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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

“Last Night” of a Legend: Mickey Rooney and Rod Serling

“I want to be big!” thunders Michael Grady in Rod Serling’s “The Last Night of a Jockey.”

An ironic line, as it turns out. Grady, a horse jockey who’s been blackballed for a variety of racing infractions, is a small man who, by the episode’s end, gets his wish in the most literal way. Hello, Twilight Zone.

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And goodbye, Mickey Rooney, the man who brought Grady to raw, sputtering life in a high-octane performance that few other actors would even attempt. He’d become big long before there was a Twilight Zone. Only five feet, two inches tall, Rooney stood considerably higher in the pantheon of golden-era film stars.

A legend? Let’s put it this way: News of Rooney’s death at 93 on April 6, 2014, prompted more than one shocked fan on Twitter to note that it somehow felt too soon. Read the rest of this entry