When Orson Welles Met H.G. Wells in 1940: Hear 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. You can hear it 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 with the video above. 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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