Catching “The Fever”: Where Serling Got The Idea
So many memorable stories begin in a writer’s mind with a simple question: “What if … ?”
Ideas can come from anywhere — something you read, something you hear, or something you experience. The difference between the writer and the rest of us is pushing beyond the moment and asking that crucial question.
Richard Matheson, for example, did it with “Little Girl Lost” when his young daughter rolled out of bed in the middle of the night. And Rod Serling did it with “The Fever”. (Spoilers ahead, naturally.)
Twilight Zone fans often call Earl Hamner’s “Stopover in a Quiet Town” the ultimate ad against drunken driving. Well, “The Fever” does the same thing for unchecked gambling.
I say “unchecked” because I want to acknowledge that, yes, many people manage to gamble without turning into Franklin Gibbs. The lure of Las Vegas is lost on me, but I know most visitors to that neon-bedecked Neverland don’t suddenly morph into frenzied spenders. Like drinking, gambling can be done responsibly.
But sometimes it isn’t. At that point, it’s just a question of how much of a financial bruising one is in for. In Franklin’s case, the price is extraordinarily high: not only his life savings, but his life.
Fortunately, the idea came from a much more benign experience. As Martin Grams relates in “The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic”, Serling and his wife decided to celebrate the sale of TZ to CBS with a weekend in Vegas. According to Rod:
I got this idea about three o’clock in the morning in a Las Vegas gambling casino. I’d been about sixty minutes battling a one-armed bandit, and I got the feeling of what an extension of this kind of weakness might be to somebody a little different than I am … making an assumption, of course, that there is someone weaker than I in this nefarious area.
Luckily for his fans, Serling was able to stop long before he’d drained his bank account — but not before the unforgettable image of a sentient slot machine croaking “Fraannnnklin!” took root in his fertile mind. Good thing CBS rolled the dice on TZ.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!