H G Wells And Orson Welles Meeting in 1940

I am perfectly familiar with many versions of The War Of The Worlds. The original H G Wells novel, The George Pal Movie, The Jeff Wayne Musical version, the dire Spielberg movie with Tom Cruise, and the infamous Orson Welles radio version too.


In 1940, two years after the famous broadcast, (itself reviewed by me online) and forty-three years after the novel itself was published, the elderly H G Wells met the rising young actor-director for their only united radio broadcast.


H G Wells, who was travelling in the United States on a lecture tour, and safely away from the Luftwaffe bombing in Europe and London, expressed great amusement at the similarity of the names, Wells & Welles. He jokingly advises Orson Welles to drop the unnecessary extra e.


Wells, sounding rather frail, mentions how the US tradition of Halloween pranks was then relatively unknown in Britain, where there was currently and understandably far less inclination to be amused by sudden bangs and surprises in the night, due to the air raids (a year before America would be drawn into the war). It is clear that Welles was still seeing the whole War Of The Worlds live invasion broadcast as an elaborate hoax as well as a radio play. He relished in the chaos the broadcast caused and helped fuel the myth of the mass panic over the years rather than trying to dumb it down.


Wells gains some credit as a prophet of the horrors of the mid-20th century, and laments that his belief that humanity can rise like a phoenix from any disaster befalling progress was now being severely tested – it is a sad moment of intense pessimism for him.  The broadcast presenter, Charles Z Shaw, of San Antonio’s KTSA station, sounds nervous about the show potentially being hijacked for propaganda by Wells at a time of US neutrality.


Their cordial meeting ends with Wells asking Welles about his new venture into movies, which is clearly a feed for Welles to plug Citizen Kane, which he does to the hilt, describing the (still in production) movie as full of experimental narration and visual innovations.


It’s clear that the lion’s share of the interview is in favour of Welles rather than Wells, but it is a wonderful meeting of powerful creative geniuses.  It is a great shame it only lasts about ten minutes as both men undoubtedly had a great deal more to share.


Arthur Chappell

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