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Serling’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight”: A Knock-Out

When we think of The Twilight Zone, we naturally picture alien contact, time travel and other mind-bending occurrences. But if TZ offered little more than weirdness, would it have become such a classic? Would we be eagerly watching marathons decades later?

I don’t think so. A crucial element beats beneath its supernatural surface, one that helped make it a legend: a heartfelt concern for the little people.

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Think of Henry Bemis, the mild-mannered bank teller who just wants time to read. Or Al Denton, the alcoholic gunslinger tormented by memories of a lethal shootout. Or Henry Corwin, the sad-sack Santa who longs to help the people in his poverty-stricken neighborhood.

The list goes on, but they all started with a man who made his debut on Playhouse 90 on October 11, 1956: Harlan “Mountain” McClintock.

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Mountain takes center stage in “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” a live TV play that earned Rod Serling his second Emmy. “Patterns” had turned him into the proverbial overnight success, but a few middling follow-up dramas left some critics wondering if he was a flash in the pan. “Requiem” proved he was no one-hit wonder. Read the rest of this entry

“One For The Angels”: Serling’s Sentimental Side

The Twilight Zone has made such an indelible mark on our culture that people still use the show’s title 50 years later as a shorthand way of describing just about any weird situation.

Notice something strange? Disorienting? Out of the ordinary? It’s like I’m in the … you know.

But the show also had a strong sentimental side, which surfaced early in its five-year run. “One for the Angels,” the second episode, is a genial fantasy about a little girl who is critically wounded, and an old man who is determined to save her.

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Sounds like a standard drama. And it might have been simply that if, say, the old man was a doctor researching a difficult cure. Or if the two of them were stranded in some remote area, far from modern medicine. (Not that either one of those scenarios would make a bad story.)

But this is The Twilight Zone. So the old man, Lou Bookman, is a pitchman – someone who sells odds and ends from a suitcase on the sidewalk. And he’s locked in mortal combat with … Mr. Death.

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That grim conductor to the other side shows up one day to inform Lou that it’s his time to go. The intended victim naturally protests.

Lou: “Now just a minute. I don’t want to go!” Mr. Death: “No, they never do.”

Sorry, Lou is told, extensions are rare. The only one he might qualify for is “unfinished business of a major nature.” He explains that he’s never made a really big pitch – you know, “one for the angels.” Mr. Death finally relents, whereupon Lou, thinking that he’s literally cheated death, tells him he’ll be waiting a long time.

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