John Houseman, a Romanian-born immigrant and successful actor, author, and film producer, served as Voice of America’s first director just as World War II was entangling the Western world. In spite of a steady stream of bad news related to wartime losses, Houseman determined that VOA would tell listeners the truth, whether it was good for the U.S., or bad for the U.S. ”Only thus,” he explained, “could we establish a reputation for honesty which we hoped would pay off on that distant but inevitable day when we would start reporting on our own invasions and victories.” Houseman also introduced a style of radio reporting that employed multiple voices in individual broadcasts, a device he had learned through his theatrical background.
Prior to Voice of America, Houseman gained national recognition through his role in the production of the War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938, with Orson Welles. The story and sound effects were so realistic at the time that there were reports that some listeners actually believed that an extraterrestrial attack was imminent. Houseman was also an accomplished actor, with his role as Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase earning him an Academy Award for best Supporting Actor. Houseman continued his involvement in acting and theatre throughout the rest of his life.