I can’t remember how I ended up with this audio clip, but I’ve been carrying it around from computer to computer for some time, and I don’t remember ever listening to it until this weekend. It certainly deserves to be remembered and reflected on — it is a recording of a radio meeting between Orson Welles, the director and star of the then-recent radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds, and H G Wells, the British Science Fiction author who wrote the original book.
According to online sources, the meeting took place in 1940. Orson Welles was an energetic twenty-five year-old, and H G Wells was a very respectable seventy-four. There was almost fifty years between them both. Each were in San Antonio for separate engagements and a radio affiliate took the opportunity of having them meet, and broadcasting a short dialogue between them. The War of the Worlds radio play had been broadcast two years earlier, and although much has been written of late minimizing the furor caused by people taking the broadcast seriously, there is no doubt that the show caused a sensation. The extent of its effects is discussed by the two men. At the end, Wells aids Welles in giving a ‘plug’ to a new movie that is described as having “many innovative camera techniques” — Citizen Kane. There had been war in Europe for nearly a year, and that is spoken of, as well as the work The Shape of Things To Come, which predicted that war seven years earlier, to an accuracy of four months.
The audio file is below to play or download, and a transcript follows.
HOST: Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is Charles C Shaw speaking. KTSA is honored this evening by the presence in our studios of two great men: the world famous H G Wells, world famous British historian, author, and student of world affairs; and Mr Orson Welles, the genius of stage, screen, and radio. This is the first time that Mr H G Wells and Mr Orson Wells have appeared together. In fact, they met for the first time only yesterday in San Antonio. But this is not the first time that their names have been linked. Two years ago, Mr Orson Welles adapted Mr H G Wells’ book The War of the Worlds for radio purposes. And you know the rest. Revising the story somewhat, Mr Orson Welles depicted an invasion of the United States by men from Mars. Although he explained it numerous times during the program that it was fictitious, the country at large was almost frightened out of its wits. Men called radio stations offering to enlist, others were panic-striken. The realization, frightening though it was, was a tribute to Mr Orson Welles’ genius. And thus the name of “Wells”, Mr H G W – E – L – L – S, and Orson W – E – L – L – E – S became linked. H G Wells, in the opinion of many, is the world’s most famous man of letters. He has come to San Antonio to address the United States Brewer’s Association. And Mr Orson Welles is here for a town forum address Wednesday. In this meeting of great minds, I feel rather inconspicuous. And the less I have to say, the better you listeners will like it. But first, my I interest you gentlemen in a discussion of Mr Orson Welles’ broadcast of Mr H G Wells’ book The War of the Worlds.
WELLES: Are you turning the meeting over to us, sir?
HOST: I am. (laughter)
WELLS: He’s turning it over to us. Well, I’ve had a, uh, series of the most delightful experiences since I’ve come to America, but the best thing that has happened so far is meeting my little namesake here, Orson. I find him the most delightful carrier — of my name and also an extra ‘E’ which I hope he’ll drop soon.. (laughter) … seeing no sense in it. And I’ve known his work before he made this sensational Halloween spree. Are you sure there was such a panic in America or wasn’t it pure Halloween fun?
WELLES: I think that’s the nicest thing that a man from England could say about the men from Mars. Mr Hitler made a good deal of sport of it, you know, and actually spoke of it in the great Munich speech. And there were floats in Nazi parade showing –
WELLS: He hadn’t much else to say.
WELLES: That’s right! (laughter) And it’s supposed to show the corrupt condition and decadent state of affairs in democracies that The War of the Worlds went over as nice as it did. I think it’s very nice of Mr Welles to say that not only I didn’t mean it, but the American people didn’t mean it.
WELLS: That was our impression in England we had articles about it and people said had they not heard of Halloween in America when everyone pretends to see ghosts?
HOST: Well, there was some excitement caused. I really can’t belittle the amount that was caused, but I think people got over it very quickly.
WELLES: What kind of excitement? Mr H G Wells wants to know if the excitement wasn’t the same kind of excitement we extract from a practical joke in which someone puts a sheet over their head and says “boo!” I don’ think that anybody believes that that individual is a ghost, but we do scream and yell and rush down the hall. And that’s just about what happened.
HOST: That’s a very excellent description.
WELLS: You aren’t serious in America yet. You haven’t the war right under your chins, and the consequence is that you can still play with ideas of terror and conflict.
HOST: Do you think that’s good or bad?
WELLS: It’s the natural thing to do until you’re right up against it.
WELLES: Until it ceases to be a game.
WELLS: When it ceases to be a game.
HOST: Now here’s a thought: Mr H G Wells’ writings were termed “fantastic” and a few years ago, well might they have been conceived such. The Shape of Things to Come, which told of a long internecine war was such a fantasy. But Mr Orson Welles, do you think it’s so fantastic in light of today’s events?
WELLES: It’s certainly not so fantastic. And the one question that Mr Wells has spoken of not only in The Shape of Things to Come, but has hinted at or directly prophesied such a s state of affairs following a wasting war and returning to a feudalism that the world would find itself in again. Today in Mr Wells’ lecture, he said quite the most interesting thing that I’ve heard in a long time. He said that he commenced, just recently, why he thought there was any reason why mankind should so emulate the phoenix and should so get itself out of its mess. He proposed a couple of solutions but he did admit that there was a possible excuse for a gloomy point of view,. And it would be good to be realistic about it and not to dismiss the gloomy point of view any more. Perhaps the time had come to look ahead since the future — Mr Wells’ future, which we’ve always adored — is suddenly upon us. We are living right now in that famous H G Wells future, which we all knew about.
WELLS: And before we get away from the microphone, tell me about this film of yours that you’ve been producing. You’re producer, aren’t you … ?
WELLES: That’s right.
WELLS: … Art director, you’re everything! What’s the film called?
WELLES: It’s called Citizen Kane.
WELLS: “Citizen Kane“, yes. Not C – A – I – N, but –
WELLES: No, K – A – N – E. And this is of course the kindest, the most gracious possible thing to do, Mr Wells is making it possible for me to do what in America is spoken of as a “plug”. (Laughter) He understands a fine old American custom –
WELLS: I don’t understand these words, yes.
WELLES: You understand the value. Mr Wells wants me to tell you that I have made a motion picture and he’s kind enough to ask me a leading question concerning it.
WELLS: I am looking forward to it.
WELLES: You are very kind, sir. It’s a new sort of motion picture with a new method of presentation, and a few new technical experiments. A few new methods of telling a picture, not only from the point of view of writing, but of showing it.
WELLS: If I don’t misunderstand you completely, I understand there will be a lot of jolly good new noises in it. (Laughter)
WELLES: I hope so! I think jolly good new noises are what the motion pictures could stand, could well afford these days. I hope you’re right, and I hope there are some jolly good new noises, I can think of nothing more desirable in motion pictures. I’m all for some jolly good new noises.