The War of the Worlds

Despite his bravado, Mr. Manulis panicked and bolted out of the car. He was so frightened by the reports of interplanetary invasion that he ran off, leaving Aunt Bea to contend with the green monsters he expected to drop from the sky at any moment. She walked home. Six miles. When Mr. Manulis called for a date the next week, she told my mother to say she couldn’t see him. She had married a Martian.

                          –  Woody Allen, “Radio Days” (1987)

Four score years ago less one, a radio drama by 23-year-old Orson Welles “created almost unbelievable scenes of terror in New York, New Jersey, the South and as far west as San Francisco,” as listeners drank in a Halloween tale of an invasion from Mars.  As Welles advised his audience at the beginning of the broadcast, the presentation was an adaption of H. G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.”  Most of the audience understood they were listening to a gripping radio drama, but not all.  Welles’ program, the Mercury Theater, was far from the most popular show in the timeslot.  That honor, curiously, belonged to Edgard Bergen, a ventriloquist who starred, with chief dummy Charlie McCarthy, in the Chase and Sanborn Hour, a comedy-variety program.  Bergen’s prominence was strange enough in its own right.  As Joshua Mostel exclaimed in the movie, Radio Days, “He’s a ventriloquist on the radio – how do you know he’s not moving his lips?”  But I digress.


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