Rod Serling wasn’t just an imaginative, award-winning writer. He was also a surprisingly quick one.
“He’d come in at 9, and by noon, he had completed a teleplay”, Twilight Zone‘s casting director once noted. “I had never seen anybody write that fast.”
Small wonder, then, that Serling managed to crank out almost two-thirds of the show’s final output: 92 scripts, out of 156 total. He was a one-man machine, which makes the high quality all the more remarkable.
His scripts often ran long, though. That inevitably meant some cutting was in order. But you know what? I’ve found that many of his “lost lines” are as quotable as what wound up on the air.
Take a few lines from “Time Enough at Last”. They come as Henry concludes his argument with Helen, who has defaced and then destroyed his book of poetry. She asks him if he’s going to put on a clean shirt, and he replies: Read the rest of this entry
“Social distancing” is a new skill for most of us. Even many introverts are finding the new norms to be a bit much.
But in the fifth dimension, it’s a different story. Keeping your neighbors at arm’s length isn’t all that unusual.
Just ask astronaut Mike Ferris. He spent most of the Twilight Zone pilot, “Where is Everybody?”, wandering around an empty town. The closest thing he found to another human being was a store mannequin.
Or how about the prisoner in “The Lonely”? Poor Corry was not only in solitary confinement, he wasn’t even on Earth. Weeks would go by before anyone showed up to bring him supplies.
Then there was Henry Bemis in “Time Enough at Last”. Nothing like a little nuclear blast to ensure you get some major “me time”. Read the rest of this entry
There are times when watching The Twilight Zone is something of a Twilight Zone experience itself.
Actually, it’s not the watching that does that. For me, it’s apt to happen when I’m discussing an episode with other fans, and I find that their explanation of an episode differs completely from mine.
Take Season 1’s “A World of Difference”, which stars Howard Duff. I recently took note on my Twitter page of its March 11 anniversary. As always, I gave a brief synopsis: “An actor whose real life is a mess decides that the idyllic role he’s playing is reality.”
I’m used to hearing people say they like or don’t like an episode. But this time, I also got reactions like this:
- “Wait, he’s the actor? I thought the real guy just fell into the Zone and had to get out.”
- “I still don’t know how to interpret the ending.”
- “It always made me unsure which was real and which wasn’t, but I suppose he was only playing the role he believed to be his real life.”
- “Wait…for real?! He was really the actor all along? I’m so confused!”
At this point, they weren’t the only ones! It honestly never occurred to me before that the episode could be viewed in any other way. Read the rest of this entry
Even if you’re the biggest Twilight Zone fan in the world, there’s a good chance you’d give me a blank look if I asked you about Jan Handzlik.
But once I said, “He played Tommy in The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”, I’ll bet a light bulb would immediately go on.
Of course, few Zone fans are fond of his character. He did get the paranoia flowing with his comic-book talk about aliens, after all!
But hey, Tommy meant well. He was only 12. And he was just making some innocent observations. Besides, it’s not as if the adults around him needed much prodding to turn on each other.
I bring up Jan because I recently read a 2018 interview with him on a pop-culture website called Noblemania. Although he had some other acting credits in his short career (most notably in the Broadway production of Auntie Mame), the interview focuses quite a bit on his Twilight Zone experience. Here are the highlights:
How old were you when you were cast in The Twilight Zone?
Any funny anecdotes about the experience?
All I can remember [is] that Jack Weston was hilarious on stage and off. He’s a terrific actor. As I recall, he kept things pretty light. Read the rest of this entry
Where would the horror genre be without vampires and werewolves? And where would World War II stories be without Nazis? They’re staples of many chilling accounts.
Ah, but what if you could combine them all in one story? It wouldn’t have to be anything too ambitious or sprawling. One tight little tale might do the trick.
Perhaps that thought is what prompted American writer Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986) to pen a story called “The Devil is Not Mocked”. Night Gallery fans will likely recognize the name, as it was adapted during the second season into one of the show’s more memorable short segments.
Wellman opens with a Nazi commander, General von Grunn (played by Helmut Dantine), being driven along a road in the Balkan countryside, en route to a castle that he’s been told is the headquarters of a secret resistance movement. (I love some of the cars they had in the late 1930s/early 1940s. The godforsaken Nazis did NOT deserve such fine automobiles.) He and his troops plan to take over the castle and convince the inhabitants that their rebellion is futile.
The television version begins with a different scene entirely. Gallery scribe Gene Kearney starts with a man (played by Francis Lederer) talking to his grandson. He tells the boy he’s going to relate what he did during the great world war: “For while many are the terrible charges made against our ancestors, let no man deny our patriotism.” The scene shifts, and we’re with von Grunn, moving along the road. Read the rest of this entry
If you’ve never seen Twilight Zone‘s “The Silence”, this post isn’t for you. At least not yet. Seriously, go check it out and come back. You’ll be glad you did.
But if you’re among those who have watched this Season 2 episode and enjoyed the double-twist ending, read on. It may surprise you to learn that Rod Serling made one significant change to his initial script before the story was filmed.
To be specific, Jamie Tennyson (Liam Sullivan) — the overly talkative club member who agrees to stay silent for a year to win a half-million-dollar wager — wasn’t going to survive.
Worse, his demise was set to occur on the last day of his incarceration, less than an hour before his release. Talk about a killer ending.
No, he wasn’t murdered. Not directly, anyway. In this initial version, Tennyson had been subjected to a campaign of abuse from Archie Taylor (Franchot Tone), the club member who proposed the bet. And this abuse went beyond the rumor-mongering and trash-talking we see in the episode. At one point, Taylor jacks up the thermostat in the prisoner’s glass cell, causing the temperature to soar. He even tries to poison Tennyson’s food. Read the rest of this entry
Anyone who’s read a book or a short story by Richard Matheson can tell you: The man knew how to write.
He didn’t need flashy dialogue or over-the-top descriptions to pull you into another world. A few strokes of his lean prose was all it took. Whether the setting was a dusty saloon in the old West or a far-flung planet in another galaxy, you could easily see it in your mind’s eye.
But when it comes to TV and movies, a writer can’t count on his words alone to transport you. He has to rely on actors, directors, and set designers.
Fortunately, when it came to The Twilight Zone, Matheson was in good hands — “television’s elite”, in Rod Serling’s words. Take Season 3’s “Little Girl Lost”.
He acted in more Twilight Zone episodes than anyone other than Rod Serling himself.* Eight, to be specific — twice as many as Zone veterans Jack Klugman and Burgess Meredith. Yet hardly anyone remembers his name.
I’m talking about Jay Overholts. If you’ve never heard of him, don’t feel bad. He always assumed bit parts, often with little dialogue. But you’ve definitely seen Jay.
Remember the doctor in “One for the Angels”, the one who tells Lew about Maggie’s condition? That was him.
Or the taxi driver in “The Jungle”, who simply drops dead at a stoplight for no apparent reason? Jay again.
Or the ambulance driver at the end of “A Thing about Machines”, talking to the policeman about why Bartlett Finchley wound up dead at the bottom of his own swimming pool? You guessed it. Read the rest of this entry
You can tell I’m a Serling fan. The first thing I thought of when I heard that Kirk Douglas had died wasn’t “Spartacus”, “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” or “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, as excellent as those films are. It was “Seven Days in May”.
The 1964 political thriller, about an attempted military takeover of the United States, isn’t as well-known as those other titles. But it has something they don’t: a script by Rod Serling.
I’ve been meaning to write a review of “Seven Days in May” for a while now. “Saddle the Wind” is the only feature film of Serling’s that I’ve blogged about so far, so I’ll have to put “Seven Days in May” on my short list and do it soon.
In the meantime, though, I wanted to highlight a completely different film of Douglas’s — one that has a personal connection for me, as well as ties to The Twilight Zone. It’s called “The Big Sky”. Read the rest of this entry
If you’re a Twilight Zone fan, you’re used to having the rug pulled out from under you when an episode concludes. Where would the fifth dimension be without irony-laden endings?
Case in point: Season 1’s “People are Alike All Over”. Who can forget the stunned look on Sam Conrad’s face when he discovers where he’s at in the end?
(If you haven’t seen this episode before, you may want to check it out before proceeding any further. It’s on disc, as well as streaming on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.)
The story concerns two astronauts — Sam Conrad (played by Roddy McDowell), and Warren Marcusson (Paul Comi, in the first of three Zone roles). We meet them on the eve of their flight to Mars. No one has ever been there, of course, so they wonder what they’ll find. Will there be people? And if there are, what will they be like?
Conrad is a worrier, but the positive-thinking Marcusson reassures him. He’s convinced there’s a fixed formula for humanity that holds true throughout the galaxy. So if there are people on Mars, they must be like people on Earth. Conrad, he thinks, shouldn’t fret. Read the rest of this entry