Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Mercury Theatre on the Air

The Mercury Theatre on the Air (first known as First Person Singular) is a radio series of live radio dramas created by Orson Welles. The weekly hour-long show presented classic literary works performed by Welles's celebrated Mercury Theatre repertory company, with music composed or arranged by Bernard Herrmann.

 The series began July 11, 1938, as a sustaining program on the CBS Radio network, airing Mondays at 9 p.m. ET. On September 11, 1938, the show moved to Sundays at 8 p.m.

After the front-page headlines generated by the "The War of the Worlds" (October 30, 1938) — one of the most famous broadcasts in the history of radio due to the mass panic it accidentally caused — Campbell's Soup signed on as sponsor. The Mercury Theatre on the Air made its last broadcast December 4, 1938, and The Campbell Playhouse began December 9, 1938.

After the theatrical successes of the Mercury Theatre, CBS Radio invited Orson Welles to create a summer show for 13 weeks. The series began July 11, 1938, initially titled First Person Singular, with the formula that Welles would play the lead in each show. Some months later the show was called The Mercury Theatre on the Air.

As the Mercury's second theatre season began in 1938, Welles and Houseman were unable to write the Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcasts on their own. For "Hell on Ice" (October 8, 1938), the 14th episode of the series, they hired Howard E. Koch, whose experience in having a play performed by the Federal Theatre Project in Chicago led him to leave his law practice and move to New York to become a writer.The Mercury Theatre on the Air was a sustaining show underwritten by CBS, so in lieu of a more substantial salary Houseman gave Koch the rights to any script he worked on — including, to his literal good fortune, "The War of the Worlds". After five months Koch left the show for Hollywood; his last script was "The Glass Key" (March 10, 1939),by which time The Mercury Theatre on the Air was called The Campbell Playhouse.

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