The War of the Worlds (radio drama)
"The War of the Worlds" is an episode of the American radio drama anthology series The Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series on Sunday, October 30, 1938, and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. Directed and narrated by actor and future filmmaker Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds (1898). It became famous for allegedly causing mass panic, although the scale of the panic is disputed as the program had relatively few listeners.
The complete radio play.
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- We know now that in the early years of the 20th century, this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns, they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacence, people went to and fro over the Earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small spinning fragment of solar driftwood which by chance or design man has inherited out of the dark mystery of time and space. Yet across an immense ethereal gulf, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle, intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic, regarded this Earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. In the 39th year of the 20th century came the great disillusionment. It was near the end of October. Business was better. The war scare was over. More men were back at work. Sales were picking up. On this particular evening, October 30th, the Crossley service estimated that 32 million people were listening in on radios...
- This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that The War of the Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be. The Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying "Boo!" Starting now, we couldn't soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night, so we did the best next thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the CBS. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn't mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. So goodbye, everybody, and remember, please, for the next day or so, the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian; it's Halloween.
- Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed! Wait a minute! Someone's crawling out of the hollow top. Someone or...something. I can see peering out of that black hole two luminous disks. Are they eyes? It might be a face. It might be... [shout of awe from the crowd] Good heavens! Something's wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it's another one, another and another. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing's body. Now it's large, large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face, it... Ladies and gentlemen, it's indescribable, I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it so awfully. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is... is kind of V-shaped, with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate. The monster or whatever it is can hardly move. It seems weighed down by... possibly gravity or something. The thing's raising up. The crowd falls back now. They've seen plenty. This is the most extraordinary experience, ladies and gentlemen. I can't find words. I'll pull this microphone with me as I talk. I'll have to stop the description until I can take a new position. Hold on, will you please? I'll be right back in a minute.
- Ladies and gentlemen—am I on? Ladies and gentlemen... Ladies and gentlemen, here I am, back of a stone wall that adjoins Mr. Wilmuth's garden. From here I get a sweep of the whole scene. I'll give you every detail as long as I can talk. As long as I can see. More state police have arrived. They're drawing up a cordon in front of the pit, about 30 of them. No need to push the crowd back now. They're willing to keep their distance. The captain is conferring with someone. I can't quite see who. Oh yes, I believe it's Professor Pierson. Yes, it is. Now they've parted. The Professor moves around one side, studying the object, while the captain and two policemen advance with something in their hands. I can see it now. It's a white handkerchief tied to a pole...a flag of truce. If those creatures know what that means, what anything means... [hissing sound followed by a humming that increases in intensity] Wait a minute! Something's happening! A humped shape is rising out of the pit. I can make out a small beam of light against a mirror. What's that? There's a jet of flame springing from the mirror, and it leaps right at the advancing men. It strikes them head on! Good lord, they're turning into flame! [screams and unearthly shrieks] Now the whole field's caught fire! [explosion] The woods, the barns, the gas tanks of automobiles! It's spreading everywhere! It's coming this way now! About 20 yards to my right— [crash of microphone, then dead silence]
- [feedback, then filtered voice] Of the creatures in the rocket cylinder at Grovers Mill, I can give you no authoritative information – either as to their nature, their origin, or their purposes here on Earth. Of their destructive instrument, I might venture some conjectural explanation. For want of a better term, I shall refer to the mysterious weapon as a heat ray. It's all too evident that these creatures have scientific knowledge far in advance of our own. It is my guess that in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the mirror of a lighthouse projects a beam of light. That is my conjecture of the origin of the heat ray.
- As I set down these notes on paper, I'm obsessed by the thought that I may be the last living man on Earth. I've been hiding in this empty house near Grovers 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 I 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. It's morning. Morning! Sun streams in the window. The black cloud of gas has lifted, and the scorched meadows to the north look as though a black snowstorm has passed over them. I venture from the house. I make my way to a road. No traffic. Here and there a wrecked car, baggage overturned, a blackened skeleton. I push on north. For some reason I feel safer trailing these monsters than running away from them. And I keep a careful watch. I have seen the Martians...feed. Should one of their machines appear over the top of trees, I'm ready to fling myself flat on the Earth. I come to a chestnut tree. October. Chestnuts are ripe. I fill my pockets. I must keep alive. For two days I wander in a vague northerly direction through a desolate world. Finally I notice a living creature: a small red squirrel in a beech tree. I stare at him, and wonder. He stares back at me. I believe at that moment the animal and I share the same emotion...the joy of finding another living being. I push on north. I find dead cows in a brackish field. Beyond, the charred ruins of a dairy. The silo remains standing guard over the wasteland like a lighthouse deserted by the sea. Astride the silo perches a weathercock. The arrow points north. North. The next day I came to a city, a city vaguely familiar in its contours, yet its buildings strangely dwarfed and leveled off, as if a giant had sliced off its highest towers with a capricious sweep of his hand. I reached the outskirts. I found Newark. Newark, undemolished, but humbled by some whim of the advancing Martians. Presently, with an odd feeling of being watched, I caught sight of something crouching in a doorway. I made a step towards it, and it...rose up and became a man – a man, armed with a large knife.
- After parting with the artilleryman, I came at last to the Holland tunnel. I entered that silent tube, anxious to know the fate of the great city on the other side of the Hudson. Cautiously, I came out of the tunnel and made my way up Canal Street. I reached 14th Street, and there again were black powder and several bodies, and an evil ominous smell from the gratings of the cellars of some of the houses. I wandered up through the 30s and 40s; I stood alone on Times Square. I caught sight of a lean dog running down 7th Avenue with a piece of dark brown meat in his jaws, and a pack of starving mongrels at his heels. He made a wide circle around me, as though he feared I might prove a fresh competitor. I walked up Broadway in the direction of that...that strange powder – past silent shop windows, displaying their mute wares to empty sidewalks – past the Capitol Theatre, silent, dark – past a shooting gallery, where a row of empty guns faced an arrested line of wooden ducks. Near Columbus Circle, I noticed models of 1939 motorcars in the showrooms facing empty streets. From over the top of the General Motors Building, I watched a flock of black birds circling in the sky. I hurried on. Suddenly I caught sight of the hood of a Martian machine, standing somewhere in Central Park, gleaming in the late afternoon sun. An insane idea! I...I rushed recklessly across Columbus Circle and into the park. I...I climbed a small hill above the pond at 60th Street. From there I could see, standing in a silent row along the mall, 19 of those great metal titans, their cowls empty, their steel arms hanging listlessly by their sides. I looked in vain for the monsters that inhabit those machines. Suddenly, my eyes were attracted to the immense flock of black birds that hovered directly below me. They circled to the ground, and there before my eyes, stark and silent, lay the Martians, with the hungry birds pecking and tearing brown shreds of flesh from their dead bodies. Later, when their bodies were examined in the laboratories, it was found that they were killed by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their immune systems were unprepared. Slain, after all man's defenses had failed, by the humblest things that God in His wisdom has put upon this Earth. Before the cylinder fell, there was a general persuasion that through all the deep of space, no life existed beyond the petty surface of our minute sphere. Now we see further. Dim and wonderful is the vision I have conjured up in my mind of life spreading slowly from this little seedbed of the solar system throughout the inanimate vastness of sidereal space. But that is a remote dream. Maybe...maybe that the destruction of the Martians is only a reprieve. To them, and not to us, is the future ordained, perhaps. Strange, it now seems, to sit in my peaceful study at Princeton...writing down this last chapter of the record begun at a deserted farm in Grover's Mill. Strange to see from my window the University spires dim and blue through an April haze. Strange to watch children playing in the streets. Strange to see young people strolling on the green, where the new spring grass heals the last black scars of a bruised Earth. Strange to watch the sightseers enter the museum where the disassembled parts of a Martian machine are kept on public view. Strange when I recall the time when I first saw it, bright and clean cut, hard, and silent, under the dawn of that last great day.
- This is Captain Lansing of the signal corps, attached to the state militia now engaged in military operations in the vicinity of Grovers Mill. Situation arising from the reported presence of certain individuals of unidentified nature is now under complete control. The cylindrical object which lies in a pit directly below our position is surrounded on all sides by eight battalions of infantry. Without heavy field pieces, but adequately armed with rifles and machine guns. All cause for alarm, if such cause ever existed, is now entirely unjustified. The things, whatever they are, do not even venture to poke their heads above the pit. I can see their hiding place plainly in the glare of the searchlights here. With all their reported resources, these creatures can scarcely stand up against heavy machine gun fire. Anyway, it's an interesting outing for the troops. I can make out their khaki uniforms, crossing back and forth in front of the lights. It looks almost like a real war. There appears to be some slight smoke in the woods bordering the Millstone River. Probably fire started by campers. Well, we ought to see some action soon. One of the companies is deploying on the left flank. A quick thrust and it will all be over. Now wait a minute! I see something on top of the cylinder. No, it's nothing but a shadow. Now the troops are on the edge of the Wilmuth farm. Seven thousand armed men closing in on an old metal tube. Wait, that wasn't a shadow! It's something moving. Solid metal, kind of a shield-like affair rising up out of the cylinder. It's going higher and higher. Why, it's, it's standing on legs... actually rearing up on a sort of metal framework. Now it's reaching above the trees and the searchlights are on it. Hold on!
- Citizens of the nation: I shall not try to conceal the gravity of the situation that confronts the country, nor the concern of your government in protecting the lives and property of its people. However, I wish to impress upon you – private citizens and public officials, all of you – the urgent need of calm and resourceful action. Fortunately, this formidable enemy is still confined to a comparatively small area, and we may place our faith in the military forces to keep them there. In the meantime, placing our faith in God, we must continue the performance of our duties each and every one of us, so that we may confront this destructive adversary with a nation united, courageous, and consecrated to the preservation of human supremacy on this Earth. I thank you.
- Army bombing plane, V-8-43, off Bayonne, New Jersey, Lieutenant Voght, commanding eight bombers. Reporting to Commander Fairfax, Langham Field. This is Voght, reporting to Commander Fairfax, Langham Field. Enemy tripod machines now in sight. Reinforced by three machines from the Morristown cylinder. Six altogether. One machine partially crippled. Believed hit by shell from army gun in Watchung Mountains. Guns now appear silent. A heavy black fog hanging close to the earth of extreme density, nature unknown. No sign of heat ray. Enemy now turns east, crossing Passaic River into the Jersey marshes. Another straddles the Pulaski Skyway. Evident objective is New York City. They're pushing down a high tension power station. The machines are close together now, and we're ready to attack. Planes circling, ready to strike. A thousand yards and we'll be over the first. 800 yards. 600. 400. 200. There they go! The giant arm raised. [sound of heat ray] Green flash! They're spraying us with flame! 2,000 feet! Engines are giving out! No chance to release bombs! Only one thing left: drop on them, plane and all! We're diving on the first one! Now the engine's gone! Eight— [plane goes down]
- Carl Phillips: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. This is Carl Phillips, speaking to you from the observatory at Princeton. I'm standing in a large semi-circular room, pitch black except for an oblong split in the ceiling. Through this opening I can see a sprinkling of stars that cast a kind of frosty glow over the intricate mechanism of the huge telescope. The ticking sound you hear is the vibration of the clockwork. Professor Pierson stands directly above me on a small platform, peering through a giant lens. I ask you to be patient, ladies and gentlemen, during any delay that may arise during our interview. Besides his ceaseless watch of the heavens, Professor Pierson may be interrupted by telephone or other communications. During this period he is in constant touch with the astronomical centers of the world. Professor, may I begin our questions?
- Professor Pierson: At any time, Mr. Phillips.
- Phillips: Professor, would you please tell our radio audience exactly what you see as you observe the planet Mars through your telescope?
- Professor Pierson: Nothing unusual at the moment, Mr. Phillips. A red disk swimming in a blue sea. Transverse stripes across the disk. Quite distinct now because Mars happens to be the point nearest the Earth, in opposition, as we call it.
- Phillips: In your opinion, what do these transverse stripes signify, Professor Pierson?
- Pierson: Not canals, I can assure you, Mr. Phillips, although that's the popular conjecture of those who imagine Mars to be inhabited. From a scientific viewpoint the stripes are merely the result of atmospheric conditions peculiar to the planet.
- Phillips: Then you're quite convinced as a scientist that living intelligence as we know it does not exist on Mars?
- Pierson: I'd say the chances against it are a thousand to one.
- Phillips: And yet how do you account for those gas eruptions occurring on the surface of the planet at regular intervals?
- Pierson: Mr. Phillips, I cannot account for it.
- Phillips: By the way, Professor, for the benefit of our listeners, how far is Mars from the Earth?
- Pierson: Approximately forty million miles.
- Phillips: Well, that seems a safe enough distance.
- Pierson: [off mike] Thank you.
- Phillips: Just a moment, ladies and gentlemen; someone has just handed Professor Pierson a message. While he reads it, let me remind you that we are speaking to you from the observatory in Princeton, New Jersey, where we are interviewing the world's famous astronomer, Professor Pierson. One moment, please. Professor Pierson has passed me a message which he has just received. Professor, may I read the message to the listening audience?
- Pierson: Certainly, Mr. Phillips.
- Phillips: Ladies and gentlemen, I shall read you a wire addressed to Professor Pierson from Dr. Gray of the National History Museum, New York. "9:15 PM Eastern Standard Time. Seismograph registered shock of almost earthquake intensity occurring within a radius of 20 miles of Princeton. Please investigate. Signed, Lloyd Gray, Chief of Astronomical Division." Professor Pierson, could this occurrence possibly have something to do with the disturbances observed on the planet Mars?
- Pierson: Hardly, Mr. Phillips. This is probably a meteorite of unusual size and its arrival at this particular time is merely a coincidence. However, we shall conduct a search, as soon as daylight permits.
- Phillips: Thank you, Professor. Ladies and gentlemen, for the past ten minutes we've been speaking to you from the observatory at Princeton, bringing you a special interview with Professor Pierson, noted astronomer. This is Carl Phillips speaking. We are returning you now to our New York studio.
- Officer: Range, 32 meters.
- Gunner: 32 meters.
- Officer: Projection, 39 degrees.
- Gunner: 39 degrees.
- Officer: Fire! [boom of heavy gun, pause]
- Observer: 140 yards to the right, sir.
- Officer: Shift range, 31 meters.
- Gunner: 31 meters.
- Officer: Projection, 37 degrees.
- Gunner: 37 degrees.
- Officer: Fire! [boom of heavy gun, pause]
- Observer: A hit, sir! We got the tripod of one of them. They've stopped. The others are trying to repair it.
- Officer: Quick, get the range! Shift to 30 meters.
- Gunner: 30 meters.
- Officer: Projection, 27 degrees.
- Gunner: 27 degrees.
- Officer: Fire! [boom of heavy gun, pause]
- Observer: Can't see the shell land, sir. They're letting off a smoke.
- Officer: What is it?
- Observer: A black smoke, sir. Moving this way. Lying close to the ground. It's moving fast.
- Officer: Put on gas masks. [pause, voices now muffled] Get ready to fire. Shift to 24 meters.
- Gunner: 24 meters.
- Officer: Projection, 24 degrees.
- Gunner: 24 degrees.
- Officer: Fire! [boom of heavy gun]
- Observer: Still can't see, sir. The smoke's coming nearer.
- Officer: Get the range. [coughs]
- Observer: 23 meters. [coughs]
- Officer: 23 meters. [coughs]
- Gunner: 23 meters. [coughs]
- Observer: Projection, 22 degrees. [coughs]
- Officer: 22 degrees. [coughing]
- Stranger: [off mike] Stop! [closer] Where do you come from?
- Pierson: I come from...from many places. A long time ago from Princeton.
- Stranger: Princeton, huh? That's near Grover's Mill!
- Pierson: Yes.
- Stranger: Grover's Mill... [laughs as a great joke] There's no food here. This is my country. All this end of town down the river. There's only food for one. Which way are you going?
- Pierson: I don't know. I guess I'm looking...for people.
- Stranger: [nervously] What was that? Did you hear something, just then?
- Pierson: No. Only a bird. [amazed] A live bird!
- Stranger: You get to know that birds have shadows these days. Say, we're in the open here. Let's crawl in this doorway here and talk.
- Pierson: Have you seen any Martians?
- Stranger: Nah. They've gone over to New York. At night the sky is alive with their lights. Just as if people were still living in it. By daylight you can't see them. Five days ago a couple of them carried something big across the flats from the airport. I think they're learning how to fly.
- Pierson: Fly!
- Stranger: Yeah. Fly.
- Pierson: Then it's all over with humanity. Stranger, there's still you and I. The two of us left.
- Stranger: Yeah. They got themselves in solid. They wrecked the greatest country in the world. Those green stars, they're probably falling somewhere every night. They've only lost one machine. There isn't anything to do. We're done. We're licked.
- Pierson: Where were you? You're in a uniform.
- Stranger: Yeah, what's left of it. I was in the militia – national guard. That's good. There wasn't any war, any more than there's war between men and ants!
- Pierson: Yes, but we're eat-able ants. I found that out. What'll they do to us?
- Stranger: I've thought it all out. Right now we're caught as we're wanted. The Martian only has to go a few miles to get a crowd on the run. But they won't keep on doing that. They'll begin catching us systematic-like – keeping the best and storing us in cages and things. They haven't begun on us yet!
- Pierson: Not begun!
- Stranger: Not begun! All that's happened so far is because we don't have sense enough to keep quiet...bothering them with guns and such stuff and losing our heads and rushing off in crowds. Now, instead of our rushing around blind we've got to fix ourselves up – fix ourselves up according to the way things are now. Cities, nations, civilization, progress.
- Pierson: Yes, but if that's so, what is there to live for?
- Stranger: Well, there won't be any more concerts for a million years or so, and no nice little dinners at restaurants. If it's amusement you're after, I guess the game's up.
- Pierson: What is there left?
- Stranger: Life, that's what! I want to live! Yeah, and so do you. We're not going to be exterminated. And I don't mean to be caught, either; tamed, and fattened, and bred, like an ox.
- Pierson: What are you gonna do?
- Stranger: I'm going on, right under their feet. I got a plan. We men as men, we're finished. We don't know enough. We gotta learn plenty before we got a chance. We gotta live and keep free while we learn, see? I've thought it all out, see?
- Pierson: Tell me the rest.
- Stranger: Well, it isn't all of us that are made for wild beasts, and that's what it's gotta be. That's why I watched you. All those little office workers that used to live in these houses – they'd be no good. They don't have any stuff in 'em. They used to run, run off to work. I've seen hundreds of 'em, running to catch their commuters train in the morning, afraid they'd get canned if they didn't; running back at night, afraid they wouldn't be in time for dinner. Lives insured and a little invested in case of accidents. And on Sundays, worried about the hereafter. The Martians, they'll be a godsend for those guys. Nice roomy cages, good food, careful breeding, no worries. And after a week or so of chasing around the fields on empty stomachs, they'll come and be glad to be caught.
- Pierson: You've thought it all out, haven't you?
- Stranger: Sure, you bet I have. And that isn't all. These Martians are gonna make pets of some of 'em, train 'em to do tricks. Who knows? Get sentimental over the pet boy who grew up and had to be killed. Yeah. And some, maybe, they'll train to hunt us.
- Pierson: Oh, no, that's impossible. No human being...
- Stranger: Yes, they will. There's men who'll do it gladly. If one of them ever comes after me, why...
- Pierson: In the meantime, you and I and others like us...where are we to live when the Martians own the Earth?
- Stranger: I've got it all figured out. We'll live underground. I've been thinking about the sewers. Under New York, there are miles and miles of 'em. The main ones are big enough for anybody. Then there's cellars, vaults, underground storerooms, railway tunnels, subways. You begin to see, huh? We'll get a bunch of strong men together. No weak ones. That rubbish – out.
- Pierson: As you meant me to go?
- Stranger: Well, I...gave you a chance, didn't I?
- Pierson: We won't quarrel about that. Go on.
- Stranger: Well, we gotta make safe places for us to stay in, see? Get all the books we can – science books. That's where men like you come in, see? We'll raid the museums; we'll even spy on the Martians. It may not be so much we have to learn before – listen. Just imagine this: four or five of their own fighting machines suddenly start off – heat rays right and left. Not a Martian in 'em. Not a Martian in 'em, see? But men! Men who've learned the way how. It may even be in our time. Gee! Imagine having one of them lovely things with its heat ray wide and free! We'd turn it on Martians; we'd turn it on men! We'd bring everybody down to their knees!
- Pierson: That's your plan?
- Stranger: Yeah! You, me, a few more of us. We'd own the world.
- Pierson: I see.
- Stranger: [fading out] Hey. Hey, what's the matter? Where are you going?
- Pierson: Not to your world. Bye, stranger.
- "The War of the Worlds" (October 30, 1938) on The Mercury Theatre on the Air (Indiana University Bloomington)
- Mp3 download from the Internet Archive
- War of the Worlds Invasion: The Complete War of the Worlds Website (John Gosling)
- mp3 of King Daevid MacKenzie's Echoes of a Century 2005 program which contains sections of the Chase & Sanborn and Mercury Theatre broadcasts of October 30, 1938, edited together in a manner approximating the sequence believed to have generated the reported panic
- The War of the Worlds - A Radio Program and A Film Score
- Who's Out There? NASA film with commentary on the 1938 broadcast and extraterrestrial life (1975)