Blog Archives

Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts: Night Gallery’s “Green Fingers”

For our next stop in this “cavern of canvasses,” we move over to the gardening section and meet an unusual lady. As Rod Serling puts it:

For the horticulturists amongst you, here’s a dandy. A lady who plants things, and then steps back and watches them grow. Roses, rhododendron, tulips. And things never before to be found coming out of the ground — just put in. The subject of this painting has green fingers.

Even the most casual Night Gallery fans tend to remember this one. And how could they not? I mean, you’ve got Elsa Lanchester, decades after she starred as the “Bride of Frankenstein,” playing Lydia Bowen, an elderly woman with an eerily unnatural gift when it comes to gardening.

(Spoilers ahead, naturally, so if you haven’t seen the episode before, you may want to check it out on DVD before coming back.)

We meet Mrs. Bowen as she’s outside her house one day, tending to her numerous plants. In an inspired touch, we hear a harpsichord playing “Greensleeves.” Two cars pull up, and out of the more expensive one steps a wealthy land developer named Michael Saunders, played by character actor Cameron Mitchell (who would later star in Season 3’s “Finnegan’s Flight” with Burgess Meredith). It quickly becomes obvious, as he talks with his assistant, Ernie, that he’s a rather unscrupulous individual determined to get Mrs. Bowen’s land and raze her house for a huge factory he’s building.

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Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts: Night Gallery’s “A Death in the Family”

I hope you haven’t found the previous stops in my Night GalleryRe-Framing Efforts” too unnerving … because our next sojourn in this shadowy world takes place at a funeral home. Get ready to meet Jared Soames, played by legendary actor E.G. Marshall. He’s probably the most compassionate undertaker you’ll ever meet.

He’s also the weirdest. Because if a particular corpse strikes his fancy, he won’t give it a dignified burial. He’ll bury a weighted coffin and adopt the dearly departed into the “family” of corpses that he keeps in the basement, all carefully arranged in a birthday-party tableau. (Spoilers ahead, naturally, so if you’d rather see the Gallery version first, check it out on DVD before reading further.)

We see Soames in the beginning as he takes possession of a charity burial. He’s disturbed by the cavalier attitude of the ambulance drivers, who turn over the body of one Simon Cottner with all the decorum of an Amazon package. Where, he asks earnestly, are the flowers, the music, and the mourners? They look at him like he’s crazy. Simon had no friends, one of them tells him. There’s no one to miss “the stiff,” as they call him more than once.

And they don’t seem all that broken up about it. To them, it’s just a job. But to Soames, this is a mission.

As he tells his latest charge after they’ve left: “Simon, old man. You lived 81 years. You deserve more than a $100 funeral. But don’t you worry. You shall have more. Much more.”

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Night Gallery Season 2 is Headed to Blu-ray — Here’s What to Expect

For a long time, I had nothing hopeful to say when Night Gallery fans would ask me if we’d ever see a Blu-ray release of the series.

Rod Serling introducing “Make Me Laugh”

I’d tell them how long it took for it to come out on DVD, and say we were lucky to have it on disc at all. MAYBE we’ll see a Blu-ray someday, I’d add, but don’t hold your breath.

Then Season 1 came out on Blu-ray last November.

And Season 2, I’m happy to say, is about to follow — either on July 19 or July 26, depending on who you ask.

This is terrific news for a couple reasons. One is that Season 2 marks when the series went to a weekly format, so you get a lot more material. Many of the show’s finest segments aired in Season 2, like “Class of ’99” with Vincent Price, “Cool Air,” “A Death in the Family” and “Green Fingers.”

“Class of ’99”

The other reason is that Kino Lorber has really packed this one with extras. Besides the cleaned-up video and audio, we get audio commentaries on every episode, not the half dozen or so we got on the Season 2 DVDs. I’m especially glad to see so many by Scott Skelton and Jim Benson, co-authors of “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour” (which will soon be released in an expanded and revised edition).

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Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts: Night Gallery’s “Cool Air”

If you’re a Night Gallery fan, you get used to hearing some people dismiss it, based either on the syndication edit (which butchered some episodes and padded others) or because someone who’s never seen it read something negative about it. One of the most persistent myths is that Rod Serling merely hosted the series.

No one can deny that Night Gallery would’ve been better off if Serling had been more involved. However, he did more than simply host it. He created it, for one thing. He fought with producer Jack Laird to make it a better series, and he even scored a few victories. Perhaps most importantly, he wrote for it: 38 scripts, some of which can be ranked among his finest work.

As on The Twilight Zone, he came up with some excellent originals. But he also adapted some intriguing short stories by other authors – 17 of that 38 – and as I’ve shown in the first two entries of my “Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts,” he often improved on the source material.

So let’s proceed to stop number three in this “nocturnal arcade.” I’ll give you a recap of the episode so we can better appreciate how Serling changed the original short story by H.P. Lovecraft. (Spoilers ahead, so if you’d rather see the Gallery version first, check it out on DVD.)

We’re in New York City in 1923. But the short opening scene is in the present (or the then-present) as an as-yet-unseen narrator – an elderly lady, from the sound of it – moves through an unkempt, windy graveyard and finally stops and lays flowers on a flat, leaf-covered tombstone. She’s visited this person once a year for over 50 years, she says, but it’s been so long now she has trouble recalling his face and his voice.

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Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts: Night Gallery’s “The Doll”

Willie. Caesar. Talky Tina. Yes, when it came to haunted dolls, The Twilight Zone certainly left its mark. But Night Gallery made one notable contribution to this spooky subgenre in its first season: “The Doll.”

That’s right, Gallery fans — the toy that resembles Barbie on meth. Talky Tina liked to talk, but not this little darling. Like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, she prefers to keep quiet (at least when she’s on screen) and let her weapons speak for themselves — said weapons in this case being a set of sharp teeth.

I guess with a calling card like that, you don’t need a name. Here’s how Serling sets it up:

“This little collector’s item here dates back a few hundred years to the British-Indian Colonial period — proving only that sometimes the least likely objects can be filled with the most likely horror. Our painting is called ‘The Doll,’ and this one you’d best not play with.”

This, by the way, is one of the few Gallery intros that fans will often quote to me — that last phrase, anyway — if I share the painting for this episode, or just a pic from it. So this story obviously has had a real impact on most viewers!

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Serling Fest 2021: An All-Star Line-Up Set to Appear in Binghamton Oct. 15-17

It’s been two years since we last had an in-person Serling Fest. Thanks a lot, Covid! 😒

We didn’t go completely without last year, though. Thanks to Nick Parisi, president of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation (and author of an excellent volume on Rod Serling), we got to enjoy a one-day virtual Fest in August 2020. It was certainly fun, but there’s no substitute for meeting in person, is there?

So I’m happy to share with you the line-up for this year’s in-person (but masked) Serling Fest. It’s a packed agenda, and it includes a special guest: Marc Scott Zicree, author of the indispensable “Twilight Zone Companion.” There’s going to be talks, live performances, games, prizes — even a Kickstarter campaign to get a Rod Serling statue built in Recreation Park. And admission is free.

You may notice a familiar name on Sunday’s dance card. That’s right, yours truly will be there, in a presentation that covers “Rod Serling’s genius in adapting classic short stories by other authors into Night Gallery episodes.”

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Night Gallery Headed for a Blu-ray Release at Last

I remember when I first saw Rod Serling’s Night Gallery in its original form. Not the exact date, no, but the year: 2004. That’s when NBC Universal issued Season 1 on DVD.

Until then, Gallery fans had only one choice: the reruns that aired on Syfy (and elsewhere) in the 1980s and ’90s. They were larded with commercials, of course, but worse, they were part of the Syndication Edit. I have a link at the end to explain what I mean by that, but the upshot is that the Night Gallery I’d been watching until 2004 was a poor substitute for the episodes that first aired between 1969 and 1973.

Season 1 is the shortest, though: only six hour-long episodes. Sure, the DVD set included the pilot movie — and Universal tried to pad it out further by including a couple “bonus” episodes from Seasons 2 and 3 — but we’re still not talking a LOT of entertainment. And it lacked any other extras: no interviews, documentaries, or commentaries. So I was really looking forward to Season 2 coming out.

And it did … four years later, in 2008. Then Season 3 came out … four years after that, in 2012. Eight years to collect them all!

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Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts: Night Gallery’s “The House”

“Ghost story.” The phrase evokes images of a creaky, abandoned house, filled with large cobwebs and banging shutters. A pale moon in a dark sky casts deep shadows. A figure in white glides through dusty ruins.

In other words, the opposite of what we get in Night Gallery‘s “The House.”

Oh, it’s about a ghost, but this tale of a haunting is set in bright daylight. The titular abode looks like a real-estate agent’s dream. And the apparition lurking inside isn’t a foreboding phantom under a sheet.

Sounds very modern, doesn’t it? And yet to bring viewers this unconventional twist on a familiar trope, Rod Serling adapted a story written many years earlier by a French writer named André Maurois. It’s truly a short short story — only about 800 words.

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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:

Scott Skelton

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.

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“Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness” Now Available to Order

“These aren’t your ordinary canvases. You don’t find Monet in a mausoleum or van Gogh in a graveyard.” — Rod Serling, introducing an episode of Night Gallery

There’s some serious Serling understatement. The paintings shown before each story on Night Gallery were anything but ordinary. This was no school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, believe me.

Even when the segment was so-so, the canvases were cool. What a treat it would’ve been to take a personal tour, the way our self-described “little ol’ curator” did each week.

That isn’t possible, unfortunately, but you can enjoy the next best thing by getting a copy of the forthcoming book I described in a post last May: “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness”.

I wish I could say this was something you can order for $30 or so on Amazon. I can’t. It’s a bit pricier than that. I’ll tell you that right up front. But considering the incredible amount of work that went into it, as the authors painstakingly tracked down the many paintings that had been lost, to photograph and reproduce them in the highest-quality detail imaginable, it’s hard to deny that the higher cost is justified.

As co-author Scott Skelton put in on the book’s official Facebook page: Read the rest of this entry