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“Hatred is Not the Norm”: For a 1964 Multi-Faith Civil Rights Rally, Serling Pens “A Most Non-Political Speech”
One of the most gratifying aspects of being a Rod Serling fan is that you never have to separate the man from his work. He was a gifted writer, yes, but he was also an amazing human being — a man of high ideals who used his talents to try and make the world a better place.
I was reminded of that yet again when one of his daughters — Anne Serling, author of “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling” — tweeted this meme:
You may be wondering the same thing I did: What was the event? Was this quote part of a longer address? And why did Dick Van Dyke read it?
I can answer two of the three, thanks in part to Anne herself. It was part of a multi-faith civil rights event called “Religious Witness for Human Dignity,” and it featured a keynote address by Martin Luther King Jr. And the quote above was from a 1,000-word address that Serling penned especially for the event.
Unfortunately, I don’t know why he didn’t deliver it himself, and neither does Anne. But when you read the address itself in full — which is the point of this post — you’ll see that he obviously poured his heart into it. It’s full of his unique mix of clear-eyed realism and unflagging optimism.Read the rest of this entry
What if you could change the past — not just in your personal life, but on a global scale by stopping something horrible?
That’s the central conceit of Twilight Zone‘s “No Time Like the Past,” and it’s an intriguing one. I’ll give it a full review at a later date, but for now, I want to focus on one scene in particular. Even if you’re not a fan of this episode (and not many fans give it high marks), I think we can appreciate what Rod Serling was saying — or more accurately, condemning — about halfway through the story.
For those who haven’t seen it (check here if you want to see how to watch it first), or haven’t seen it in a while, the story concerns a man named Paul Driscoll (Dana Andrews). He has a time-travel machine, and to his credit, he wants to help mankind, not just himself. So he travels back to three key moments earlier in the 20th century: the day Hiroshima, Japan, was bombed; a day when Adolf Hitler made a pre-World War II public appearance in Berlin, Germany; and the day the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed, one of the events that led the U.S. to enter World War I.
Driscoll’s intention is to stop these events. He’s convinced that the modern world, which he detests, could be changed for the better if he succeeds. Yet each time he fails. Convinced the past can’t be changed, he decides instead to go to a quiet little town called Homeville, Indiana, in 1881, to live out the rest of his life.Read the rest of this entry
“Do as much — or as little — as necessary.”
A boss of mine told me that once. My job as an editor entailed taking articles written by technical experts and rendering them into layman-friendly English. Some of these experts were terrible writers. Others were quite good. Many were in between.
The trick was not to do less than you had to, but also not to do more. If it was a solid piece, don’t do a rewrite job simply to justify your existence. Leave the good stuff intact.
I don’t know if anyone expressly taught that lesson to Rod Serling, but he clearly understood it. In my series of posts exploring his Twilight Zone scripts adapted from other writers’ work, I’ve seen stories where he did a lot, ones where he did a little, and others that fall somewhere in the middle.
This time I’m taking a closer look at a real fan favorite from Season 1: “The Hitch-Hiker.” It provides an excellent example of Serling knowing when to stay out of the way.
Oh, he made some changes, as we’ll see — some rather key ones. But the story that unfolds before our eyes is very close to what unfolded before people’s ears when this tale first aired on radio almost 20 years earlier. (Spoilers ahead, so, if you need to, go here for ways you can see the episode first.)Read the rest of this entry
Remember Talky Tina? If you’re a Twilight Zone fan, you do. The sweet-talking doll with the homicidal tendencies made quite an impression when she appeared early in Season 5.
Part of what makes Tina scary is that she’s nothing like Chucky or the other murderous playthings you may have seen on the big screen. She doesn’t run. You don’t see her waving a weapon around. She doesn’t even raise her voice. Heck, you can take a table saw to her neck, and she’ll act like you’re tickling her.
Erich Streator (Telly Savalas) learned too late how dangerous Tina could be. As the episode ends, even his gentle wife, Annabelle (that’s right, the name of the haunted doll in the Conjuring movies!) is being put on notice by her daughter Christie’s terrifying toy.
There’s really just one person with no reason to fear Tina: Christie. Indeed, Tina is her champion — to a fault.
So let’s get to know a little bit about Tracy Stratford, the girl who played Christie. This wasn’t her first appearance on The Twilight Zone. She’d already starred in another fan favorite: Season 3’s “Little Girl Lost.” Yep, she was the girl who fell out of bed and rolled into another dimension.
And interestingly enough, her character’s name in that episode … was Tina.
Here are some excerpts from an interview Tracy gave in 2018 about her unforgettable journey to that land between shadow and substance:Read the rest of this entry
I knew it was only a matter of when. But I was hoping that the legendary TV show that made time travel look possible would be streaming on Netflix for a lot longer.
Alas, The Twilight Zone is set to leave the streaming giant on June 30.
Check them out if you want to understand why the show is leaving Netflix. The fact is, this is most likely the decision of CBS, which owns Twilight Zone.
Sure, Netflix could be dropping TZ to save on licensing fees. But more likely, it’s a matter of CBS making it so that people have to subscribe to Paramount+ (formerly CBS All-Access) to get their fifth-dimensional fix.
I’m sure some fans will point out that TZ is still widely available — not only on Hulu, but on high-def DVD and Blu-ray. Plus you can catch reruns (albeit with cut scenes and ad breaks) on MeTV and Syfy.
That’s great — don’t get me wrong. But I want TZ to be as available as possible. As I’ve said before, convenience is king. And if any show, even TZ, isn’t readily available, then many viewers won’t make any extra effort to find it.Read the rest of this entry
Not every Twilight Zone episode was a Rod Serling original. Many of them were, but two dozen of his 92 Zone scripts were based on stories by other authors.
As I’ve shown throughout my “Re-Zoning” posts, which compare the original stories to their Twilight Zone counterparts, sometimes Serling kept a substantial portion of what the author wrote. Other times, he kept only the basic idea and made so many changes that it became almost a new tale.
“The Old Man in the Cave,” which first aired on November 8, 1963, falls more into the latter category.
It’s the one about a man named Goldsmith (played by the ever-reliable John Anderson, in his fourth and final Zone role) who’s trying to keep a small band of survivors alive in a post-apocalyptic world — in the “tenth illustrious year after the bomb,” as one of them says. Yep, the Cold War obviously got hot and the nuclear holocaust happened. It’s now 1974, Serling tells us.
(As always, spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen this one before or it’s been a while, consider fixing that first, then coming back. This blog is open 24/7.)
So how does Goldsmith do it? With the help of an unnamed, unseen “old man” who appears to be a sort of oracle. He gives weather forecasts and makes crop recommendations to help the survivors avoid radioactivity. If anyone finds canned goods, he can tell whether or not they’re safe to eat. (Pro-tip: If it wasn’t canned “pre-bomb”, you might as well throw it out, no matter how ravenous you feel.)Read the rest of this entry
I don’t consider this blog merely a place to fan over Rod Serling’s work. It’s that, make no mistake! But every now and then, I like to ponder why his signature series was such a success. Specifically, what made The Twilight Zone work?
So when I came across this long quote from Buck Houghton, the man who worked hand in hand with Serling to produce the first three seasons of TZ, I knew I had to share it:
“The Twilight Zone is a world that allows for things to happen that do not happen in real life: fantasies operate, wishes are fulfilled, life‘s loose ends are tied up, frustrations are resolved, discontents are played out, dreams come true, magic asked for is delivered. Unbridled imagination, working to the benefit — or destruction — of commonplace people.
The challenge, for the writer, of creating a true Twilight Zone story is to stretch, bend, and otherwise distort reality so as to tantalize the viewer, but never so far that it can’t snap back into focus at the last minute to provide a recognizable and satisfying irony or insight.
Therefore, the writer walks a fine line, mixing reality and unreality without falling into an attempt merely to shock, or to propose outrageous situations to finally have nothing to say to us.Read the rest of this entry
Enjoy an Exclusive Tour of the New “Art of Darkness” Night Gallery Book with Co-Author Scott Skelton
It’s been a long time coming, Night Gallery fans, but “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness” — an oversized volume containing high-quality reproductions of all the show’s paintings — is finally here.
Regular readers of this blog have heard me talk about it before, both in a preview post last May, and in a post about how it was available to order a few months later. The book finally started rolling off the presses late last year. It took a while for it to get out — the pandemic did no one any favors, of course — but as anyone who’s received their copy can tell you, it was well worth the wait.
I recently asked co-author and Night Gallery expert Scott Skelton if he could join me for a short Q&A about the book. Scott, you may recall, joined me for a presentation at the 2019 Serling Fest, where we marked the 50th anniversary of the original Night Gallery movie. Here’s our conversation:
Paul: So the book is out and in just about everyone’s hands at last. Are you happy with how it turned out? From the outside, it looks like it was a bigger success than you were anticipating.
Scott: We’re all very pleased with the quality of the book, how well-designed it is, how respectful it is of the artistry that went into the making of these paintings. It surpasses many coffee-table art books I’ve seen in its savvy design and high publishing standards. Then again, almost all of us involved were die-hard fans of the show and its artwork, and Taylor White, the publisher, was the biggest fan of all. He spared no expense in creating this volume.Read the rest of this entry
Ever have one of those times when an actor from one of your favorite TV shows also appeared in one of your favorite movies, and it didn’t click for a long time?
I’m usually pretty good at spotting faces and coming up with a name right away: “Oh, that’s So-and-so. He starred in Such-and-such.” But while my memory — at least for show-biz faces — is above average, it’s not perfect.
Take “The Last Flight.” We all have some episodes of The Twilight Zone that aren’t particularly famous, but that really hit a sweet spot for us. That’s how I feel about this story, which concerns a World War I pilot who lands at a modern-day air base (well, modern in 1960, when the episode first aired) and discovers that he’s done some inadvertent time-traveling.
I’m also a huge fan of the Beatles. Seriously, I could run a blog about them, too. And one of the many films I can quote almost word-for-word is “A Hard Day’s Night.” It’s a lot of fun — very witty and comedic, and loaded with great tunes, of course.
So why did it take me so long to figure out that Kenneth Haigh, the actor who plays Lt. Decker in “The Last Flight,” also starred as Simon Marshall, the sardonic advertising executive who interviews George Harrison in “A Hard Day’s Night”?Read the rest of this entry
No two people celebrate Christmas quite the same, but if you’re a Twilight Zone fan, there’s a good chance you don’t let December 25th pass without an annual viewing of “Night of the Meek.”
“The Changing of the Guard” and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” are two other popular seasonal offerings from the fifth dimension. But there’s something special about seeing Art Carney play a sad man who by episode’s end (yes, spoiler alert!) gets promoted to his dream job: the real Santa Claus.
Someone on Twitter was talking with me about the episode recently, and said something about the girl who plays the elf being Maureen McCormick, the actress later cast as Marcia Brady on “The Brady Bunch.”
Except it wasn’t McCormick. It was a girl named Larrian Gillespie.
It’s an understandable error, though. I can see where someone looking at those grainy black-and-white images (“Night of the Meek” was one of six videotaped episodes) might mistake Gillespie for McCormick. And like a lot of child stars — at least ones who played small parts — she’s not listed in the credits.
Neither are the two kids at the beginning, even though they — like our young elf friend — have several lines. But TV credits weren’t very detailed back then. Even Kay Cousins, who plays the mother of Percival Smithers, is listed not as “Mrs. Smithers,” but as “Irate Mother.”
So let’s give Larrian some belated attention — and much deserved too, because she’s just as cute in the role as you’d expect Santa’s main elf to be. Here are some excerpts from an interview she did in 2018:Read the rest of this entry