The War of the Worlds – 70 Years Later

Tonight marks the 70th Anniversary of a legendary event in the history of broadcasting – the night that Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater on the Air scared the bejeezus out of a whole lot of people with their production of The War of the Worlds.

There are numerous websites chronicling the broadcast, the events that it spawned, and the fallout resulting from the intermittent mass panic in the Northeast US and elsewhere. Google to your heart’s content.

There are also several radio stations around the country that will re-broadcast the program. Locally, KAFM will air it at about 7:30 tonight. Shameless plug and full disclosure..I produced the introductory content.

XM Radio will air the broadcast tonight and tomorrow at 8:00 local time, and in addition will air the press conference that occurred the day after the broadcast, as well as an interview with Orson Welles and H.G. Wells that occurred in 1940.

Indiana Public Radio is doing a complete on-air re-enactment tonight, streaming live on the Internet, something I’m sure both Wells and Welles would have been fascinated with.

What interests me the most about the broadcast is how the performers became news themselves, and how this helped in large measure to catapult Orson Welles to status as star and creative genius. This enabled him to secure a contract with RKO Pictures in 1939 that gave him complete creative control, something unprecedented for someone who had never directed a feature film.

Welles leveraged this control to bring together his Mercury Theater company of actors, screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, noted cinematographer Gregg Toland, and his Mercury Theater composer and conductor Bernard Herrmann, to create what is considered by many critics, as well as the American Film Institute, to be the greatest movie ever made.

One could say with relative certainty that without The War of the Worlds, there would be no Citizen Kane.

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