Discover more from The Writings of T. Reilly
Blurring the Real
War of the Worlds by Orson Welles
A slightly different edition of Vinyl Notes for the Halloween season. I present to you War of the Worlds, a radio play that is as much folklore as it is a powerful example of art-meets-life.
This radio play was the brain child of Orson Welles that went over the airwaves on Halloween night, 1938. It was an adaptation of a story written by H.G. Wells (different spelling) that was first published in 1898. In short, the plot involves an alien invasion. In Orson Welles’ radio version, the invasion takes place in New Jersey (my home state).
The performance is brilliant and is an early version of fiction told through a documentary-styled lens. This is decades before “found footage” films like The Blair Witch Project. Welles’ vehicle was in the form of a fictional news segment. To listen to it today without the context of time is interesting but an approach we have all heard before. In 1938, your average radio listener was not accustomed to a completely orchestrated performance packaged as news, and not being actual news.
Even with several precautions put in place such as periodically announcing the show was not real, and cutting to commercials, it sparked fear across the country and especially in New Jersey. After a night of panic that kept the police and reporters alike very busy, Welles made a formal apology and emphasized he had never intended the broadcast to be taken seriously.
The extent and degree of that panic is debatable today, but no one will argue that Welles stumbled onto something truly amazing that not only scared the hell out of listeners, it also opened the door for a whole new way to tell a story.
This vinyl was distributed in 1968 and was the first release after the actual radio play, exactly as it was heard on that night in 1938.