Sixty five years ago this Halloween, CBS’s Mercury Theater scared the living daylights out of America. Long-standing belief in life on Mars, some talented performances, a bit of razzle-dazzle with a fake program of dance music, and a forty minute gap between announcements that they were performing H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds combined to produce a classic example of mass hysteria. The Mercury Theater’s young founder, Orson Welles, must have loved it. There have been pranks in the American mass media for as long as there’s been an American mass media, from Edgar Allen Poe’s airships to George Plimpton’s Sidd Fitch. But Welles love of untruth. Richard Hell (that Richard Hell) notes that Welles’ father owned a hotel filled with retired vaudevillans and suggests that Welles developed his fascination for performance there. Welles was a regular at the Magic Castle in Hollywood and, according to his friend Jim Steinmeyer, quite an accomplished amateur magician. His breakthrough role as the Shadow was a part particularly suited to someone interested in stage magic, puzzles, false identities, illusions. Welles’ lost documentary on Brazil was to have been called It’s All True, the sort of objection that only a man who would later go on to create something like F for Fake would need to raise. The somewhat boggling claim that Stalin targetted John Wayne for assassination makes a bit more sense with Welles as a major source. Welles said that he wanted descriptions of him to be flattering, not accurate; why shouldn’t his story of the cowboy and the dictator be the same? And so we arrive at Welles’ Batman. Why shouldn’t Lamont Cranston have taken a crack at playing Bruce Wayne? Basil Rathbone would have made a brilliant Joker! Welles could have wrung a magnificent performance out of Marlene Dietrich as Catwoman! (For that matter, Welles discovered Eartha Kitt.) Alas, the whole thing seems to have been a product of Mark Millar‘s fecund imagination, but it was believable for a minute. Orson Welles would have been proud.