The Twilight Zone TV Series (1959-1964): Character Actors’ Paradise!

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Greetings all and sundry!

Having laughed uproariously over the hue and cry of the media’s perceived panic from its Meteorologists, weather people and Doomsday oracles regarding Climate Change along the nation’s East Coast. I’ve also been allotted time wisely used to suit up, dig deep and scribble notes about one of the best episodic Anthology television series of the very late 1950s and 60s.

Which graced prime time evening B&W screens for five 30 episode seasons. Allowed copious room for young and notable writing talents of Rod Serling, Richard Matheson and others to come up with the verbal grist for tales. Predominantly in the usually dark fantasy realm. Though Science Fiction would drop by from time to time. Providing a “Who’s Who” and Rogues Galley of talent from novices to seasoned veterans to deliver the consistently satisfying goods.

So, please allow me a few moments of your time. As I wax nostalgic and apply my own unique perspective in high or spotlighting these talents with:

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The Twilight Zone (1959-1964):
Character Actors’ Paradise!

Every historian, critic, blogger, geek, nerd and fan person has their own personal list. So, I expect to catch some Flak. That comes with the territory in my selections. But that is what sites like this are all about. The polite discussion of like and differing views and opinions.Though, I do claim sole responsibility for the categories and methods used in my proffered selections.

#1: Best Solo Performance:
The Invaders (Season 2, Ep. 15)

Picture a barren mountainous Outback. A lone ramshackle shack and its old, solitary and silent woman eking through evening chores in a spartan kitchen to a meal on the table. When a loud noise followed by a crash upon the roof turns the old crone’s world upside down.

The old crone is veteran actress, Agnes Moorehead. At the time, a very popular commodity and frightening voice acting talent for the radio stage play/soap opera, ‘Sorry, Wrong Number’. And later, as the evil witch and Mother In Law, “Endora” on ABC’s ‘Bewitched’. Denied the use of her pipes. Though making up for it through facial expression, gestures and Physicality. Delivering an Emmy worthy performance. As she cautiously gives into Curiosity, fear and finally, retribution as the cause(s) of the noise and crash make themselves known!

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All done on a next to nothing set better suited for a small stage play. Spartan and wanting in every respect. While speaking volumes loudly in setting mood and shadowy, sometimes dusty and lamp lit atmosphere! Also a model of frugality with the episode’s Director, Douglas Heyes providing the tinny whispered voices of what doesn’t belong.

Honorable Mentions:

Where Is Everybody? (S1.E1)
As Earl Holliman (‘The Big Combo’, ‘Police Woman’) tries to make sense of his investigation of an abandoned rural town. Searching high and low. Coming up empty while staving off panic and a possible breakdown.

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The Last Night of a Jockey (S5. E5)
Mickey Rooney as a washed up jockey in a cheap flop house room. Facing doping charges while arguing over the telephone with the reporter who broke the case. Until ironic fate intervened.

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King Nine Will Not Return (S2 E1)
Bob Cummings (‘My Living Doll’) is the sole survivor of a battle damaged B-25 medium bomber crash landed in the North African desert during WWII. The episode’s twenty five minutes is devoted to Mr. Cummings’ Capt. James Embry searching the downed plane and surrounding sands for the missing crew members. While retracing the steps of the mission and fighting heat stroke and dehydration.

Note: Based somewhat on the true story of a B-24 bomber, ‘Lady Be Good’ lost during WWII. And discovered intact during oil exploration of the Libyan desert.

#2: Episode I Most Empathize With:
Time Enough At Last (S1 E8)

Stalwart veteran of the art, Burgess Meredith is meek, quiet, henpecked at home bank teller, book keeper Henry Bemis. Of poor vision and very thick glasses, Mr. Bemis has a vice. Close to an obsession and easy form of escape. Reading.

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Books. Newspapers. Not a surfeit of magazines. Mr. Bemis can be found with his nose buried in any of them. When he should be paying attention behind the Teller’s counter to customers wanting to transact business and finances. Life is not good for Mr. Bemis. Nor is it for the rest of the world as that pesky political “Doomsday Clock” ticks and clicks closer to midnight. Which means nothing to Henry as he heads off to work. Takes his lunch in the bank’s basement vault. Contentedly reading away. Surrounded by steel and paper, Two of nature’s better insulators against blast and radiation. As the ground shakes. Dust falls and the lights go out.

Leaving Mr. Bemis alone amongst the ruins of fallen building and businesses. Intent of finding the local library. Which he pillages for stacks and stacks of authors; works. Mixed with history and other temping delights. Finding a comfortable place to sit on the library’s stone steps. Henry takes his glasses off to clean them. They drop and lenses break amongst the rubble.

Personal Note: Though I despised grade school “Dick & Jane”primers as a child. I somehow learned to love words. Their construction, music and proper spelling by age ten. I don’t know how or why. But I latched onto it. And a pair of glasses. The results has been a voracious appetite. With many more paperbacks than hard covers. As the former gave me something to be occupied with after completing maintenance tasks on aircraft assigned to dozens of flight lines around the world through a decades long career.

#3: Best Use Of Available Talent:
The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine (S1 E4)

Though this episode completely slipped through on my critique of Martin Balsam on It Rains… You Get Wet blog. I’ll give this episode its due. For excellent us of Ms. Ida Lupino as Barbara Jean Trenton. Fading, near forgotten movie star. Who spends most of her time watching herself and other actors in the “screening room” of her expansive home.

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Fate begins to intervene with the arrival of her agent, Danny Weiss (Tailor made Martin Balsam), who has a proposition for a part in an upcoming film. Opposite another older leading man, Marty Sall (Arrogant Ted De Corsia). Who now runs a chain of popular super markets. And demands a face to face interview. Which really doesn’t go very well. As the egos of two Divas clash. And Billy is left to smooth ruffled feathers. Give a few deserved verbal licks to Marty. And pick up the pieces as Barbara returns home. Sits before the screen to avoid the questioning maid. Who opens the screening room door as Danny arrives. Only to see Barbara on the screen. Gliding away into the scene. Before turning and tossing a red silk scarf that blanks out the.image. Leaving Billy to turn and enter the wide foyer and find Barbara’s scarf.

Note: Good old fashioned story telling. Highlighted by Ms. Lupino and Mr. Balsam. Aided with Mr. Serling’s bit of homage to Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. While using the film’s original composer, Franz Waxman.

Honorable Mention:

The Masks (S5 E25)

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One of the earliest, creepiest and beat precursors to the novel and later film, Daddy’s Dying. Who’s Got The Will?!. Though, in this tale directed by Ms. Ida Lupino. The location is New Orleans. And “Daddy” is wealthy industrialist, Jason Harper. Who has invited his whiny, hypochondriac daughter, Emily (Virginia Gregg). Her greedy, near sociopath husband, Wilfred (Milton Selzer). Narcissist grand daughter, Paula (Brooke Hayward) and sadistic, glutton, Wilfred Jr. (Alan Sues)… All they have to do is don and wear the masks Jason had made by “an old Cajun”and perfectly reflect their inner selves until midnight

#4: Jack Klugman:
A Passage for Trumpet (S1 E36)

Mr. Klugman plays beyond down and out, broke and proven untrustworthy trumpeter, Joey Crown. Who pawns his horn and steps in front of a speeding truck. Shaken and confused, Joey discovers that he’s not exactly dead. Nor alive, either. More like in a holding pattern until greater decisions are made. And surprised that someone else can see and hear him. A dapper well dressed gentleman with a horn named Gabriel (John Anderson). Who talks to Joey and lets him see where he screwed up his life, club owners and friends. And didn’t. Delivering the gift of optimism as Joey returns to the Pawn Shop and hears the squeal of a trucks brakes.

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Flashed back to the moment of the accident. Where he gets up from the sudden crowd around him. Dusts himself off as the truck driver hopes Joey will keep his mouth shut. Stuffs a wad a bills in his hand. And Joey ready to buy back his horn. Play it on a rooftop within earshot of a woman new to the city (Mary Webster) who likes his playing. And takes Joey a step further into his new life.

A Game of Pool (S3 E5)
Jesse Cardiff (Mr. Klugman) is a kind of sloppy, unkempt pool player/hustler with dreams of immortality. Gifted, but not quite as good as the seriously revered, James H. “Fats” Brown. Whom players and wannabes around Chicago and Lister’s pool hall keep reminding Jesse of and comparing him to. But, Jesse is just a tad wanting. Until Jesse calls “Fats” out in a pique of anger.

Surprised. Jesse turns at a sound as “Fats” (Jonathan Winters. Surprising calm, level headed and good!) introduces himself and the stakes are set… Immortality for one. Anonymity for the other. Winner take all!

In Praise of Pip (S5 E1)
Max Phillips (Mr. Klugman) is a two time loser bookie with a conscience. Suffering from a gunshot wound from a botched hit. And has received a DoD telegram informing him that his son, Pip has been seriously wounded in a far off country called Vietnam. Which doesn’t help Max’s present plight of trying to elude the persistent shooter through the arcades, rides, crowds and noise of Pacific Ocean Park.

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Turning away from a kiosk, Max thinks he see his young son, Pip (Billy Mumy) break away from a clutch of gawkers. And leads Max on a chase to catch up. Stumbling into a House of Mirrors. Max finds Pip. Who explains that he is dying. Before dashing deeper into the mirrored mystery and beyond. Unable to follow due to blood loss. Max prays to God to take his life in lieu of Pip’s.

Many years later. A grown Pip returns to the Park with the aid of a cane. To remember his father and all of the fun times shared there.

#5: Best Use Of A Well Hidden Ironic “McGufffin’:
To Serve Man (S3 E24)

To all of the true fanciers of this classic, long running series. All I have to say is: “It’s… It’s a cookbook!”

Honorable Mentions:

The Eye Of The Beholder (S2 E6)

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A woman under heavy bandages (Maxine Stuart) awakes under heavy bandages awakes from having undergone state sanctioned and mandated facial reconstructive surgery. In the hope of being beautiful. Or at least looking like everybody else. In a tale told exclusively from Ms. Stuart’s perspective. Expressing joy and anticipation. Until the bandage come off!

The Rip Van Winkle Caper (S2 E24)

An arrogant criminal “mastermind”, Farwell (Oscar Berigi Jr.) assembles three expendable accomplices. De Cruz (Simon Oakland), Brooks (Lew Gallo) and Erbie (John MiItchum) to hijack and rob an armored car shipment of gold from Fort Knox, Kentucky to Los Angeles. The robbery goes well and the gang pulls their vehicles into a cave at the base of a granite mountain. Where Farwell has arranged their “escape plan”. Four man sized cylinders to be filled gas that will put them into suspended animation for 100 years. Far exceeding any Statute of Limitation. The hired help is skeptical, especially De Cruz, but climb inside their chambers.Only to awake and find that Erbie’s chamber had been breached by a fallen rock and leaving a wretched looking skeleton.

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The pick up truck Farwell has secured still runs. And Farwell promptly runs over Brooks and over turns the transportation dodging Brooks bullets. leaving a 50-50 split of whatever gold bar De Cruz and Farwell can carry as they walk towards civilization, De Cruz starts putting high prices on sips of water from De Cruz’s one remaining canteen. Farwell has had enough and shoots De Cruz. Stumbles out onto an endless deserted highway. And if found near death and rambling about gold to an elder couple out on a Sunday Hover Car ride. George (Wallace Rooney) calls the police to report the body. As he and his wife (Shirley O’Hara) share a laugh over gold being worthless for close to a century.

#6: Best, Over The Top Chewing Of Scenery:
Nightmare At 20.000 Feet (S5 E3)

William Shatner is Bob Wilson. A businessman recovering from a nervous breakdown. Who is traveling back home with his wife, Julia (Christine White) on a Douglas DC-4 airliner. Bob also has the sad misfortune of being assigned a window seat just behind the plane’s propeller engines. Drawing the window’s blind closed as a the airliner tries climbing above a thunderstorm. Whose accompanying lightning reveals something on the left wing!

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Bob must quell the desire, the near need to absolutely lose it. Lest he return to the Sanitorium as the thing (A Gremln) toys with Bob between bouts of tearing off wing panels. Julia senses something is amiss and tries to calm Bob. Who has fifteen minutes of “logical insanity” to play with, And is even more certain of the sabotage. Even if those whom he calls to look out his window see nothing. Determined. Bob notices a uniformed cop of a holstered .38. Takes matters and the pistol into his own hands, And turns the “Emergency Exit” latch beneath his window…

Honorable Mention:

The Obsolete Man (S2 E29)

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Burgess Meredith is Romney Wordsworth. A librarian caught up in a future totalitarian society where words and their meaning have become confused, irrelevant and obsolete. Finding himself persecuted and on trial for his life. Prosecuted by the smug, arrogant and erudite “Chancellor” (Fritz Weaver). Who easily turns around every one of Wordsworth’s arguments. Wordsworth is deemed “Obsolete” and scheduled to die at midnight. By a method of Wordworth’s choosing. With the State taking advantage of present technology and broadcasting the execution live!

Now. One may expect that Burgess Meredith can chew some righteous scenery, given the opportunity. And he does get some decent licks in. But, it is Fritz Weaver’s “Chancellor” who gloats and revel in the infallibility and surety of the State who runs past the End Zone with it! So sure of himself. His position and power. As he shares Mr. Wordsworth’s last moments on earth.

But, Mr. Wordworth is content and serene. Having made his peace. Quietly reading The Bible as the hidden bomb ticks down. The Chancellor starts showing cracks and signs of weakness, cowardice. And fear! Being allowed to escape seconds before the bomb in Mr. Wordsworth’s quarters explodes. Leaving The Chancellor to face the wrath of his staff, minions and the State!

Overall Consensus

Being of a time and age when “Must See TV” of the 1970s and 80s was decades away. Certain series were given their allotted half hour or hour to be enjoyed around the television set week after week. And The Twilight Zone was one of those series. Not necessarily for a glimpse at a “Monster of The Week”, but for each episode’s stab at uniqueness and difference from competing shows. Best shown in its near forgotten Canne’s Palm D’Or winner, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge (S5 E22). A superb import that deals with “What could happen against what did happen” during a Civil War attempted act of sabotage.

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Yes. Several episodes have been forgotten, but this is my thumbnail of collected works. And what offerings have stayed with me. And aided in the selection and inclusion of those exceptional pieces of work more than ready to be spotlighted and discussed.


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Agree? Disagree? Wish to offer personal choices? The Floor Is Open For Discussion!