Enter the Twilight Zone11th May 2021 by Michele Auborn
Today is Twilight Zone Day.
The strangest thing about the day is that it is May 11 every year, but I have looked everywhere and not found any site that claims to be able to tell you why. Maybe it is just a date plucked from thin air, in a supernatural fashion.
Since I know very little about the series, and it is always interesting to hear from other people, I have asked Mr John Devaney to weave you a tale about it. He is no stranger to us, having been a previous editor of our magazine, but he is also a science fiction aficionado, and creator of “The Card Scene” Magazine, whose “Best” edition is currently on sale.
The original series ran for five seasons from 1959 – 1964, then it was revised and remade for a second series in the late 1980s. A third series began in 2002 but only ran the one season then was cancelled. In 2019 a fourth series was made, which very intriguingly updated some of the original stories, but this only lasted two seasons.
There were also two feature films – a big screen version produced by Steven Spielberg in 1983 – and a small screen version “Lost Classics”, eleven years later, plus a radio adaptation starting in 2002 which ran for ten years.
In 1994, the The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror theme park ride opened at Disneyworld in Florida, part of the Disney-MGM Studios, Florida`s Hollywood. You can also take the same ride in their parks in Japan and Paris, but the one at the original California Disneyland has now closed down.
Rumours persist that there is another major film in production for Leonardo diCaprio, either as producer or star, maybe both; he has frequently said it is his favourite TV series.
Anyway, settle back, and enjoy our trip into ……
THE TWILIGHT ZONE
The Cult Sci-Fi TV Series by J. Devaney
During the Twilight Zone`s five year exploration of the uncanny and unnerving from 1959 to 1964 , on TVs CBS network, it attracted an average weekly audience of 18 million. Even today, it continues to have a large cult audience and, despite lavish attempts to update the series, it is the heartfelt evocations of the original black-and-white shows which continue to haunt the imaginations of audiences old and new.
The creator of the Twilight Zone, Rod Serling, was born on Christmas Day, 1924, in New York. And he appears on both a Rittenhouse promo card, shown here, from 2019 (this is P1) and also a card from the first series (1999) number 49 , with a map of the USA behind him as he delivers a typically enigmatic prologue to “The Good Life” episode. His brother Bob recalls him, even at an early age, to be a highly individualistic raconteur who always had a compulsion “to do something that nobody else, the ordinary kid, wouldn’t do”. Even then, it seems, he was striving to stretch the boundaries of the familiar and acceptable.
Rod Serling eventually joined the Army and was sent into combat in the Pacific which broadened his life (and death!) experience. He comments “I was bitter about everything…I think I turned to writing to get it off my chest!” He soon developed into a successful and highly-regarded scriptwriter, winning several Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award (the first given to an individual TV script) in 1956 for his “Requiem For A Heavyweight”, a live television show first shown as part of Playhouse 90. Six years later, it was adapted as a feature film starring Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, and Mickey Rooney, and featuring real-life boxers Cassius Clay, later to become Muhammad Ali, and Jack Dempsey.
Rittenhouse have issued four series of exceptionally well-produced trade card sets which are a fitting tribute to this TV show. Released in 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2005, they comprise of a 72 card basic set featuring 12 selected episodes together with an assorted array of bonus cards and challenge game cards. Each episode has a card-by-card synopsis and epilogue alongside the beautifully reproduced images. The uniqueness in card design, with their distinctive silver and blue-grey highlighting and celestial background motif complements the other-worldly originality of the scenes depicted. Frozen in time these evocative card images convey much of the mysterious, character-driven drame of the show as it portrays small-town America, in microcosm, being transformed by whimsical, supernatural or alien agencies.
To go right back, the success of an ambiguous time-travel play called Time Element was the most probable Sci-Fi forerunner of The Twilight Zone; it certainly prompted CBS to produce a pilot. For this, Serling created “Where is Everybody?” This was a psycho drama involving an hallucinating trainee astronaut (Earl Holliman) who suffers a mental breakdown as a result of a moonflight simulation isolation experiment. In his fractured mind, he wanders eternally through a lifeless town. Card no.5 from the Rittenhouse Series One (1999) shows the astronaut wired-up and mentally disintegrating under the strain of this isolation experiment. “Where is Everybody?” effectively conveys the deepening desolation of the “last man on Earth” theme. Unfortunately the implausible monologue plot device and straight forward ending are weak and uncharacteristic of the show, for believable dialogue, surprise endings, and climactic twists in the storyline were to become the Twilight Zone trademarks. Despite the flaws, though, the pilot show succeeded in selling the series to the CBS network. To paraphrase the lyrical prologue to the series : The epic journey through that “middle ground” where each week we could meet “somewhere between light and shadow, between science and superstition” had truly begun.
Two excellent episodes from Season One featured well known character actor Burgess Meredith. “Time Enough At Last” was another last man on Earth story revolving ariound eccentric, myopic, bookworm Henry Bemis, who shuns human companionship to be alone with his beloved books. Locking himself away in the bank vault just as a nuclear strike occurs, he later emerges to find himself alone amidst the desolation. Coming across the remains of the local library, his despair turns to elation as he gathers the surviving books. But tragically he accidentally breaks his spectacles and suddenly finds his personal Heaven has become his personal Hell. Card no. 11 from Rittenhouse Series One displays an overjoyed Bemis cradling his books outside the bombed out library. The second Burgess Meredith episode was “The Obsolete Man”. This was a nightmare morality tale concerning the termination of lives deemed obsolete, and surplus to requirements, by a future dystopia`s ruling elite. Although many Twilight Zone episodes could be seen as fanciful and light hearted modern fairy tales, others were darker explorations of alienation and identity-destroying forces, and “The Obsolete Man” is a good example of the latter. Card no.45 from Rittenhouse Series One (1999) shows the Orwellian trial scene in session. The underlying moral message of these darker stories is that without trust or belief in oneself, or the basic humanity of other people, there can be no survival. If you surrender to fear and distrust you are lost forever..
Alongside Rod Serling, Buck Houghton was the liberal and perceptive provider of the show. He translated the imaginative vision of Rod Serling into a filmable reality. His discretion in allowing both directors and actors the freedom to explore their own unique expression was admirable. Although Serling wrote the majority of the scripts, critically-acclaimed writes such as Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson contributed several significant stories to the on-going series. Charles Beaumont, in particular, was responsible for many memorable episodes which differed markedly from the Serling stories by cultivating a sense of morbid fascination with the more sinister elements of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. This is in stark contrast to the “feelgood” gloss of nostalgic sentimentality which coats many of the Serling episodes, and in “”Perchance to Dream” and “Shadow Play” we see Beaumont blurring the distinction between dream and reality. In the first of these, “Perchance to Dream”, a psychiatrists insomniac patient believes that if he falls asleep he will never wake up. He explains that he previously suffered from a recurring dream about a voluptuous Cat Girl dancer at a fun fair who threatens his life. But on noticing that the psychiatrists secretary is a dead ringer for Cat Girl, he throws himself out of the window. At story`s end, we discover that the patient actually did fall asleep on the couch, then screamed and died. Card 100 of Rittenhouse Series Two (2000) shows a segment of the dream sequence. The nightmarish quality of this scene is heightened by the expressionistic use of light and shadow, surreal imagery, and out of focus visual technique.
Richard Matheson was another master storyteller but his plot-led, as opposed to character-driven scripts and his evocation of the sinister and unsettling amidst the apparently familiar gave his episodes a chilling edge. A subtle, more restrained example of this is in his episode “Nick of Time”, where a “Mystic Seer” fortune telling machine exerts a premonition-possession over William Shatner, who would later gain prominence as Star Trek`s intrepid Captain Kirk, and who also appeared in another episode of The Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, this being a classic case of monster-on-my-back paranoia, culminating in him being strapped into a straitjacket. This scene appears in Rittenhouse Series One (1999) card no.66.
There were, of course, many more classic episodes produced during the long run, far too many to detail here. But the four Rittenhouse series feature a total of 48 episodes and give, in my opinion, a good overview of the show. Some of my own personal favourites include “A Stop at Willoughby” where a disillusioned businessman literally gets off the fast track for a step into Paradise (this was also the favourite episode of Serling himself) – “Nothing in the Dark” with a very young Robert Redford as a benevolent Angel of Death – and “The Eye of the Beholder”, involving a thought provoking variation on the Beauty and the Beast theme. It is, however, Rod Serling`s superbly crafted vignettes of ordinary lives touched by the magical power of The Twilight Zone which were really one of a kind. For it is his essentially humanitarian touch which absorbs us into his infinite dimension of possibility, weaving an enduring spell which is alternately foreboding and enchanting in equal measure. The corresponding trade cards remind us of the astounding uniqueness of his work and also how it still resonates deeply in the minds and hearts of those who have journeyed through “that wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination”.
To close, here are just two of the many stars who also took a trip into The Twilight Zone.
This card is named for Bill Mumy, but Sci-Fi fans will know him immediately as Billy Mumy, as which name he also appeared as Will Robinson in “Lost In Space”, also a CBS show. His Twilight Zone career comprised the three episodes “Its a Good Life”, “In Praise of Pip” and “Long Distance Call”. True fans will also know that when the first of these episodes was remade in 2002, he again appeared in it, along with his daughter. He has also appeared in “Babylon 5”, “Space Cases”, “Star Trek : Deep Space Nine”, and the 2018 remake of “Lost In Space”. And rumour persists that he was also the first choice to play Eddie Munster in “The Munsters”!
Here is Gladys Cooper – and she started her theatrical career in 1905! Her first motion picture was in 1913. She appeared in two Twilight Zone episodes, “Nothing in the Dark” (1962) and “Night Call” (1964). Her final appearance was on the small screen, in 1972, playing a Grand Duchess in “The Persuaders” with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis.
She also appeared on thousands of picture postcards, and here are just two:
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