“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!

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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 04/30/2017, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Interesting, I hadn’t heard that before. One of my favourite episodes. I like how it manages to be both creepy and moving.

    • Me too. That seems to be a TZ specialty, from “The After-Hours” to “Eye of the Beholder”. Thanks for stopping by, Maddy.

  2. I love that there is so much that I can still learn about this magical series. Seeing a man twice would be a bit creepy. I even think it’s weird when I pass the same truck a time or two on a long trip.

    I just watched (umteenth time) “Where Is Everybody” and it finally clicked that in the little diner, he breaks the glass on a clock. So much happens after that, that I never made the connection to the end. Oh well, it’d only been 50 years. Thanks for another nugget, Paul.

    • I know what you mean. I’m still spotting “new” things in TZ episodes, and you’d think I’d seen it all at this point. Glad you liked the post, Dan.

  3. One of the first radio broadcasts of “Suspense” was an adaptation of this same short story — but with Orson Welles as the lead. The story plays out virtually the same, and Welles, as you’d expect, is terrific as the driver being stalked by death. That said, TZ swapping the gender and giving the story a female lead puts an extra frisson on an already classic story.

  4. The (original) Twilight Zone never gets old. The stories were and are always so compelling that repeat viewings hold your attention. Also, the acting was always so good that you had no problem believing the story.

  5. Robert Gordon

    Ha. I just came here today b/c of my love for Rod Serling. The fact that I’m excited to find this site with TZ fans is proof that there was something magical about that show. It still resonates and connects us across decades.

  6. This was a creepy, haunting episode of TZ. I remember it well! Good retro.

  7. This makes a great point, a story can come from a simple experience. The power of a writer is how he or she can transform the experience into a memorable fantasy. This was one of about a dozen TZ episodes I actually remember, Paul.
    Thank you for sticking around and liking some of my posts.

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