“The Hitch-Hiker”: The Origin of a Twilight Zone Classic
If you’re like most Twilight Zone fans, you’ve seen your favorite episodes more than once. Several times, most likely — perhaps a dozen or more for the real classics. But they never feel stale. Indeed, they seem to almost improve with each viewing.
And yet many of the episodes involve very simple stories. Name a favorite, from “Time Enough at Last” to “Eye of the Beholder“, and it’s almost guaranteed you can explain what happens in a sentence or two.
This, for me, illustrates just how creative the writers behind the show truly were. I mean, why should a couple feeding pennies into a table-top fortune teller (“Nick of Time”) turn out to be such compelling television?
Or take another fan favorite from Season 1: “The Hitch-Hiker”. Rod Serling adapted it from a radio play written by a woman named Lucille Fletcher — one that debuted almost 20 years before it became a Twilight Zone episode.
Its origins were almost absurdly simple for an episode that has captivated viewers for over 50 years. As Fletcher related in “The Twilight Zone Companion”:
I first got the idea for ‘The Hitch-Hiker’ in 1940, when I crossed the country — from Brooklyn to California — with my first husband, Bernard Herrmann, and we saw an odd-looking man, first on the Brooklyn Bridge and then on the Pulaski Skyway. We never saw him again. However, I didn’t quite know what to do with the idea until a year later, when, shortly after my first daughter was born, I conceived the idea of doing it as a ghost story. After that, I wrote it in a couple of days, during the afternoon, when my newborn baby was taking a nap.
I love how talented writers can take such a basic seed of an idea and turn it into something that completely absorbs a reader or a viewer. A forgettable moment becomes an unforgettable story? That’s magic.
We’ll never know who that “odd-looking man” was. But we’ll always remember the shivers of delight we get when we watch “The Hitch-Hiker”. Thanks, Lucille. And Rod.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!