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

What connects Orson Welles, that quintessential American auteur of radio and film, to H.G. Wells, the far-seeing English proto-science fiction novelist? You’ve got the near-identical surnames, for one, but even more obviously, Welles adapted The War of the Worlds, Wells’ seminal tale of alien invasion, into a famously country-spooking 1938 radio production of the same name. As with most of Welles’ work for the airwaves, you can download his War of the Worlds as a free MP3 or by listening below. Thanks to KTSA in San Antonio, these two luminaries were able to make a direct connection on the radio two years after that broadcast, and you can hear a clip of this Wells/Welles conversation either with the video above, or by downloading the MP3. On the country-wide freakout Welles caused with Wells’ source material, the writer has this to say: “We [in England] had articles about it, and people said, ‘Have you never heard of Halloween in America, when everybody pretends to see ghosts?'”

Though this recording runs for only seven and a half minutes, it makes clear that Wells has plenty to say to the man he calls “my little namesake, Orson.” The enthusiasm goes both ways; they trade remarks on Welles’ broadcasts, Wells’ ideas, Hitler, and the war in Europe. Wells wonders aloud if Americans can only still enjoy a thrill at War of the Worlds-style terror because — the year was 1940 — “You haven’t got the war right under your chins.” When he asks after Welles’ next project, the director describes it as “a new sort of motion picture, with a new method of presentation, and a few new technical experiments.” He refers, of course, to a certain upcoming entertainment by the name of Citizen Kane. This little dialogue reveals one skill Orson Welles and H.G. Wells, for all the differences between their areas of mastery, have in common: understatement.

Related content: 

The War of the Worlds on Podcast: How H.G. Wells and Orson Welles Riveted A Nation

Orson Welles Explains Why Ignorance Was the Genius Behind Citizen Kane

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

Raymond Chandler & Ian Fleming in Conversation (1958)

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.


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