Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, a Response to Father Coughlin

I’d never heard of Father Coughlin until I worked on the American Archive of Public Broadcasting and our Mellon-funded AI grant for CLAMS. We were testing automated speech recognition models using machine learning that would recognize and clip out music. Father Coughlin’s name came up as we were using radio sermons of Father McCracken. The church broadcasts made for great training material as there were always musical interludes. The commonality between the two men only being religious sermons on the radio.

So What Does This Have To Do with Orson Welles?

Recently, I was listening to an interview with Ed Zwick and he mentioned meeting his hero, Orson Welles. Zwick says:

 I was able to then talk to Welles afterwards. And what he said to me is the reason that I did that program is because Father Coughlin was a demagogue on radio, and people were believing everything that he said. And he said it was his obligation to do something on radio that wasn’t true.

A Hollywood filmmaker talks about making movies (and sometimes throwing chairs)

I loved hearing the impetus for Welles’ creative expression. It wasn’t just “hears this cool idea I have,” but, “hears this cool idea I have that will also highlight demagoguery and racism of Father Coughlin.”

Tim Lepczyk

Writer, Technologist, and Librarian.

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