Past Times

Welles responds to the nation’s night of terror

October 30, 2013 

Orson Welles, 23-year-old theatrical prodigy who frightened hundreds of radio listeners last night with a dramatization of “Men from Mars,” called in reporters tonight and promised never to do it again.

“I’m really quite shocked,” Welles said.

His hair was awry and he said he had no sleep last night, although he attributed this more to the fact that he was “in rehearsal” for a new play than to worry over the scare he gave the country.

He denied that he had any notion that people would accept his highly dramatized version of H. G. Wells’ famous novel, “War of the Worlds” as fact instead of fiction.

“I should think,” he said, “that the motion pictures and comic strips would have made people realize that the ‘Man from Mars’ was only a fantasy. It is almost a synonym for fantasy.”

The youthful director of the Mercury Theater personally supervised, produced and took part in the broadcast which probably will go down as the most successful – from the standpoint of radio realism – in the history of radio broadcasting.

The script was prepared, he said, by a staff of experts. It began with a dramatized version of a scene in an observatory at Princeton University in which a professor was looking at Mars through a telescope and noticed “gas eruptions” at regular intervals.

The next thing the folks around the country received was a sudden “news bulletin” bursting in on a piano recital which said a meteorite had fallen near Grovers Mill, N. J. Welles later explained that there was no such place, but it sounded like the name of a town in New Jersey.

After that the lurid details began to pour in. The meteor turns out to be a can that unscrews at the top, and out crawl “Martians,” creatures that look like octopuses with “eyes that gleam like a serpent’s ... a mouth that is V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips ....”

The announcer on the field microphone says a “humped shape” is directing a beam at the crowd clustered around the supposed “meteor” and suddenly everybody starts to scream, the announcers says a “jet of flame” is leaping toward the crowd and then yells –

“Good Lord, they’re turning into flame!”

By this time telephone calls were coming into the newspapers, but Welles said he had no inkling that anything was wrong until after the broadcast. Twice during the broadcast it was interrupted for an announcement that it was a Columbia broadcasting system production of “Mercury theater on the Air,” but many listeners ignored the announcements. The N&O 11/1/1938

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