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Werewolves and Watercolors: Another Night Gallery Tour

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Please step inside. A dark and stormy night may seem ill-suited to an art tour … at least until you see the unsettling works we have in store for you.

As our founder, Rod Serling, once said, “You won’t find the works of the masters here, because in this particular salon we choose our paintings with an eye more towards terror than technique.” Our paintings and sculptures have an unmistakably sinister edge.

I know our museum is more shadow-laden than most, but don’t worry. You should be quite safe. We haven’t lost anyone yet. Well, almost no one.

Those who survived … er, enjoyed our first tour, our second tour, and even our third tour, simply raved. And the doctors at the sanitarium assure us that they’re progressing quite nicely.

So ignore the sound of that icy wind outside, as we take a closer look at 10 more Night Gallery classics (click on any title — except the first one, which isn’t available streaming — to watch it on Hulu): Read the rest of this entry

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“The Season To Be Wary”: A Night Gallery Book

In his last interview, Rod Serling said he wanted to be remembered simply as a “writer.” There’s little doubt that he achieved that. Countless authors cite him as one of their primary influences.

Yet nearly all of his fans experience his words via a TV screen, not the printed page. How many of us have enjoyed a book by Serling?

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True, that wasn’t his typical medium. He was famous for dictating scripts in a hurry by the poolside, not fiddling with some florid prose in a quiet study. Small wonder that the few books he did author were out of print for years.

That changed in 2014 when Rod Serling Books republished several volumes that almost any fan of the fifth dimension will want to check out. Each one merits its own post, but today I want to focus on one that should interest any Night Gallery aficionado: “The Season To Be Wary.” Read the rest of this entry

Séances and Surrealism: Another Night Gallery Tour

Come in, everyone. Glad you could make it. Ready to see some lovely, flower-filled meadows? Contemplate a few peaceful, rustic landscapes?

Sorry to hear that. Because you’ve entered … the Night Gallery.

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As founder Rod Serling once said, “In this particular salon, we choose our paintings with an eye more towards terror than technique.” That explains the dark, dusty halls. The chilly drafts that whistle down the corridors. The long shadows that offer numerous hiding places for … well, let’s get started. The night won’t last forever.

Perhaps you joined us on our first tour of the Night Gallery. You may have even tagged along for round two. If so, I can understand why you’re glancing around nervously. But remember, fright doesn’t always take a familiar form. Tonight’s selections prove that there is as much to dread in the brightest day as in the darkest night.

So without further ado, here are 10 more sinister selections for your enjoyment (click on any title to watch the episode it’s part of on Hulu): Read the rest of this entry

A Lost Lunar Landscape: Serling’s Missing Moon Story

Space travel, as any Twilight Zone fan can tell you, obviously held keen interest for Rod Serling. Stories about what would happen if we went Up There, or aliens came Down Here, cropped up throughout the entire run of the hit series.

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Tantalizingly enough, Serling’s plans for Season 6 pointedly mentioned his interest in featuring more outer-space tales. Alas, it was never to be. And by the time man landed on the moon in 1969, Serling was focused on bringing a trilogy of horror stories to TV. Only one teleplay in the entire run of “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery” dealt with space travel.

So a nice surprise awaited me several years ago when I bought a used copy of the first “Night Gallery” book (“Night Gallery 2” followed a year later). Then out of print, this paperback boasted prose versions of some of Serling’s screenplays from the first season, so I was naturally eager to see how he transitioned them to the printed page. Read the rest of this entry

Spock Meets Serling: Remembering Leonard Nimoy

When the sad news of Leonard Nimoy’s death broke last week, images of Spock were everywhere. And why not? Everybody’s favorite Vulcan is one of the most beloved characters in television history.

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But as the custodian of “Shadow & Substance,” I couldn’t help but think of Nimoy’s work in the Serling-verse.

There wasn’t much, alas. The Twilight Zone preceded his break-out role in Star Trek by a few years. But if you’ve ever seen the Season 3 war-themed episode “A Quality of Mercy,” you may have recognized the actor playing Hansen, one of the American soldiers.

“I was only in that briefly, but my memory of it is [working with] Dean Stockwell and Albert Salmi,” Nimoy later recalled. “We were in a war-time situation, and it was a kind of fantasy story, which isn’t a common combination. It was a good episode.” Read the rest of this entry

Brushstrokes and Broomsticks: Another Night Gallery Tour

An art gallery may strike you as an odd place to spend Halloween … at least, until you see the paintings hanging in the Night Gallery.

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“If you seem to sense an aura of cold dampness that permeates this room, attribute it not to either defective air conditioning or inclement indoor weather,” Rod Serling once said. “It’s simply because this is rather a special place with special statuary and special paintings, and they carry with them a coldness that seems to go best in a crypt.”

Most museums turn up the lights so you can see the paintings in detail. But once you see the canvases on display here, I think you’ll be grateful for the many shadows that line the hallways.

I hope you were able to join us for our inaugural tour. Because I have 10 more favorites to share with you today (click on any title to watch the episode on Hulu): Read the rest of this entry

Steven Spielberg On Directing “Night Gallery”

Long before “Jaws”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” made him a household name, Steven Spielberg was just another unknown director with hopes for fame and fortune. And the first step toward that goal took him through a shadowy museum known as … Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.

Steven Spielberg and Joan Crawford

The pilot movie, to be specific. The 21-year-old director would helm the middle segment of three dark-edged tales written by Serling himself. It premiered on November 8, 1969, and was a ratings success, leading to the Night Gallery series a year later.

While Spielberg was a novice, however, his star was anything but. The part of Claudia Menlo, the predatory blind dowager in “Eyes,” was to be played by none other than Joan Crawford.

Crawford, then 65, had already starred in more than 90 feature films, dating back to the silent era. “Directing Joan Crawford was like pitching to Hank Aaron your first time in the game,” Spielberg later remarked. Read the rest of this entry

Serling on the Shelf: Rescuing Rod

I have on my shelves a dog-eared paperback edition of Rod Serling’s 1967 book “The Season To Be Wary.” It sits near similarly worn copies of several other books that he either wrote or edited. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you one bit, but WHY I have them might.

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It’s not because I love old books (though I do). It’s because when I first began acquiring copies of Serling’s volumes, they were out of print.

You don’t have to be an obsessive fan like me to be struck by that fact. One of the most famous writers of the 20th century, and his books were less accessible than James Patterson’s? As Serling might say, file that under “L” for “literary crime.”

Enter Rod Serling Books.

44 Read the rest of this entry

The Twilight Zone’s Dirty Dozen

“We had some real turkeys, some fair ones, and some shows I’m really proud to have been a part of. I can walk away from this series unbowed.” — Rod Serling

Turkeys? Serling may have been his own harshest critic, but he wasn’t entirely wrong here. Even a series as distinguished as The Twilight Zone, with a hit-to-miss ratio that most TV producers would kill for, had a few misfires along the way.

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But which ones missed the mark? It’s entirely subjective. One man’s gem is another man’s junk. Bring up “The Bewitchin’ Pool,” and you’ll hear from people who consider it a delightful fantasy, and others who think it’s a clunker. Many people findOne for the Angelssweet and charming; others can’t get past the fact that Ed Wynn is hardly convincing as a fast-talking pitchman.

I even spoke to a man once who’d been going through TZ in order and said he had finally hit a dud. Curious, I asked which one. His reply: “The Invaders,” which nearly everyone hails as a Zone classic.

But these debates are part of the fun. It’s interesting to compare notes, as we do with our favorite TZs, and discuss what we don’t like — and why.

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Here are the 12 episodes you’ll find at the bottom of my list. Now, I’m not saying every one is an irredeemable time-waster. Even the worst TZ is better than much of what you’ll find on TV; they fall short mainly when measured against TZ’s routine excellence. And there are some aspects of nearly every episode below that I do like.

But for my money, the fifth-dimensional flops include: 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