When Orson Welles aired his “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast 75 years ago today on October 30, 1938, he had no inkling the kind of widespread panic he would incur across the country.
Based on the famed 1898 novel of the same name by H.G. Wells, the broadcast was created as a Halloween special to boost “The Mercury Theatre on the Air” program’s ratings. But Welles’s decision to conduct the segment as a simulated news broadcast didn’t bode well for the gullible. His realistically anxious but detailed account of an “alien invasion from Mars” and an “attack on New Jersey” felt all too real for audiences, which had come to trust the series for its quality news reporting. Thus, many people ended up being shaken to the core, filled with inconceivable and unprecedented horror. But once people had discovered the episodic drama was pure fiction, their anxiety turned into anger.
Discover how people responded to Welles’s legendary “War of the Worlds” broadcast:
The following day, Welles held a press conference and delivered a public apology for his broadcast and the real-life fear it caused to the American public. “I had every hope that the people would be excited as they would be at a melodrama… ,” he explained. “We are deeply shocked and deeply regretful about the results of last night’s broadcast.”
Welles apologizes for “War of the Worlds” segment:
Though his infamous “War of the Worlds” Halloween episode caused Welles to lose longtime fans, it garnered the actor, director, and radio personality a new and larger fan base, as well as critical acclaim in Hollywood. In 1940, Welles signed a record-setting $225,000 contract with RKO Pictures to create two films—marking the biggest deal ever made with an unproven filmmaker at the time.