Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Orson Welles - Day 15 of A - Z

George Orson Welles 

May 6th, 1915 - October 10th, 1985

A name synonymous with productions such as Macbeth, The Cradle Will Rock, Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil, to name but a few.

His amazing career spans across three mediums:
  1. Stage - a ground breaking adaptation of Julius Caesar 1937. 
  2. Radio - with the debut of the Mercury Theatre, The War of the Worlds 1938, cited as the most famous broadcast in the history of radio.
  3. Film - Citizen Kane 1941, which many critics and scholars name as the best film of all time.
But my attention is drawn to #2, the Mercury Theatre's broadcast of The War of the Worlds - a Halloween episode aired on 30th October, 1938.
This 55 minute broadcast was all the more convincing due to the Mercury Theatre on the Air was a sustaining show - basically meaning it ran without commercial breaks. The first two thirds of the show's broadcast took the form of simulated news bulletins. This convinced many listeners that an actual invasion was indeed taking place.

New York Times headline from October 31st, 1938

Panic ensued. Many listening only heard a portion of the show's radio reports, and in an atmosphere of anxiety and tension prior to World War II, took it to be an actual broadcast of real events.
Newspapers reported about the panic that ensued, stating that people across the North-eastern United States and Canada were fleeing their homes. Some called CBS, newspapers or the Police, in apparent confusion due to the realism of the news bulletins. Some people even claimed they could smell poison gas or see flashes of lightning in the distance.

Within one month, newspapers had published 12,500 articles about the broadcast and its impact. Even Adolf Hitler cited the panic, as Richard J. Hand writes, as "evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy."

Monument erected October 1998
commemorating where the Martians in
the story landed in Van Nest Park,
 Grover's Mill, NJ.
A master stroke of broadcasting which I wonder could be replicated today, and if so, what would the response be by those listening? Are we so enlightened now as to tell fact from fiction when we hear it? Could we, as a people, be so easily fooled and manipulated? 

Or how about going the other way - what if an actual broadcast took place, that was indeed genuine. How long before the listening public accepted it as fact and not fiction? With all the advances in CGI and digital broadcasting, would we brush it off as an elaborate PR stunt? It makes me wonder.

Question: Is it just me, or does anyone else think that Orson Welles and Leonardo DiCaprio look uncannily alike?


Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

Wow, what a baby face he used to be!

Mark K said...

Indeed, and if I didn't know any better, he could be the father of Mr DiCaprio :)

JoJo said...

I don't think they look at all alike, Orson and Leonardo. Orson and Vincent D'Onofrio, yes. Vincent did a half hour short film called "Five Minutes Mr. Welles'. You should check it out.

Matt said...

My first introduction to Orson Welles was Transformers: The Movie. To this day it's still one of my favorite movies.

Mina Lobo said...

Mark, I dunno if you folks in the UK are the same as we Yanks, but whenever a fire alarm goes off, nobody feckin' moves. And I mean nobody. Well, nobody except me, as I jump at any chance to step outside for a smoke. Some folks don't even look away from their computers, for pity's sake! 'Cause that's how we roll in the States, boyeeeeeeeeeeeee... ;-)

Some Dark Romantic

Mark K said...

Jojo - I'll be looking that one up over the weekend, thanks for the heads up :)

Matt - welcome back, I thought I'd lost you to the void ;) Transformers the Movie? I assume he was voice acting?

Mina - ok, I'm confused? Fire alarms? Or are you saying you blog at work and took time out to type your comment to say folks there do nothing when a fire alarm goes off? Oh, the irony if that's the case ;)