Eighty years ago this week, Orson Welles and the Mercury Players took a science fiction novel and made it real.
In the 1930’s, radio was the premier vehicle for mass communication, much like newspapers were before it and television and the world wide web would become after it. One of the biggest and brightest stars of the medium was Orson Welles, the man who would create in 1941 what many believe to be the greatest film of all time: Citizen Kane.
Welles founded a radio theatre company, The Mercury Players, in the mid-1930’s to present dramatized programs on air. Most notably, he was the voice of the radio drama The Shadow, a wildly popular program and character that would become a touchstone for countless comic-book superheroes, including Batman.
With the pre-Halloween broadcast of H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds, the Mercury players re-created the book from a science-fiction novel of extra-terrestrial invaders into something more sinister: utilizing the pre-World War 2 fear present in the United States into a tale of a scientifically advanced army that attacks without mercy.
Much has been written about the mass hysteria that the program has caused, including a front page story in the New York Times. Though much of this has been disputed and disproved, the legend of the aftermath has proven to give this hour-long broadcast into that of media folklore. Regardless, surveys of the audience estimate that at least a quarter of the listeners thought it was real, with many of them thinking it wasn’t Martians, but an army from Europe that attacks New York City.
It is telling how using a fake story and making it sound real through spoken words can exploit the most basest fears inherent in many. The more things change, the more they stay the same, it seems.
The War of the Worlds 1938 Broadcast
Love to you all.
Ben “Bear” Brown Jr., owner
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