"Anybody know it was a prank?"
"The power of radio in those days, Nick.
It was the only live news source."
"Back when the news wasn't about the latest starlet's drunk driving bust."
As Lisa Swan puts it in today's New York Daily News, "The Martians are coming! The Martians are coming! Seventy years ago [today], that was what some listeners of Orson Welles' radio dramatization of "War of the Worlds" feared was taking place. The Halloween-themed broadcast, which aired Sunday night, October 30, 1938, scared the living daylights out of millions of listeners."
The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast was presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested to many listeners that an actual Martian invasion was in progress. Compounding the issue was the fact that the Mercury Theatre on the Air was a 'sustaining show' (i.e., it ran without commercial breaks), thus adding to the dramatic effect. Although there were sensationalist accounts in the press about a supposed panic, careful research has shown that while thousands were frightened, there is no evidence that people fled their homes or otherwise took action.
The news-bulletin format was decried as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast, but the episode launched Welles to fame.Welles's adaptation was one of the Radio Project's first studies.
That historic broadcast was a factor in several TV productions and thus is incorporated into Toobworld. 'Studio One' presented "The Night America Trembled" which showed not only a recreation of the broadcast in the studio, but its effect on various people listening in the area. Among the actors were Warren Beatty, James Coburn, and Ed Asner. Over twenty years later, the TV movie "The Night That Panicked America" did the same thing with Vic Morrow and John Ritter as men caught up in the panic caused by the show and Paul Shenar as Welles. In 2003, "Days That Shook the World" presented "Fact or Fiction: The War of the Worlds and the Hitler Diaries".
It was also integrated into the plotlines of a few TV series. In 'The War of the Worlds', one episode took place in Grover's Mill during the 50th anniversary of the broadcast, it is revealed that Orson Welles was hired by the government to orchestrate the broadcast in order to cover up what was a reconnaissance mission by the same aliens who would launch an all-out war 15 years later. 'Touched By An Angel' featured parts of the original broadcast in a Halloween episode titled "The Sky Is Falling", where an old man had to deal with the trauma he endured during the nation wide panic, including the death of his father due to a misfire by a paranoid citizen.
The November 4, 2007 episode of 'Cold Case' dealt with a murder that took place during the panic surrounding the original 1938 radio broadcast. In the October 15, 1956 episode of 'I Love Lucy', "Lucy Meets Orson Welles", Lucy is shopping for scuba gear in Macy's at the same time Welles is signing record albums of his Shakespearian readings. After Lucy approaches him still wearing a Scuba mask, flippers and assorted air hoses, Wells takes one look at her and says, "My 'Man from Mars' broadcast was 18 years ago...where were you?"
[Those four plot descriptions were also from Wikipedia.]
For a great website about the historical perspective of "The War Of The Worlds", click here.
"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!'
"We couldn't soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night. . . so we did the best next thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the C. B. S. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn't mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business.
"[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."
- Orson Welles
TV Crossover Hall Of Fame inductee (televersion)