W. Joseph Campbell

Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

A clever show it was

In Media myths, Media myths and radio on October 31, 2009 at 3:31 pm

The War of the Worlds dramatization  holds appeal to this day.

Orson Welles monument in Grovers Mill, N.J.

A monument in Grovers Mill, N.J., commemorates Welles and his adaptation of War of the Worlds

The show was work of Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre on the Air troupe who cleverly used signature elements of radio of the 1930s to create a splendidly clever program. Most listeners recognized it for what it was: An ingenious radio play about a Martian invasion on the eve of Halloween.

The Mercury Theatre on the Air version was set in New Jersey and New York City. The vanguard of the invading Martians landed in Grovers Mill, N.J., still a rural community near Princeton. The War of the Worlds dramatization is commemorated in Grovers Mill by a monument that depicts scenes from the program — including young Orson Welles at the microphone.

Welles was 23 when he made the program. He went on to greater fame as director and star of 1941 motion picture Citizen Kane.


War of the Worlds

In Media myths, Media myths and radio on October 31, 2009 at 3:09 pm
Chicago Herald Examiner about War of the Worlds broadcast

Front page of the Chicago Herald Examiner on Halloween, 1938

The famous radio dramatization of The War of Worlds in October 1938 supposedly set off panic and hysteria across the United States. Tens of thousands of panic-stricken Americans were said to have taken to the streets or headed for the hills during the radio show, which was a clever adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel about an invasion by Martians wielding  deadly heat rays.

The supposed panic that night in 1938 is a delicious story, one almost too good to be false.

But it is. There is scant evidence to believe that The War of Worlds dramatization had such an effect.

Getting It Wrong describes how newspapers of the time got it badly wrong.

Listen to the broadcast here.


In Debunking, Media myths on October 31, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Welcome to Media Myth Alert.

This blog, begun on Halloween in 2009, seeks to direct attention to the appearance of media-driven myths. These are stories about and/or by the news media that are widely believed and often retold but which, under scrutiny, prove to be apocryphal or wildly exaggerated.

It also seeks to promote my forthcoming book, Getting It Wrong, which will be published in spring 2010 by University of California Press.

Getting It Wrong available in spring 2010

We’ll seek to be vigilant and on guard about media myths that appear online and in print. And we’ll call attention to them when we see them.

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