Disturbing Aliens, Some From Space
Welles Peaks: ‘The Stranger’ and PBS’s ‘War of the Worlds’
Orson Welles in 1938, rehearsing for “The Mercury Players on the Air,” the radio show behind his “War of the Worlds” broadcast that same year.
By DAVE KEHR
Published: October 24, 2013
It was all Nelson Eddy’s fault. Seventy-five years ago, at 8 o’clock on the evening of Oct. 30, 1938, millions of Americans tuned in their radios to listen to NBC’s “Chase and Sanborn Hour,” a popular variety show starring the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy. When Bergen and McCarthy finished their first sketch — a routine about trick-or-treating — the announcer passed the microphone to Eddy, a booming baritone then starring with Jeanette MacDonald in a series of MGM operettas.
But when Eddy went into a thumping martial tune, “Song of the Vagabonds,” some of those millions went station surfing, and turned the dial to NBC’s less popular rival CBS just in time to hear a dance program interrupted by a special news bulletin. A Chicago astronomer had reported observing “several explosions of incandescent gas” on the planet Mars. Mysterious objects were moving toward Earth, “at enormous velocity.” A huge flaming object, believed to be a meteorite, had crashed into a farm near Grover’s Mill, N.J., 22 miles from Trenton.