Mercury Theatre on Air


merucry theatre

The Mercury Theatre was a theatre company founded in New York City by Orson Welles and John Houseman. They had initial success in the theatre, then went to radio, and one of the most notable radio broadcasts of all time, The War of the Worlds. Welles had already worked extensively in radio drama, playing the Shadow for a year, and directing a seven-part adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. In 1938, he was offered a chance to direct his own weekly, hour-long radio series, initially called First Person Singular, then The Mercury Theatre on the Air.

Welles insisted his Mercury company--actors and crew--be involved in the radio series. This was an unprecedented and expensive request, especially for one so young as Welles. He won out, however, and went on to produce some of the finest radio drama of any era.

The Mercury Theatre on the Air was an hour-long dramatic radio program which began in the summer of 1938 on the CBS radio network. Most episodes dramatized many works of classic and contemporary literature. Houseman wrote the early scripts for the series himself, turning the job over to Howard Koch at the beginning of October. Music for the program was conducted by Bernard Herrmann.

Their first radio production was of Bram Stoker's Dracula, with Welles playing both Count Dracula and Doctor Seward; other adaptations included Treasure Island, A Tale of Two Cities, The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Man Who Was Thursday and The Count of Monte Cristo. Originally scheduled for nine weeks, the network extended the run into the autumn, moving the show from its Monday night slot, where it was the summer substitute for the Lux Radio Theatre, to a Sunday night slot opposite Edgar Bergen'spopular variety show.

The early programs were praised by critics, but ratings were low. One broadcast changed the ratings: The October 30, 1938 adaptation of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. Possibly thousands of listeners thought Martians were in fact invading the earth, due to the faux-news quality of most of the broadcast. Significant publicity was generated, and The Mercury Theatre on the Air quickly became one of radio's top-rated shows. The War of the Worlds notoriety had a welcome side effect of netting the show the sponsorship of Campbell's Soup, guaranteeing its survival for a period, and beginning on December 9, 1938, the show was known as The Campbell Playhouse.

Welles revived the Mercury Theatre title for a short series in the summer of 1946. The company moved to Hollywood for their second season, and continued briefly after Welles' final perfomance in March of 1940.



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 39 steps - 08/01/1938

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 Apple Tree - 01/12/1942

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 Around the World in 80 Days - 10/23/1938

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 Count of Monte Cristo - 08/29/1938

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 Dracula - 07/11/1938

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 Heart of Darkness - 11/06/1938

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 Tale of Two Cities - 07/25/1938

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 Treasure Island - 07/18/1938

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 War of the Worlds - 10/30/1938


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