NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 26, 2013

Orson Welles' 'War of the Worlds' still vivid at 75

(Continued)

Besides, the show itself felt real, full of urgency and fear.

As a result, many people sitting by their radios, already jittery about the clouds of war forming over Europe, believed that Martians had invaded not only New Jersey, but also the rest of the nation. An Akron police officer later recalled a man’s frantic claim that a spaceship had landed in his yard and “three or four little men climbed out.”

Police were dispatched and, the Beacon Journal dryly noted, “Officers found no evidence that a spaceship had landed.”

Jack Paar later said he was working as a radio announcer in Cleveland the night that “War” aired. While his account in his memoir “I Kid You Not” is wrong on some details, Paar nonetheless said the switchboard lit up and he tried “telling the alarmed listeners that the invasion was fictional.

“I also broke into the program to announce this,” Paar said, “but the calls kept pouring in, many of the panicky callers charging that I was covering up the truth.”

Then the true truth was known, when Welles firmly told the audience this was all just a Halloween tale “jumping out of a bush and saying ‘Boo!’” Police investigated, the Federal Communications Commission examined it, and officials including both Akron’s mayor and its police chief complained. Commentators weighed in, Welles expressed surprise and later regret, and an academic study tried to figure out who believed the broadcast and why. Koch wrote that a Grovers Mill farmer began charging hundreds of Martian-seeking tourists a fee to park at his place.

Then there were jokes. Welles claimed he received a letter from commentator Alexander Woolcott declaring that when War aired, “all the intelligent listeners (were) tuned in on Charlie McCarthy.”

While there were later screen adaptations of H.G. Wells’ story, the radio version achieved its own status apart from Wells’ words. Koch, revisiting Grovers Mill decades later, found that some lots were being advertised “as the historical site of the Martian invasion.” Dramatizations of the radio events have included 1957’s “The Night America Trembled” and 1975’s “The Night That Panicked America.”

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