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The Day the Martians Came
October 30, 2013 9:30 AM   Subscribe

Seventyfive years ago today, a broadcast of light music was interrupted for a special bulletin from Intercontinental news.
posted by MartinWisse (32 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've always particularly enjoyed Welles's signoff that night:
"This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that “The War of The Worlds” has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be. The Mercury Theatre’s own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying Boo! Starting now, we couldn’t soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night …so we did the best next thing. We annihiliated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the Columbia Broadcasting System. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn’t mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. So goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian …it’s Halloween!"
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:36 AM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Myth and media: Orson Welles’ ‘The War Of The Worlds’ – 75 years on
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:37 AM on October 30, 2013


Doesn't take away from this perfectly nice post but for reference previously (2008) and previously (2003).
posted by Wretch729 at 9:42 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


My 6th grade teacher played us the whole thing in class and it scared me more than just about anything else I've seen/heard/read. I'm in my early 30s now and I still occasionally have bad dreams about it.
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:46 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ideas played the whole thing last night, introduced by George Takei. The CBC page includes some substantial video of Welles "apologizing" for the "panic" and discussing the show as a whole for the BBC, embellishing the legend as he goes.
posted by maudlin at 9:52 AM on October 30, 2013


Here where I live, "diners at a restaurant shook hands and kissed farewell in preparation for their imminent demise."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:54 AM on October 30, 2013


I watched the American Experience story of this last night. It was not boring for even a second.
posted by Camofrog at 9:55 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 radio program did not touch off nationwide hysteria. Why does the legend persist?
posted by Kabanos at 9:56 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


When I was young, my parents bought me this set of... I'm not sure how to describe them... cards I guess. They remind me of recipe cards but for history, but on the front was a picture of a historical event and on the back was the story of the event. Sort of like an encyclopedia in bits. You got them in the mail as a subscription -- a pack at a time. It was one of those things that I started getting for a while but then stopped, probably because they were cheap enough to start but eventually got too expensive.

Anyway, it was that way that my second-grade-self first learned about the War of the Worlds broadcast I now realize, and I wonder what it says about seven year old me that I found the idea of mass panic spread through mass media HILARIOUS and wanted to learn everything about it afterwards.

(The only thing that got me through the terror that was the TV movie Special Bulletin was feeling clever thinking about how it was just like that other thing with the Martians.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:01 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 radio program did not touch off nationwide hysteria. Why does the legend persist?

Has Leonardo DiCaprio ever played Orson Welles?

(The answer, apparently, is no)
posted by dirigibleman at 10:06 AM on October 30, 2013


If you ever get a chance, check out the Alien Voices version of War of the Worlds presented by Leonard Nimoy and John de Lancie. It's a terrific presentation that honors the 1938 broadcast but keeps it fresh, too.

And you can't beat some of the rather ... ahem ... enterprising voice talent: Leonard Nimoy, John de Lancie, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, Armin Shimmerman, Dwight Schultz, and more.
posted by zooropa at 10:07 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I remember being told the story of the nationwide panic in, probably third or fourth grade, and figuring out that my Grandmother would have been around back then and could tell me what kind of hysteria overtook her small town in upstate New York.

So I asked her and she said yes, she remembered hearing the broadcast, or at least part of it. She said it was "foolish," and seemed very disappointed that I would imagine she might have been taken in by it.
posted by Naberius at 10:11 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


A Brief History of Tripods- a retrospective of pictorial representations of the Martian war machines.
posted by zamboni at 10:16 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I taped Special Bulletin in the day and qued up a long segment with action and covered the VCR. When my sister came home I hit play and man she was going about the house gathering her kit. I stopped her when she was going to call the base commanders office.
posted by clavdivs at 10:16 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Radiolab covered this in 2008, and notably recorded the episode in front of a live audience. One of the versions that stuck out for me was the 1949 version in Quito, Ecuador.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:18 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 radio program did not touch off nationwide hysteria. Why does the legend persist?

I rarely hear the "nationwide panic" version, really.

But anyway, scaring the bejebus out of (by a common estimate) over a million people ain't bad... It's got to be the awesomest single Halloween prank ever...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:20 AM on October 30, 2013


As a kid, I always got a kick out of hearing my home town, Morristown, mentioned as a battle site in the broadcast.
posted by octothorpe at 10:31 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's another wacky prank you can play on young children: tell them that one day all the "saved" people will suddenly disappear and only the evil ones will remain, left to fight a war against the anti-christ and "beast" wherein they can be redeemed if they take a bullet to the head. Then, when the kids get home from school on Halloween night, hide in the closet until they cry! Gotcha!
posted by mattbucher at 10:34 AM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ideas played the whole thing last night, introduced by George Takei. The CBC page includes some substantial video of Welles "apologizing" for the "panic" and discussing the show as a whole for the BBC, embellishing the legend as he goes.

I heard this on NPR a few days ago and it was excellent. George Takei draws an interesting parallel between the kinds of thought processes which led to panic from a sci-fi radio drama versus those which led to mass internment of American citizens of Japanese descent a few years later.
posted by fuse theorem at 10:37 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


If this took place today, America would cheer as the Martians finally disposed of the cast of Jersey Shore.
posted by dr_dank at 10:50 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


My favorite news story hoax and tale of unbelievably irresponsible journalism is the marauding horde of zoo animals which escaped in 1874 terrorizing Manhattan and killing 49.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:51 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


George Takei draws an interesting parallel between the kinds of thought processes which led to panic from a sci-fi radio drama versus those which led to mass internment of American citizens of Japanese descent a few years later.
posted by fuse theorem at 1:37 PM on October 30 [2 favorites +] [!]


Is there anything that doesn't cause George to draw that parallel?
posted by Gungho at 12:07 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I may re-read this book, as it has been some time. I read it first in 4th grade, and am trying to find the edition I read back then, to no avail.
posted by Mister_A at 12:13 PM on October 30, 2013


If this took place today, America would cheer as the Martians finally disposed of the cast of Jersey Shore.

The fact that there was not a TV movie made called War of the Shore where a reality show is invaded and aliens kill a bunch of drunk overly tan youths in their hot tub and other scenic locales is a huge failure on the part of SyFy and the Asylum.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:04 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I may re-read this book, as it has been some time. I read it first in 4th grade, and am trying to find the edition I read back then, to no avail.

Was it the edition with the great Edward Gorey illustrations? That's the one I read around the same age.

I used to have the Welles broadcast on vinyl. It's probably still around here somewhere. I used to listen to it a lot. At one point in my youth, I could probably have recited the whole damned thing verbatim.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:14 PM on October 30, 2013


Recently
posted by jprind at 1:27 PM on October 30, 2013


Is there anything that doesn't cause George to draw that parallel?

I don't know enough about George Takei to comment on whether he tends to draw false or strained parallels due to his having been interned as a Japanese American. If his experiences being interned have caused him to want to paint a portion of 1940ish American society as being easily duped and driven to paranoia based on fear of "the other", I'll give him a pass.
posted by fuse theorem at 1:30 PM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Thorzdad, I wish it was the one with the Gorey illustrations. If I recall, it had a crudely drawn alien bugger on the cover. I think it was a Scholastic edition or some such.
posted by Mister_A at 2:09 PM on October 30, 2013


Jack Paar told the story of when he was a young radio announcer in Cleveland in late 1938. It was a Sunday. He gave the station ID, brought in the network feed, then popped downstairs to a cafe for a malted milk and a sandwich. When he returned the studio, he heard network reports of aliens landing in New Jersey. A couple of people called the station wondering what the hell was going on. Very nervously, Paar hit the button that opened his studio mike and cut out the network feed, something that he knew he was never supposed to do. He made the announcement that the program was a drama … "I-I-I think" … and that people should remain calm. He was praised in the local paper the next day for preventing a local panic. The station manager was really pissed. He warned Paar never to hit that button again.

Three years later Paar was still working at the same station. It was a Sunday. He went downstairs for his snack and got back to the announcer's booth to hear a network announcer saying that airplanes were attacking some place called Pearl Harbor. The phone calls started again. People were asking "Is this another one of those New Jersey things?"
posted by Longtime Listener at 2:15 PM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bringing us John Many Jars, John Smallberries, John YaYa, and all other other friends at Yoyodyne.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 3:16 PM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Then, when the kids get home from school on Halloween night, hide in the closet until they cry! Gotcha!

Surely you mean after they're done with their daily home school scriptural reading?
posted by saulgoodman at 5:18 PM on October 30, 2013


I didn't get very far into the American Experience episode, because I got kind of annoyed by the opening segment. I had assumed the interview snippets were archival footage, but they quickly vibed as not quite right for that, but they also didn't have a tag of being reconstructed. So I had no idea if they were real quotes being acted out, or totally scripted from the start, and I dislike the whole "slap some black and white and a film damage filter on" method of fakery.

I guess some people would find it appropriate on a meta level for a WotW episode, but it just distracted and annoyed me and I turned it off.
posted by tavella at 9:44 AM on October 31, 2013


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