75 years ago on Sunday Oct., 30, 1938, at 8pm, Orson Welles on Mischief night__ something like the Christmas eve__ caused a massive twerk, with his radio adaptation of H.G.Wells sci-fi thriller The War of the Worlds. In a seemingly innocuous way Orson Welles accompanied by the Mercury Theatre on Air and aided by the Columbia Broadcasting Systems network, in a “Breaking News” fashion painted the doomsday scenario.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. At twenty minutes before eight, Central Time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars. The spectroscope indicates the gas to be hydrogen and moving towards the Earth with enormous velocity…”
Within minutes of the infamously famous or famously infamous broadcast, which turned Orson Welles into an overnight celebrity, he shook the whole of the Northeastern regions of the American continent with his news bulletins that the Martians had invaded the earth. The spot the Martians had chosen to start their alleged invasion of the world was a town named Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. After minute or two of dead silence, the reporter again started relaying his bulletins; a little strange because when the Martian shot their “Heat Rays”__ laser beams, perhaps__ that disintegrated everything and everybody except the extremely lucky reporter, and as the minute by minute reporting ensued, the Martians in their giant Tripods unimpeded by the American security forces advanced towards New York.
It was mainly the way the whole episode was handled that thousands left their homes, jammed the streets and the phones were incessantly ringing in police stations, newspapers offices and of course at the CBS office. Some people were fleeing to say their last goodbyes to the loved ones, others flooding the churches while some jumping into the Hudson river to save their lives.
According to estimates six million people heard the broadcast by the CBS on that fateful Sunday, and not the whole of it , because if they would have they would have discovered that it was a big joke or a Halloween “trick or treat” or rather”twerk or tweet”; 1.7 million Americans believed the CBS broadcast to be nothing but the whole truth, as back then radio was the only medium of credible information, so no one questioned its veracity; while 1.2 million Americans were genuinely frightened out of their wits, but they thought that it were not the Martians but instead the Germans that had invaded our shores. There were reports of a suicide or two directly as a result of this Halloween prank.
The next morning Orson Welles , the Mercury Theatre on Air’s troupe and the CBS staff, apologized to the whole nation and the magnanimous Americans forgave them, though, with the slight caution not to repeat something of this nature ever again. There were a handful of people who sued Orson Welles, the Mercury Theatre on Air and the CBS for the mental tension and physical injury the broadcast caused them.
Only two copies of the original play survived, the rest were confiscated by the police. One was auctioned by Sotheby’s for $ 124,000 while the second one was auctioned at Christie’s and was bought for $32,200 by no other than Stevens Spielberg, who made it into a movie, in the year 2005.
If the Martians do attack us, and that too on the Halloween, it would be to watch Miley Cyrus twerk than for anything else and we have to thank Orson Welles for that , not really. You be the jury as well as the judge.
Written By: Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada