The War of the Worlds: Orson Welles’ 1938 Radio Drama That Petrified a Nation

Back in the late 1930s, Orson Welles launched The Mercury Theatre on the Air, a radio program dedicated to bringing dramatic, theatrical productions to the American airwaves. The show had a fairly short run. It lasted from 1938 to 1941. But it made its mark. During these few years, The Mercury Theatre aired The War of the Worlds, an episode narrated by Welles himself that led many Americans to believe their country was under Martian attack. The legendary production was based on H.G. Wells’ early sci-fi novel, also called The War of the Worlds, and you can listen to the classic radio production here, or above.

The Mercury Theatre also adapted a series of other major novels, including Dracula, Treasure Island, and The Count of Monte Cristo. And then there’s Dickens. In 1938 and 1939, The Mercury Theatre produced two versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In the 1938 version (get mp3), Welles played the role of Scrooge. The 1939 version (mp3) features Lionel Barrymore (yup, the granduncle of Drew Barrymore) playing the same role. You can listen to these shows and others at this web site dedicated to The Mercury Theatre on the Air.

Related Content:

Orson Welles Meets H.G. Wells in 1940: The Legends Discuss War of the Worlds, Citizen Kane, and WWII

The Dead Authors Podcast: H.G. Wells Comically Revives Literary Greats with His Time Machine

Orson Welles Explains Why Ignorance Was the Genius Behind Citizen Kane

Various films directed by (or starring) Orson Welles can be found in our collection of Free Movies Online.


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  1. Sandro Brincher says . . . | August 13, 2011 / 8:28 am

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Janice Lynn says . . . | September 21, 2013 / 4:14 pm

    This is the 75th anniversary of the original broadcast. It aired on October 30, 1938. PBS is broadcasting a tribute to the event. Thanks for sharing. I will pass it on.

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