Casting a Kanamit: Finding the Voice for a TZ Classic

No list of iconic Twilight Zones is complete without “To Serve Man”. Even people who have only a passing familiarity with the series know what Michael Chambers found out when the book that gives the episode its title was translated.

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Among the elements that stand out — besides that legendary twist ending, of course — are how the Kanamits look, and how they sound. Regal. Benevolent. Trustworthy.

Getting the right voice was crucial. Richard Kiel, who was filmed in such a way that he could play every Kanamit, had a chance to do it. But like David Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, Kiel was destined to be only seen and not heard.

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“They had it in the contract that they could use someone else’s voice,” Kiel said, “but I was given a chance at it. I remember being very tired after hours and hours of makeup and filming, and I guess I didn’t do that great a job at it.”

In his place, they used Joseph Ruskin:

That job came up from out of the blue. They called me because they knew me from ‘The Man in the Bottle’. I had no idea what the part was about. I wasn’t involved in the filming, man-in-the-bottle3and I hadn’t seen any shooting. I simply went in cold and read it, recorded the lines. As soon as it aired, people said to me, ‘It was marvelous’, and I said, ‘What was marvelous?’ I hadn’t seen it! It took me five years to get around to seeing it.

Ruskin was an inspired choice. His voice had a marvelously theatrical timbre. More importantly, it “worked” both before and after the shocking reveal at the end. Initially, he projects quiet authority that is (seemingly) tinged with care and concern. Once Chambers knows the secret, though, Ruskin colors it with sinister sarcasm and a bemused villainy. It’s a terrific acting job.

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Yet the man responsible for it didn’t get a chance to enjoy it for several years. What a contrast to how easy we have it today. We can pull up just about any movie or TV show online, and enjoy it when and where we please. But Mr. Ruskin couldn’t do that in 1962. Besides, he was just doing a job.

That mindset comes up remarkably often, I’ve found, among the actors and actresses who starred on The Twilight Zone. Sure, many will admit that they knew the material was special and that it brought out their A-game.  But they also express at least mild amazement that the work endured and became so beloved the world over.

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Television was treated more like a disposable commodity then. Much of it was cranked out — something to be enjoyed in the moment, not preserved as a cultural touchstone. The idea that any show, even one written by Rod Serling, would live well into the 21st century would have surprised even his greatest fans.

“It was the age of Santa Claus,” Mr. Chambers tells us in “To Serve Man”. And the marvelously entertaining and edifying Twilight Zone was perhaps the best gift of all.

***

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About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 02/28/2017, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. tommy8675309

    I always thought it was Vincent Price doing the voice! Man, who knew someone existed that sounded so much like him.

  2. I’m with Tommy above, I thought it was Vincent Price. Actually, I thought he was under the makeup too. I figured they would have to make him look different or everyone in those days would have known he was evil from the start.

    • Wow, interesting! Again, that never occurred to me, but I get it. It’s a shame Price never was on TZ, though we were lucky enough to have him on two Night Gallery episodes.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I had no idea about the story behind the voices. One of my favorite episodes.

  4. This is a terrific episode, Paul. One of Twilight Zone’s finest, as a matter of fact. So iconic that even the Simpsons paid homage to it. While I love TZ, I really want to watch Night Gallery again. There is one particular episode about a Captain of a ship that is entombed in a rock with a huge harpoon in it that haunts me to this day.

    • Yes, the Simpsons parodied TZ so much, they even jumped over and did a Night Gallery send-up one time. Seeing more NG sounds good to me, of course — some of my favorites are listed under the “Night Gallery Tours” tab on my blog.

      As for that episode, I have to admit I’m drawing a blank. There are a couple of NGs that feature a sea-captain character, but the stories have none of the other elements you mentioned. I wonder if you have another show in mind?

  5. What’s funny is, I re-watched “Man in a Bottle” over the summer, remembering very little about it before I popped in the DVD.. and, lo! and behold, immediately recognized Ruskin AS the voice of the Kanamit. Such an iconic voice.

    • Yes, once you’ve heard him as the Kanamit, it’s hard to hear his voice elsewhere (whether it’s on TZ or some other series) and not think of that episode.

  6. Nice post, Paul! Always wondered if Richard Kiel did that voice over. And it was a great voice from Ruskin! Thanks for…the REST of the story…. :-]

  7. Jonathan Collins

    NG was a wonderful series. Doesn’t get the recognition it deserves!

  8. Hi Paul! Didn’t know about the story of the voices.

    Even those who aren’t Twilight Zone addicts know about “To Serve Man”! A classic!

    I was lucky to meet Richard Kiel at one of the comic conventions in Cleveland many years ago. I let him know how much I enjoyed his performance as the Kanamit. He was very frail, but really nice!

  9. To add to the acknowledgments above regarding the voice and talents of Joseph Ruskin, indeed I could not agree more. Gratefully, I remember many of these early 1960’s TV shows when I was a very small boy. I loved the shows. But certain actors scared the daylights out of me. They played villains (mostly) and being a kid, I did not like them. Mr. Ruskin, Arch Johnson, Theodore Marcuse, to name a few. Now, in hindsight, seeing these shows/episodes again 40-50 years later, I realize the FACT that these individuals were simply, and undeniably, great actors. And, from what is gathered in this day of internet access, they were all very nice people in real life. I wish I could have met them, and thanked them.

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