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Cantril, Hadley

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1906-1969) US psychologist and sociologist whose The Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic: With the Complete Script of the Famous Orson Welles Broadcast (1940), "with the assistance of" Hazel Gaudet and Herta Herzog, prints for the first time the script by Howard Koch for Orson Welles's 30 October 1938 Radio broadcast of H G Wells's The War of the Worlds (April-December 1897 Pearson's; 1898) as preface to an extensive quantitative analysis and evaluation of the reasons that drove several million Americans to hear this transparently fictional Halloween broadcast as the ongoing report of an actual Invasion. Though published only two years later, The Invasion from Mars provides an analysis of the event which has not been seriously questioned.

Cantril recognizes that in 1938 premonitions of an untellably terrible time to come were haunting Americans (just as they haunted much of the world); he notes that listeners who tuned in during the programme were very much more likely to be fooled than listeners aware from the first that the broadcast was a regular instalment in Welles's Mercury Theatre on the Air anthology series; and he emphasizes the relative newness of radio. He makes it clear, all the same, that many listeners were singularly quick to misunderstand what they heard (during the station-break, for instance, the announcer clearly states that those who have tuned in "are listening to a CBS presentation of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the air in an original dramatization of War of the Worlds by H G Wells"; when the story resumes after the break, three days have declaredly passed). Cantril's subsequent analysis focuses on the mechanisms and dynamics of listener behaviour in general. [JC]

see also: The Night that Panicked America.

Albert Hadley Cantril

born Hyrum, Utah: 16 June 1906

died Princeton, New Jersey: May 1969



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