Tommy From “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” Looks Back on a TZ Classic
Even if you’re the biggest Twilight Zone fan in the world, there’s a good chance you’d give me a blank look if I asked you about Jan Handzlik.
But once I said, “He played Tommy in The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”, I’ll bet a light bulb would immediately go on.
Of course, few Zone fans are fond of his character. He did get the paranoia flowing with his comic-book talk about aliens, after all!
But hey, Tommy meant well. He was only 12. And he was just making some innocent observations. Besides, it’s not as if the adults around him needed much prodding to turn on each other.
I bring up Jan because I recently read a 2018 interview with him on a pop-culture website called Noblemania. Although he had some other acting credits in his short career (most notably in the Broadway production of Auntie Mame), the interview focuses quite a bit on his Twilight Zone experience. Here are the highlights:
How old were you when you were cast in The Twilight Zone?
Any funny anecdotes about the experience?
All I can remember [is] that Jack Weston was hilarious on stage and off. He’s a terrific actor. As I recall, he kept things pretty light.
Did anything go wrong during the shoot?
Something always goes wrong! Things didn’t work out as planned, like when the car starts in the driveway. On a couple of occasions, lights went on and off [when they were not supposed to] and whatnot.
What do you remember about Rod Serling?
I have a very vivid memory of Rod Serling. He came to the readings. I remember sitting around a conference table, and Mr. Serling was sitting pretty close to me as we ran through the lines. He changed a couple things as we went along. From my perspective at that age, he seemed like a pretty serious guy.
Your episode became one of the most iconic of the series. What did you think of it at the time?
Even when we were reading our lines with Rod Serling there, it was pretty clear that there was a message being sent. Almost every Twilight Zone had a message, some sort of moral point it was making. [In my episode] it was right off the page. It was a situation where it didn’t take much for adults, neighbors, and in some cases close friends to turn against each other. I recognized the moral was we are our own worst enemies—as we have found out [again] in the last couple of years.
After it aired, do you remember the initial reaction from family, friends, and the public?
From friends, yes. Again, it was on different levels. Kids thought it was scary-funny and entertaining. Adults pointed out the message that was pretty clear. As time has gone by, it has not lost its meaning.
Did being on what became a hit show have any social/psychological impact on you as a kid?
When I was a kid, yes. It was a must-watch show for a lot of people. Everyone I knew saw me in it.
Did you watch the show regularly?
Yes. I was a fan but I guess I became a bigger fan because of my involvement.
What do your kids think of your Twilight Zone appearance?
They think it’s great. It holds their attention for maybe 15 minutes. (laughs)
Have you participated in a Twilight Zone event (reunion, convention, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to doing so?
I went to one Twilight Zone show about ten years ago or maybe even 20. Lots of stars were there. I was so unknowledgeable about these things that I didn’t bring my own photos. You’re supposed to bring them to sell them! So they gave me some photographs and I signed them. I either donated the money to charity or gave it to my kids.
I would go to another Twilight Zone convention but I wouldn’t go to something just to sign things. I’d take my younger kids with me. They’d love it.
When was the last time you watched the episode?
I’ve watched it recently with my kids. When it’s on one of the Twilight Zone marathons, my friends will tell me.
Do you have any mementos from the experience such as candid photos, the script, or anything from the set? Autographed cigarette from Rod Serling?
I’m pretty sure I have some photos but nothing else. I’ve gotten residuals for the Twilight Zone, sometimes 13 cents or $1.25. It’s probably been four years since the last residual.
How do you look back on your Twilight Zone experience?
It was a great experience. A lot of nice people, very talented character actors. They made it look easy, not that it’s brain surgery or Macbeth. I was honored to be in the cast with Claude Akins and Jack Weston. A very positive experience.
Funny since it was a show about how people can be so nasty to each other.
To read the interview with Jan in its entirety, click here.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!