THEATER ON THE AIR
Although The Mercury Theater on the Air only lasted five
months, it was responsible for the most famous production in radio
Actor/director Orson Welles and producer John Houseman had formed
the Mercury Theater in 1937, taking Broadway by storm with their
ambitious productions. CBS was impressed enough to offer the Mercury
Theater its own one-hour program in the summer of 1938. The Mercury
Theater on the Air focused on classic literature; early productions
included "Treasure Island," "The Count of Monte Cristo"
and "Dracula," which opened the series on July 11, 1938.
No production of The Mercury Theaterin fact, no other
radio show everequaled the impact of their October 30 broadcast,
"The War of the Worlds." Welles asked writer Howard Koch
to present H.G. Wells story of a Martian invasion as a series
of real-time news bulletins. The effect was so realistic that listeners
across the nation mistook the fantasy for reality, causing a national
panic and making Welles and the show front-page news. Six weeks
later, the show acquired a sponsor and became The Campbell Playhouse.
A Mercury Summer Theater series aired over CBS in 1946.
Orson Welles died on October 10, 1985. John Houseman died on October 31, 1988.
The Mercury Theater on the Air was inducted into the Radio
Hall of Fame in 1988.
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