Remembering the “Forgotten” Twilight Zone Writer

Even before The Twilight Zone premiered, Rod Serling said that his new series was one for storytellers. He followed through by recruiting some of the best ones around to contribute their most imaginative work.

Rod Serling - A Piano in the House

Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, of course, lead the list. But several other noteworthy writers helped define that elusive fifth dimension — including Earl Hamner, Jr. That’s right, the man who would later be writing wholesome, gentle dramas on “The Waltons” broke into TV by spinning tales about deceptive witches, homicidal aliens and sentient automobiles.

In all, Hamner penned eight episodes, nearly all of which can stand alongside other fan favorites. earlhamnerYet his name rarely comes up when people mention their favorite TZ storytellers, leading Tony Albarella, editor of “The Twilight Zone Scripts of Earl Hamner,” to call him “the forgotten Twilight Zone writer.”

As you can see from the list below, it’s high time that changed. The purpose of this post is to ask a simple question: Which Hamner-penned episode is your favorite? Here’s a quick refresher. Click any title to watch the episode on Hulu. You can cast your vote at the bottom.

THE HUNT

Season 3, Episode 19

January 26, 1962

7 (1)

A favorite of animal-lovers everywhere, Hamner’s first TZ features characters who’d feel right at home on Walton’s Mountain. When a hunting trip proves fatal for an old country man and his dog, he finds himself at a certain gate in the afterlife, where he’s asked to make a terrible choice. A genuinely sweet episode that features one of my all-time favorite TZ quotes.

***

A PIANO IN THE HOUSE

Season 3, Episode 22

February 16, 1962

18 (1)

Imagine if you could get people to say what they REALLY think. The gleefully insufferable theater critic Fitzgerald Fortune has found a device that does just that: a player piano that helps him elicit the most embarrassing secrets. Naturally he plots to use it against others, including his own wife. It isn’t long, though, before he’s singing a different tune.

***

JESS-BELLE

Season 4, Episode 7

February 14, 1963

Put Up Your Dukes - Jess Belle

As any fan of The Twilight Zone can tell you, deals with the Devil never turn out well. The track record for witches is no better. Unfortunately, nobody told poor Jess-Belle that before she sought out a little supernatural help in winning the hand of the man she loved. Anne Francis (“The After Hours“) and James Best anchor this bittersweet love story, with Jeanette Nolan returning from “The Hunt” to play the witch.

***

RING-A-DING GIRL

Season 5, Episode 13

December 27, 1963

1 (11)

We’re used to seeing screen heroes save lives in a dramatic way. Which makes “Ring-a-Ding Girl” all the more remarkable. It may be the most uncinematic rescue ever filmed, but don’t think that means it’s not an absorbing episode. When a movie star returns to her hometown, she knows she has to avert a huge disaster — and she does so in pure TZ style.

***

YOU DRIVE

Season 5, Episode 14

January 3, 1964

You Drive2

You’ve heard of evil twins? Well, consider this the story of a good twin — specifically, of the homicidal automobile in Stephen King’s “Christine.” This car, by contrast, has a conscience, so it’s not about to let its owner get away with a hit-and-run accident that results in a boy’s death. Oliver Pope thinks he’ll get away with the crime. His “malfunctioning” car has other ideas.

***

BLACK LEATHER JACKETS

Season 5, Episode 18

January 31, 1964

Black Leather Jackets7

The Twilight Zone certainly saw its share of alien invasions during its five-year run, so you have to hand it to Hamner for coming up with a good twist in the final season. Three young motorcycle-riders disturb a quiet suburb when they move in, but if the neighbors think a few loud carburetors will be their biggest problem, well … think again. When this pseudo-Beatnik trio says “far out,” they mean it literally.

***

STOPOVER IN A QUIET TOWN

Season 5, Episode 30

April 24, 1964

6 (7)

Hands down, the most entertaining public-service ad against drunken driving ever. Bob and Millie Frazier wake up to more than a hangover — they’re in a quaint little town that’s devoid of people. They search high and low, they bicker, they struggle with paranoia, but no matter what, they can’t find a soul — or find the source of some mysterious girlish laughter. Until the startling conclusion, that is.

***

THE BEWITCHIN’ POOL

Season 5, Episode 36

June 19, 1964

2 (13)

Every child in a bad home situation must envy Jeb and Sport Sharewood. They have two of the most irritating parents in the history of TV, but they can escape by diving into their swimming pool and going through a hole in the bottom to a paradisiacal land of play time and giant cakes. Not my cup of tea, but some people really like what turned out to be the final episode of the series.

“We’ve developed some fine writers who understand our kind of story — writers like Dick Matheson and Chuck Beaumont and a young writer you’ll hear from someday, Earl Hamner, Jr.”, Serling said in a 1962 interview.

Well, we’ve heard from Hamner. Now let’s hear from you:

UPDATE, April 4: This poll went to the dogs! Well, the DOG, anyway. “The Hunt” won easily, but it was great to see “Stopover in a Quiet Town” and “A Piano in the House” do well, along with a Season 4 favorite of mine, “Jess-Belle.” Thanks to everyone who voted!

***

Photos courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on TwitterFacebook 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. WordPress members can also hit “follow” at the top of this page.

Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

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About Paul

Hard-working, hard-playing fan of all pop culture, especially the Twilight Zone. Which led to a Twitter page. And then to a blog. And then to ... stay tuned. Yes, that's a picture of Rod Serling, not me. You can find the real me under the "Your Host" tab on my blog, along with biographical details that, while 100 percent accurate, sound kind of boastful and braggy. Sorry.

Posted on 03/28/2015, in Twilight Zone, Twilight Zone Polls and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. So many great stories! I’ve narrowed it down to two, but it is difficult to choose just one! It’s between “The Hunt” and “Stopover In A Quiet Town”. Both stories have surprising unexpected outcomes.

    “The Hunt” is a nice tight little story that answers all the questions, but “Stopover In A Quiet Town” always disturbs me because there is no tidy resolution. The characters remain in peril.

    “You Drive” does remind me of “Christine”. Is this the first time anyone has written about a car with a mind of its own? I like Stephen King, but some of his stories remind me of other peoples’ work.

    The only Hamner episode I never really liked is “The Bewitchin Pool”. Were the kids’ voices dubbed over by adults? They never sounded right. The characters also seem very flat. Undeveloped and lacking depth.

    I enjoyed this post! :)

    • Glad to hear it! Your top two picks, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, seem to be the most popular. An upset is always possible, but I suspect that it would take a real upset for “The Hunt” to lose.

      You’re right about how both stories are very different in how they end, and yet both are satisfying in their own way. As for “You Drive,” I honestly can’t swear this is THE first time someone wrote about a “living” car, but it has to be one of the very earliest. It’s certainly one of the most effective!

      And yes, Mary Badham’s voice in “The Bewitchin’ Pool” was dubbed. Not even all of it, but only in certain scenes — which only emphasizes how OFF it sounds, I think. Oh, well. That wasn’t Hamner’s fault (though most of the rest of it was). It’s a shame he had to go out on a bad note, as he clearly had a winning record, as this post shows. At least I hope it does!

  2. I had a hard time choosing between The Hunt and Ring a Ding Girl, but I like most of these episodes.

  3. I voted for Anne Francis, based on a reasoned critique of each episode.

    • Ha, can I assume that “reasoned critique” boiled down to the fact that AF was easy on the eyes, as they say? :) Either way, thanks for voting and commenting!

  4. NotAPunkRocker

    I didn’t realize he wrote “Stopover in a Quiet Town”. Considering how many people (I think) know that one, I am surprised I didn’t know he was the writer.

    I don’t live all that far from Walton’s Mountain :)

    • Yes, which is why I went with the headline I did. The mark Hamner left on the series may not have been a major one, but it was notable, so I feel he deserves more recognition.

      And it’s funny, yes — “The Hunt” may be the most popular of his episodes, but I feel like the ending of “Stopover” is the most well-known of all his work. And you’re close to WM? Cool. Love that series too!

  5. I cherish ‘The Hunt’ as a short story, Twilight Zone or no. I know you can’t fool a dog and I know I have to believe there’s no heaven without them in it, too.

    • I know what you mean! “The Hunt” goes right to that love of animals that so many of us share, so it’s not surprising that it’s leading the poll here.

  6. These stories are actually at the head of my very long list of all time favorite episodes of Twilight Zone with The Hunt and The Bewitchin’ Pool being my top two. I didn’t realize they were written by the same person, so I appreciate knowing that. Thank you for sharing!

    • My pleasure! I find it interesting to make these connections myself, so I naturally enjoy weaving them into my blog posts whenever possible. Glad you liked it!

  7. I’ll take “Stopover in a Quiet Town,” just barely edging out “You Drive,” both great eppies. They speak of the dangers of suburban affluence and comfort, which is the part of Hamner that was associated with Falcon Crest. OTOH, “The Hunt” is more what we think of as pure Hamner.

    • Interesting point, Scott. He certainly showed that he was talented at depicting different worlds over the course of his career.

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