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.
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. Yet 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.
Season 3, Episode 19
January 26, 1962
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.
Season 3, Episode 22
February 16, 1962
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.
Season 4, Episode 7
February 14, 1963
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.
Season 5, Episode 13
December 27, 1963
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.
Season 5, Episode 14
January 3, 1964
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.
Season 5, Episode 18
January 31, 1964
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.
Season 5, Episode 30
April 24, 1964
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.
Season 5, Episode 36
June 19, 1964
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 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. WordPress members can also hit “follow” at the top of this page.
Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
Posted on 03/28/2015, in Twilight Zone, Twilight Zone Polls and tagged A Piano in the House, Black Leather Jackets, Earl Hamner, Jess-Belle, Ring-a-Ding Girl, Rod Serling, Stopover in a Quiet Town, The Bewitchin' Pool, The Hunt, Twilight Zone, You Drive. Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.