War of the Worlds
American Experience, PBS, 60 minutes, airs in October (2013)
On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and his heralded Mercury Theater unwittingly unloosed one of the best-known Halloween tricks of all time. Millions of Americans tuned into the Theater’s radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ famed science-fiction novel—after the initial announcement explaining it was dramatic fiction—and froze with fear or grabbed their loved ones to fee, believing what they heard about Martians invading New Jersey was a news broadcast. Why were so many so willing to think this? Was it a hangover from the Depression, or the ever-growing threat of war in Europe? What was going on behind the scenes as panicky calls jammed phone lines and unnerved media executives? What was the 23-year-old Welles thinking? This engaging look at a fabled moment unveils some surprising facts.
Originally published in the December 2013 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.