War of the Worlds

Newspaper pages: The War of the Worlds
Press report from the New York newspaper the Daily News on the reactions to Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds
New York Daily News

War of the Worlds

A radio drama causes a sensation, 1938

Good heavens, something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it’s another one, and another. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing’s body. It’s large, large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face, it ... Ladies and gentlemen, it’s indescribable.

From the original radio play The War of the Worlds, 1938

On 30 October 1938, the evening before Halloween, the population of America’s East Coast was confronted with the unimaginable: the CBS radio station broadcast a report of a violent alien invasion that had started in New Jersey and had now reached New York in spite of desperate measures by the human inhabitants to defend against the attack. By coincidence, the report was broadcast at the same time as power cuts occurred in some parts of the country leading to concerned phone calls to news editors and local police. This was all caused by the news report style of the radio broadcast, even though its was not based on fact, but was a fictional radio play. Orson Welles, who would later establish himself as a Hollywood director with films such as Citizen Kane (1941), adapted The War of the Worlds, a novel by British science-fiction author H. G. Wells and thereby gave voice to the growing fears of an imminent world war in a highly imaginative manner.

The incident, which was inflatedly described as a mass panic in the US media in the days and weeks that followed, repopularised the literary classic from 1898. In 1953 Byron Haskin directed a film adaptation for Paramount Pictures and in 2005 Steven Spielberg filmed another version with Tom Cruise in the main role.