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.
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 Zicree:
In “Perchance to Dream,” the dominant image is that of the seductive and frightening nightmare world of the amusement park, an image that was more than an expedient construct to its creator. For Charles Beaumont, both dreams and amusement parks had potent personal meaning. He shared with the lead character of “Perchance” the trait of dreaming in chapters.
“He was always frightened of dreams,” William F. Nolan observes. “He always felt that dreams and reality impinged on each other, and this is just another version of his own fear. He was also terrified of roller coasters. He would ride a roller coaster but he would be terrified while he was doing it and he would always say afterwards that it was the last time he’d ever ride one.”
Nolan recalls an incident that occurred several years prior to the writing of “Perchance to Dream” that well illustrates the mixture of attraction and horror that amusement parks held for Beaumont.
“We went down to Pacific Ocean Park to go through the funhouse,” he explains. “We both loved amusement parks as kids so we thought, look, we were in our twenties, we haven’t gone through a funhouse for years, let’s just go through the old funhouse. Well, the guy at the funhouse gate was a young punk kid wearing a leather jacket and cleaning his fingernails with a switchblade knife, and he kind of gave us a look.
“About ten minutes later, we were in the middle of the funhouse, groping our way along one of these corridors, and Chuck said, ‘I think that kid’s in here with us.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about? What kid, Chuck?’ ‘The kid with the knife,’ he said, ‘I just think he’s in here with us. I’ve got a feeling that that leather-jacketed son-of-a-bitch with the knife is in here with us.’ I said, ‘Oh, come on, Chuck. He’s out there. He’s got to take the tickets.’
He said, ‘Who knows the funhouse better than that kid? He’s been here by day and by night, he’s been here when the lights were on. He could kill us so quick in the dark. How many bodies have been washed under the pier?’ — We were on the pier and we could hear the water lapping — ‘How many trapdoors have opened and how many people have gone in one end of this funhouse and never come out the other?’
I said, ‘I guess that kid could be in here all right.’ ‘Did you see the look he gave me? He didn’t like me,’ he said. ‘He’d put me away like that!’ And he had me convinced that that kid was in there with the knife, and by the time he had finished talking we were running through the funhouse to try and get out before the kid could get us. And I said, ‘Here, this way, Chuck, this way!’ And he’d say, ‘Over here! Over here!’
And when we got out, we ran out — and the kid was still there at the ticket stand and he was still picking his nails. And I looked at him, and Chuck looked at me and he said, ‘Well, I could be wrong.’”
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!