My first exposure to the popular anthology series, “The Twilight Zone” (1959-1964), was on a Friday night in the fall of 1964 when a local channel (probably WCBS) ran three episodes back-to-back. I was hooked. The first episode that night was “King Nine Will Not Return,” about a World War II bomber pilot (Robert Cummings) who has crashed in the desert and can’t find any members of his crew. The episode had a twist ending of the sort that made the series famous and I remember being very excited by it. The second episode was “The Man in the Bottle,” about a pawnbroker (Luther Adler) who unleashes a rather sinister-looking genie (Joseph Ruskin) from an old bottle and is granted four wishes, each of which has unpleasant ramifications, including one that turns him into Hitler, quite a memorable image less than 20 years after the end of World War II. The third episode, “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room,” had Joe Mantell playing Jackie Rhoades, a small-time crook given orders by the mob who faces his reflection in a hotel mirror telling him to stand up for himself. All three episodes were written by series host Rod Serling (pictured above). In each case, it was the writing of the episodes and the focus on character, supplemented by the imaginative situations in which they each find themselves, that impressed me the most. I don’t believe I’d ever seen a TV show quite like it up to this time, at least not at an age to appreciate it. I became a Rod Serling fan from that night on.
Robert Cummings in a production still from “King Nine Will Not Return”:
Joseph Ruskin as “The Man in the Bottle”:
Later that season, at a school book fair (I was in Sixth Grade), I found two paperback books, “Stories from The Twilight Zone” and “More Stories from The Twilight Zone,” both containing stories adapted by Serling himself from 13 of his own scripts for the series. I bought them both and read the stories and was eager to see their TV versions. (I later bought another paperback compilation, but the stories had been adapted by another writer and simply weren’t as good as Serling’s own prose.) The episodes that Serling had adapted in the two books were these:
“The Mighty Casey”
“Where Is Everybody?”
“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”
“Mr. Dingle, the Strong”
“A Thing about Machines”
“The Big Tall Wish”
“A Stop at Willoughby’s”
“The Odyssey of Flight 33”
Here are shots from two of these episodes:
Earl Holliman in “Where Is Everybody?”:
Burgess Meredith as “Mr. Dingle, The Strong”:
I don’t recall exactly when I got the opportunity to see more episodes on a regular basis, but it might not have been until the 1970s when WPIX began running episodes every weeknight at 12 midnight. I had a lot of catching up to do.
A common theme in “The Twilight Zone” was a longing for the past, either nostalgia for past eras or wanting to relive and revisit one’s own childhood or glory days, something that resonated with me because I never found the present day very appealing. One of my favorite episodes is “Walking Distance” (Season 1 / #5), written by Serling, in which Gig Young plays Martin Sloan, a stressed-out advertising executive who finds himself back in his hometown 25 years earlier and seeks out his parents and his eleven-year-old self. It’s quite a poignant, bittersweet story and is enhanced by an evocative score by none other than Bernard Herrmann himself, in the middle of his Hitchcock period, who did the scores for at least seven episodes and contributed to the scores of several others. Another memorable episode with this theme was “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine” (Season 1 / #4), written by Serling, in which former movie star Ida Lupino plays a faded star reliving her past by immersing herself in her old movies while all those around her encourage her to move on with her life. (In real life, Lupino had entered a highly successful second phase of her Hollywood career by this point, directing some 69 TV episodes from 1956 to 1968. I’ve seen a number of episodes she directed and they all stand out from the common TV fare of the era.)
Ida Lupino and John Clarke in “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine”:
Another situation commonly treated in the show was that of a single character or group of characters suddenly finding themselves completely isolated, either in a strange environment or in a familiar environment completely devoid of people. As someone who grew up in a crowded household and shared bedrooms, that certainly struck a chord with me. I especially liked “Time Enough at Last” (Season 1 / #8), written by Serling, in which Burgess Meredith played a bookworm who worked in a bank and liked to sit in the bank vault to read during his lunch hour. This routine saves his life when a nuclear bomb hits the city, leaving him the only man alive and free to plunder the public library to read as many books as he wants, only to have a twist ending punish him for taking so much pleasure out of such a catastrophe.
Burgess Meredith in “Time Enough at Last”:
Another one, “Two” (Season 3 / #1), had two survivors of a nuclear war, from opposite sides, a man and a woman, unable to communicate with each other, but forced to consider their options as they wander a devastated New York City. Elizabeth Montgomery (pictured below) co-starred with Charles Bronson.
Other favorite episodes include:
“The Hitch-Hiker” (Season 1 / #16), adapted by Serling from a radio play by Lucille Fletcher. Inger Stevens (one of my favorite actresses of the era) stars as a woman driving for long, lonely stretches who is constantly plagued by a mysterious hitch-hiker (Leonard Strong) who keeps turning up to ask, “Going my way?” Inger Stevens is pictured here with Leonard Strong:
“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (Season 1 / #22), written by Serling. On a suburban street suffering an electrical blackout, strange occurrences make everyone paranoid and the neighbors are all soon at each other’s throats.
“The Big Tall Wish” (Season 1 / #27), written by Serling. A disgruntled black boxer (Ivan Dixon) faces defeat in the ring only to benefit from his little son’s “big tall wish” to have him win. The outcome hinges on whether the boxer has enough faith in his son’s wish or not. This wasn’t the only “Twilight Zone” episode to feature black characters–Serling’s series was certainly ahead of the curve in this regard–but it’s the only one to feature a black protagonist. Ivan Dixon is pictured here with Steven Perry as his son and Kim Hamilton as his wife:
“A Nice Place to Visit” (Season 1 / #28), written by Charles Beaumont. A criminal (Larry Blyden) dies and is surprised to find himself in what he thinks is heaven, where a kindly, bearded old gent, presumably his guardian angel (Sebastian Cabot), grants him every wish and desire.
“To Serve Man” (Season 2 / #24), written by Serling. This is the famous one about the alien (Richard Kiel) who comes to earth with a book entitled “To Serve Man,” encouraging friendly relations between the earth and his planet until one inquisitive soul (Lloyd Bochner) actually translates the contents of the book.
“The Shelter” (Season 3 / #3), written by Serling. On a suburban street where only one man has installed a bomb shelter, the warning of an impending nuclear strike turns the man’s friends and neighbors against him when he refuses to allow them into his shelter.
“Little Girl Lost” (Season 3 / #26), written by Richard Matheson. A little girl gets lost in another dimension after finding a portal under her bed and her distraught parents have to enlist the aid of a physicist friend to get her back. Scored by Bernard Herrmann.
“Living Doll” (Season 5 / #6), written by Charles Beaumont. An abusive father (Telly Savalas) gets verbal threats from his stepdaughter’s new talking doll. Scored by Bernard Herrmann.
“The Twilight Zone” ran for five seasons. Seasons One, Two, Three and Five consisted of half-hour episodes, while Season Four consisted of hour-long episodes. For some reason, the hour-long episodes rarely ran in syndication and I’m not sure I ever saw one, although I feel I must have caught at least one during a “Twilight Zone” special marathon or something over the years, although none of the hour-long episode descriptions ring a bell.
I was given a press kit of stills from “The Twilight Zone” from CBS when I was in high school and they’ve been sitting in a file cabinet ever since, so I decided to use this occasion to share them with my readers. In addition to the ones posted above, here are the rest of the “Twilight Zone” stills, with descriptions derived from the photo captions provided by the CBS publicity department:
Dan Duryea plays Al Denton, a town drunk who was once a top gunslinger but finds his life irrevocably changed by a most unusual traveling salesman. Duryea is seen here with a dance-hall friend played by Jeanne Cooper in “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”:
Ernest Truex as a peddler who can find in his case whatever people need and Steve Cochran as a loser who tries to take advantage of him in “What You Need”:
Simon Scott and Kenneth Haigh in “The Last Flight,” about an English pilot from World War I landing at a modern American jet base in France:
Vera Miles plays a private secretary who sees her own ghost-like double in “Mirror Image”:
Janice Rule as a schoolteacher who meets a 10-year-old (Terry Burnham) who’s wise beyond her years in “Nightmare as a Child”:
James Milhollin is the picture of confusion as he tries to figure which one of the two ladies is actress Anne Francis and which one is her mannequin in “The After Hours”:
H.M. Wynant is warned by John Carradine, as Brother Jerome, to ignore the cries of his mysterious “prisoner” in “The Howling Man”:
William Shatner and Patricia Breslin co-star as a honeymoon couple whose life is nearly ruined by the predictions of a penny fortune-telling machine in “Nick of Time”:
Inger Stevens (right) as a rebellious daughter who confronts her father (John Hoyt), a doctor who has created a menagerie of machines in an effort to retire from the rigors of the competitive world in “The Lateness of the Hour”:
The jazz age comes to life again for Pippa Scott in “The Trouble with Templeton”:
Art Carney as a bedraggled department store Santa in “Night of the Meek”:
Agnes Moorehead, in a dialogue-free role as a woman whose home is attacked by two creatures from another planet, in “The Invaders”:
Barbara Nichols, as a dancer hospitalized for nervous fatigue, has difficulty explaining her nightmares to her agent, Fredd Wayne (left) in “Twenty Two”:
Dean Jagger and Carmen Mathews in “Static,” about a man who turns on an old radio and suddenly hears programs from two decades ago:
Christine White, Dane Clark, Jane Burgess, Buddy Ebsen in “The Prime Mover,” about a gambler trying to beat the tables at Las Vegas:
In “A Quality of Mercy,” Dean Stockwell plays an American lieutenant who, in the last phase of the campaign in the Philippines, lapses into a reverie in which he envisions himself as a Japanese officer in the same battle situation. He is seen here with Albert Salmi in the left photo, and Jerry Fujikawa in the right:
James Best gazes at his bride-to-be (Laura Devon) while his former girlfriend, Jess-Belle (Anne Francis) looks on with envy in a tale of witchcraft, “Jess-Belle”:
A space pilot (Ross Martin), lost in the depths of outer space, dreams that he’s home on a picnic with his wife (Mary Webster) in this scene from “Death Ship”:
Albert Salmi as an aging tycoon who makes a pact with the devil, Julie Newmar, in “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville”:
Pat Hingle as a toy designer, alongside his childhood self (Jim E. Titus), in “The Incredible World of Horace Ford”:
James Broderick and James Whitmore are part of a group of earth people stranded on a small asteroid awaiting rescue in “On Thursday We Leave for Home”:
Shakespeare (John Williams) is brought back to life by a hack playwright (Jack Weston) seeking a ghost-writing partner in “The Bard”:
Lee Marvin and Joe Mantell manage a robot boxer in the future year of 1973 in “Steel”:
William Shatner, playing a man recovering from a nervous breakdown, is restrained by a stewardess (Asa Maynor) as he attempts to investigate the presence on a plane of an “invisible” gremlin in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”:
Mickey Rooney stars in a solo role as a jockey charged with horse-doping who is granted his one true wish while awaiting the results of his hearing in “The Last Night of a Jockey”:
What never fails to impress me about these photos is the sheer number of great actors the series attracted.
If you get cable TV, the SyFy Channel will be airing a “Twilight Zone” marathon on Monday, July 4th.