Blog Archives

Serling and Shatner’s Jokes Behind the Scenes of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”

I’ve written before about what a great sense of humor Rod Serling had. But one thing I didn’t mention was how much he enjoyed practical jokes. Don’t let his serious expression fool you!

Here’s one of my favorite stories, courtesy of Marc Scott Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion. It occurred shortly after the first broadcast of one of the most iconic episodes of the whole series, Richard Matheson’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”. According to Serling:

Matheson and I were going to fly to San Francisco. It was like three or four weeks after the show was on the air, and I had spent three weeks in constant daily communication with Western Airlines preparing a given seat for him, having the stewardess close the [curtains] when he sat down, and I was going to say, ‘Dick, open it up.’ I had this huge, blown-up poster stuck on the [outside of the window] so that when he opened it, there would be this gremlin staring at him.

So what happened was, we get on the plane, there was the seat, he sits down, the curtains are closed, I lean over and I say, ‘Dick —’ at which point they start the engines and it blows the thing away. It was an old prop airplane… He never saw it. And I had spent hours in the planning of it. I would lie in bed thinking how we could do this.

Can you even imagine what Matheson’s reaction would have been? What a great gag. It’s too bad it backfired, though I’m sure he and Rod had a lot of laughs long after that day, just recalling the attempt. Read the rest of this entry

Finding Fright in the Fifth Dimension: Some TZs That Are Perfect for Halloween

It’s a Halloween staple that ranks right up there with spooking trick-or-treaters, carving pumpkins and wearing outlandish costumes: watching a scary-movie marathon.

But in an age of digital streaming and high-quality DVDs and Blu-rays, why limit yourself to movies? Why not program a few chills right from the fifth dimension?

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True, The Twilight Zone is generally considered a science-fiction series (although I think it’s so unique that it defies easy classification). And yes, the stories dreamed up by Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont and other TZ writers were usually designed more to intrigue and edify than to disorient or frighten viewers.

But every now and then, the series gave us some old-fashioned scary moments that might cause even your favorite vampire to glance over his shoulder. So here, in the spirit of October 31st, are 13 Twilight Zones that may make you think twice about turning out the light:

LIVING DOLL

Season 5, Episode 6 — November 1, 1963

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Some tips for those who find themselves near Talky Tina: If she says she hates you, don’t laugh at her. If she threatens you, don’t mock her. Erich Streator (a pre-Kojak Telly Savalas) did, only to discover that Tina is very serious about protecting her young owner. DEADLY serious. Beaumont (aided by an uncredited Jerry Sohl) gives us a creepy tale that does to dolls what Hitchcock did to birds. Read the rest of this entry

A Flight from Fear

“I was on an airplane. I looked out the window and thought, ‘Jeez, what if I saw a guy out there?” — Richard Matheson, writer of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”

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I know what I saw. I’m NOT crazy.

Easy to say, sure. And why should they believe me? What I’m saying would sound crazy if the most sane man on the face of the earth said it. And I’m far from that.

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See, I had a little breakdown a while back. Spent some time in the Waldorf for wackos. Recovered nicely. The doctor said I was cured, my wife came to get me, I boarded the plane … which was probably a mistake. I mean, this happened before on a plane.

But face your fears, right? Get back up on that horse, they say. So I did. I boarded the plane. We took off. Then I looked out the window. And I saw …

I saw a man. On the wing. Read the rest of this entry

Shatner vs. Shatner

A man walks into a small-town diner with his wife to have lunch while they wait for their car to be repaired. The napkin-holder features a small devil’s head and a pack of fortune-telling cards. For one penny, you can get an answer to a yes-or-no question. He puts in a coin …

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A man boards an airplane with his wife. He’s on his way home after recovering from a mental breakdown. The plane takes off into a bad storm. While she tries to get some sleep, he looks out the window and sees … a man on the wing?

Nightmare 20,000-16

Two iconic episodes of The Twilight Zone. One actor. Fellow TZ fans, whether you were first introduced to him as Don Carter or as Bob Wilson, you know him better as: William Shatner.

I’m here, though, not merely to praise the then-future captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise. No, I’m here to ask the impossible. I want you to select your favorite Shatner TZ. That’s tough when you have not one, but two appealing performances to judge. Read the rest of this entry

From “Dust” to the Zone

Few Twilight Zone fans have seen “A Town Has Turned to Dust,” a live teleplay written by Rod Serling that aired on June 19, 1958. But if it weren’t for that show, the Zone might never have existed.

Specifically, it was the frustrating experience of trying to get it on the air intact that helped convince Serling that allegory, not straight drama, might be a better way to get his points across.

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“A Town Has Turned to Dust” was based on the case of Emmett Till, a black teenager tortured and murdered by a group of white thugs in 1955 Mississippi. His offense: allegedly making some off-color remarks to a white female shop-keeper. Till was hunted down, beaten, shot and thrown in a river. This heinous crime shocked the nation, and led Serling to dramatize the events in “A Town Has Turned to Dust” for Playhouse 90.

But as Marc Scott Zicree and other biographers have noted, the show’s sponsors were nervous about offending certain customers, especially in the South. They pored over the script, demanding numerous changes (many of them quite petty). It morphed from a story about homicidal prejudice in the present-day Deep South, to one about a white murdering a Mexican in a U.S. southwest town in the 1870s.

Shatner Dust

The teleplay stars a young William Shatner, who would go on to star in two memorable Twilight Zone episodes.

“By the time the censors had gotten to it, my script had turned to dust,” the understandably irritated author later commented. “They chopped it up like a room full of butchers at work on a steer.” Read the rest of this entry