Would the American radio public believe Martians were attacking? Or Nazis? 2,086 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Berlin, Germany — March 1938
“Ladies and gentlemen… Am I on?… Ladies and gentlemen, this is Peter J. Simons of the Beaumont Global Radio Network. I am looking down Unter den Linden, a major east-west thoroughfare in Berlin. As far as the eye can see, there are German Waffen-SS — a paramilitary force under the command of Heinrich Himmler —marching in a parade. I can hear the trump-trump-trump of their boots as they goose-step in unison holding aloft flags with the familiar Nazi swastika. Crowds line the grand boulevard — men, women and even little children — all thrusting out their arms in a rigid “Heil Hitler” salute. There seems to be some sort of commotion up ahead. Nazi thugs are surrounding a man on the ground and they are slamming his head into the curb. It’s terrible, terrible… I’m being given orders by a Nazi official to leave the area. But I’m an American journalist! And now more violence is breaking out. A woman who came to the man’s defense, her face is covered with blood after she was beaten senseless… Now I know why the Nazis invading the Sudetenland has Americans on edge that they could be invaded, too.”
London — September 30, 1938
Dignified before the gathering of supporters at the airport to greet his return, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain stepped off the plane to cheers and stood in front of the microphone to talk about his meeting with German Chancellor Adoph Hitler. “I believe it is peace for our time.”
A few days later, in the House of Commons, British MP Winston Churchill rose to deliver his response to the Munich Agreement. “Do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”
New York City — July 11, 1938
Orson Welles sat in the dimly-lit bar near the St. Regis Hotel holding an unlit cigar. The 23-year-old actor, director, writer, and producer was celebrating the premiere of the live radio dramas he created, each a weekly hour-long show presenting classic literary works performed by his celebrated Mercury Theatre repertory company.
Naturally, he wasn’t alone. A statuesque blonde, her cheeks freshly rouged, draped an arm around his slumping shoulders and stirred him.
“Tell me,” he asked her, “have you ever seen a Martian?”