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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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.