sometimes said the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was received in skepticism by the American public, as a consequence of the radio performance.[13]

Because of the panic in the 1930s and 1940s, U.S. TV networks deem it necessary to post bulletins to the audience to inform them some TV stories were fiction[citation needed]. Disclaimers were shown during the 1983 television movie Special Bulletin, and during the 1994 telefilm, Without Warning, both of which were dramas disguised as news broadcasts (Without Warning, presenting Earth being hit by three meteor fragments, acknowledged it was a tribute to War of the Worlds and was broadcast on CBS TV on the 56th anniversary of the radio broadcast). NBC placed disclaimers in an October 1999 TV movie dramatizing the possible disastrous effects of the Y2K bug even though it was drama unlikely to be confused with reality.

On February 16, 1991, a popular Estonian TV satire show Wigla Sou reported, using the "we interrupt this program" device, that the government of Finland had voided the bills of one hundred Finnish Markka, most common banknote in Estonia, when the Soviet ruble was not trusted because of high inflation. That was parody of Soviet currency reform, but thousands rushed to get rid of 100 markka bills, some selling many times under market prices. TV reporters Ivar Vigla and Felix Undusk received threats while currency profiteers cheered unexpected high profits .[14]

On December 22, 1991, the student-run satire TV show Ku-Ku on Bulgarian state channel Kanal 1 broadcast reports of an accident in the Bulgarian Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant, to draw attention to the lack of preparedness for such an accident. The impact was heightened due to memory of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster and its incomplete coverage by official media during 1986. The show used TV news reporters because actors from the show would have been recognized. Reminders of the program's fictional nature were broadcast during music video breaks but largely ignored. There were reports of people taking iodine pills to protect their thyroid glands from radiation. In the aftermath, the show was canceled, but trial charges against director, screenwriter and producer were dismissed.[citation needed]

In 2005, Danish radio station P2 announced their plan to broadcast a remake of the original broadcast on September 3. As the broadcast was about to start, an announcer interrupted the show to report on a fake story about a biological terrorist attack on Copenhagen.[citation needed]

In 2006, a false Belgian news bulletin, broadcasted by RTBF, reported that the Dutch-speaking Flanders region of the country had declared its independence from Belgium, and led to widespread panic in French-speaking Belgium. It was a hoax inspired by The War of the Worlds. See 2006 Belgian Secession Hoax[citation needed].

[edit] Possible influence on Welles

A 2005 BBC report suggested that Welles' idea and style may have been influenced by an earlier 1926 hoax broadcast by Ronald Knox on BBC Radio. Knox's broadcast also mixes breathless reporting of a revolution sweeping across London with dance music and sound effects of destruction. Moreover, Knox's broadcast also caused a minor panic among listeners who did not know that the program was fictional.

A similar hoax from 1874 used wild animals rather than aliens claiming that they were escaping from New York Central Park Zoo and this also seems to have generated some public panic.[15]

[edit] References in fiction

  • In literature
  • Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Michael Crichton's Sphere both cite the Orson Welles broadcast as an example of why, in the event of an actual alien arrival, it would be more prudent to anticipate mass panic on the part of humanity rather than wonder and awe. There has been similar speculation for decades in ufology: that the War of the Worlds broadcast is the reason evidence supporting the concept of unidentified flying objects has been suppressed.
  • The 1968 novel Sideslip by Ted White and Dave Van Arnam takes place in an alternative history where aliens (quite different from Wells' and Welles' Martians) took advantage of the confusion following the broadcast to carry out an actual invasion, and ruled Earth for three decades (until overthrown thanks to the intervention of an intrepid private eye from our own reality).
  • The Doomsday Conspiracy by Sidney Sheldon makes a mention of this event, using it as a way for one of the U.S. Generals to justify withholding information from the public to prevent a mass panic.
  • In Kim Newman's short story "The Other Side of Midnight" (set in his alternate history Anno Dracula series), the Mercury Theatre is said to have aired a version of H. G. Wells' (fictional) The Flowering of the Strange Orchid, convincing the country that "writhing vampire blossoms" were overrunning America.
  • In film
  • In the 1984 movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, the plot hinges around an alien race of Red Lectroids whose arrival on earth in Grover's Mill, New Jersey instigates Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, with the aliens hypnotizing Welles and causing him to pass the broadcast off as a drama, when it was indeed factual. Their later cover is that of employees of a fictional defense contracting company called Yoyodyne.
  • In the 1990 film Spaced Invaders, a crew of rather dimwitted Martians intercepts radio signals from a rebroadcast of the performance and believes the entire Martian invasion fleet is moving in, leading them to land on Earth and get stranded, setting up the plot of the film.
  • The episode is briefly referred to in the 1989 film Radio Days by Woody Allen.
  • In the George Romero film Diary of the Dead, it can be heard mentioned by a news reporter voiced by Wes Craven.
  • In the film Gremlins, as the Gremlins take over the town a worried citizen calls the local radio personality, and he says, disregarding the caller, that he doesn't do that "Orson Welles crap".
  • The 1946 Looney Tunes cartoon Kitty Kornered briefly spoofs the incident.
  • In television
  • A similar realistic-looking "hoax" was a 1977 British science fiction program titled Alternative 3 which was presented as a science documentary, though the credits showed a production date of April Fool's Day. To this day, there are many who contend the events documented in Alternative 3 were at least partly factual.
  • The War of the Worlds TV series also incorporated a similar premise. In an episode taking place in Grover's Mill during the 50th anniversary of the broadcast, it is revealed that Orson Welles was hired by the government to orchestrate the broadcast in order to cover up what was a reconnaissance mission by the same aliens who would launch an all-out war 15 years later.
  • The X-Files episode "War of the Coprophages" parodied the 1938 panic as a small town called "Miller's Grove" (a reference to the Welles program's "Grover's Mill") is seized by fear of an invading horde of tiny robot cockroaches.
  • In a Halloween episode of Hey Arnold, Arnold and Gerald conduct their own radio broadcast in an attempt to scare the residents of Arnold's boarding house much like Orson Welles did. They also trick their 4th grade class, who were all trick-or-treating as aliens, into visiting Arnold's house precisely after the broadcast had finished. However, the broadcast is inadvertently picked up by a paranormal investigator, who mistakes it for legitimate and re-broadcasts it across the city as a real news bulletin. The water tower covered with Christmas lights also resulted in an electricity breakdown that made the broadcast even more believable.[16]
  • A Doctor Who audio drama titled Invaders from Mars is set in New York City at the time of the broadcast, with unusual events occurring in the city's underworld, which mirror the radio story.
  • The 1992 BBC TV Halloween special Ghostwatch was similar in its shocking displays of a haunted house in North London.
  • An Animaniacs segment starring Pinky and the Brain, "Battle for the Planet", featured a plan to recreate the broadcast in hopes of actually taking over the world during the panic. However, the Brain fails to realize that the public has grown more sophisticated in viewing such material, especially considering the amateurish effort the pair attempt, and no one takes it seriously (The character of The Brain is based on Orson Welles himself)
  • In an episode of The Flintstones, there was a publicity stunt in the form of a Halloween radio broadcast about a coming invasion of the Way-Outs, which was really just a Beatles-like music group wearing odd costumes. Much of Bedrock was scared, but the fear was exacerbated by Fred trying to get to the Water Buffalo Lodge in his secret spaceman costume. Eventually, the broadcaster is forced by the police to explain his previous announcements were fictitious.
  • The British children's cartoon Budgie the Little Helicopter featured an episode where the characters (who are anthropomorphic aircraft) are mistaken as spacecraft during a stormy night by a driver listening to a Welles-esque radio drama, leading to local panic.
  • In "Madeline and the Spider Lady", an episode of the animated series The New Adventures of Madeline, the girls played around in an 'unused' radio studio and acted out a phony news broadcast concerning giant polka-dotted ants who were attacking New York, and got broadcast when a technician at the station accidentally hits a lever and switched the broadcast from the Spider Lady drama to the girls' phony news report. What follows is mass hysteria similar to those reported as the outcome of the Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio drama broadcast.
  • A similar plot was used in the short-lived animated series adaptation of the American Dennis the Menace comic strip, in which Dennis and his cohorts visit a radio station studio to record a radio play for a school project. Unfortunately, in this version, Martians did really try to invade earth, but the plans were foiled by the coincidence of Dennis' play accidentally leaking out to the public after Ruff accidentally flips a lever and causes the recording to be broadcast. The panicking townspeople drive off the aliens, who were counting on the element of surprise.
  • Touched By An Angel featured parts of the original broadcast in a Halloween episode titled "The Sky Is Falling", where an old man had to deal with the trauma he endured during the nation wide panic, including the death of his father due to a misfire by a paranoid citizen. It also set the scene for the first encounter between the two leads, Monica and Tess.
  • A 1989 Saturday Night Live episode hosted by Tony Danza featured a sketch in which "Da War of Da Woilds" is dramatized by 'Da Brooklyn Academy of Fine Art'.
  • The Simpsons has alluded to the broadcast several times:
  • In the episode titled "Radio Bart", Homer buys Bart a microphone that can be used to broadcast on nearby radios. One of the pranks Bart pulls is to pretend he is the leader of a Martian invasion of Earth and has eaten the president of the United States, which Homer subsequently believes.
  • In the opening sequence of "Treehouse of Horror IV", Marge interrupts Bart's Night Gallery-esque introduction to suggest he warn viewers that the episode is frightening and that "maybe they'd rather listen to that old War of the Worlds broadcast on NPR".
  • Yet another Simpsons episode, "Treehouse of Horror XVII", features a segment titled "The Day the Earth Looked Stupid", which adapts the storyline of Orson Welles' famous broadcast and takes place in Springfield circa 1938. The episode has people act like animals instead of acting suicidal until the hoax is revealed. Maurice LaMarche portrays Orson Welles, the actor's impression of him used earlier for The Brain.
  • The November 4, 2007 episode of Cold Case dealt with a murder that took place during the panic surrounding the original 1938 radio broadcast.
  • In the October 15, 1956 episode of I Love Lucy, "Lucy Meets Orson Welles", Lucy is shopping for scuba gear in Macy's at the same time Welles is signing record albums of his Shakespearian readings. After Lucy approaches him still wearing a Scuba mask, flippers and assorted air hoses, Welles takes one look at her and says, "My "Man from Mars" broadcast was 18 years ago...where were you?"
  • "Panic", a 1997 episode of HBO's Perversions of Science, based loosely on a story from the comic book Weird Science (see below), featured Jamie Kennedy and Jason Lee as listeners confused and alarmed by a War of the Worlds-style radio broadcast. However, in this instance, Kennedy and Lee play two extra-terrestrial invaders disguised as humans, who mistakenly believe that the broadcast relates to an invasion of Earth by their own people, about which they had not been informed.
  • In the first episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, in the part where Earth thinks moon people are going to land, there is a part where a man named "Dorson Bells" says on a radio program that "Moon Men are nearing the Earth and this is not a play so please feel free to panic."
  • In an episode of Arthur, when D.W. thought that Mars had giant dinosaurs on it and her father told her there was no such thing, she said she felt silly about believing there were Martians. Her father then tells her how Orson Welles did the radio broadcast and many people thought that the country was being invaded by aliens.
  • In an episode of 7th Heaven, Ruthie becomes panicked over the upcoming Y2K hysteria, and Eric relates the story of the broadcast and ensuing panic to show how everyone thought the end of the world was coming, but in reality, there was nothing to worry about.
  • In the Newhart episode "Take Me to Your Loudon", Michael Harris airs the film version of War of the Worlds on television in place of Vermont Today, inspiring a Welles-style panic among the townspeople.
  • In radio
  • An Adventures in Odyssey episode, "Terror From the Skies", is based on and makes many references to The War of the Worlds. Like Orson Welles' broadcast, it features a dramatized radio broadcast that tells about an alien invasion of Earth.
  • In video games
  • In the video game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, supporting character Para-Medic from Snake's radio frequency gives an amusing retelling of her parents' panic during the radio play.
  • In the alternate history video game franchise Resistance (series), its alternate time-line reveals that the broadcast had attracted a harsh response from the American government in which Orson Welles' career is ruined. The reason for the government's harsh response is that there is an alien threat already present on Earth.
  • In comics
  • EC Comics did a story in Weird Science where a TV network decides to a televise a remake of the War of the Worlds broadcast. To avoid confusion, they publicize the event weeks ahead of time. Unfortunately, a real invasion occurs the same night, and as the station breaks into the hoax report with a real report, no one believes it.
  • DC Comics had a similar story where Orson Welles himself learns of an actual Martian invasion, but his radio warnings are useless since no one takes them seriously because of his radio play. Fortunately, Superman realizes that Welles is serious and stops the invasion.
  • In issue 11 of DC Comics' The Shadow Strikes (1989), The Shadow teams up with a radio announcer named "Grover Mills" -- a character based on the young Orson Welles -- who has been impersonating the Shadow on the radio. (Welles played The Shadow on radio prior to the War of the Worlds broadcast.)
  • Superman: War of the Worlds (1999) contains several references to the radio broadcast and one to the Hindenburg broadcast.
  • In songs
  • Queen's song Radio Ga Ga, which is a tribute to the medium of radio written by Roger Taylor, includes the lyrics You gave them all those old time stars / Through wars of worlds - invaded by Mars, obviously referencing the radio broadcast.
  • Crimson Glory's song March to Glory, an introduction to their album Astronomica, contains clips from the War of the Worlds broadcast, juxtaposed with speeches by Adolf Hitler and World War II-era radio news broadcasts announcing the invasion of Normandy and the later death of Hitler. The next song on the album is entitled War of the Worlds, and is about an alien invasion.

[edit] See also

[edit] Sources

  • Cantril, Handley, Howard Koch, Hazel Gaudet, Herta Herzog, H. G. Wells. (1940). The Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691093997 (1982 reprint)
  • Hand, Richard J. (2006). Terror on the Air!: Horror Radio in America, 1931-1952. Jefferson, North Carolina: Macfarlane & Company. ISBN 0786423676
  • Koch, Howard. (1970). The Panic Broadcast: Portrait of an Event. Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown. ISBN 0316500607
  • Ruperto, Edward J. (1956). The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. 1956. ISBN 096653123X (2002 reprint)

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Hand, Richard J. (2006). Terror on the Air!: Horror Radio in America, 1931-1952. Jefferson, North Carolina: Macfarland & Company. p. 7. ISBN 0-786-42367-6. 
  2. ^ Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future By Stanley J. Baran, Dennis K. Davis
  3. ^ a b Bartholomew, Robert E. (2001). Little Green Men, Meowing Nuns and Head-Hunting Panics: A Study of Mass Psychogenic Illness and Social Delusion. Jefferson, North Carolina: Macfarland & Company. pp. 217ff.. ISBN 0-7864-0997-5. 
  4. ^ Koch, Howard (1971). The Panic Broadcast. Avon Books. ISBN 380-00408-095. 
  5. ^ "Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact" (reprint). New York Times. 1938-10-31. "In Newark, in a single block at Heddon Terrace and Hawthorne Avenue, more than twenty families rushed out of their houses with wet handkerchiefs and towels over their faces to flee from what they believed was to be a gas raid. Some began moving household furniture. Throughout New York families left their homes, some to flee to near-by parks. Thousands of persons called the police, newspapers and radio stations here and in other cities of the United States and Canada seeking advice on protective measures against the raids." 
  6. ^ Radio Beat: Oct. 30, 1938 - The broadcast that scared a nation
  7. ^ "2X2L - double cRoss to hell: Council on Foreign Relations Experiments in Fear". Retrieved on 2007-11-10. 
  8. ^ Ruppelt, Edward J. The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. 1956. Doubleday.
  9. ^ "War of the Worlds". Radio Lab. 2008-03-07. No. 3, season 4. “In 1949, when Radio Quito decided to translate the Orson Welles stunt for an Equadorian audience, no one knew that the result would be a riot that burned down the radio station and killed at least 7 people.”
  10. ^ "War Of The Worlds radio broadcast, Quito (1949)". Retrieved on 2008-04-24. 
  11. ^ "Grammy Awards and Nominations for 1989". Tribune Company. 1989.,0,3713019.htmlstory. Retrieved on 2007-07-31. 
  12. ^ "War of the Worlds". The Play's the Thing. 2005-10-29.
  13. ^ Rich, Frank (2005-06-19). "Two Top Guns Shoot Blanks". The New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-09-30. 
  14. ^ Merike Kungla (2006-03-31). "Viglata Viglast ja sajandi vembust" (in Estonian) (PDF). Linnaleht. 10–11. Retrieved on 2007-11-10. 
  15. ^ "The Central Park Zoo Scare of 1874". h2g2. BBC. August 2004. Retrieved on 2007-11-10. 
  16. ^ "Hey Arnold!: "Arnold's Halloween"". IMDb. Retrieved on 2007-11-10. 
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