Blog Archives

“Caesar and Me”: How Twilight Zone Got a Second “Dummy” Episode

It’s one thing to know, intellectually, that The Twilight Zone first aired over 60 years ago. It’s another to come across a reminder of how differently people watched TV back then.

Sure, we know it was watched on smaller sets that lacked the whistles and bells we have now on our HD screens. But it was a different experience in other ways, too.

To see what I mean, consider something that Season 5 producer William Froug had to say about “Caesar and Me”, which first aired on April 10, 1964 — very close to the end of the series.

As Zone fans are aware, it’s the second (and widely considered the lesser) of two episodes involving ventriloquist dummies. The first, “The Dummy”, a memorably creepy one starring Cliff Robertson as a voice-thrower named Jerry Etherson, debuted near the end of Season 3.

“”Caesar and Me” was written by my secretary, Adele Strassfield, the only woman to write a Twilight Zone,” Froug said in an interview quoted in The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia. Few viewers suspected the writer was a woman, I’m guessing, since she was billed on-screen as “A.T. Strassfield”, but anyway, he continues: Read the rest of this entry

“Light and Shadow”: A Look at Twilight Zone’s Directors

“The Twilight Zone will be directed, written, produced, and acted by television’s elite.” —Serling before TZ premiered

I focus heavily here on the writing of Rod Serling and other talented authors — and rightly so. Their imaginative scripts were the launching pad for some of the most memorable and timeless television ever filmed.

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But you need more than that to create a Twilight Zone episode. To truly bring the fifth dimension to life, you need first-rate actors in front of the camera, and a top-notch crew behind it.

I couldn’t help reflecting on the crucial role played by the head of that crew, the director, when I heard that James Sheldon had died on March 12. His many credits include six TZ episodes, three of which are bona fide fan favorites: “A Penny For Your Thoughts”, “Long Distance Call” and “It’s a Good Life“.* Read the rest of this entry

Willie Vs. Caesar: The Real Electoral Clash

It’s Election Day, and I’m here to ask you to pick between a couple of dummies.

Oh, wait — this has nothing to do with the people running for office in your state or county. But I can understand the confusion! No, I’m asking you to pick your favorite of the two ventriloquist dummies that appeared on The Twilight Zone.

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On the one hand, we have Willie. Likes: eye tests, dancing girls, upstaging his partner. Dislikes: rival dummies, being locked in a trunk. He starred with Cliff Robertson in “The Dummy.”

On the other hand, we have Caesar. Likes: pacing, larceny, talking to people like they’re idiots. Dislikes: dimwits, nosy club owners. He starred with Jackie Cooper in “Caesar and Me.” Read the rest of this entry

All Dolled Up: Two TZs + One NG = A Good Scary Movie

Want to see a good scary movie? Skip the multiplex. I have something better. Spend the evening with some dolls.

Before you chuckle TOO loudly, perhaps I’d better introduce them. You really don’t want them to hear you.

First up is Willie. Yes, a ventriloquist … well, I hesitate to say “dummy,” but that’s what these wooden sidekicks are usually called. He’s been known to resist whenever his owner suggests changes to the act. How can a stick of wood object, you ask? Oh, he has ways. And they don’t end well for people who oppose him. Just ask Goofy Goggles. Not that he can give you much of an answer. Goofy’s part of the pavement now, thanks to Willie’s little games.

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Next to him: Talky Tina. Quite a smile on that one! Here’s a tip, though: when she says anything other than “I love you”? RUN. Trust me. Don’t bother arguing with her, and for pity’s sake, don’t drag her to the garage and try to use your circular saw to decapitate her. (Note the word “try”.) Just steer clear, or you might take an unscheduled trip down the stairs in the middle of the night. Read the rest of this entry