Bill Herz, the last surviving crew member of Orson Welles’s mock “War of the Worlds” newscast, which terrified American radio listeners in 1938 with vivid bulletins warning Newark residents to evacuate as invading Martians incinerated central New Jersey, died on May 10 in Manhattan. He was 99.
The cause was complications of pneumonia, said Bill Kux, a cousin.
Mr. Herz, who worked on other radio and theater productions as stage manager and casting director for Welles’s Mercury Theater company, staked one additional claim to fame. Until about six months ago, he had been a regular customer at Sardi’s restaurant, the caricature-bedecked gathering place for celebrities and starry-eyed tourists in the theater district, for some 82 years — beginning in 1933, just six years after it opened.
That longevity alone distinguished him as a bon vivant in a shrinking cadre of original Broadway personalties. But he was also singled out periodically in the wider world as a relic of a bygone era, when a bogus radio news broadcast could provoke panic as war was brewing in Europe — however much that hysteria may have been overstated then and since.
Welles’s CBS show “The Mercury Theater on the Air” presented an adaptation of the H. G. Wells novel “The War of the Worlds” for its Halloween episode on Sunday, Oct. 30, 1938. The live hourlong program began with an updated prelude to the original novel eerily warning that superintelligent beings had been coveting “this Earth with envious eyes.”