The War of the Worlds (radio drama)

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For the 1968 remake, see The War of the Worlds (radio 1968).
The War of the Worlds
Orson Welles War of the Worlds 1938.jpg
Orson Welles tells reporters that no one connected with the broadcast had any idea it would cause panic (October 31, 1938)
Genre Radio drama
Running time 60 minutes
Home station CBS Radio
Host(s) The Mercury Theatre on the Air
Announcer Dan Seymour
Exec. producer(s) Davidson Taylor (for CBS)
Narrated by Orson Welles
Recording studio Columbia Broadcasting Building, 485 Madison Avenue, New York
Air dates since October 30, 1938 (1938-10-30)
Opening theme Piano Concerto No. 1, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

"The War of the Worlds" is an episode of the American radio drama anthology series The 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 actor and future filmmaker Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds (1898). It became famous for allegedly causing mass panic, although the reality of this mass panic is disputed since the program had relatively few listeners.[3]

The first two thirds of the one-hour broadcast were presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested an actual alien invasion by Martians was currently in progress. Compounding the issue was the fact that the Mercury Theatre on the Air was a sustaining show without commercial interruptions, adding to the program's realism. Much of the radio audience was listening to Edgar Bergen and only tuned in to "The War of the Worlds" during a musical interlude, thereby missing the introduction that proved the show was a drama.[3]

In the days following the adaptation, there was widespread outrage in the media. The program's news-bulletin format was described as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers (which were losing advertising revenue to radio) and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast and calls for regulation by the Federal Communications Commission.[3] Despite these complaints—or perhaps in part because of them—the episode secured Welles's fame as a dramatist.


H. G. Wells's original novel relates the story of an alien invasion of Earth. The novel was adapted by Howard E. Koch for the 17th episode of the CBS Radio series The Mercury Theatre on the Air, broadcast at 8 p.m. EST on Sunday, October 30, 1938.[2]:390, 394 The program's format was a simulated live newscast of developing events. The setting was switched from 19th-century England to contemporary Grover's Mill, an unincorporated village in West Windsor Township, New Jersey in the United States.

The first two-thirds of the hour-long play is a contemporary retelling of events of the novel, presented as news bulletins interrupting another program. This approach was similar to Ronald Knox's satirical newscast of a riot overtaking London broadcast by the BBC in 1926,[4][5] which Welles later said gave him the idea for "The War of the Worlds".[6] A 1927 drama aired by Adelaide station 5CL depicted an invasion of Australia via the same techniques and inspired reactions similar to those of the Welles broadcast.[7]

Welles was also influenced by the Columbia Workshop presentations "The Fall of the City", a 1937 radio play in which Welles played the role of omniscient announcer, and "Air Raid", a vibrant as-it-happens drama starring Ray Collins that aired October 27, 1938.[8]:159, 165–166 Presenting a drama in a news broadcast style was not new for The Mercury Theatre on the Air; Welles had chosen a newscast format for "Julius Caesar" (September 11, 1938), with H. V. Kaltenborn providing historical commentary throughout the story.[9]:93

"The War of the Worlds" broadcast employed techniques similar to those of The March of Time, the CBS news documentary and dramatization radio series.[10] Welles was a member of the program's regular cast, having first performed on The March of Time in March 1935.[1]:74, 333 The Mercury Theatre on the Air and The March of Time shared many cast members, as well as sound effects chief Ora D. Nichols.

Producer John Houseman wrote that The War of the Worlds was chosen to contrast with the classics that had so far been adapted for The Mercury Theatre on the Air—"to throw in something of a scientific nature."[2]:392 Welles considered adapting M. P. Shiel's The Purple Cloud and Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World before purchasing the radio rights to The War of the Worlds in 1938. He had first read the story in 1936 in The Witch's Tales, a pulp magazine of "weird-dramatic and supernatural stories" that reprinted the story from Pearson's Magazine. An initial script was done.[8]:162

Howard Koch had written the first drafts for the Mercury Theatre broadcasts "Hell on Ice" (October 9), "Seventeen" (October 16)[8]:164 and "Around the World in 80 Days" (October 23).[9]:92 Monday, October 24, he was assigned to re-script "The War of the Worlds" for broadcast the following Sunday night.[8]:164

Tuesday night, 36 hours before rehearsals were to begin, Koch telephoned Houseman in what the producer characterized as "deep distress". Koch said he was unable to make The War of the Worlds interesting or credible as a radio play, a conviction echoed by his secretary Anne Froelick, a typist and aspiring writer that Houseman had hired to assist him. With only his own abandoned script for Lorna Doone to fall back on, Houseman told Koch to continue adapting the Wells fantasy. He joined Koch and Froelick and they worked on the script throughout the night. On Wednesday night the first draft was finished on schedule.[2]:392–393

As was the custom, on Thursday associate producer Paul Stewart ran the cast through a reading of the script, with Koch and Houseman making necessary changes. Late in the afternoon Stewart made an acetate recording, with no music or sound effects. Welles, immersed in rehearsing the Mercury stage production of Danton's Death scheduled to open the following week, played the record at an editorial meeting that night in his suite at the St. Regis Hotel. After hearing "Air Raid" on the Columbia Workshop earlier that same evening, Welles concluded that the script was dull. He continued to stress the importance of inserting news flashes and eyewitness accounts into the script to create a sense of urgency and excitement.[8]:166

Houseman, Koch and Stewart reworked the script all that night,[2]:393 increasing the frequency of news bulletins and inserting the names of real places and people whenever possible. Friday afternoon the script was sent to Davidson Taylor, executive producer for CBS, and the network legal department. Their response was that the script was too credible and its realism had to be toned down. Lines were excised ("They're starving in heaps … bolting … trampling on each other") along with the cries of the Martians, which the network found terrifying. Because using the names of actual institutions could be actionable, CBS also insisted upon some 28 changes in phrasing.[8]:167

"Under protest and with a deep sense of grievance we changed the Hotel Biltmore to a nonexistent Park Plaza, Trans-America to Inter-Continent, the Columbia Broadcasting Building to Broadcasting Building," Houseman wrote.[2]:393 At the network's insistence,"The United States Weather Bureau in Washington, D.C." was changed to "The Government Weather Bureau", "Princeton University Observatory" to "Princeton Observatory", "McGill University" to "Macmillan University", "New Jersey National Guard" to "State Militia", "United States Signal Corps" to "Signal Corps", "Langley Field" to "Langham Field", and "St. Patrick's Cathedral" to "the cathedral".[8]:167

On Saturday, Stewart rehearsed the show with the sound effects team, giving special attention to crowd scenes, the echo of cannon fire and the sound of the boat horns in New York Harbor.[2]:393–394

As usual, early Sunday afternoon Bernard Herrmann and his orchestra arrived in the studio, where Welles had taken over production of that evening's program. "Beginning some time around two when the show started to take shape under Orson's hand, a strange fever seemed to invade the studio—part childish mischief, part professional zeal," Houseman wrote.[2]:391, 398

The beginning of "The War of the Worlds" is credible but intentionally dull, with mundane bulletins and colorless interviews interspersed with unspectacular musical interludes. Over Houseman's protests Welles restored lines that had been cut in rehearsal, to extend these slow movements to the point of tedium. When Houseman protested further, Welles extended them all the more. "He was right," wrote Houseman:

Herein lay the great tensile strength of the show; it was the structural device that made the whole illusion possible. … In order to take advantage of the accepted convention, we had to slide swiftly and imperceptibly out of the 'real' time of a news report into the 'dramatic' time of a fictional broadcast. Once that was achieved—without losing the audience's attention or arousing their skepticism—once they were sufficiently absorbed and bewitched not to notice the transitions any more, there was no extreme of fantasy through which they would not follow us.[2]:400–402

To create the role of reporter Carl Phillips, actor Frank Readick went to the record library and played the recording of Herbert Morrison's radio report of the Hindenburg disaster over and over.[2]:398 Working with Bernard Herrmann and the orchestra that had to sound like a dance band fell to Paul Stewart,[11] the person Welles would later credit as being largely responsible for the quality of "The War of the Worlds" broadcast:[12]:195

To get Benny to conduct the dance songs I had suggested (including "Stardust" and "La Cumparsita") was almost an impossibility. He didn't understand the rhythms at all. I said, "Benny, it's gotta be like this" and snapped my fingers—and he got very upset. He handed me the baton and said, "You conduct it!" I got up on the podium. All the musicians understood Benny's personality, so when I gave the downbeat they played it just the way I wanted it. I said, "Now that's how to do it!" I handed the baton back to Benny, who was crestfallen. The moment in the broadcast when Herrmann conducts "Stardust" with the symphony orchestra is one of the most hysterical moments in radio.[13]:66

Welles wanted the music to play for unbearably long stretches of time.[14]:159 The studio's emergency fill-in, a solo piano playing Debussy and Chopin, was heard several times. "As it played on and on," Houseman wrote, "its effect became increasingly sinister—a thin band of suspense stretched almost beyond endurance. That piano was the neatest trick of the show."[2]:400

Dress rehearsal was scheduled for 6 p.m.[2]:391

"Our actual broadcasting time, from the first mention of the meteorites to the fall of New York City, was less than forty minutes," wrote Houseman. "During that time men travelled long distances, large bodies of troops were mobilized, cabinet meetings were held, savage battles fought on land and in the air. And millions of people accepted it—emotionally if not logically.[2]:401


The cast of characters of "The War of the Worlds" appears in order as first heard in the broadcast.[15][16]

  • Announcer … Dan Seymour
  • Narrator … Orson Welles
  • Studio announcer … Paul Stewart
  • Meridian Room announcer … William Alland
  • Reporter Carl Phillips … Frank Readick
  • Professor Richard Pierson … Orson Welles
  • Second studio announcer … Carl Frank
  • Mr. Wilmuth … Ray Collins
  • Policeman at Wilmuth farm … Kenny Delmar
  • Brigadier General Montgomery Smith … Richard Wilson
  • Mr. Harry McDonald, vice president in charge of radio operations … Ray Collins
  • Captain Lansing of the Signal Corps … Kenny Delmar
  • Third studio announcer … Paul Stewart
  • Secretary of the Interior … Kenny Delmar
  • Officer 22nd Field Artillery … Richard Wilson
  • Field artillery gunner … William Alland
  • Field artillery observer … Stefan Schnabel
  • Lieutenant Voght, bomber commander … Howard Smith
  • Bayonne radio operator … Kenny Delmar
  • Langham Field radio operator … Richard Wilson
  • Newark radio operator … William Herz
  • 2X2L radio operator … Kenny Delmar
  • 8X3R radio operator … William Herz
  • Announcer from roof of Broadcasting Building … Ray Collins
  • Stranger … Carl Frank

Plot summary[edit]

Broadcast from the 20th floor at 485 Madison Avenue in New York City, "The War of the Worlds" starts with a paraphrase of the beginning of the novel, updated to contemporary times. The announcer introduces Orson Welles:

We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacence men went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs … In the thirty-ninth year of the twentieth century came the great disillusionment. It was near the end of October. Business was better. The war scare was over. More men were back at work. Sales were picking up. On this particular evening, October 30th, the Crossley service estimated that thirty-two million people were listening in on radios. …[2]:394–395

The program seamlessly transitions into a slightly ominous bulletin from the Government Weather Bureau, and then to a musical interlude from the Meridian Room of the Hotel Park Plaza. A symphonic rendition of "La Cumparsita" performed by Ramon Raquello and His Orchestra (actually the CBS orchestra under the direction of Bernard Herrmann) is interrupted by news flashes about strange explosions on Mars. Welles is heard for the first time as world-famous astronomer and Princeton professor Richard Pierson, who dismisses speculation about life on Mars in an interview with reporter Carl Phillips (Frank Readick).

The news grows more frequent and increasingly ominous as a cylindrical meteorite lands in a farm field in Grover's Mill, New Jersey. A crowd gathers at the site. Reporter Carl Phillips relates the events. The cylinder unscrews, and onlookers catch a glimpse of a tentacled, pulsating, barely mobile Martian inside before it incinerates the crowd with Heat-Rays. Phillips's shouts about incoming flames are cut off in mid-sentence.

Regular programming breaks down as the network struggles 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 lectures about the overwhelming force of properly equipped infantry and the helplessness of the Martians in Earth's gravity until a Tripod rises from the pit.

The Martians obliterate the militia, and the network returns, now describing the Martians as an invading army. Emergency response bulletins give way to damage reports and evacuation instructions as 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; actor Kenny Delmar's voice is reminiscent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.[2]:402

A live connection is established to a field artillery battery. Its gun crew reports damaging one machine and a release of black smoke — poison gas — before fading into the sound of coughing. The lead plane of a wing of bombers from Langham Field, Virginia, (sounding much like Langley Field, where the Army Air Corps stationed the 2d Bombardment Group) broadcasts its approach and remains on the air as its engines are burned by the Heat-Ray. The pilot (Howard Smith) chooses to make a suicide dive on the invaders. Radio operators go active and fall silent, most immediately after reporting the approach of the black smoke. Bombers have destroyed one machine, but the network receives reports that cylinders are falling all across the country.

This section ends famously. A news reporter (Ray Collins), broadcasting from atop Broadcasting 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. After a period of silence, a ham radio operator is heard:

2X2L calling CQ
2X2L calling CQ
2X2L calling CQ New York
Isn't there anyone on the air?
Isn't there anyone on the air?
Isn't there anyone?
2X2L —

After a period of silence comes the voice of announcer Dan Seymour:

You are listening to the CBS presentation of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre of the Air in an original dramatization of The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells. The performance will continue after a brief intermission.

The last third of the program is a monologue and dialogue. Welles returns as Professor Pierson, describing the aftermath of the attacks. The story ends, as does the novel, with the Martians falling victim to earthly pathogenic germs, to which they have no immunity.

After the play, Welles assumes his role as host and tells listeners that the broadcast was a Halloween concoction: the equivalent, he says, "of dressing up in a sheet, jumping out of a bush and saying, 'Boo!'" Popular mythology holds this disclaimer was hastily 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.[17]


Radio programming charts in Sunday newspapers listed the CBS drama, "The War of the Worlds". The New York Times for October 30, 1938, also included the show in its "Leading Events of the Week" ("Tonight — Play: H. G. Wells's 'War of the Worlds'") and published a photograph of Welles with some of the Mercury players, captioned, "Tonight's show is H. G. Wells' 'War of the Worlds'".[8]:169

Announcements that "The War of the Worlds" is a dramatization of a work of fiction were made on the full CBS network at four points during the broadcast October 30, 1938 — at the beginning, before the middle break, after the middle break, and at the end.[18]:43 The middle break was delayed ten minutes to accommodate the dramatic content.[9]:94

Another announcement was repeated on the full CBS network that same evening at 10:30 p.m., 11:30 p.m. and midnight: "For those listeners who tuned in to Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast from 8 to 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time tonight and did not realize that the program was merely a modernized adaptation of H. G. Wells's famous novel War of the Worlds, we are repeating the fact which was made clear four times on the program, that, while the names of some American cities were used, as in all novels and dramatizations, the entire story and all of its incidents were fictitious."[18]:43–44

Public reaction[edit]

The New York Times headline from October 31, 1938

Producer John Houseman noticed that at about 8:32 p.m. ET, CBS supervisor Davidson Taylor received a telephone call in the control room. Creasing his lips, Taylor left the studio and returned four minutes later, "pale as death". He had been ordered to interrupt "The War of the Worlds" broadcast immediately with an announcement of the program's fictional content, but by that time actor Ray Collins was choking on the roof of Broadcasting Building and the break was less than a minute away.[2]:404

Actor Stefan Schnabel recalled sitting in the anteroom after finishing his on-air performance. "A few policemen trickled in, then a few more. Soon the room was full of policemen and a massive struggle was going on between the police, page boys and CBS executives, who were trying to prevent the cops from busting in and stopping the show. It was a show to witness."[19]

During the sign-off theme the phone began ringing. Houseman picked it up and the furious caller announced he was mayor of a Midwestern town where mobs were in the streets. Houseman hung up quickly: "For we were off the air now and the studio door had burst open."[2]:404

The following hours were a nightmare. The building was suddenly full of people and dark-blue uniforms. Hustled out of the studio, we were locked into a small back office on another floor. Here we sat incommunicado while network employees were busily collecting, destroying or locking up all scripts and records of the broadcast. Finally the Press was let loose upon us, ravening for horror. How many deaths had we heard of? (Implying they knew of thousands.) What did we know of the fatal stampede in a Jersey hall? (Implying it was one of many.) What traffic deaths? (The ditches must be choked with corpses.) The suicides? (Haven't you heard about the one on Riverside Drive?) It is all quite vague in my memory and quite terrible.[2]:404

Paul White, head of CBS News, was quickly summoned to the office — "and there bedlam reigned", he wrote:

The telephone switchboard, a vast sea of light, could handle only a fraction of incoming calls. The haggard Welles sat alone and despondent. "I'm through," he lamented, "washed up." I didn't bother to reply to this highly inaccurate self-appraisal. I was too busy writing explanations to put on the air, reassuring the audience that it was safe. I also answered my share of incessant telephone calls, many of them from as far away as the Pacific Coast.[20]:47–48

Because of the crowd of newspaper reporters, photographers and police, the cast left the CBS building by the rear entrance. Aware of the sensation the broadcast had made but not its extent, Welles went to the Mercury Theatre where an all-night rehearsal of Danton's Death was in progress. Shortly after midnight one of the cast, a late arrival, told Welles that news about "The War of the Worlds" was being flashed in Times Square. They immediately left the theatre and, standing on the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street, they read the lighted bulletin that circled the New York Times building: ORSON WELLES CAUSES PANIC.[8]:172–173

Some listeners heard only a portion of the broadcast and, in the tension and anxiety prior to World War II, mistook it for a genuine news broadcast.[21] Newspapers reported that panic ensued, with people across the Northeastern United States and Canada fleeing their homes. Some people called CBS, newspapers, or the police in confusion.[22][23]

Future Tonight Show host Jack Paar had announcing duties that night for Cleveland CBS affiliate WGAR. As panicked listeners called the studio, Paar attempted to calm them on the phone and on air by saying: "The world is not coming to an end. Trust me. When have I ever lied to you?". When the listeners started charging Paar with "covering up the truth", he called WGAR's station manager for help. Oblivious to the situation, the manager advised Paar to calm down, saying it was "all a tempest in a teapot".[24]

In Concrete, Washington, phone lines and electricity suffered a short-circuit at the Superior Portland Cement Company's substation. Residents were unable to call neighbors, family, or friends to calm their fears. Reporters who heard of the coincidental blackout sent the story over the news-wire, and soon Concrete was known worldwide.[25]

Welles continued with the rehearsal of Danton's Death (scheduled to open November 2), leaving shortly after dawn October 31. He was operating on three hours of sleep when CBS called him to a press conference. He read a statement later printed in newspapers nationwide, and took questions from reporters:[8]:173, 176

Question: Were you aware of the terror such a broadcast would stir up?
Welles: Definitely not. The technique I used was not original with me. It was not even new. I anticipated nothing unusual.
Question: Should you have toned down the language of the drama?
Welles: No, you don't play murder in soft words.
Question: Why was the story changed to put in names of American cities and government officers?
Welles: H. G. Wells used real cities in Europe, and to make the play more acceptable to American listeners we used real cities in America. Of course, I'm terribly sorry now.[8]:174[26]

Within three weeks, newspapers had published at least 12,500 articles about the broadcast and its impact,[18]:61[27] although the story dropped off the front pages after a few days.[3] Welles later said that Adolf Hitler cited the effect of the broadcast on the American public as evidence of "the corrupt condition and decadent state of affairs in democracy".[28][29]


Radio Digest reprinted the script of "The War of the Worlds" — "as a commentary on the nervous state of our nation after the Pact of Munich" — prefaced by an editorial cartoon by Les Callan of The Toronto Star (February 1939)

Later studies indicate that many missed the repeated notices about the broadcast being fictional, partly because The Mercury Theatre on the Air, an unsponsored CBS cultural program with a relatively small audience, ran at the same time as the NBC Red Network's popular Chase and Sanborn Hour featuring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. About 15 minutes into Chase and Sanborn, the first comic sketch ended and a musical number began, and many listeners reportedly changed stations and heard "The War of the Worlds" in progress. According to the American Experience program The Battle Over Citizen Kane, Welles knew the schedule of Chase and Sanborn 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. Because the broadcast was unsponsored, Welles and company could schedule breaks at will rather than arranging them around advertisements. As a result, the only notices that the broadcast was fictional came at the start of the broadcast and about 40 and 55 minutes into it.

A study by the Radio Project discovered that some who panicked presumed that Germans, not Martians, had invaded.[23] "The shadow of war was constantly in and on the air. People were on edge", wrote Welles biographer Frank Brady:

For the entire month prior to "The War of the Worlds", radio had kept the American public alert to the ominous happenings throughout the world. The Munich crisis was at its height. Adolf Hitler, in his address to the annual Nazi party congress at Nuremberg in September, called for the autonomy of the Sudetenland, an area on the Czech border regions populated by three million Sudeten Germans, as they were called. Hitler ranted and lied over German radio … For the first time in history, the public could tune into their radios every night and hear, boot by boot, accusation by accusation, threat by threat, the rumblings that seemed inevitably leading to a world war.[8]:164–165

CBS News chief Paul White wrote that he was convinced that the panic induced by the broadcast was a result of the public suspense generated before the Munich Pact. "Radio listeners had had their emotions played upon for days, and they had come to realize that news was an increasingly important part of broadcasting schedules. Thus they believed the Welles production even though it was specifically stated that the whole thing was fiction".[20]:47


Historical research has strongly suggested the panic was less widespread than newspapers had indicated at the time. "[T]he panic and mass hysteria so readily associated with 'The War of the Worlds' did not occur on anything approaching a nationwide dimension", American University media historian W. Joseph Campbell wrote in 2003. He quotes Robert E. Bartholomew, an authority on mass panic outbreaks, as having said that "there is a growing consensus among sociologists that the extent of the panic … was greatly exaggerated".[23]

This position is supported by contemporary accounts. "In the first place, most people didn't hear [the show]", said Frank Stanton, later president of CBS.[3]

Five thousand households were telephoned that night in a survey conducted by the C. E. Hooper company, the main radio ratings service at the time. Only two percent of the respondents said they were listening to the radio play, and no one stated they were listening to a news broadcast. Ninety eight percent of respondents said they were listening to other radio programming — The Chase and Sanborn Hour was long the most popular program in that timeslot — or not listening to the radio at all. Further shrinking the potential audience, some CBS network affiliates, including some in large markets like Boston's WEEI, had pre-empted The Mercury Theatre on the Air in favor of local commercial programming.[3]

Ben Gross, radio editor for the New York Daily News, wrote in his 1954 memoir that the streets were nearly deserted as he made his way to the studio for the end of the program.[3] Producer John Houseman reported that the Mercury Theatre staff was surprised when they were finally released from the CBS studios to find life going on as usual in the streets of New York.[2]:404 The writer of a letter the Washington Post published later likewise recalled no panicked mobs in the capital's downtown streets at the time. "The supposed panic was so tiny as to be practically immeasurable on the night of the broadcast", media historians Jefferson Pooley and Michael Socolow wrote in Slate on its 75th anniversary in 2013; "Almost nobody was fooled".[3]

According to Campbell, the most common response said to indicate a panic was calling the local newspaper or police to confirm the story or seek additional information. This, he writes, is an indicator that people were not generally panicking or hysterical. "The call volume perhaps is best understood as an altogether rational response ..."[23] Some New Jersey media and law enforcement agencies received up to 40 percent more telephone calls than normal during the broadcast.[30]

Newspaper coverage and response[edit]

What a night. After the broadcast, as I tried to get back to the St. Regis where we were living, I was blocked by an impassioned crowd of news people looking for blood, and the disappointment when they found I wasn't hemorrhaging. It wasn't long after the initial shock that whatever public panic and outrage there was vanished. But, the newspapers for days continued to feign fury.

— Orson Welles to friend and mentor Roger Hill, February 22, 1983[31]:53

As it was late on a Sunday night in the Eastern Time Zone, where the broadcast originated, few reporters and other staff were present in newsrooms. Most newspaper coverage thus took the form of Associated Press stories, which were largely anecdotal aggregates of reporting from its various bureaus, giving the impression that panic had indeed been widespread. Many newspapers led with the AP's story the next day.[23]

On November 2, 1938, the Australian Age characterized the incident as "mass hysteria" and stated that "never in the history of the United States had such a wave of terror and panic swept the continent". Unnamed observers quoted by the Age commented that "the panic could have only happened in America."[32]

Editorialists chastised the radio industry for allowing this to happen. This response may have reflected newspaper publishers' fears that radio, to which they had lost some of the advertising revenue that was scarce enough during the Great Depression, would render them obsolete. In "The War of the Worlds", they saw an opportunity to cast aspersions on the newer medium. "The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which has yet to prove that it is competent to perform the news job," wrote Editor & Publisher, the newspaper industry's trade journal.[3][33]

"Having had to bow to radio as a news source during the Munich crisis, the press was now only too eager to expose the perilous irresponsibilities of the new medium," wrote producer John Houseman. "Orson was their whipping boy. They quizzed and badgered him. Condemnatory editorials were delivered to our press-clipping bureau in bushel baskets. There was talk, for a while, of criminal action."[2]:405

William Randolph Hearst's papers, like many others, called on broadcasters to police themselves lest the government step in, as Iowa Senator Clyde L. Herring proposed a bill that would have required all programming to be reviewed by the FCC prior to broadcast (he never actually introduced it). Others blamed the radio audience for its credulity. Noting that any intelligent listener would have realized the broadcast was fictional, the Chicago Tribune opined that "it would be more tactful to say that some members of the radio audience are a trifle retarded mentally, and that many a program is prepared for their consumption." Other newspapers took pains to note that anxious listeners had called their offices to learn whether Martians were really attacking.[23]

There are few contemporary accounts outside newspaper coverage of the mass panic and hysteria supposedly induced by the broadcast. Justin Levine, a producer at KFI-AM in Los Angeles, wrote in a 2000 history of the FCC's response to hoax broadcasts that "the anecdotal nature of such reporting makes it difficult to objectively assess the true extent and intensity of the panic.[34] Bartholomew sees this as yet more evidence that the panic was predominantly a creation of the newspaper industry.[35]

Writer Frank Brady does record an example in the medium of radio. Walter Winchell, on his commentary program on a rival network immediately following "The War of the Worlds" broadcast, addressed listeners in an excited tone: "Mr. and Mrs. America, there's no cause for alarm. America has not fallen. I repeat, America has not fallen." His remarks stirred anxiety and curiosity in millions of radio listeners who had not heard the Mercury Theatre broadcast.[8]:171–172


In a study published in book form as The Invasion from Mars (1940), Princeton professor Hadley Cantril calculated that some six million people heard "The War of the Worlds" broadcast.[18]:56 He estimated that 1.7 million listeners believed the broadcast was an actual news bulletin and, of those, 1.2 million people were frightened or disturbed.[18]:58 Media historians Jefferson Pooley and Michael Socolow have since concluded, however, that Cantril's study has serious flaws. Its estimate of the program's audience is more than twice as high as any other at the time. Cantril himself conceded this, but argued that unlike Hooper his estimate had attempted to capture the significant portion of the audience that did not have home telephones at that time. Since those respondents were contacted only after the media frenzy, Cantril allowed that their recollections could have been influenced by what they read in the newspapers. Claims that Chase and Sanborn listeners who missed the disclaimer at the beginning when they turned to CBS during a commercial break or musical performance on that show and thus mistook "The War of the Worlds" for a real broadcast inflated the show's audience and the ensuing alleged panic are impossible to substantiate.[3]

Apart from his admittedly imperfect methods of estimating the audience and assessing the authenticity of their response, Pooley and Socolow found, Cantril made another error in typing audience reaction. Respondents had indicated a variety of reactions to the program, among them "excited", "disturbed," and "frightened". Yet he included all of them with "panicked," failing to account for the possibility that despite their reaction they were still aware the broadcast was staged. "[T]hose who did hear it, looked at it as a prank and accepted it that way," recalled researcher Frank Stanton.[3]

Bartholomew grants that hundreds of thousands were frightened but calls evidence of people taking action based on their fear "scant" and "anecdotal".[36] 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 authorities mostly involve only small groups. Such stories were often reported by people who were panicking themselves.[23]

Later investigations found much of the alleged panicked responses to have been exaggerated or mistaken. Cantril's researchers found that, contrary to what had been claimed, there were no admissions for shock at a Newark hospital during the broadcast; hospitals in New York City similarly reported no spike in admissions that night. A few suicide attempts seem to have been prevented when friends or family intervened, but there was no record of a successful one. A Washington Post claim that a man died of a heart attack brought on by listening to the program could not be verified. One woman filed a lawsuit against CBS, but it was soon dismissed.[3]


In the aftermath of the reported panic, CBS responded to public outcry by pointing to reminders throughout the broadcast that it was a performance. Welles and Mercury Theatre escaped punishment but not censure; FCC chairman Frank McNinch got not only CBS but all the radio networks to agree that they would not use staged newscasts as an element of fictional dramas again.[3] The notoriety of the broadcast led the Campbell Soup Company to sponsor the show; The Mercury Theatre on the Air was renamed The Campbell Playhouse beginning with the broadcast December 9, 1938.[1]:348

Many listeners sued the network for "mental anguish" and "personal injury". All suits were dismissed, except for a claim for a pair of black men's shoes by a Massachusetts man, who spent his shoe money to escape the Martians. Welles insisted the man be paid.[37]

CBS received nearly 2,000 letters and telegrams, the majority of which praised the network for the quality of the program. The nearly 1,500 sent to the Mercury Theatre staff were overwhelmingly positive. At the FCC, however, the correspondence was more toward the negative. Some was from public officials, like the city manager of Trenton, New Jersey, the nearest large city to the Martians' fictional landing site, who complained that the incoming phone calls to the police had "completely crippled communication facilities of our Police Department for about three hours."[38] Others were from citizens who urged the agency to actively censor radio to prevent this from happening in the future.[39]

The FCC also received letters from the public that advised against taking reprisals. "I have read considerable concerning the program of Orson Welles presented over the Columbia Broadcasting System Sunday evening," wrote a South Dakota man:

I suppose that by this time you have received many letters from numerous cranks and crack-pots who quickly became jitterbugs during the program. I was one of the thousands who heard this program and did not jump out of the window, did not attempt suicide, did not break my arm while beating a hasty retreat from my apartment, did not anticipate a horrible death, did not hear the Martians "rapping on my chamber door," did not see the monsters landing in war-like regalia in the park across the street, but sat serenely entertained no end by the fine portrayal of a fine play. The "Mercury Theatre" has been one of the radio high-lights of the week for me this fall. The program Sunday, I felt, was one of their better programs. Should your commission contemplate serious measures toward the Columbia Broadcasting System my suggestion would be that the "Mercury Theatre" be directed to re-broadcast this program and the reaction of all the listening audience be solicited.[38]

Singer Eddie Cantor urged the commission not to overreact, as "censorship would retard radio immeasurably."[39]

Ultimately the FCC not only chose not to punish Welles or CBS, it barred complaints about "The War of the Worlds" from being brought up during license renewals. "Janet Jackson's 2004 'wardrobe malfunction' remains far more significant in the history of broadcast regulation than Orson Welles' trickery," wrote media historians Jefferson Pooley and Michael Socolow.[3]

Meeting of Welles and Wells[edit]

H. G. Wells and Orson Welles met for the first and only time in late October 1940, shortly before the second anniversary of the Mercury Theatre broadcast, when they both happened to be lecturing in San Antonio, Texas. On October 28, 1940, the two men visited the studios of KTSA radio for an interview by Charles C. Shaw,[1]:361 who introduced them by characterizing the panic generated by "The War of the Worlds": "The country at large was frightened almost out of its wits".[28]

Wells expressed good-natured skepticism about the actual extent of the panic caused by "this sensational Halloween spree. Are you sure there was such a panic in America or wasn't it your Halloween fun?"[28]

Welles appreciated the comment: "I think that’s the nicest thing that a man from England could say about the men from Mars. Mr. Hitler made a good deal of sport of it, you know … It's supposed to show the corrupt condition and decadent state of affairs in democracy, that 'The War of the Worlds' went over as well as it did. I think it's very nice of Mr. Wells to say that not only I didn’t mean it, but the American people didn’t mean it."[28]

When Shaw interjected that there was "some excitement" that he did not wish to belittle, Welles asked him, "What kind of excitement? Mr. H. G. Wells wants to know if the excitement wasn't the same kind of excitement that we extract from a practical joke in which somebody puts a sheet over his head and says 'Boo!' I don't think anybody believes that that individual is a ghost, but we do scream and yell and rush down the hall. And that's just about what happened."[28]

"That’s a very excellent description," Shaw said.[28]

"You aren’t quite serious in America, yet," said Wells. "You haven’t got the war right under your chins. And the consequence is you can still play with ideas of terror and conflict. … It's a natural thing to do until you're right up against it."[28]

"Until it ceases to be a game," Welles said — a phrase Wells repeated.[28][29] Britain had then been at war with Nazi Germany for more than a year.


As the Mercury's second theatre season began in 1938, Orson Welles and John Houseman were unable to write the Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcasts on their own. They hired Howard E. Koch, whose experience in having a play performed by the Federal Theatre Project in Chicago led him to leave his law practice and move to New York to become a writer. Koch was put to work at $50 a week, raised to $60 after he proved himself.[2]:390 The Mercury Theatre on the Air was a sustaining show underwritten by CBS, so in lieu of a more substantial salary Houseman gave Koch the rights to any script he worked on.[40]:175–176

"It's important to know how Welles constructed his radio scripts," wrote biographer Frank Brady, "since some doubt about his contribution to them has been raised by critics, past and present. Welles maintained complete control and authority, creatively and legally, over the content of all his shows." Brady devotes a full page of his 1989 book Citizen Welles to the process Welles employed.[8]:162–164 "As with all Orson Welles's broadcasts, the radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds was a collaborative effort, with Welles the chief architect who had the power and authority to employ as many draftsmen, designers, and workers as needed to construct the building," Brady wrote.[8]:177

A condensed version of the script for "The War of the Worlds" appeared in the debut issue of Radio Digest magazine (February 1939), in an article on the historic broadcast that credited "Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre players".[41]

On December 19, 1938,[42] Princeton University announced that it was beginning a study of the social and psychological aspects of the panic surrounding "The War of the Worlds" broadcast, with the assistance of a government grant. Psychologist Hadley Cantril directed the study, published in book form under the title The Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic (1940). Also included was the complete script of "The War of the Worlds" broadcast.[8]:176–177

Welles received the galley proofs of Cantril's book when he was asked to provide a blurb for the back of the dust jacket — and he was furious to see Howard Koch's name listed in the table of contents as the author of "The War of the Worlds". Welles understood his arrangement was that Koch would receive a nominal payment and copyright ownership of the scripts he had worked on. He emphatically disputed that Koch was the author, however, in a letter to Cantril: "Now it's perfectly true that Mr. Koch worked on 'The War of the Worlds' since he was at that time a regular member of my writing staff. To credit the broadcast version to him, with the implication that its conception as well as its execution was his, is a gross mistake."[8]:177

Welles made it clear that he was not requesting more credit for himself in Cantril's book, although he certainly believed such credit was due him: "The idea for 'The War of the Worlds' broadcast and the major portion of its execution was mine", Welles wrote. He did insist that if Koch was named, the others who worked on the script should be credited, as well — including John Houseman; Paul Stewart, who made significant contributions to the text; sound engineer John Dietz; Davidson Taylor, who devised the newscast detail and interviews; and Bernard Herrmann, whose musical contributions shaped the script. Welles also wrote that many actors "did quite as much of the writing by the time we were done with our rehearsals as the writers themselves", and challenged Cantril's repeated attribution of authorship to Koch alone.[8]:177–178

When Welles requested that an errata slip be inserted into the book, Cantril instead proposed a lengthy rewording of the broadcast credit in the table of contents. This did not satisfy Welles, who replied with a telegram: "Once again, finally, and I promise for the last time, Howard Koch did not write The War of the Worlds. Any statement to this effect is untrue and immeasurably detrimental to me. I fail to see how I can put this more strongly. Orson Welles."[8]:178

For his part, Koch gave Cantril an affidavit attesting that he was the sole author of the script and that Houseman and Stewart had made only minimal contributions.[8]:178–179

Koch and one of Welles's attorneys conferred and "A Note to the Reader" was inserted into copies of The Invasion from Mars:[43]:15–16

In the publication of his radio play The War of the Worlds Howard Koch wishes to make the following statement to avoid any misunderstanding that may be detrimental to Orson Welles: "Orson Welles conceived the treatment of the radio play based on H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds. In addition to that he produced, directed, and acted in the broadcast. In a very proper sense it is Mr. Welles's achievement, to which my only contribution was the writing of the play in accordance with his general conception.[43]:3

This did not resolve the matter for Welles,[43]:15–16 but by the time the book was published he had decided to end the dispute.[8]:178–179

"As it developed over the years, Koch took some cash and some credit," wrote biographer Frank Brady. "He wrote the story of how he created the adaptation, with a copy of his script being made into a paperback book enjoying large printings and an album of the broadcast selling over 500,000 copies, part of the income also going to him as copyright owner."[8]:179

The book, The Panic Broadcast, was first published in 1970.[44] The best-selling album was a sound recording of the broadcast titled Orson Welles' War of the Worlds, "released by arrangement with Manheim Fox Enterprises, Inc."[45][46] The source discs for the recording are unknown.[47] Welles told Peter Bogdanovich that it was a poor-quality recording taken off the air at the time of broadcast — "a pirated record which people have made fortunes of money and have no right to play." Welles received no compensation: "It's been sold over and over again, it's been broadcast, everything; I never made a cent off of it. And I've tried to stop them because it's a bad record. … I've only heard the first four or five minutes and I turned it off, it's so poor."[48]

Welles did seek legal redress after the CBS TV series Studio One presented its top-rated broadcast, "The Night America Trembled" September 9, 1957. In suit against CBS and Westinghouse, Welles contended that he had served as an independent contractor who produced and directed "The War of the Worlds" and was its co-author and owner. He asserted that CBS had an implicit covenant with him. The United States District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled against Welles October 3, 1962, affirming a prior ruling that Welles had not proved the existence of a contractual covenant, and that the script for "The War of the Worlds" had been written by Howard Koch and published under copyright notice April 15, 1940, in Cantril's book. Welles was found to have abandoned any rights he may have had at that time, and Koch had granted CBS the right to use the script in its program. "Hence Welles could have no valid objection to the use of this script in putting on another entirely different performance, with entirely different actors," the court concluded.[43]

Hosted by Edward R. Murrow, the live Studio One presentation of Nelson S. Bond's documentary play "The Night America Trembled" recreates the 1938 performance of "The War of the Worlds" in the CBS studio, using the script as a framework for a series of factual narratives about a cross-section of radio listeners. No member of the Mercury Theatre is named; likewise, Howard Koch receives no credit for his script.[49][50]

Jack Gould of The New York Times called the production "varied and imaginative" but was perplexed that Orson Welles was never mentioned in the program. "It must be disconcerting for one to be written out of his main contribution to history," Gould wrote.[51]

Current ownership[edit]

The estate of scriptwriter Howard Koch owns the rights to the radio play.


Initially apologetic about the supposed panic his broadcast had caused (and privately fuming that newspaper reports of lawsuits were either greatly exaggerated or totally fabricated[34]), Welles later embraced the story as part of his personal myth. "Houses were emptying, churches were filling up; from Nashville to Minneapolis there was wailing in the streets and the rending of garments," he told Peter Bogdanovich years later.[1]:18 CBS, too, found reports ultimately useful in promoting the strength of its influence. It presented a fictionalized account of the panic in a 1957 episode of the television series Studio One, and included it prominently in its 2003 celebrations of CBS's 75th anniversary as a television broadcaster. "The legend of the panic," according to Jefferson and Socolow, "grew exponentially over the following years ... [It] persists because it so perfectly captures our unease with the media's power over our lives."[3]

The New Jersey Township of West Windsor, where Grover's Mill is located, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the broadcast in 1988 with four days of festivities including art and planetarium shows, a panel discussion, a parade, burial of a time capsule, a dinner dance, film festivals devoted to H. G. Wells and Orson Welles, and the dedication of a bronze monument to the fictional Martian landings. Howard Koch, an author of the original radio script, attended the 49th anniversary celebration as an honored guest.[52]

On 27 October 2013, BBC Radio 4extra broadcast the show at 6pm GMT to commemorate the 75th Anniversary with an introduction by George Takei. On the previous day, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an analysis of the impact the broadcast made on an unsuspecting audience and its legacy. It looked at the myths and anecdotes generated since the original broadcast.

On October 29, 2013, the PBS documentary series American Experience examined "The War of the Worlds" broadcast on the eve of its 75th anniversary.[53][54]


Title page of the original typescript for "The War of the Worlds", on the cover of the Sotheby's auction catalog (December 14, 1988)

Original working manuscript[edit]

On December 14, 1988, the original radioplay typescript for "The War of the Worlds" was sold at auction at Sotheby's in New York by author Howard Koch. The typescript bears the handwritten deletions and additions of Orson Welles and producer John Houseman. The auction catalog describes it as "the only extant copy of the script known".[55]

"The police came in after the broadcast and seized whatever copies they could find as evidence, I suppose", Koch told The New York Times. "There was a question that we had done something that might have criminal implications." Expected to bring between $25,000 and $35,000,[56] the script sold for $143,000 — setting a record for an article of entertainment memorabilia.[57]

"I had a private offer of $60,000", Koch said after selling the 46-page script, which he said had been in his file cabinet for years. "They advised me to take the gamble. I guess it was the right gamble."[58]

Biographer Barton Whaley reported that the script Koch sold had actually been found in the mid-1970s by Welles scholar Richard France, while he was doing research in the CBS files. The original working script for "The War of the Worlds" was among the documents and old scripts that were about to be discarded to make space, and France was allowed to salvage it. He sent it to Koch, whom he did not know, as a thoughtful surprise. France never received thanks.[59]:497

Welles's directorial manuscript[edit]

A second surviving "War of the Worlds" radio script — Welles's own directorial copy, given to an associate for safekeeping — was auctioned June 2, 1994, at Christie's in New York. Estimated to bring $15,000 to $20,000, the script was sold for $32,200.[60] The successful bidder was filmmaker Steven Spielberg, whose collection also includes one of the three balsa "Rosebud" sleds from Citizen Kane. Spielberg adapted The War of the Worlds for a feature film in 2005.[61][62]

Early draft manuscript[edit]

An early draft of "The War of the Worlds" script was offered as part of the "TCM Presents … There's No Place Like Hollywood" auction November 24, 2014, at Bonhams in New York. Nine pages in length, the draft was one of the items from the estate of George (Shorty) Chirello, who worked for Welles from about 1942 to 1952.[63] Estimated to bring between $2,000 and $3,000, the manuscript sold for $9,375.[64]


On January 27, 2003, the Mercury Theatre broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" was one of the first 50 recordings made part of the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.[65]

Re-airings and adaptations[edit]

Since the original Mercury Theatre broadcast, there have been many re-airings, remakes, reenactments and new dramatizations of the original. Many American radio stations, particularly those that regularly air old-time radio programs, re-air the original program as a Halloween tradition.

  • 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. Hundreds attacked Radio Quito and El Comercio, a local newspaper that had participated in the hoax by publishing false reports of unidentified objects in the skies above Ecuador in the days preceding the broadcast. The riot resulted in at least seven deaths, including those of Paez's girlfriend and nephew. Paez moved to Venezuela after the incident.[36][66][67]
  • In 25 June 1958, in Lisbon, Portugal, the "Rádio Renascença" radio aired an daptation.[68]
  • Widespread panic ensued from an adaptation by WPRO (AM) in Providence, Rhode Island in 1974, using the storyline that an apparent meteor had landed on the island community of Jamestown, Rhode Island. As with the 1938 original, hundreds of listeners jammed telephone lines calling police and newspapers, with over 500 calls logged by The Providence Journal alone. At the time, WPRO was the most established radio news station in the state having been in operation since 1924, so the program beginning immediately following the 11:00pm newscast and the employment in the show of the regular news staff whose voices were familiar to listeners added an air of legitimacy that was later seen as damaging to journalistic credibility. The station staff were shocked by the public reaction and news reporter Mark Haines, one of the main on-air personalities involved, was quoted as saying "I never had a second thought about it because it never occurred to me that anyone would believe it." The radio station came under substantial criticism, especially because no disclosure of the fictional nature of the program was made until 11:50pm, which was 47 minutes into the 64-minute broadcast and four minutes after the dramatic 'live" report that the Jamestown Bridge had been blown up, severing the island's connection to the mainland. A formal inquiry by the Federal Communications Commission found that the program had been in violation of rules enacted in 1966, noting the long delay in airing any explicit disclaimer, but reprimanded the station without a fine.[69]
  • 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, Colorado, 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 capital to a Martian invasion. In addition to a speech from President Bill Clinton above the mayhem in Air Force One, this version has a scene in which Mayor Marion Barry tries to communicate with one of the capsules and is zapped. (Both were played by actors.)
  • In 1975 the ABC network aired a television docudrama film about the 1938 broadcast called The Night That Panicked America, starring Vic Morrow, Meredith Baxter and Paul Shenar as Orson Welles.
  • In 30 October 1988, in Braga, Portugal, "Rádio Braga" broadcast a radio play of an invasion set on Braga, a major city of Portugal.[70]
  • In 1998, in Palmela, Portugal, was aired an daptation.[73]
  • Northwest Missouri State University aired a TV version of the original show for their 2006 Halloween special, supplemented by fake footage of an interview with an astronomy professor, the aliens landing outside of Maryville, Missouri, and people running through the streets in terror.
  • On 30 October 2008, the Spanish Radio Academy commemorated the 70th anniversary through the recreation of the Spanish version from the theater in Madrid and with the participation of all national radio.
  • In March 2011, Toronto's Art of Time Ensemble staged a show about the presentation of the radio drama featuring Marc Bendavid, Nicholas Campbell and Don McKellar, sound effects artist John Gzowski, and ten musicians performing a newly commissioned medley of Bernard Herrmann film scores.[77]
  • In October 2012 Lock Haven University's Radio club did a special version of the broadcast, with the script adjusted so most of the events happened in Lock Haven.
  • In October 2012, students at the University of Connecticut and members of the Windham Theatre Guild performed an adaptation of the script on WHUS, with the first half of the story occurring in Eastern Connecticut, and incorporating the events of Hurricane Sandy.[78]
  • On 9 February 2013, the French public radio France Culture aired an adaptation of the broadcast, live from the Longueur d'Ondes ("Wavelength") radio festival in Brest. The plot, narration and places were kept the same as the original, but the music was replaced with contemporary Breton music and an interview of the director of the festival, and a very few names were adapted for practical reasons, e.g. reporter Carl Philips was renamed Carla Philips because the role was held by an actress.[79]
  • On 13 August 2013, the iOS application, "Disney Animated", included this in their "Timeline" section, under the label, "sci-fi drama".
  • On 4 September 2013, the Malaysian radio station BFM 89.9 aired a localized adaptation of the broadcast, starring radio announcers from the station itself.[80]
  • On 30 October 2013, Sydney community radio station 2SER broadcast a modernised adaptation[81] of 'War of the Worlds', set locally in Australia, to commemorate the drama's 75th anniversary.[82]
  • On 30 October 2013, Montana Public Radio broadcast both the original script and an adaptation of 'War of the Worlds', set in Montana, to commemorate the drama's 75th anniversary.
  • On 30 October 2013, the Grand Theater in Grand Island, Nebraska presented a live broadcast of the play, which was streamed over the internet and television. The actors dressed in period clothing, and even arranged for an all-original 1937 Oldsmobile sedan to be parked out front of the theater during the performance.
  • On 30 October 2013, the Spanish Radio Academy commemorated the 75th anniversary through the recreation of the Spanish version from the theater in Madrid and with the participation of all national radio.
  • On 31 October 2013 the science fiction radio station Krypton Radio presented a modernized adaptation of the play,[83] written and produced by Christopher H. Baum, drawn from the original work by H.G. Wells. It was streamed over the internet to commemorate the original drama's 75th anniversary.
  • On 31 October 2013 XERS radio ( rebroadcast the original recording in its entirety in over 50 countries and all 50 states from northern Indiana to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the original broadcast.
  • In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina the music station WAVE 104.1 rebroadcasts the drama every Halloween night.


Monument in Van Nest Park, Grover's Mill, New Jersey, memorializing the fictional Martian landing site (October 1988)

It is sometimes said the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was received with skepticism by the American public, as a consequence of the radio performance.[84] In the 1943 Howard Hawks film, Air Force, when the attack is reported on the radio, a character asks, "Who you got tuned in, Orson Welles?"[1]:20

The plot of the 1994 TV movie Without Warning centers around Earth being hit by three meteor fragments. The filmmakers acknowledged their debt to "The War of the Worlds", and the film was first broadcast on CBS TV on the 56th anniversary of the radio broadcast. It was broadcast with a disclaimer identifying it as fictional, as the 1983 TV movie Special Bulletin had been.[citation needed]

The 1996 BBC Radio 1 production Independence Day UK covered the plot of the film Independence Day from a British perspective. In addition to explicitly referencing the Welles radio drama at the start, the broadcast was patterned in the same manner and format.

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

References in fiction[edit]

  • A 1940 Human Torch story published in Marvel Mystery Comics contained a reference to a radio hoax involving an alien invasion that had been concocted by a man named Lawson Bell.[85]
  • In the 1940 Mickey Mouse cartoon Tugboat Mickey, Mickey, Goofy, and Donald destroy a tugboat after hearing a SOS on the boat's radio. It is later revealed that it was just a radio show. In response, the three attack and drown the radio.
  • In the 1946 Looney Tunes cartoon short Kitty Kornered, a group of house cats (including a Sylvester look-alike) gets revenge on Porky Pig for putting them outside for the night by disguising themselves as aliens and waking him with a fake radio alert about "men from Mars".
  • In Woody Allen's 1987 film Radio Days, the broadcast prompts a female character's date to abandon her in the car and run away in panic, leaving her to walk six miles home. The next day, the date calls her but she refuses a further invitation by claiming she has "married a Martian".
  • Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Michael Crichton's Sphere both cite the Welles broadcast as evidence that, 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.
  • The 1968 novel Sideslip by Ted White and Dave Van Arnam takes place in an alternate history in which aliens took advantage of the confusion following the broadcast to carry out an actual invasion.
  • In William Kennedy's 1983 novel Ironweed, which begins on Halloween in 1938, the radio broadcast is referenced by several characters.
  • In the 1984 film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, aliens arrive on Earth in Grover's Mill and hypnotize Welles, causing him to pass the broadcast off as a drama when it is indeed factual.
  • In the 1990 film Spaced Invaders, a crew of 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.
  • A 1957 Westinghouse Studio One episode, "The Night America Trembled", depicts a semi-fictionalized version of the broadcast and the audience reaction. A 1975 made-for-television film, The Night That Panicked America, offers a similar dramatization of the event.
  • In the fictional history of the War of the Worlds TV series, Welles was hired by the government to orchestrate the broadcast in order to cover up a reconnaissance mission by the same aliens, who would launch an all-out war 15 years later.
  • In a Halloween episode of Hey Arnold!, Arnold and Gerald conduct a radio broadcast in an attempt to scare the residents of Arnold's boarding house. The broadcast is inadvertently picked up by a paranormal investigator, who mistakes it as legitimate and re-broadcasts it across the city as a real news bulletin.[86]
  • The Doctor Who audio drama Invaders from Mars is set in New York City at the time of the broadcast. Unusual events occurring in the city's underworld mirror the radio story, with the Doctor later using the broadcast to buy him time to deal with a genuine invasion by convincing the invaders that Earth has already been conquered.
  • "Battle for the Planet", an Animaniacs segment starring Pinky and the Brain, features the Brain's plan to recreate the broadcast and take over the world during the panic he believes (wrongly) will ensue. Instead, the much more sophisticated viewing audience finds the obvious hoax hilarious.
  • The TaleSpin episode "War of the Weirds" centers around several characters' competing and escalating hoaxes about travel to Mars and Martian invasions.
  • In an episode of The Flintstones, a radio broadcaster sparks panic in Bedrock by warning of an imminent invasion by the "Way-Outs", which is really just a music group resembling The Beatles wearing odd costumes.
  • In an episode of the short-lived animated series adaptation of Dennis the Menace, Dennis and his cohorts visit a radio station studio to record a radio play for a school project. Their play is accidentally broadcast, which deprives invading Martians of the element of surprise and leads to their defeat by the townspeople.
  • In the 1987 Newhart episode "Take Me to Your Loudon", local TV programmer Michael Harris tries to duplicate Welles' feat by airing the 1953 movie version of War of the Worlds, successfully sending the entire town into panic.
  • Touched by an Angel features parts of the original broadcast in a 1996 Halloween episode titled "The Sky is Falling". In the episode, an old man has to deal with the trauma he endured during the nationwide panic, including the death of his father due to a misfire by a paranoid citizen.
  • The November 4, 2007, episode of Cold Case deals with a fictional murder that took place during the panic surrounding the original 1938 radio broadcast.
  • In "Panic", a 1997 episode of HBO's Perversions of Science, alien invaders disguised as humans mistakenly believe that a War of the Worlds-style broadcast is announcing an unexpected invasion of Earth by their people.
  • The Simpsons has alluded to the broadcast several times. In "Radio Bart", Homer buys Bart a microphone that can be used to broadcast on nearby radios. Bart tricks Homer into believing a Martian has eaten the President of the United States. Marge mentions the broadcast in passing during the introduction to "Treehouse of Horror IV". And "Treehouse of Horror XVII" features a segment titled "The Day the Earth Looked Stupid", in which a hoax broadcast inspires a brief panic in Springfield circa 1938. Aliens then destroy Springfield after no one believes they are really aliens.
  • In the Futurama episode "Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences", the head of Welles (voiced by Maurice LaMarche) is recruited to re-perform his famous broadcast to make an alien ruler's wife believe he had actually conquered Earth.
  • 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.
  • EC Comics did a story in Weird Science in which a TV network decides to a televise a remake of the broadcast. To avoid confusion, they publicize the event weeks ahead of time. A real invasion occurs the same night, and as the station breaks into the hoax report with a real report, no one believes it.
  • In Superman #62 (January/February 1950), Welles learns of an imminent Martian invasion and attempts to notify the people. Everyone except Superman dismisses Welles's radio warnings as another hoax.
  • This also happens in a September 28, 1947 story in The Spirit. The story, titled "UFO", featured megalomaniacal media mogul Awsome Bells, who is visited by Martians disclosing invasion plans to him. At first he thinks it's a gag to promote a script for him to produce. When he finds it's real, no one will listen to him because of his notorious broadcast, so he decides to go to Mars himself.[87]
  • The incident is referenced in Batman #1 in which The Joker, in his comic book debut, hijacks the airwaves of a radio station to announce that later that evening he will murder millionaire Henry Claridge and steal his prized diamond, an elderly woman listening to the broadcast expresses concern but her husband dismisses the threat as a joke: "Like that fellow who scared everybody with that story about Mars the last time!"
  • Crimson Glory's song "March to Glory", an introduction to their album Astronomica, contains clips from "The War of the Worlds" and other 20th-century radio broadcasts. The next song on the album is titled "War of the Worlds" and is about an alien invasion.
  • Pinback's song "Boo" from the album Blue Screen Life uses sound bites from the broadcast, including the infamous "2X2L calling CQ" line, at the beginning. The sound bites correlate to the lyrics of the song, which describe a sinking submarine.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Para-Medic recalls her family believing the broadcast in a conversation with Snake.
  • In both the 1955 film version and 2011 stage version of The Ladykillers, Mrs. Wilberforce mentions that one of her neighbors had reported a suspected alien invasion, but it turned out that she had fallen asleep in front of the radio and woken up whilst a sci-fi series was being played.
  • In the Arthur episode "D.W. Aims High", the character of D.W. Read shows fear of aliens. Her father explains that it's okay to be afraid by telling D.W. about Orson Welles's radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds".
  • In the Wingin' It episode "Announce of Prevention", first aired in 2012, protagonist Carl Montclaire recreates the radio play on the advice of drama teacher Mrs Lennox. Carl writes school announcements in the style of "The War of the Worlds" that promote studying to help Principal Malone pass his evaluation. With the help of his guardian angel, Carl convinces the entire school that an alien invasion is taking place and that the only way to defend against the attackers is to study science and find their weaknesses. Carl follows this up with a fake zombie invasion.
  • In a segment of Taz-Mania titled "The Man from M.A.R.S.", Taz listens to a spoof of "The War of the Worlds". When he sees Marvin the Martian arriving for a vacation at Tazmania, Taz is convinced that Marvin leads an invasion force and disrupts Marvin's vacation in an attempt save Earth.
  • Children's author and illustrator Meghan McCarthy details the broadcast and ensuing panic in her 2006 rhyming picture book Aliens Are Coming!.
  • In the 2014 playable teaser to the cancelled video game Silent Hills, a Swedish radio broadcast can be heard that presumably references "The War of the Worlds" by telling the protagonist that "the radio drama from 75 years ago" was the truth.

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Houseman, John, Run Through: A Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972, ISBN 0-671-21034-3
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Pooley, Jefferson; Socolow, Michael (October 28, 2013). "The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic". Slate. Retrieved November 1, 2013. 
  4. ^ Museum of Hoaxes: The BBC Radio Panic, 1926
  5. ^ "'Bolsheviks are attacking the Palace and Big Ben has been destroyed': The fake BBC radio bulletin that terrified listeners in 1926". Wilkes, David, The Daily Mail, October 12, 2011. Retrieved 2014-10-27. 
  6. ^ Welles, Orson, and Peter Bogdanovich, This is Orson Welles. HarperAudio, September 30, 1992. ISBN 1-55994-680-6 Audiotape 4A 6:25–6:42. Welles states, "I got the idea from a BBC show that had gone on the year before [sic] when a Catholic priest told how some Communists had seized London and a lot of people in London believed it. And I thought that'd be fun to do on a big scale, let's have it from outer space—that's how I got the idea."
  7. ^ Invasion Panic This Week; Martians Coming Next, Radio Recall, April 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Brady, Frank, Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989 ISBN 0-385-26759-2
  9. ^ a b c Wood, Bret, Orson Welles: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1990 ISBN 0-313-26538-0
  10. ^ Fielding, Raymond, The March of Time, 1935–1951. New York: Oxford University Press 1978 hardcover ISBN 0-19-502212-2 page 13
  11. ^ "For the Heart at Fire's Center – Paul Stewart". The Bernard Herrmann Society. Retrieved 2014-10-22. 
  12. ^ McBride, Joseph, What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? A Portrait of an Independent Career. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2006, ISBN 0-8131-2410-7
  13. ^ Smith, Steven C., A Heart at Fire's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991 ISBN 0-520-07123-9
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  15. ^ "The Mercury Theatre". RadioGOLDINdex. Retrieved 2014-10-19. 
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  19. ^ Vallance, Tom (March 25, 1999). "Obituary: Stefan Schnabel". The Independent. Retrieved 2015-03-05. 
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  21. ^ Brinkley, Alan (2010). "Chapter 23 - The Great Depression". The Unfinished Nation. p. 615. ISBN 978-0-07-338552-5. 
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  23. ^ a b c d e f g Campbell, W. Joseph. (2010). Getting it wrong : ten of the greatest misreported stories in American Journalism. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 26–44. ISBN 978-0-520-26209-6. 
  24. ^ Bloomfield, Gary (2004). Duty, Honor, Applause: America's Entertainers in World War II, Part 810. Globe Pequot. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-59228-550-1. 
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  39. ^ a b Potter, Lee Ann (Fall 2003). ""Jitterbugs" and "Crack-pots": Letters to the FCC about the "War of the Worlds" Broadcast". Prologue 35 (3). Retrieved November 3, 2013. 
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  42. ^ "Princeton Scientists Will Study Hysteria After 'Mars Attack". The Freeport Journal (Associated Press), December 20, 1938, page 1.
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  44. ^ Koch, Howard, The Panic Broadcast: Portrait of an Event. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970. The radio play "Invasion from Mars" was now copyrighted in Koch's name (Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third Series; Books and Pamphlets, Title Index, January–June 1971, page 1866). Hadley Cantril's The Invasion from Mars, including the radio play (titled "The Broadcast"), was copyrighted in 1940 by Princeton University Press.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Bulgatz, Joseph (1992). Ponzi Schemes, Invaders from Mars & More: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-517-58830-7. 
  • Estrin, Mark W.; Welles, Orson (2002). Orson Welles Interviews. Jackson (Miss.): University of Mississippi. 
  • Gosling, John (2009). Waging The War of the Worlds: A History of the 1938 Radio Broadcast and Resulting Panic. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-4105-4. 
  • Holmsten, Brian; Lubertozzi, Alex, eds. (2001). The Complete War of the Worlds: Mars' Invasion of Earth from H.G. Wells to Orson Welles. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks MediaFusion. ISBN 1-570-71714-1. 
  • The Martian Panic Sixty Years Later from CSICOP
  • The Martian Invasion describes instances of panic, outcry over the panic and the responses by the FCC and CBS
  • BBC report on the 1926 Knox riot hoax

External links[edit]