33¢ Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane
Celebrate the Century – 1940s
Issue Date: February 18, 1999
City: Dobbins AFB, GA
Printed By: Ashton-Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed, engraved
Regarded as one of the most influential films ever created in the United States, “Citizen Kane” was Orson Welles’ first film. His dramatic use of lighting and music, as well as innovative narrative techniques, established him as a master filmmaker.
Welles wrote, directed, produced, and starred in “Citizen Kane.” The movie tells the story of a powerful newspaper magnate, based on the lives of publisher William Randolph Hearst and his mistress Marion Davies. Hearst’s failed attempts to block the film’s release in 1941 made his connection with the story even more obvious to critics and movie-goers.
The opening scene of “Citizen Kane” shows Xanadu, Charles Foster Kane’s immense estate, blanketed in fog. Looming above the mist, atop a man-made mountain, sits a castle with a single light shining from a window. Inside lies the dying Kane, clutching a crystal globe enclosing a winter scene. He utters one word, “Rosebud,” then dies. It is then up to a reporter to find out who the real Kane was, and the significance of “Rosebud.”
Featured on the 1999 U.S. postage stamp honoring “Citizen Kane” is a photograph from the film. It shows Kane campaigning for governor of New York in front of an enormous promotional poster of himself.
War Of The Worlds Broadcast
On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles created a panic with his War of the Worlds broadcast, which some listeners believed was a real news story.
The now legendary broadcast was based on British author H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel of the same name. The broadcast was part of the program Mercury Theatre on the Air, an hour-long radio drama show that presented literary works.
Reportedly, Orson Welles was inspired by a 1926 radio hoax, Broadcasting the Barricades, in which a radio announcer described a riot in London. According to Welles, “I had conceived the idea of doing a radio broadcast in such a manner that a crisis would actually seem to be happening, and would be broadcast in such a dramatized form as to appear to be a real event taking place at that time, rather than a mere radio play.”
Screenwriter Howard E. Koch adapted the story for the dramatic radio broadcast and Bernard Herrmann and his orchestra provided the music. The broadcast began at 8 pm on Sunday night, October 30, 1938. The program began with a paraphrase of the beginning of the novel, updated to reflect the times. This was followed by a weather report and then music from a dance band. Then the music was interrupted by a news flash about strange explosions on Mars.
The program continued on, switching between the staged musical performances, and increasingly frightening news reports of a crashed alien ship in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. As the story continues, an alien attacks a group of onlookers, fights with the military, and it’s eventually announced that more Martian cylinders have fallen all over the country. When the program ended, Welles returned to the broadcast as host of his show and told listeners that the story had been a Halloween joke.
During the course of the broadcast, it was repeatedly stated in between performances that the program was a play. However, some listeners appeared to have missed the introduction and perhaps these interludes, as panic soon set in for some people. During the recording, several police officers entered the station to stop the show, but they were held back. Soon the station’s telephone switchboard was lit with calls from terrified listeners. And reporters flooded the station asking for updates on the horrible events.
A Times Square marquee was lit with the words “Orson Welles Causes Panic.” Welles feared his career was over. The next day he had to give interviews explaining the play and defending his choice to present it as he had. Coverage of the story ran in newspapers for weeks, with at least 12,500 articles being printed over the next three weeks.
It’s often been reported that the broadcast led to widespread panic. While it’s true some listeners did believe the news story Welles presented, there wasn’t the mass hysteria reported on by many newspapers. In fact, some listeners only heard part of the story, and thought the threat was Germany, not aliens. It’s been suggested that the newspapers of the day over-exaggerated their accounts of the public’s reaction, in part to discredit the radio, which some saw as their competition.
Click here to listen to the full War of the Worlds broadcast.