Dave Kehr writes: It was all Nelson Eddy’s fault. Seventy-five years ago, at 8 o’clock on the evening of Oct. 30, 1938, millions of Americans tuned in their radios to listen to NBC’s “Chase and Sanborn Hour,” a popular variety show starring the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy. When Bergen and McCarthy finished their first sketch — a routine about trick-or-treating — the announcer passed the microphone to Eddy, a booming baritone then starring with Jeanette MacDonald in a series of MGM operettas.
But when Eddy went into a thumping martial tune, “Song of the Vagabonds,” some of those millions went station surfing, and turned the dial to NBC’s less popular rival CBS just in time to hear a dance program interrupted by a special news bulletin. A Chicago astronomer had reported observing “several explosions of incandescent gas” on the planet Mars. Mysterious objects were moving toward Earth, “at enormous velocity.” A huge flaming object, believed to be a meteorite, had crashed into a farm near Grover’s Mill, N.J., 22 miles from Trenton.