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Categorized | Arts & Entertainment

“War of the Worlds” at Kent Theatre Oct. 20-21


The night before Halloween might find neighborhood kids soaping windows or hoisting rolls of toilet paper into a favorite front yard shade tree. But to radio listeners on October 30, 1938, Devil’s Night took on a more sinister tone. A nation-wide panic attack ensued as millions of Americans took to the streets fleeing their homes, many armed with guns to protect loved ones, after radio alerts announced the invasion of Martians aimed at destroying earth along with its population.

While the radio alerts described the Martian attack in vivid detail, most listeners had failed to hear the announcer begin the broadcast with the words: “The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air in The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.”

The electronic age had not yet invaded American households in 1938. People were accustomed to tuning in their radios for news reports and other forms of entertainment. In 1938 the most popular program was the Chase and Sanborn Hour starring Edgar Bergen and his pal Charlie McCarthy. The show aired on Sunday evenings at 8:00 p.m.

Orson Welles, however, aired his show the Mercury Theatre on the Air on another station at the same time. Being a rising radio star, he wanted to draw audiences away from Bergen’s show and decided to adapt H.G. Wells’ book War of the Worlds to radio and air the production the night before Halloween.

Besides shortening the story, he also updated it from Victorian England to present day Grovers Mill, New Jersey.

Welles went on the air with a script interrupted by eye witnesses, newscasters and scientists all describing the mayhem and destruction taking place by the marauding Martians as they made their way across the land attacking earth and its inhabitants.

When the Mercury Theater signed off the air after its Halloween show, phone lines in the control room had erupted.

The broadcast and its after effects dominated the news for days with stories of panic and editorials both condemning and praising Welles for his production.

The Cedar Springs Community Players will air the radio production of The War of the Worlds October 20 and 21 at the Kent Theatre in downtown Cedar Springs. Directed by Nancy Noreen, the play will air October 20 at 7:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. October 21.

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