The Martians are Coming!
The True Story of Orson Welles' 1938 Panic Broadcast
- Alan Gallop
15th June 2011
It was Halloween 1938 when twenty-three year-old Orson Welles fooled America into thinking it had been invaded by aliens. The Mercury Theatre on the Air production of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds is one of the most talked-about radio broadcasts in history. The realistic retelling of Wells' original story resulted in mass panic across America. People ran into the streets screaming that the world was ending. Churches were emptied of their congregations, cinemas of their audiences, restaurants of their patrons. Panic-stricken families rushed to their cars and drove like lunatics in a bid to escape Martian annihilation. It seemed as if everyone in America knew about the 'invasion' that night, except of course the actors taking part in the live drama - they had no idea what was happening until the NYPD raided the recording studio. The Martians Are Coming! is the story of how a play that few people believed in came to be written, cast, rehearsed and finally broadcast to a credulous nation. Set against the background of America's economic depression and rumbles of another world war coming from across the Atlantic, the book sets The War of the Worlds in the context of what ordinary Americans were thinking and feeling on the night their world almost - but not quite - came to an end.