The version of The War of the Worlds broadcast by the Lux Radio Theatre on
February 8th 1955 turned out to be one of the last shows ever made in its long
and illustrious history. First heard on October 14th 1934, it had started life
as an NBC show intended to reproduce Broadway hits, a fine idea at the time,
but one with a fatal inbuilt flaw; there were only so many Broadway shows to
choose from. With the show floundering for material, Danny Danker, an advertising
executive on the Lux account was drafted in to find a fix, and quickly concluded
that public interest was shifting inexorably toward Hollywood and so here surely
was an almost unlimited new pool of popular talent and stories to draw upon.
Shifting in July of 1935 to Hollywood and the CBS network, The Lux Radio Theatre
never looked back.
Big name stars (though not necessarily the same ones who had made the
original films) were drafted in from the very start. The first film to be
adapted was Morocco, with Marlene Dietrich reprising her role as Mademoiselle
Amy Jolly and Clark Gable stepping into the shoes of the character originally
played by Gary Cooper. Another big draw was the host (and faux-producer) of
the show, none other than the larger than life Cecil B. DeMille, who had some
years earlier attempted to wrest the rights to The War of the Worlds from H.G.
Wells. As a further matter of co-incidental interest, a young man by the name
of Orson Welles would in 1938 host a summer replacement series for the Lux
Radio Theatre. This of course was The Mercury Theatre On The Air, the vehicle
for Welles' infamous War of the Worlds broadcast. In a case of what goes
around comes around, Welles ended up taking several lead roles for the Lux
Theatre during the mid 1940's, which one suspects must have rankled a little,
given that he very likely saw himself and DeMille as competitors.
The Lux Radio Theatre version of The War of the Worlds was broadcast on
the 8th of February 1955, less than 6 months before the curtain finally fell
on the show. Dana Andrews and Pat Crowley took on the roles made famous by
Gene Barry and Ann Robinson in the 1953 George Pal movie and are every bit
as good as their celluloid predecessors, though it's fun to hear Crowley mangle
her pronunciation of the word Nuclear. The radio version is consistently faithful
to the plot of the film and at just 60 minutes, (less if you exclude the adverts)
the pace never lets up for a moment. The sound is also superb, with the original
Martian Heat Ray effect reused to great effect. Other than promoting the virtues
of Lux Soap, the adaptation also served as a publicity tool for Pal's forthcoming
picture, Conquest of Space, with the cast gathering at the end of the show to
discuss its merits.
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See also in:
War of the Worlds, 1938. Listen to an audio clip of the Lux Radio Theatre as the Martians claim their first victims (MP3, 3.20 mins).