“A World of His Own”
On July 1, 1960, The Twilight Zone ended its ground-breaking first season with a flourish by airing Richard Matheson’s “A World of His Own.”
The story concerns a writer named Gregory West who can create and destroy characters at will. He simply dictates the details into his tape recorder, and presto, in he walks. Or, more appropriately, in she walks. After all, the central conflict of the story revolves around the fact that Gregory has been creating a sweet woman named Mary to keep him company — and when his nagging wife, Victoria, finds out, she confronts him.
She thinks she’s caught him red-handed. But the woman is nowhere to be found. Where did she go? Gregory denies her accusations at first, but finally admits the truth. As for Mary’s disappearance, well, all he has to do, he says, is snip off the piece of tape that describes her, toss it in the fireplace, and she vanishes. Victoria naturally thinks he’s crazy.
It all builds to a nice little twist that, for the sake of those few who haven’t seen it, or may forget it, I won’t reveal (though there ARE spoilers below).
“A World of His Own” is a rarity: a Zone comedy that works, and works well. Matheson usually wrote straight dramatic material, and he later said that he pitched the idea for this episode to Serling and to Zone producer Buck Houghton as a serious story. But wisely detecting its comedic potential — and sensing, no doubt, that it could work well as a light season-ender — they encouraged him to take it in a more amusing direction.
Keenan Wynn (who had already done some terrific pre-Zone Serling work in “Requiem for a Heavyweight“) has just the right touch to play Gregory West. Phyllis Kirk (Victoria) and Mary La Roche (Mary) are also well cast. And another “actor” makes his debut in this enjoyable episode: Rod Serling himself.
Yes, he had already been providing the opening and closing narrations, but they had all been off-camera. Now, however, Serling — already a household name, but not a household face (yet) — is shown at the end of the episode:
“We hope you enjoyed tonight’s romantic story on The Twilight Zone. At the same time, we want you to realize that it was, of course, purely fictional. In real life, such ridiculous nonsense could never — “
Gregory interrupts: “Rod! You shouldn’t. You shouldn’t have said those things, Rod. Like ‘nonsense’. And ‘ridiculous’.” At which point he pulls out a piece of tape marked “Rod Serling” and throws it in the fireplace. Serling turns to us again and says, “Well, that’s the way it goes,” and disappears.
“I got an enormous kick out of being the only writer on the show to ‘wink out’ Rod Serling at the end,” Matheson later said. “I don’t know what made me come up with that idea, but I thought it was funny, and fortunately he had a great sense of humor, and it was the last show of the season, so he could do it.
“He got a big kick out of it. His ego was strong enough — he didn’t need to say, ‘Look, I don’t want any fun made of my name,’ that kind of stuff.”
The episode turned out to be the perfect way to cap what is arguably the Zone‘s strongest season. There had been many serious stories to date, but here was a little wink at the audience. It’s all meant to be entertainment, after all, and having Season 1 end with “A World of His Own” was an ideal way to illustrate this.
And who among us wouldn’t like to own a tape recorder like the one Gregory West has? Yes, it’s all “ridiculous nonsense.” Still …
Photos courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!