Not many TV shows get off to a solid start. Even ones that go on to become classics need time to get the formula just right.
That wasn’t the case with The Twilight Zone. “Where is Everybody?” proved to be an ideal introduction to that land of shadow and substance. But that doesn’t mean it had a trouble-free production.
Just ask Earl Holliman. In a 1987 interview that’s excerpted in “The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia”, he recalled:
It was a joy to do, except the first day. It was very cold on the universal back lot, and it’s hard to do scenes all by yourself — you’ve got nobody to play off.
We were working very hard, starting early in the morning, and now it was dark. We were just about to quit when I heard the camera operator say “Uh-oh.” It seems that he had forgotten to do something, and we didn’t have one single useful foot of exposed film. That whole day was for naught.
I went home feeling terrible. It turned out I had a 102° fever. When you watch the pilot, you’ll see that I sound very hoarse in those first few scenes. That’s not character work, that was me being hoarse.
As I’ve mentioned before, Twilight Zone fans, we’re lucky: We have many options when it comes to watching our favorite show.
I usually recommend that people stream TZ, or watch it on disc, rather than catch it in reruns on Syfy or MeTV. The main reason: the rerun episodes are cut, often quite significantly. For pity’s sake, Syfy has been known to edit out the transformation scene at the end of “The Howling Man”!
But I know of at least one episode on Netflix with a cut. And it’s a glaring one.
It comes about halfway through “The Brain Center at Whipple’s“, the man-versus-machine story that comes late in Season 5. You may recall that Mr. Whipple (played with pitch-perfect obnoxiousness by Richard Deacon) has been modernizing his factory in an alarming way: installing computers that replace workers. Not surprisingly, his employees are unhappy about the way his fanatical adherence to efficiency is leaving them jobless.
In the scene in question, one worker — the foreman, Mr. Dickerson — is drunkenly telling Mr. Whipple off on the factory floor: Read the rest of this entry
I’ve run into some surprises in my series of “Re-Zoning” posts, which compare the scripts Rod Serling adapted for The Twilight Zone from other writer’s stories to the original works themselves. But I wasn’t ready for what I found when I read “The Valley Was Still” by Manly Wade Wellman.
Serling’s version, given the more concise title “Still Valley”, came early in Season 3. It also aired only seven weeks after another Civil War-themed episode, “The Passersby”. And in Season 2, let’s not forget, “Back There” covered the Lincoln assassination. Why Serling’s sudden interest, fans sometimes ask, in the so-called War Between the States? Because the country was in the midst of observing its centennial then.
Besides, the conflict, which pitted brother against brother, provided a perfect backdrop to some of Serling’s most common themes: How do we fight for something, and why? How far are you willing to go to achieve victory?
Anyone who’s watched “Still Valley” knows by the end how far Joseph Paradine, an advance scout for the Confederate army, is willing to go. He wants to win, but not at any cost. (And if you haven’t watched this one, you may want to fix that before rejoining us. Spoilers ahead, naturally.)
Fans usually recall this episode as one of TZ’s famous “statue” episodes — ones that featured numerous cast members standing perfectly still, as if they were statues. We see this: Read the rest of this entry
The best part of any Twilight Zone episode? Easy: Rod Serling’s introductions. They made even the so-so episodes better, and added an extra shine to the classics.
So I thought I would share with you a couple of intros that were, for all intents and purposes, lost: ones that Serling wrote and filmed to share “Walking Distance” and “A Stop at Willoughby” with British TV viewers.
They were part of a package that Serling and the rest of the TZ production crew assembled in early 1963 to get the series on the air in Britain. “A total of 14 [hour-long] episodes were planned, with the half-hours combined to form a similar theme for each week’s presentation,” writes Martin Grams in “The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic“. They included:
- “Third From The Sun”/”People Are Alike All Over”
- “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air”/”And When the Sky Was Opened”
- “Time Enough at Last”/”Eye of the Beholder”
- “100 Yards Over the Rim”/”The Trouble with Templeton”
- “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”/”The Invaders”
- “The Odyssey of Flight 33″/”The Arrival”
Sounds like a great way to promote the series. Alas: “Despite all [the] preparation that went into the proposed series, the BBC telecasts never aired,” Grams notes. Why, I don’t know. Read the rest of this entry
If you’re a Twilight Zone fan today, it’s hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t viewed as … well, as a work of art, really. As something that would go on to be enjoyed by generations of viewers.
But in 1959, there was no reason to think that.
Not because people didn’t expect much from Rod Serling. Not at all. The man who had won three Emmys at that point for writing some of the live-TV era’s most celebrated teleplays was widely praised. It’s just that TV worked a bit differently back then.
Okay, a LOT differently.
I touched on that in my last post, which concerned my surprise that the man brought onboard to produce Twilight Zone in its fifth season greenlit “Caesar and Me” without realizing that the series had aired an episode about a ventriloquist dummy, back in its third season. How strange, I thought. How could he be unaware of any of TZ’s previous episodes? Read the rest of this entry
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
Rod Serling wasn’t just an imaginative, award-winning writer. He was also a surprisingly quick one.
“He’d come in at 9, and by noon, he had completed a teleplay”, Twilight Zone‘s casting director once noted. “I had never seen anybody write that fast.”
Small wonder, then, that Serling managed to crank out almost two-thirds of the show’s final output: 92 scripts, out of 156 total. He was a one-man machine, which makes the high quality all the more remarkable.
His scripts often ran long, though. That inevitably meant some cutting was in order. But you know what? I’ve found that many of his “lost lines” are as quotable as what wound up on the air.
Take a few lines from “Time Enough at Last”. They come as Henry concludes his argument with Helen, who has defaced and then destroyed his book of poetry. She asks him if he’s going to put on a clean shirt, and he replies: Read the rest of this entry
“Social distancing” is a new skill for most of us. Even many introverts are finding the new norms to be a bit much.
But in the fifth dimension, it’s a different story. Keeping your neighbors at arm’s length isn’t all that unusual.
Just ask astronaut Mike Ferris. He spent most of the Twilight Zone pilot, “Where is Everybody?”, wandering around an empty town. The closest thing he found to another human being was a store mannequin.
Or how about the prisoner in “The Lonely”? Poor Corry was not only in solitary confinement, he wasn’t even on Earth. Weeks would go by before anyone showed up to bring him supplies.
Then there was Henry Bemis in “Time Enough at Last”. Nothing like a little nuclear blast to ensure you get some major “me time”. Read the rest of this entry
There are times when watching The Twilight Zone is something of a Twilight Zone experience itself.
Actually, it’s not the watching that does that. For me, it’s apt to happen when I’m discussing an episode with other fans, and I find that their explanation of an episode differs completely from mine.
Take Season 1’s “A World of Difference”, which stars Howard Duff. I recently took note on my Twitter page of its March 11 anniversary. As always, I gave a brief synopsis: “An actor whose real life is a mess decides that the idyllic role he’s playing is reality.”
I’m used to hearing people say they like or don’t like an episode. But this time, I also got reactions like this:
- “Wait, he’s the actor? I thought the real guy just fell into the Zone and had to get out.”
- “I still don’t know how to interpret the ending.”
- “It always made me unsure which was real and which wasn’t, but I suppose he was only playing the role he believed to be his real life.”
- “Wait…for real?! He was really the actor all along? I’m so confused!”
At this point, they weren’t the only ones! It honestly never occurred to me before that the episode could be viewed in any other way. Read the rest of this entry
Even if you’re the biggest Twilight Zone fan in the world, there’s a good chance you’d give me a blank look if I asked you about Jan Handzlik.
But once I said, “He played Tommy in The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”, I’ll bet a light bulb would immediately go on.
Of course, few Zone fans are fond of his character. He did get the paranoia flowing with his comic-book talk about aliens, after all!
But hey, Tommy meant well. He was only 12. And he was just making some innocent observations. Besides, it’s not as if the adults around him needed much prodding to turn on each other.
I bring up Jan because I recently read a 2018 interview with him on a pop-culture website called Noblemania. Although he had some other acting credits in his short career (most notably in the Broadway production of Auntie Mame), the interview focuses quite a bit on his Twilight Zone experience. Here are the highlights:
How old were you when you were cast in The Twilight Zone?
Any funny anecdotes about the experience?
All I can remember [is] that Jack Weston was hilarious on stage and off. He’s a terrific actor. As I recall, he kept things pretty light. Read the rest of this entry