'American Experience': Orson Welles' 'The War of the Worlds' hits 75

Oct. 30, 1938, started as a fairly typical Halloween Eve ... but it ended with many people convinced Martians were attacking.

The reason was one of the most famous hours in the history of broadcasting: "The War of the Worlds," Orson Welles' "Mercury Theatre on the Air" CBS radio adaptation of the H.G. Wells science-fiction novel. The 75th anniversary of the program, and its effect on untold numbers of terrified listeners, is marked by a new episode of PBS' "American Experience" Tuesday, Oct. 29 (check local listings).

Oliver Platt ("The Big C") narrates the account, which merges audio clips and comments from "witnesses" (actually actors voicing people's reactions from the time) with relevant interviews. Welles' daughter Chris Welles Feder and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich - who became a close friend of Welles - are among those recalling how latecomers thought the radio play was an actual newscast, prompting widespread fear before a disclaimer (purposely
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