A rare rebroadcast of Orson Welles 1938 "War of the Worlds" - Off-Ramp for October 27, 2012

Foreigners attack; level the East Coast; xenophobia, panic ensue. We bring back 1938's "The War of the Worlds"

Orson Welles typewriter

Courtesy RH Greene

How the hell could Orson Welles write with Rita Hayworth right there?

UPDATE: Per our agreement with the Koch family, we only kept the audio for this episode of Off-Ramp online for a week. However, the Old Time Radio Catalogue is a wonderful resource for CD's filled with all sorts of old radio shows, including War of the Worlds; and at Internet Archive, you can find Dragnet, Gunsmoke, Philip Marlowe, as well as all of Orson Welles' classic broadcasts.

Think about what was happening in 1938. The world was poised on a knife-edge of history, about to plunge into World War 2. Hitler, Franco, Stalin, and Mussolini had Europe nervous and seething; and the Depression gave Americans another level of anxiety.

Then comes October 30, and Orson Welles' broadcast of "The War of the Worlds," about an alien invasion that devastates the US before it’s finally put down. Surely most of the audience knew it was a drama – it was clearly labeled so at several points in the one-hour show – but nevertheless there was some level of understandable panic in parts of the country. And it surely touched a nerve in the rest of the listeners. It does so even now. Hearing Welles and his fellow actors describe leveled buildings and cities, images of Hiroshima or 9/11 come to mind pretty easily. Hearing their tense dialogue and anguished voices, it’s not hard to recall eyewitnesses of the wars in Libya, Syria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Vietnam.

And while I bet all of you have heard of this broadcast, and heard parts of it, I bet most of you have never heard "The War of the Worlds" all the way through. So, this weekend on Off-Ramp (Saturday at noon and Sunday at 7pm), and again on Halloween at 8pm, we’re giving you the chance. We’re turning our broadcast over to the Mercury Theatre on the Air and will air the original 1938 production.

(KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum is also hosting a Halloween evening performance of the broadcast by the Long Beach Shakespeare Company.)

Our broadcast comes through a special arrangement with Anne Koch, the widow of Howard Koch, the playwright. What?! Orson Welles didn’t write the script from HG Wells' novel?! Nope, it was Koch, who also won an Oscar for his work on the screenplay for "Casablanca." But he was blacklisted in the McCarthy Era, and his career never really recovered. We’re delighted to get his name back on the air where it belongs.

Above all, "The War of the Worlds" is a moving, chilling drama, and we hope you enjoy it. But remember, it's Halloween, and to paraphrase Welles, this is just Off-Ramp's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying, "Boo!"


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