This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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"War of the Worlds" Original Script offered on eBay
(From Radio Recall, June 2003)
NOTE: Club member Bill McMahon spotted this item on eBay recently and brought it to our attention. While few of you would be inclined to bid on a "War of the Worlds" script, the background information on this copy, as it relates to this historic program, makes fascinating reading for OTR fans.
ITEM: “The War of the Worlds” Script, 1938, Early Draft. SELLER: An official representative of O'Gara & Wilson Ltd, Antiquarian Booksellers, Chicago's oldest bookstore. OPENING BID: $500
Early draft of The War of the Worlds radio script, 1938, absolutely genuine, with provenance. Very likely a unique survival and a hitherto totally unrecorded early draft. This vintage script is without doubt one of the lost early revisions by director Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) and author Howard Koch (Casablanca) written prior to the finished broadcast version, and has not been mentioned or discussed in any of the extensive literature on the subject of this famous broadcast.
The fact that early drafts were written is alluded to, but that is all. This version shares much with the final script but is also full of significant and substantial textual differences that would open fertile fields of research into the development of the final version. It would be difficult to find any old time radio subject with more websites devoted to it than this single episode of the Mercury Theatre on the Air.
It is arguably the most famous (or infamous) radio program ever broadcast, and there have been hundreds of articles and even entire books written that speculate about even the most minute aspects of its genesis, text, presentation, and social effects.
Decades have passed without any substantial addition to the body of original material to serve as grist for the mill of scholarly endeavor. So much more the wonder then that at this late date, a most curious early and variant text of this classic should come to light.
The first and most obvious textual variation is the script title, “An Attack by the Men from Mars. “ There is no other evidence of this radio drama being known by this title anywhere in the pertinent literature. The line-for-line text of this script is shorter than the final broadcast version. Many generally analogous passages in the broadcast version are more developed and expanded than the text here offered. However there also are characters in this version who are not present in the standard text and the lines are appropriately different to fit these unique personages.
Perhaps most notable is the presence of no less than four parts for female players. The total absence of any female voice, as it was broadcast, has been commented on in some writings about “The War of the Worlds”, and indeed, it is odd that there were no women in the cast. The famed actress, Agnes Moorehead, had played in several of Mercury Theatre’s summer broadcasts earlier that year, but in the fall when Mercury changed to Sunday nights, she had to drop out as it conflicted with another commitment.
Perhaps Moorehead was originally slated to play the women’s parts and when she later became unavailable, the script, through its various revisions, was altered accordingly. The lines for commentator Carl Phillips in the standard version are in this script shared with a woman partner, Wilma Reynolds. Even more curiously, the part of the stranger-artillery man in the known version is here a deranged woman who plans to enlist New York’s sewer rats in to an army against the Martians, as the rodents would be able to chew through the aliens’ armor.
The dialogue in the final section has little or no parallel in the broadcast script and would seem to indicate that there was a total rewrite of this part. Another interesting textual difference is possibly quite significant: This script has Professor Morse as being from a fictional “MacMillan University” in Toronto, Canada. In the common text, this has been changed to the real-world McGill University. Also in this script the New Jersey town first attacked by the Martians is called “Grover Mills,” not Grovers Mill as in the broadcast version—and as in the real world.
This movement from fictional to real might belie Orson Welles’ claim that there was no conscious attempt to recreate the real world so well that it would scare the hell out of people. Finally, toward the end of the play, there is in both versions, first a passage beginning “You are listening to a CBS presentation . . .” In the transcript of the standard version this is directly followed by the passage beginning “The War of the Worlds, starring Orson Welles.” In this version interposed between these two passages is the line “This is Station WBBM . . Wrigley Building . . Chicago.”
This is in fact the CBS affiliate station where Mr. James Jewell was employed as a writer-producer a few years after of the broadcast of The War of the Worlds, and it was most likely where he salvaged this script from disposal to add to his collection.
This script was obtained along with hundreds of others from the extensive script, transcription, and ephemera archives of radio pioneer James Jewell. He notable for his significant and early involvement in the development of WXYZ’s famous The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet radio dramas in the 1930s, Jewell later served as writer-director of the Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy serials, and finally produced Silver Eagle, a drama about the Mounties of the Canadian Northwest. When, in the1950s, television killed radio drama, Jewell attempted to transition Silver Eagle to that medium, but did not succeed.
He died in the late 1960s, leaving his extensive archives of early radio material to his family. After many years in storage, Jewell’s family donated some parts of the archives to interested institutions and sold the rest. This script was among that larger portion which was sold. Mr. Jewell expressed in some of his writings obtained with this material a deep sense of the importance of saving significant material for later examination by historians.
There is no doubt that this large and varied collection, in which this script was embedded, was amassed over many years of diligent retrieval from studio floors and dustbins, and would have been lost forever except for his uncommon realization that future devotees of early radio would find it of interest.
Physical Description and Condition
The script consists of 17 leaves numbered 1 to 12-12A (only a half page of text), then 13 to 16. Pages are typed on one side and stapled across upper left hand corner. The paper is typical wood pulp-based typing paper of the period with only the expected degree of even toning typical in low quality paper of its kind no matter how well it is kept.
There is quite good flexibility to the sheets and if examined with care they should not degrade. Above the staple at top corner there is a small rubbed area resulting in a hole about the size of a grain of rice through the top page only. Otherwise, pages are intact with no tears, chips, loss, or damage. The backs of the sheets are blank and a pattern of Braille-like bumps can be felt coming through from the other side—the result of lines of periods in the text, indicating that this is an original typed manuscript, not a carbon or mimeographed copy.
We have tried to track the history and fate of original scripts for this controversial play and had little success. One account says that in New York after the play ended, the police swarmed the studio, segregated the players, and confiscated their scripts. Another suggests the officers locked the cast in a small back office on another floor while network employees collected, destroyed or locked up all scripts.
Also that night, in Chicago, radio stations were swamped with calls about the meteor that had “fallen” in New Jersey. A few years later, between 1942 and 1943, James Jewell was working as a director-producer at WBBM, the CBS affiliate that had aired “The War of the Worlds” on that historic night in 1938. Undoubtedly, aware of the furor surrounding this broadcast, he thought this trial script, cued with his WBBM Chicago station’s identification, might make a good addition to his growing radio memorabilia collection and be of interest in the future and so saved it from the round file. We think he was right!
Editor’s Note: After an opening bid of $500, the offers went up to a final bid of $2,750, which did not meet the reserve minimum set by the seller.
Andrew Schneider, one of our club members who has researched this program extensively, points out one error in the lengthy description above. The final script (which was the one that went out on the air) referred to the fictional MacMillan University, rather than the real McGill.