Little Girl Lost, Story Idea Found

People sometimes joke that Rod Serling and the other Twilight Zone writers must have been very strange people. Surely nobody sober and “normal” like the rest of us could come up with such wild story ideas, right?

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The reality is reassuringly mundane. The show wasn’t written by eccentrics who consumed hallucinogenics by the handful. They were disciplined, talented writers who had sharp, quick, vivid imaginations.

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Take the fan-favorite “Little Girl Lost,” a standout episode in Twilight Zone‘s third season. According to Richard Matheson: Read the rest of this entry

Time Enough at Last: “The One That Haunts People”

Of all the episodes of The Twilight Zone, perhaps none has left more of a mark on viewers than “Time Enough at Last.” The episode that struck fear in the hearts of book-lovers everywhere — and inspired horrified glasses-wearers to opt for a back-up pair — turns 55 today.

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In a 1984 article for Twilight Zone magazine, star Burgess Meredith recalled how the episode excited writer Rod Serling himself:

He had just seen some rushes of the show, which made him very enthusiastic. He said, ‘Hey, you’re wonderful. Let’s do more shows with you.’ After that, Rod wrote a Twilight Zone for me each season. Our relationship wound up lasting a long time. And of course, later in our careers, we both did a lot of voice-over work.

Not quite EACH season, as it turns out. Meredith did “Time Enough at Last” in the first season, “Mr. Dingle, The Strong” and “The Obsolete Man” in the second, and “Printer’s Devil” in the fourth. But the fact remains that Serling clearly enjoyed writing for this talented man. Read the rest of this entry

The Case for Conformity

Most people can decide for themselves whether or not to watch an address by the head of their country. The unfortunate residents of The Twilight Zone‘s “Eye of the Beholder” aren’t so lucky.

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I’ve described in a previous post why I consider this Rod Serling’s finest work. But on this 54th anniversary of the episode’s first airing, I wanted to highlight the full address given by “Leader” in the climatic scene.

We hear some of it as poor Janet Tyler is trying to run away. But we miss most of it, and believe me, it’s worth quoting in full: Read the rest of this entry

Willie Vs. Caesar: The Real Electoral Clash

It’s Election Day, and I’m here to ask you to pick between a couple of dummies.

Oh, wait — this has nothing to do with the people running for office in your state or county. But I can understand the confusion! No, I’m asking you to pick your favorite of the two ventriloquist dummies that appeared on The Twilight Zone.

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On the one hand, we have Willie. Likes: eye tests, dancing girls, upstaging his partner. Dislikes: rival dummies, being locked in a trunk. He starred with Cliff Robertson in “The Dummy.”

On the other hand, we have Caesar. Likes: pacing, larceny, talking to people like they’re idiots. Dislikes: dimwits, nosy club owners. He starred with Jackie Cooper in “Caesar and Me.” Read the rest of this entry

“It’s a Good Life”: Meeting the Monster

The boundaries of the Twilight Zone may be limitless, but the same can’t be said for a TV show. Rod Serling, like any other writer, had to edit himself.

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That wasn’t the case, however, when he introduced “It’s a Good Life.” When it premiered on November 3, 1961, viewers were treated to a monologue at least three times longer than the average TZ intro:

Tonight’s story on The Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States, and there’s a little town there called Peaksville.

On a givenIt's a Good Life1 morning not too long ago, the rest of the world disappeared and Peaksville was left all alone. Its inhabitants were never sure whether the world was destroyed and only Peaksville left untouched or whether the village had somehow been taken away. Read the rest of this entry

Brushstrokes and Broomsticks

An art gallery may strike you as an odd place to spend Halloween … at least, until you see the paintings hanging in the Night Gallery.

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“If you seem to sense an aura of cold dampness that permeates this room, attribute it not to either defective air conditioning or inclement indoor weather,” Rod Serling once said. “It’s simply because this is rather a special place with special statuary and special paintings, and they carry with them a coldness that seems to go best in a crypt.”

Most museums turn up the lights so you can see the paintings in detail. But once you see the canvases on display here, I think you’ll be grateful for the many shadows that line the hallways.

I hope you were able to join us for our inaugural tour. Because I have 10 more favorites to share with you today (click on any title to watch the episode on Hulu): Read the rest of this entry

False Alarm at a Funhouse

To say it takes a writer with a fertile imagination to write a Twilight Zone is an understatement. Rod Serling and others could spin a spellbinding story from remarkably ordinary circumstances.

Take a trip to a funhouse. Ever been through one? Nearly everyone has. But for Charles Beaumont, the writer of nearly two dozen Twilight Zone episodes, it wasn’t the same experience it is for the rest of us.Perchance to Dream Funhouse TicketBooth

I’ve always loved Beaumont’s “Perchance to Dream”. It’s such an enjoyably frightening TZ that I’ve written not one, but two previous blog posts about it. And with Halloween approaching, I wanted share one of my favorite behind-the-scenes stories about Beaumont, as related by Marc Scott ZicreeRead the rest of this entry

Gimme “Shelter”: The Perils of Survival At Any Price

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
― John Wooden

The fifth-dimensional equivalent? I’d put it this way: “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when he believes his life is in danger.”

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Case in point: “The Shelter,” Rod Serling’s sobering look at a neighborhood full of average families who are happy to treat each other well … until the day when a nuclear bomb is apparently headed their way, and only one family has gone to the trouble and expense of building a bomb shelter. (If you haven’t watched it, or it’s been a while, go here.)

Serling excelled at entertaining us, but he never flinched from asking some tough questions. And here we’re left with two big ones:

1) If you had a shelter only big enough for you and your family — that had just enough supplies for all of you — what would you do if a missile was bearing down on you, and your neighbors were pleading for you to let them in? Read the rest of this entry

Fifth-Dimensional Finishes

The Twilight Zone is famous for its twist endings. But for me, the real cherry on top of our inter-dimensional sundaes is Rod Serling’s closing narrations.

Surprisingly, some critics deride them as unnecessary. How dense are we, right? Can’t we figure out the lesson without having it spelled out by an omniscient referee? Perhaps, but that’s not the point.

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The conclusions aren’t there because we’re slow. They serve an important purpose. Sometimes they tie up loose ends, sometimes they lay on a little irony, and sometimes they make a wry comment on the proceedings.

In short, they’re there to make the stories more enjoyable. Hearing Serling introduce and wrap up each episode, with his trademark voice and poetic language, is the perfect framing device. I’m convinced the show wouldn’t be as beloved without them. Read the rest of this entry

“I Just Poured on the Coal”

“What’s going on here?! Where are we?! WHAT are we?!”

If you’re a Twilight Zone fan, you “heard” those sentences in your head. And they were spoken — or should I say bellowed? — by one of the most well-known actors to appear on TV in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s: William Windom.

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His first and most memorable role on TZ came in Season 3’s “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”. Murray Matheson gives a scene-stealing performance as the unflappable clown, but Windom’s hot-headed, impatient army major is the real focal point of the story.

His determination to find a way out of their odd, cylindrical prison brings him the answers to the questions quoted above. But being The Twilight Zone, he probably wasn’t happy with what he found out. Read the rest of this entry

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