This Twilight Zone Actress Said She “Never Forgot” Serling’s High Praise
Posted by Paul
I often focus on the writing behind The Twilight Zone, and for a good reason: It’s the blueprint, the spine … in many ways the heart and soul of stories that resonate deeply with so many of us.
But a script can’t come alive without directors, actors and other crew members — and Serling attracted the best. I’ve highlighted some of TZ’s directors and big stars, but today I’d like to feature a lesser-known actress, one who took a single scene in the Season 1 favorite “The Four of Us Are Dying” and really made it her own.
The story concerns a man named Arch Hammer with a unique talent: he can change his face to look like anyone else. All he has to do is concentrate for a few seconds on how that person looks, and voila, he’s transformed into an exact duplicate.
This being the fifth dimension, Hammer has decided to use this skill for personal gain, no matter who else gets hurt. Part one of his scheme is turning himself into a dead ringer of a dead musician: Johnny Foster. That way he can reconnect with Johnny’s grieving girlfriend and make plans to run away with her after he has (unbeknownst to her) impersonated a slain gangster and stolen a lot of money.
Hammer is played by Harry Townes, but each time he adopts a new persona, it’s a different actor. Foster is played by Ross Martin, and his girlfriend, Maggie, is played by Beverly Garland. She’s a torch singer at a bar where she’s singing sad songs on the piano. Naturally she’s astonished when a man who looks like her dead boyfriend suddenly appears in between numbers.
It’s a beautiful scene, in a heartbreaking kind of way. You can tell Maggie truly loves Johnny, and what’s marvelous about Garland’s performance is that even though she delivers her lines perfectly, her expressions say it all. You feel as if you’re really watching a woman overjoyed to learn that the love of her life is somehow not dead after all (which makes Hammer’s actions that much more detestable).
I’m not the only one who was impressed with Garland’s acting. So was the man behind the script. As Garland later recounted:
After it was all over, Rod Serling came up to me and said ‘I have to tell you something. I wrote this, and I had no idea this woman was so deep, so full and rounded, and you brought something to the script that I had not written. I have to tell you how absolutely thrilled and pleased I am. You have given so much depth to this woman that I didn’t know was there, and I wanted to compliment you.’
Well, I almost died. Because I was such a fan of his. I thought he was the most talented, most incredible writer. That was a good morning for me. I’ll never forget that.
And thanks to Garland’s sensitive portrayal, we’ll never forget poor Maggie, who made a date to escape with a man she thought was her dead boyfriend, only to be stood up because of an unexpected murder. Looks like Henry Bemis isn’t the only one who was dealt a bad hand … in the Twilight Zone.
Garland’s quote is from Volume 3 of “As Timeless as Infinity: The Complete Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling” (Tony Albarella, editor). Don’t miss this post about how Serling changed George Clayton’s original short story into this memorable episode.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!