The Mercury Theatre was a theatre company Welles established with John Houseman in 1937, right after Welles finished his work with the Federal Theatre Project. It would later have an incarnation as Mercury Theatre On the Air, the radio series in which the infamous “ War of the Worlds” broadcast would air. Productions of the Mercury Theatre were: Julius Caesar The Shoemaker’s Holiday Heartbreak House Danton’s Death Five Kings Always ambitious and goal-oriented, Welles wanted first to clarify and publicize the Mercury Theatre’s aims. So on August 29, Welles published, on the front page of the New York Times Sunday drama section, the theatre’s “declaration of principles.” These were few in number, promising merely that Mercury would produce four or five classic plays that had some current political relevance. However, the quality of the play would always be a more important criteria than its political content. Mercury would offer tickets at two dollars and under.
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A hoax that will be remembered for all time, Welles’ broadcast of an adaptation of H.G. Wells ’ “War of the Worlds” on Oct. 30, 1938, stands as a vivid reminder of the power of the media and of the general public’s vulnerability when it is gripped by fear. In Fall of 1938, Europe was at war. Hitler had just stormed into Czechoslovakia and had earlier taken the Sudetenland. He was a force the likes of which the world, including the American public had never seen. Welles was interested in exploring the evils of fascism, which he was doing with his current project for Mercury Theatre, Danton’s Death. Clearly, the idea of powers large enough to wreak an apocalypse was on his mind as Halloween approached and he was pressed to choose programming for his “Mercury Theatre on the Air” radio series. While re-tellings of the episode suggest that Welles merely read “The War of the Worlds” by the science fiction author, his colleagues in fact did adapt it into an original script. Howa