Thursday, June 5, 2008

Orson Welles & Howard Koch: On Mars..."Isn't There Anyone On The Air?"

"ANNOUNCER: I'm speaking from the roof of the Broadcasting Building -- I'm speaking from the roof of the Broadcasting Building, New York City. The bells you hear are ringing to warn the people to evacuate the city as the Martians approach. Estimated in last two hours three million people have moved out along the roads to the north -- Hutchison River Parkway still kept open for motor traffic. Avoid bridges to Long Island -- hopelessly jammed. All communication with Jersey shore closed ten minutes ago. No more defenses. Our army wiped out -- artillery, air force, everything wiped out. This may be the last broadcast. We'll stay here to the end.

People are holding service here below us in the cathedral. Now I look down the harbor, all -- all manner of boats, overloaded with fleeing population, pulling out from docks. Streets are all jammed. Noise in crowds like New Year's Eve in city. Wait a minute, the -- the enemy's now in sight above the Palisades: five -- five great machines. First one is crossing the river. I can see it from here, wading -- wading the Hudson like a man wading through a brook. A bulletin is handed me: Martian cylinders are falling all over the country -- one outside of Buffalo, one in Chicago, St. Louis, seem to be timed and spaced. Now the first machine reaches the shore. He stands watching, looking over the city. His steel, cowlish head is even with the skyscrapers. He waits for the others. They rise like a line of new towers on the city's west side. Now they're lifting their metal hands. This is the end now. Smoke comes out, black smoke, drifting over the city. People in the streets see it now. They're running towards the East River, thousands of them, dropping in like rats. Now the smoke's spreading faster. It's reached Times Square. People are trying to run away from it, but it's no use.

They're -- They're falling like flies. Now the smoke's crossing Sixth Avenue...Fifth Avenue...a hundred yards's -- it's fifty feet....

OPERATOR FOUR: 2X2L calling CQ. 2X2L calling CQ. 2X2L calling CQ. New York. Isn't there anyone on the air? Isn't there anyone on the air? Isn't there anyone...2X2L --

PIERSON: As I set down these notes on paper, I am obsessed by the thought that I may be the last living man on earth. I've been hiding in this empty house near Grover's Mill -- a small island of daylight cut off by the black smoke from the rest of the world. All that happened before the arrival of these monstrous creatures in the world now seems part of another life, a life that has no continuity with the present, furtive existence of the lonely derelict who pencils these words on the back of some astronomical notes bearing the signature of Richard Pierson. I look down at my blackened hands, my torn shoes, my tattered clothes, and I try to connect them with a professor who lives at Princeton, and who on the night of October 20th, glimpsed through his telescope an orange splash of light on a distant planet. My wife, my colleagues, my students, my books, my observatory, my, my world -- where are they? Did they ever exist? Am I Richard Pierson? What day is it? Do days exist without calendars? Does time pass when there are no human hands left to wind the clocks?

In writing down my daily life I tell myself shall preserve human history between the dark covers of this little book that was meant to record the movements of the stars. But to write I must live, and to live, I must eat. I find moldy bread in the kitchen, and an orange not too spoiled to swallow. I keep watch at the window. From time to time I catch sight of a Martian above the black smoke. The smoke still holds the house in its black coil, but at length there's a hissing sound and suddenly I see a Martian mounted on his machine, spraying the air with a jet of steam, as if to dissipate the smoke. I watch in a corner as his huge metal legs nearly brush against the house. Exhausted by terror, I fall asleep."

-Howard Koch ( Radio Adaptation of H.G. Wells classic Sci-Fi novel,"The War Of The Worlds," directed by and starring Orson Welles with the Mercury Theatre On The Air. CBS radio broadcast began at 8:00 PM, Halloween Night, 10.30.1938. Image: "Sunset On Mars," Photograph taken by the Mars Rover on the planet Mars. Mars Rover Exploration Mission, NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell, 5.19.2005).

THE HOAX: Thousands of people were fooled into believing that Invaders from Mars had landed in New Jersey. They mistakenly believed the show was a factual newscast. "Contemporary newspapers reported that panic ensued, with people fleeing the area, and others thinking they could smell the poison gas or could see the flashes of the lightning in the distance. Studies by unnamed historians "calculated" that some six million heard the CBS broadcast; 1.7 million believed it to be true, and 1.2 million were genuinely frightened. Within a month of the broadcast, there were up to 12,500 newspaper articles about its impact, while Adolf Hitler cited the panic, as "evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy." -Wikipedia.

Welles's adaptation is arguably the most famous radio dramatic production in history.

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