“Eye of the Beholder”: The Face Under the Bandages

She starred in one of the most iconic Twilight Zone episodes of all time. And yet if you passed Maxine Stuart on the street, you probably wouldn’t recognize her.

That’s because she spent all of her screen time under a thick layer of bandages in “Eye of the Beholder”. Yes, Stuart played poor Janet Tyler, whose only crime was not upholding the standards of beauty in some skewed dystopia.

Of course, she wasn’t the only actress who played Janet Tyler. Once the bandages were off, we saw only the face of Donna Douglas (the future Elly May Clampett on “The Beverly Hillbillies”). So why the switch? Why wasn’t the part handled entirely by either Stuart or Douglas?

Primarily because of how director Douglas Heyes opted to handle this amazing script. He wanted the twist ending to land with a real wallop. That led him to stage it so that we never see the faces of the doctors and nurses until the big reveal.

It also led him, he later said, to audition the actors and actresses with his back to them. He knew their voices were key. So for the medical personnel, he picked ones with warm, caring voices, to make it all the more shocking when we see how they really look.

We’re supposed to assume that Janet Tyler is horribly ugly. Since her appearance is only talked about for the first three-quarters of the episode, we have to use our imaginations. So, to convey (at least aurally) the notion that she’s ugly, he cast Maxine Stuart at least in part for her somewhat rough-sounding voice.

It’s not a bad voice, to be sure. But, well, it doesn’t sound like one that would come from a beauty queen. Quite the opposite. And that’s the point. Audiences needed to be really gobsmacked when her bandages dropped and the doctors and nurses recoiled in horror.

Hence the casting of Donna Douglas. Between the voice, her reactions, and her actual face, we’re well into “what the hell” territory. It’s an indelible TZ moment, up there with Henry Bemis’s glasses in “Time Enough at Last” and the spaceship on the roof in “The Invaders”.

But not everyone was happy with the casting of Douglas. As Maxine Stuart later said:

I certainly agree that I could not be considered a great beauty by any stretch of the imagination. However, I do feel that since this particular show dealt with conformity, they might have allowed for a less startling-looking woman and settled for reality!

But as Tony Albarella, editor of “As Timeless as Infinity: The Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling” has written:

Stuart’s point is valid, but it wouldn’t have worked on screen. Extravagant beauty is necessary to establish a contrast between Janet Tyler and her repulsive fellow citizens. When Serling describes the climactic scene in his script, he demonstrates his command of the visual medium of television: ‘She raises her head. If she is not startlingly beautiful, we have missed our point entirely’.

Yes, Stuart herself or any “ordinary” woman would have provided a contrast with the pig-faced people around her. But Serling and Heyes wanted the moment to have real punch. That meant casting a woman who viewers would see and immediately go, “Her?!? Ugly?!? You’ve got to be kidding me! She’s gorgeous!”

The fact that she looks like a beauty-pageant contestant, in fact, enables that shock to convey the episode’s anti-conformity message more powerfully. The inevitable conclusion of anyone who finishes watching the show (including the Leader’s horrific speech and Serling’s final narration), I believe, is something like this:

“Wow. Who couldn’t see that woman is stunningly beautiful? Well, THEY couldn’t. Beauty is obviously not an empirical fact. It’s a judgment call. Maybe we shouldn’t be pressuring people to fit some pre-conceived notion of beauty. Perhaps some individuality isn’t so bad after all.”

But to get to that point, viewers have to be met on their own terms. That meant casting someone like Douglas, not Stuart or some other less glamorous actress.

Stuart, I should note, wasn’t bitter at all:

I certainly hope that my comments about the ending don’t sound ungracious or ungrateful. I loved doing the show. It was a pleasure for me to act in such good material, and a gratifying and enjoyable task. I thought it was beautifully written.

Indeed it was. It was also perfectly cast. Douglas provided a pretty face to look at, of course, and played the final scenes with sensitivity and grace. And Stuart gave a lovely performance as well. Her voice almost brings me to tears at a couple points. And the next time you watch the episode, notice her hands — she imparts so much feeling with them.

I’m convinced the episode wouldn’t be nearly as strong as it is without both of them. So thanks, Donna. And thanks, Maxine. Together, you were the ideal Janet Tyler.

***

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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

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 04/27/2018, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. This was always a favorite as a child, watching with Dad. When I became an older adult, who had been a local model and actress, and suddenly developed a facial palsy, I would think I looked like the ugly people in this episode. Fortunately it mostly healed but never gave me my nice smile back. I think of this episode a lot. Unfortunately, most people don’t see beneath the surface. I heard a lot of “what a shame, she was so pretty,” and my outgoing personality changed.

    • Sorry to hear that — not because I think it compromised your looks at all, but because it makes me sad to think that it damaged your self-esteem, and led others to make thoughtless remarks. I hope you can forgive them their ignorance, and reject the notion that you have anything in common with the ugly people in this episode. What’s really ugly are people who, yes, don’t look below the surface. Forget them, and focus on your dad and people who know you. They’re what matters.

  2. Howie Manheimer

    This episode gave me nightmares when I was a boy, everything looks/seems so real, not merely makeup! WOW! Excellent show!

    • So true, Howie! The production values in this episode (and so many other TZs) are top-notch. It’s my all-time favorite TZ, in fact.

  3. I always thought the voice actress was Janet Leigh! Wherever I heard that as a child, it stuck, and i never bothered to look it up. Great article. I think the punch was more from the pig faced people. Our thoughts immediately shift from…”Wow, if she’s so ugly then what do they look…Ahhhhhrhhh!!”

    • Ha, true! First we see “ugly” Janet, then the “normal” others — a real one-two punch. Interesting you’d think it was Leigh doing the voice work here.

      • And that mistake confused me forever. I always thought, why didn’t they didn’t use Leigh, because she’s beautiful, just not in the soft doe-eyed Donna Douglas way.

  4. Wow – now I have to watch this again. I never knew / noticed. I just got sucked into the story and then shaken from my roots as planned. At a point where people were really still experimenting with TV, Serling was in control. It’s a great episode. Obviously, I know what’s coming, but I still watch it.

    • Always happy to inspire a rewatch, Dan, especially of my all-time favorite episode. You’re right, though — it’s so well done that you wouldn’t easily guess that there had been a switch. Serling was definitely in control here, and it shows.

  5. I never knew two women played this character! Very interesting. This is such a powerful episode. Sadly today too many young people are obsessed with looking stunning, and with conforming to someone else’s standards of what they should be like. Just be yourself, at the end of the day looks fade with age, but it’s your character and soul that matter the most. If people value others for their looks or slim bodies alone, then what does that say about them?

    • I couldn’t agree more. There’s so much focus in our world on what’s transitory and unimportant, and so little on what really matters. Thank God that a great writer like Serling gave us such a perfect illustration of how shallow this thinking is. “Just be yourself” — that’s the secret right there.

  6. I just dreamed this episode last night (albeit in color). How funny to find your post the very next day! I think the episode works perfectly as is. While there are criticisms to be leveled at the image of “traditional beauty” in the cultural zeitgeist… this episode just would not work if it didn’t rely on that same image. Besides which, actor typecasting was “the norm” in the late ’50s/early ’60s, and Serling and his assembled production team did much to challenge those norms (witness the casting in “The Big Tall Wish”). I wouldn’t attack them for their choices in this one story, because they were typically progressive and forward-thinking the rest of the time.

    • Dreamed it, as in you basically watched a color version of the episode? How funny. As for the timing, well, it could be a coincidence, but we ARE dealing with the fifth dimension, so who knows? And yes, Serling was famous for pushing boundaries (in a responsible way, of course — never shocking just for the hell of it), so he definitely deserves some slack.

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