Fritz Weaver: “We Had Such Great Times In Those Days”
The Grim Reaper’s been busier than usual in 2016, alas. And recently, he caught up to someone that every Twilight Zone fan knows well: Fritz Weaver.
Weaver, of course, had many notable roles throughout his career. But no list of his best work is complete without the villainous Chancellor in “The Obsolete Man” and sympathetic Will Sturka in “Third From The Sun”. The fact that he could so credibly portray a good guy in one episode, and a bad guy in the next, certainly shows his range.
So I thought that fans mourning his passing might enjoy some excerpts from an interview that appears in Stewart Stanyard’s “Dimensions Behind the Twilight Zone“:
Q: What was your first experience with The Twilight Zone?
A: I was in New York, and my agent called me and said, “They want you to do a Twilight Zone,” and I said, “Do a what?” Because I hadn’t heard of it – I had been on the stage for about nine years. So I went out to do this “Third From the Sun” program, and it was my first film, in fact. And I had to learn the hard way; I had assumed it was all the same. I mean, acting is acting, right? It didn’t turn out that way.
It turned out that what you did on the master shot, you had to repeat on every subsequent shot, the close-ups. Well, I chose rationally, to smoke a cigarette, and so when we finished, I had been acting up a storm, blowing out smoke and talking animatedly with my hands. And they said, “That was great. Okay, let’s move on to the medium shot,” and I said, “What medium shot?” And so the script girl came over and kept saying, “No, you lit the cigarette on this word, and then you blew out the smoke on that word,” and it drove me absolutely crazy.
I couldn’t repeat what I had done because I still wasn’t aware of what I had done. So, we did several takes like that, and finally they decided ‘Let’s scrub, let’s start all over again, let’s scrub the cigarette entirely.’ So Eddie Andrews, who was in that, sidles over to me and says in that sly way of his, “Why do you think Gary Cooper keeps his hands in his pockets?” So I learned the lesson that if you’re going to smoke, you’d better be damn sure when and where you’re going to do it. And so that was my baptism by fire. But I loved the episode, with that great, surprise ending.
Q: So what do you think makes a good Twilight Zone?
A: Well, mystery is one thing, mysteriousness and the circumstances. Something odd about this man sitting there at the counter drinking his coffee. And it’s very stimulating to the imagination, because you wonder what’s about to happen. Most of the time, you didn’t know what the outcome would be – as an audience, I mean. And I think Rod enjoyed fooling people. He was like a magician, or like an entertainer, anyway. I remember his laugh. I can’t remember the jokes, but I remember this kind of shrill laugh that would come out of him.
But one of the reasons why it’s called the Golden Age was because television didn’t know where it was going. It was a new medium, and it wasn’t geared to the maximum audience. I mean, the very fact that they would go after Rod Serling – nowadays he’d be just a figure off-camera somewhere, in his little abattoir in the studio turning out plays. Writers, you know, are no longer very welcome on set.
It is a shame, because the thing is “It’s ours now, and thanks very much for this sketch you’ve given us.” Yeah, that’s right. And in that era, they didn’t know yet where the medium was going, so they brought in people from New York, and good people, who were just as intrigued by the possibilities as they were. Oh, we had such great times in those days.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!