Late echo of the War

Bill Herz, 99, the last surviving cast member of Orson Welles’s notorious October 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds, died on May 10.  In his NY Times obituary, it was mentioned that Mr. Herz voiced some of the ham radio operators who “reported” on the Martian invasion of New Jersey:

Operator Three: This is Newark, New Jersey.  This is Newark, New Jersey.  Warning!  Poisonous black smoke pouring in from the Jersey marshes.  Reaches South Street.  Gas masks useless.  Urge population to move into open spaces.  Automobiles use Routes 7, 23 24.  Avoid congested areas.  Smoke now spreading over Raymond Boulevard …

Mr. Herz at his usual table in Sardi's in 2010, underneath his own caricature. Photo credit: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Mr. Herz at his usual table in Sardi’s in 2010, underneath his own caricature.
Photo credit: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Mr. Herz is quoted from an earlier 2010 interview about being skeptical over the believability of the show: “I had done Orson’s part in the dress rehearsal, and after I did it, I thought to myself,  ‘No one is going to believe this in a million years’. Boy, was I wrong.”  But, despite the legend of The Night That Panicked America, research into the aftermath of the broadcast suggests it was more hype than hysteria, principally due to newspapers taking a dig at the reliability of radio news reporting.

Fortunately, in our Modern, Enlightened Age, we no longer have the phenomenon of media sniping that could produce overheated reports and provoke overreactions to innocuous incidents.  Or maybe Faulkner was right: “The past is never dead.  It is not even past.”

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