+ In 1937, Welles and the Mercury company earned a reputation for their inventive adaptation of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar set in contemporary Fascist Italy. They moved on to productions of The Shoemaker's Holiday, Heartbreak House, Too Much Johnson and Danton's Death in 1938. In 1939 Five Kings was produced along with The Green Goddess. The last theatrical production of the company was Native Son in 1941.  Radio Welles had already worked extensively in radio drama, playing the title character in The Shadow for a year and directing a seven-part adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, both for the Mutual Broadcasting System. In 1938, he was offered a chance to direct his own weekly, hour-long radio series, initially promoted as First Person Singular. However, this title was never announced on the air. Radio Guide initially mentioned the series' debut as Mercury Theatre before later listing it as 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. Most episodes dramatized works of classic and contemporary literature. It remains perhaps the most highly regarded radio drama anthology series ever broadcast, most likely due to the creativity of Orson Welles. 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. Paul Holler, writing in Critique, described the program's origin: Radio, with its power to excite the imagination and actually involve the audience in the creative process, had huge potential as a medium for serious drama. It seemed inevitable that the day would come when this medium, which had made Orson Welles a household name across the country, would become a part of his serious theater ambitions. That day came in 1938. It was in that year that CBS, remembering Welles' work on Les Misérables the year before, approached him and Houseman about a series of radio dramas for its summer schedule. The idea was conceived as a series of narratives under the title First Person Singular. But the series would be best remembered by the name it assumed with its second production, The Mercury Theatre on the Air. As with Les Misérables the previous year, Welles was given complete creative control by CBS over the new series. The choices he made in developing the series were informed by what he had learned in previous years in other radio dramas. Chief among those choices was to create dramas specifically for the radio and not to simply adapt dramas in production at the Mercury Theatre for broadcast. In close collaboration with John Houseman and other writers, Welles wrote, directed and performed in the productions. The end result was a series of dramas based on literary, rather than dramatic, works. There were exceptions, most notably Our Town by Welles' early mentor Thornton Wilder. But it was clear to Welles and Houseman that the medium of radio suited the telling of a story far better than the dramatization of it. As a result, some of the most memorable Mercury Theatre on the Air productions were adaptations of great novels. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Tale of Two Cities, The Magnificent Ambersons, Heart of Darkness and other major literary works were offered to radio audiences during the Mercury Theatre on the Air's run.  Houseman wrote the early scripts for the series, 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 Bram Stoker's Dracula, with Welles playing both Count Dracula and Doctor Seward. Other adaptations included Treasure Island, 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 Theater, to a Sunday night slot opposite Edgar Bergen's popular variety show. The early dramas in the series were praised by critics, but ratings were low. A single broadcast changed the program's 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 retitled The Campbell Playhouse. The company moved to Hollywood for their second season, and continued briefly after Welles' final performance in March 1940. Welles revived the Mercury Theatre title for a short series in the summer of 1946. Welles used the banner "Mercury Productions" on many of his films, and several of the actors from his Mercury Theatre Company appeared in them, notably in Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons and Macbeth.
- Radio Shows
Please enjoy these 17 old time radio episodes:
+ Bram Stokers' Dracula. The first show of the series starring Orson Welles
|07.18.1938||mercury theater (02) treasure island||
+ "Treasure Island". Dress Rehearsal.
|07.25.1938||mercury theater (03) a tale of two cities||
+ "A Tale Of Two Cities". The third show of the series. Orson Welles subsequently played the same ...
|08.01.1938||mercury theater (04) the thirty nine steps||
+ "The Thirty-Nine Steps". A rehearsal recording. See cat. #3718 for the program as broadcast. The...
|08.08.1938||mercury theater (05) i'm a fool, my little boy, open window|
|08.08.1938||three short stories||
+ "Three Short Stories". Dress rehearsal. Orson Welles and Mercury Theater On Air presents three s...
|08.15.1938||mercury theater (06) abraham lincoln|
|08.22.1938||mercury theater (07) the affairs of anatole||
+ Program #7. "The Affairs Of Anatole". The episodic adventures of a delightful roue in old Vienna...
|08.29.1938||mercury theater (08) the count of monte cristo||
+ "The Count Of Monte Cristo". Eighth show of the series. The favorite story about a young lad who...
|09.05.1938||mercury theater (09) the man who was thursday|
|09.11.1938||mercury theater (10) julius caesar||
+ "Julius Caesar". The original Broadway cast of this superb "modern dress" production. The "Et Tu...
|09.25.1938||mercury theater (12) the immortal sherlock holmes||
+ "The Immortal Sherlock Holmes". Holmes vs. Moriarty once again. With news bulletins of the Europ...
|10.09.1938||mercury theater (14) hell on ice||
+ Program #14. "Hell On Ice". A gripping dramatization of the true story of a 19th-century expedit...
|10.16.1938||mercury theater (15) seventeen||
+ "Seventeen". An adaptation of the bittersweet period piece about a young boy in young America, a...
|10.23.1938||mercury theater (16) around the world in eighty days||
+ "Around The World In Eighty Days". An original adaption by Orson Welles of the story of Phileas ...
|10.30.1938||mercury theater (17) war of the worlds||
+ Program #17. "The War Of The Worlds". The most famous radio show of all time. Mars invades New J...
|11.03.1938||heart of darkness life with father||
+ WRVA, Richmond Virginia aircheck. "Heart Of Darkness," "Life With Father". An exciting adventure...
|11.06.1938||mercury theater (18) 2 complete stories|
|11.13.1938||mercury theater (19) a passenger to bali||
+ In Shanghai central China Captain English of the Roundabout ship encountered a Dutch missionary na...
|11.20.1938||mercury theater (20) pickwick papers|
|01.12.1942||the apple tree||
+ Referred to in John Dunning's excellent book "On The Air - Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio" as one...
|01.19.1942||my little boy||
+ "My Little Boy". Sponsored by: Lady Esther. A delightful portrait of a father and his son. Welles...
|06.21.1946||the hitch hiker|