Orson Welles’s infamous broadcast of H. G. Wells’s “War of the Worlds” remains, even after all these decades, one of the single most memorable events in the history of American entertainment. It may be hard for those in the 21st century to imagine that so many could be so easily fooled by something so obviously a fictional presentation of reality. To which I reply with two words: Fox News. If nothing else, Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” proved that radio had nothing to fear from TV. Television has made managed to make that 1936 radio broadcast the single most well-known program in the history of the medium.
“Hey Arnold” did Halloween episode that featured a spot-on takeoff of Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds.” Heck, Maurice LaMarche even took time off from his job as the Brain alongside Pinky to lend his perfect impersonation of Orson Welles to the episode. Arnold and his friends are attempting a Halloween prank that involves convincing adults that aliens are attacking the planet. One of the best “War of the Worlds” parodies of all time.
“Take Me to Your Loudon” is another brilliant parody of Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” broadcast. A Halloween party turns into a festering boil of paranoid as the townspeople of the strange Vermont town in which Dick Loudon owns an inn become to separate themselves from reality once again. The 1950s version of “War of the Worlds” is airing on the local TV station and one of the citizens of the town confuses it with a news broadcast. Station manager Michael Harris–realizing what the radio broadcast did for the career of Orson Welles–is in no mood to disabuse the people of this notion.
The Night America Trembled
Two TV-movies have dramatized the events that took place both inside and outside the radio station that night when Orson Welles scared the crap out of the country. The first was a presentation of Studio One called “The Night America Trembled.” Edward R. Murrow introduces and provides commentary upon “The Night America Trembled.” The man in charge of the radio broadcast is never identified as Orson Welles, but considering this show originally aired just 20 years after the broadcast, few people watching didn’t already know the name. Look for some faces who were just starting out their careers and whose names were not nearly as well known as they are now: Ed Asner, Vincent Gardenia, James Coburn, Warren Oates, John Astin and Warren Beatty!
The Night That Panicked America
Among the young actors who hadn’t quite achieved the stardom that awaited them whom you will spot in this 1975 dramatization of Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” are John Ritter and Meredith Baxter. Okay, so the cast isn’t quite up there with “The Night America Trembled” but it’s still a very enjoyable look at how panic can so easily turn normally intelligent humans into blithering idiots. And unlike “The Night America Trembled” this one actually identifies the culprits of the most hoax in Amercan history by their equally famous names.
“The Flintstones” may actually have been one of the first TV shows to parody Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds.” Fred Flintstone is going to attend “The Masquerade Ball” in a costume he has kept secret from everybody else: a space suit. Too bad that “The Masquerade Ball” occurs on the very same evening that panic grips the citizenry of Bedrock thanks to the fear of an attack by the Way-Outs.