News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 26, 2013

RONN MOTT: War of the Worlds

Ronn Mott
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — For most everyone, including myself, it’s difficult to remember when radio was the only mass-market entertainment of its day. But people that most remember from TV got their start on radio … Jack Benny, Phil Harris and all of the big bands. “Your Hit Parade,” starring two young singers by the name of Doris Day and Frank Sinatra, provided a list of the hit songs of the day. Soap operas had begun and became a must listen for daytime radio. “Amos and Andy,” “Fibber McGee and Molly,” “The Inner Sanctum,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “Mr. District Attorney” all filled our air waves.  

It’s really rather ironic that the most repeated radio show was one that only aired, originally, one time. It was on Halloween night, Oct. 31, 1938. It was a radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds,” and it brought to light a group of mostly Broadway actors under the direction of a young, talented director-actor by the name of Orson Welles. It was mostly an East Coast phenomenon and it was a story about an invasion from Mars done in a documentary news style. (There lies the wonderment of it.) If you missed the opening where they explain it was a play, not a news story, you could have easily believed there was an invasion. And, of course, thousands did. It set off telephone exchanges all over the East Coast and had officials wondering what to do about this so-called invasion. It was great theater.

It’s going to be done this coming Halloween, Oct. 31, with the original script and a whole bunch of talented media people … names you might know are Tom McClanahan, Steve Hall, Barry Kent and Doc Long, just some of a cast of 15 players. They belong to a group called “The Crosley Players,” formed, led and directed by Jerry Arnold. They will perform this at Harmony Hall and it will be done in the “live.” The music will be performed by the West Vigo Jazz Band, and many of the sound effects will be performed on stage as it was in the day. Just to add to the excitement and drama of the moment, a huge WWII spotlight will be outside the theater to promote the play that was first performed in 1938.

It isn’t very expensive and it should be a good night to settle in and watch and listen to the magic of H.G. Wells’ words these long years after the original show scared the entire East Coast of  America.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.