Aliens have always had a large following among sci-fi fans from every generation to the present. With the “little green men” image conjured from eyewitness testimony of flying saucer sightings in the 1950s, the fear that one day aliens would take over the world came to being. There’s more to this story, though, and as with every Monday Mayhem post, it deserves some study. Let’s have a look at the inexplicable tale to understand from where the alien world domination plot originated.
On October 30, 1938, dramatist Orson Welles, via The Mercury Theater on the Air anthology series, presented his adaption of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds to an unsuspecting radio audience. Other than a brief introduction, the program aired in a news format, lending credence that an actual invasion from Mars was taking place. Many listeners dropped into the middle of the sixty-two minute broadcast to catch simulated news bulletins and interruptions of sorts, terrifying them into running for their lives. The show created panic and hysteria on the eve of Halloween to cause many, days following the incident, to complain to the Federal Communications Commission.
Since then, America has been on high alert.
What some may not know is Welles was not the brainchild to such a realistic method to drama that had unfolded that night. In 1927, a similar incident took place when Adelaide station 5CL in Australia presented another invasion of its people utilizing the same techniques as Welles had used that fateful Halloween eve.
Same news bulletin format, same reaction.
What was the reaction in 1938? Paul White, CBS News chief wrote bedlam reigned. Town switchboards lit with people trying to verify the reports of Martians invading earth. In Cleveland, CBS’ WGAR received calls from listeners in a panic. Despite pre-Tonight Show host Jack Paar’s attempt to calm the masses, people were accusing the famous announcer of a government cover up, a conspiracy of grand proportions. In Concrete, Washington, a coincidental blackout of phone and electrical lines pressed the listening public to flee for lack of communication with friends and family. Local reports spread the word of mayhem in the streets and placed Concrete on the map for all to see.
Within a month, the media published 12,500 articles about the incident. No one forgot that night the Martians invaded Earth. And so, the alien invasion tales came to be.
As a consequence to the broadcast, the American public couldn’t get enough of alien invasions. Subsequent decades produced a litany of movies centered on the genre due largely to the threat of war and communism:
- Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
- I Married a Monster from Outer Space
- Invaders from Mars
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers
- Not of This Earth
- Plan 9 from Outer Space
- The Day the Earth Stood Still
- The Thing from Another World
- The War of the Worlds
- This Island Earth
But if anything is true, the influence of an alien invasion couldn’t be more prevalent than in pop culture. Can anyone argue that at least one child does not walk around in an alien costume during Halloween?
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale October 21.
Are you familiar with the original War of the Worlds broadcast? Have you listened to it, since it is available free online?
23 thoughts on “Alien Invasion: Origins”
I love both War of the Worlds, HG Wells is one of my favourite authors, and Orson Welles is one of my favourite actors. The recording of the radio show was included in the extras of a DVD release of Citizen Kane that I have in my collection. It’s a great listen.
Thanks for stopping by my blog, Jack. I haven’t heard that War of the Worlds broadcast in a long time (I think it I first heard it on a documentary on tv). I’m going to check it out now, I didn’t realize it was online.
There is a tragic coincidence to all this. Whilst the broadcast had people running to the hills, over in Europe Hitler was busy annexing the Czech Sudetenland. A real invasion by real monsters. A fictitious War of the Worlds would become a real World War within a year.
All too true unfortunately. Who needs malevolent aliens, vampires, hordes of the undead, Terminators, Cybermen, Daleks, etc., when humanity can commit such atrocities in real life ?
Many movie monsters are merely distorted mirror – images of humanity at its worst.
The audiobook of WOTW narrated by Simon Vance is a classic! I have “read” several books on the subject of the radio show and the effect it had on the listeners. They should have realized then , or probably did, how much power and influence the relatively new medium could encompass. It’s hard to compare or even comprehend the like to any other broadcast performance ever done.
These broadcasts are the beginning of the massive alien hoax that is coming up in the future. Many people will be slated to fall for this, unfortunately, because of the mass hysteria that will follow.
Great post, Jack! I think I’ve seen all but two of the movies you mention. Take the coming anecdote with a grain of salt, but when I was younger, I liked to interview my grandfather about various subjects. He was a no-nonsense skeptic and contrarian, and he maintained that “almost nobody” except the incredibly gullible (I think he used a not-so-nice word, but I don’t remember which one) really believed aliens were invading Earth from the Welles broadcast. Now, I could see how at least some people would be fooled, especially if they tuned into the broadcast late. I think over the years people have become more primed to such jokes and pranks in the media; I remember local DJs one April Fools pranking that Mount Trashmore (in Virginia Beach, VA) was going to explode. Some believed, of course. Some people will always believe. As to the “alien” phenomenon, I think it weds humans’ thirst for knowledge and discovery (science, reason, rationality) with our simultaneous fear of the Other.
Oh, and I’ve only heard snippets of the Welles broadcast. Thank you for pointing out that it is online, as well as the background on the Aussie WotW-type broadcast (of which I’d never heard).
Here you go… Green Alien Eggs! 🙂
The first time I heard the War of the Worlds broadcast was in 5th grade and I have no idea what the nuns were thinking by putting this in their lesson plan but it stirred up my imagination and the nightmares began. haha.
Watching the Twilight Zone episode and thinking my parents were “pod people” didn’t help either. 🙂
I’ve never watched the original, but I have Jeff Wayne’s musical version of it on my cloud player. Good stuff! The martians’ cries of despair are a little disappointing. “Ooooh-laaaa!”
I have the original Jeff Wayne musical version, too, Annie! And I also have the dance remake, which is pretty awesome!
Great post, Jack. I remember learning about the original War of the Worlds broadcast from my 5th grade teacher, who played some of it for us at school on Halloween. I wonder if Orson Welles had any idea of the panic his prank would ignite? I have wondered many times, since hearing snippets of the original War of the Worlds broadcast, how it must have been for the poor folks who tuned in later during the broadcast, never hearing any commercial breaks or reassurance that the broadcast was fictional. It was very realistic, and must have been terrifying. I can only think of the Blair Witch project as any kind of relatively recent occurance, where people were not quite sure if the “fakeumentary” tv special, and the movie, where real or fictional at first.
Happy Mayhem Monday!
My parents remembered it. It almost literally raised hell.
There was a mockumentary back in the 70’s ( ? ) called ” Special Report ” if I remember correctly, about the threat of a nuclear exchange. It’s been such a long time that I can’t remember if IT caused a panic or not.
A lot of people say that we’re not as naive to fall for such things now, but I gotta wonder…..
I never listened to it, but I think I will. It’s true, when everyone thinks of aliens they think of them invading, but I like to think of a distant future where humans know of aliens and they even inhabit some of the same places, like in Star Wars or even Titan A.E.
That would be the ideal, Ivie!
I’m glad someone agrees!
I haven’t ever listened to it – didn’t know the 1938 version was online! I’ll have to check that out. Thank you!
I think the whole thing can be heard on Youtube, w / accompanying visuals. I haven’t listened to it. NPR used to run it, or perhaps it was CBS.
That’s where I found it, too, Zathra.
There was a program on BBC America dealing with science fiction, & their first installment dealt with alien invasions, as well as peaceful alien ( E.T., Starman, the aliens from CE3K, & such ) encounters.
I’ve even encountered people who believe that extra – terrestrials walk among us, that Area 51 has real flying saucer wreckage & alien remains, that ” ancient astronauts ” influenced cultural development everywhere from the pre – Columbian Americas, Egypt, Mesopotamia, The Indus Valley, & other places. And that they’ll be back, almost in Second Coming fashion.
War of the Worlds was tops in my opinion. Gene Barry was in it and a cast that acted like it was real. It was really a religious diatribe.
Second favorite was Earth versus the Flying Saucers. I loved the tape recorder gimmick. The scene on the beach was well done and for the days before CGI the effects were pretty good.