Wednesday, October 30, 2013

This just in: Martians land in New Jersey (again!)

Martians landed at Grovers Mill, N.J., on this date in 1938.

They arrived again tonight at 8 p.m. (EDT) in celebration of the 75th anniversary of "War of the Worlds."

Of course, I refer to the most famous (or infamous) radio broadcast in American history, the Mercury Theater On The Air production of the H.G. Wells story spearheaded by the legendary Orson Welles.

Debate rages over just how many people panicked. It matters not. Welles became a household name overnight and was soon off to Hollywood, to RKO, to "Citizen Kane," to his own tragic American tale.

Radio stations around the country rebroadcast Welles' "War" tonight during a two-hour special hosted by George "Sulu" Takei. The original CBS drama was followed by a documentary called "War of the Welles." PBS aired an "American Experience" special on the broadcast last night.

We are more sophisticated in 2013 and could quickly spot the ruse. Nothing could have transpired so quickly as it does in the show, a point that probably occurred to anybody who didn't go running away from the radio. It's to Welles' and the Mercury Theater players' credit that they pulled it off so well and that the broadcast is still riveting.

I do know from eyewitness accounts that frightened folks ran into Central Baptist Church of Fountain City 75 years ago tonight, interrupting the prayer meeting to bring news of the extraterrestrial invasion.

Amazing, isn't it?

Radio remains a near perfect medium for this kind of thing. It isn't as passive as television. You have your pictures of what's being described and so do I.

I listened to Jack Benny's radio show for years before I ever saw his TV program, which isn't often repeated. The television incarnation was a letdown. Jack's pregnant pauses were even funnier when one couldn't see them.

Go here sometime and listen to them, or to "Gunsmoke" or to "The Great Gildersleeve" or to "The Green Hornet."

You'll see -- no, scratch that, you'll hear -- what I mean.

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