“Caesar and Me”: How Twilight Zone Got a Second “Dummy” Episode
It’s one thing to know, intellectually, that The Twilight Zone first aired over 60 years ago. It’s another to come across a reminder of how differently people watched TV back then.
Sure, we know it was watched on smaller sets that lacked the whistles and bells we have now on our HD screens. But it was a different experience in other ways, too.
To see what I mean, consider something that Season 5 producer William Froug had to say about “Caesar and Me”, which first aired on April 10, 1964 — very close to the end of the series.
As Zone fans are aware, it’s the second (and widely considered the lesser) of two episodes involving ventriloquist dummies. The first, “The Dummy”, a memorably creepy one starring Cliff Robertson as a voice-thrower named Jerry Etherson, debuted near the end of Season 3.
“Caesar and Me” was written by my secretary, Adele Strassfield, the only woman to write a Twilight Zone,” Froug said in an interview quoted in The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia:
I didn’t know it, but the story had been done before, about a magician whose dummy comes to life and murders him. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have given her an OK to write it — it had been produced three years before — but since nobody had remembered it, it didn’t matter.
Okay, first off, a couple corrections (spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen “The Dummy”). 1) Jerry isn’t a magician, he’s a ventriloquist. 2) He isn’t murdered per se. His dummy, the scheming Willie, pulls the “old switcheroo”, forcing the two to swap places.
I know, it’s a hair-splitting distinction, but this is TZ. If I’m not going to sweat the details, who is?
And 3) it was two years before, not three.
But hey, set that aside. His memory was probably a bit foggy when he gave this interview. Let’s address the main question that sprang to my mind:
YOU DIDN’T KNOW IT?!?
How in the world could the man who was producing the series (second only to Serling himself, the executive producer) not realize there had already been an episode about a ventriloquist and his dummy?
Sure, Froug wasn’t aboard when “The Dummy” was produced. He came in during Season 5 and took over the reins from the previous producer, Bert Granet. Still, I thought, how could he not be aware of this episode?
But — and here’s where what I said about how we watch TV differently comes in — I thought about something else. In 1964, The Twilight Zone wasn’t yet this classic show playing in endless reruns. Sure, it was a popular series that had permeated the culture to a certain extent. But it was years away from achieving the legendary status it enjoys today.
Plus, TV wasn’t watched then like it is now. You didn’t sign in to Netflix, Hulu, or whatever service you use and select an episode from a list of seasons and titles. If you had, it would be easy for anyone to see that “The Dummy” came late in Season 3. Froug, however, didn’t have that option.
Still, wouldn’t Serling himself — the writer of “The Dummy” — have known? He must have. I’m guessing that, because it was a different enough story, he didn’t mind it when Froug sent him the script. Or if he did, he didn’t think it worth mentioning to Froug.
Either way, I think this type of mistake would be far less likely to occur today. Which means we’d never have met Caesar, “a small splinter with large ideas, a wooden tyrant with a mind and a voice of his own”, as Serling describes him at the episode’s conclusion.
He’s no Willie, I’ll grant you. But someone had to get that bratty Susan out of there. Why not the larceny-minded Caesar?
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
Posted on 04/10/2020, in Twilight Zone and tagged A.T. Strassfield, Adele Strassfield, Caesar and Me, Cliff Robertson, Jackie Cooper, Rod Serling, The Dummy, Twilight Zone, William Froug. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.