“Light and Shadow”: A Look at Twilight Zone’s Directors

“The Twilight Zone will be directed, written, produced, and acted by television’s elite.” —Serling before TZ premiered

I focus heavily here on the writing of Rod Serling and other talented authors — and rightly so. Their imaginative scripts were the launching pad for some of the most memorable and timeless television ever filmed.

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But you need more than that to create a Twilight Zone episode. To truly bring the fifth dimension to life, you need first-rate actors in front of the camera, and a top-notch crew behind it.

I couldn’t help reflecting on the crucial role played by the head of that crew, the director, when I heard that James Sheldon had died on March 12. His many credits include six TZ episodes, three of which are bona fide fan favorites: “A Penny For Your Thoughts”, “Long Distance Call” and “It’s a Good Life“.* Read the rest of this entry

Rod Serling and Model Airplanes: Winging It

One of my favorite anecdotes from Anne Serling’s book:

My dad loved building model airplanes. He would sit at a wooden table and, although not very mechanically minded, assemble these tiny warplanes, gluing and painting them.

Serling Stevens plane

Rod Serling and Inger Stevens

His brother remembered: “I was visiting Rod in California and [he] was building a replica of the Red Baron’s Fokker triplane. He couldn’t get the glue to hold on the top wing which kept flopping. Rod finally lost his patience, threw the model on the floor and stamped it into a few hundred pieces. ‘Rod,’ I asked, ‘why the hell do you even build those things if you get so frustrated?’” Read the rest of this entry

Finding Faith in the Fifth Dimension

Religious content in The Twilight Zone? The sci-fi fantasy show about time travel, homicidal dolls and aliens with hostile intent? The idea may seem absurd at first.

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“The Howling Man”

Yet the deeper one looks for religious messages — and Lent certainly seems like a good time to do it — the more one finds them popping up, both directly and indirectly. (Spoilers ahead, casual Zone viewers.)

For starters, consider how often we see the Devil or one of his emissaries. In “Printer’s Devil”, for example, Burgess Meredith plays a man who helps a small-town publisher on the brink of suicide achieve financial success by ferreting out scandal stories that smash the competition. He then unfurls a contract stating that only by agreeing to relinquish his soul can the publisher cement this arrangement. Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “To Serve Man”

Remember how the Kanamits in “To Serve Man” looked? Short, fat and hairy, with pig-like faces. Three fingers on each hand. Walking around in green shorts. Hard to forget that image.

Wait, what?

To Serve Man1

If you’re confused, it’s because you’re picturing the way the Kanamits looked in one of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone. The description I just gave was how they looked in the short story that Rod Serling based his script on.

My first two “Re-Zoning” posts showed how freely Serling would adapt his scripts from the source material. He wasn’t one to simply take the story as is and put it in script form. Oh, no. Turning an intriguing story into a true Twilight Zone often required quite a few changes. Read the rest of this entry

Rod Serling, “Hogan’s Heroes” and Bob Crane

If Rod Serling didn’t like something, you were going to hear about it. And he hated Hogan’s Heroes.

So you might conclude that Serling also BobCrane_Portraitdisliked its main star, Bob Crane. On the contrary, they enjoyed a friendship that began before the show and continued after it was over.

I knew that Crane, who first came to fame as a radio host, had appeared (voice only) as an announcer in The Twilight Zone‘s “Static”. I also knew that Crane had interviewed Serling on his radio show several times (most notably about “The Shelter”, which you can listen to here), and that he’d starred (post-Hogan’s Heroes) in Night Gallery‘s “House—With Ghost”). Read the rest of this entry

“You’ve Just Crossed Over Into … The Twilight Zone”

Twilight Zone marathons always bring an influx of new followers to my Twitter page, and this year’s extravaganza on Syfy was no exception. About 500 additional fans joined in the fifth-dimensional festivities, enough for me to break the 14,000-follower mark.

If you’re one of them, welcome! I thought a quick orientation post might help.

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“A Stop at Willoughby”

Why? Well, sometimes people express surprise that I tweet about anything other than The Twilight Zone. Some, in fact, are surprised that I tweet at all when there isn’t a marathon on.

But I didn’t create my Twitter page simply to live-tweet TZ marathons. I did it to share quotes and facts from ALL of Rod Serling’s works, and to do it year-round. They’re primarily from The Twilight Zone, of course — that’s his crowning achievement. But I also draw from Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (the horror series that followed TZ), as well as Serling’s pre-TZ teleplays, movies and books. Read the rest of this entry

George Clayton Johnson, Writer of “Wisdom Fiction”

I’ve written a blog post about Richard Matheson and his Twilight Zone episodes. I’ve written one about Charles Beaumont. I’ve even written one about Earl Hamner. And Heaven knows I’ve written plenty about Rod Serling.

But I’ve never written one about George Clayton Johnson. And now the news of his death at 86 is making me wish I had done so much sooner.

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True, I did spotlight one of his wonderful TZ episodes before now, “A Game of Pool” (twice, in fact – here and here). But no post yet about “Nothing in the Dark”? “Kick the Can”? “A Penny For Your Thoughts”? There’s hardly a Twilight Zone fan out there who doesn’t list at least one of those classics among his favorite episodes. Read the rest of this entry

Why CBS Finally Took a Gamble on Twilight Zone

Imagine you found yourself transported back in time to December 6, 1941. It’s the day before Japan bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

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There you are, near the attack site, surrounded by people who have no idea what the next day will bring. Can you warn them without sounding crazy?

That’s the dilemma Pete Jenson faces. He’s been dreaming every night that he’s back there … only it’s not a dream, he tells his psychiatrist. He’s really going back.

Sound like a plot stolen from a Twilight Zone episode? Not exactly. I’m describing “The Time Element”, an episode of CBS’s Desilu Playhouse. It aired on November 24, 1958, the year before TZ debuted. And it was written by Rod Serling. Read the rest of this entry

“The Season To Be Wary”: A Night Gallery Book

In his last interview, Rod Serling said he wanted to be remembered simply as a “writer.” There’s little doubt that he achieved that. Countless authors cite him as one of their primary influences.

Yet nearly all of his fans experience his words via a TV screen, not the printed page. How many of us have enjoyed a book by Serling?

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True, that wasn’t his typical medium. He was famous for dictating scripts in a hurry by the poolside, not fiddling with some florid prose in a quiet study. Small wonder that the few books he did author were out of print for years.

That changed in 2014 when Rod Serling Books republished several volumes that almost any fan of the fifth dimension will want to check out. Each one merits its own post, but today I want to focus on one that should interest any Night Gallery aficionado: “The Season To Be Wary.” Read the rest of this entry

Séances and Surrealism: Another Night Gallery Tour

Come in, everyone. Glad you could make it. Ready to see some lovely, flower-filled meadows? Contemplate a few peaceful, rustic landscapes?

Sorry to hear that. Because you’ve entered … the Night Gallery.

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As founder Rod Serling once said, “In this particular salon, we choose our paintings with an eye more towards terror than technique.” That explains the dark, dusty halls. The chilly drafts that whistle down the corridors. The long shadows that offer numerous hiding places for … well, let’s get started. The night won’t last forever.

Perhaps you joined us on our first tour of the Night Gallery. You may have even tagged along for round two. If so, I can understand why you’re glancing around nervously. But remember, fright doesn’t always take a familiar form. Tonight’s selections prove that there is as much to dread in the brightest day as in the darkest night.

So without further ado, here are 10 more sinister selections for your enjoyment (click on any title to watch the episode it’s part of on Hulu): Read the rest of this entry

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