War of the Worlds (radio drama)

Image  Adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel, The War of the Worlds (1898) was dramatized over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network for the Mercury Theatre on the Air series on October 30, 1938. It was performed as a Halloween episode and was a 62-minute show, without breaks.  It was directed and narrated by actor and future filmmaker, Orson Welles. The adaptation was broadcast from Madison Avenue in New York City.

Welles’ broadcast started with an introduction from the novel and noted that the adaptation was set in 1939, a year ahead of the broadcast date. Those listeners who tuned in from the beginning heard the introduction but those who tuned in later missed that part and so believed that Earth was being invaded by Martians. Naturally, a panic ensued with people fleeing their homes all over the Northeast  and Canada.

Later, more contemporary research indicates that the panic was much less than first reported. The Mercury Theatre did not have a huge following and reports were greatly exaggerated or fabricated. However, Welles welcomed the story as part of his personal myth.

I have provided a YouTube copy of the original broadcast for your edification and enjoyment. The voice of Orson Welles during this broadcast and throughout his career, was a smooth, classical baritone. This alone is worth the listening time.


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