Speaking of MacGyver, here’s the actor who played his grandfather, John Anderson, along with James Coburn and John Marley, in a 1963 Twilight Zone written by Rod Serling from a story by Henry Slesar. It’s an agreeably bleak look at the grim, post-apocalyptic future of 1974, but the twist is so remarkably dated that this is the sort of story that can only have been told in old books and television. It’s fair to say that I didn’t see it coming; it’s difficult to remember how frightened people used to be of ordinary technology that Anderson’s character would want to keep it locked away from the rubes. Our son was absolutely baffled, and left only with a dislike of Coburn’s very “mean” character.
Tag Archives: the twilight zone
This wasn’t the first time that we went into a celebrated and famous installment of The Twilight Zone, this one written by Charles Beaumont, and I ended up loathing it. Yet again, it’s a trip back to the weird, stupid, and bizarre days when completely incompatible people got married for God-knows-why.
I started with a grain of sympathy for Telly Savalas’s character, because it’s strongly implied that he did not know that his wife had a daughter from a previous marriage, and his new(ish) wife deliberately hid this, surprising him with “two for the price of one.” He is apparently unable to have children, and she judges everything he does as resentment. But he’s far from sympathetic. That grain I had dwindled and died pretty quickly as his already aggressive and unlikable character descends into irrationality, and when he privately smiles when nobody can find his stepdaughter’s Talky Tina doll, which he’d thrown out, I was ready for Talky Tina to go all Chucky-from-Child’s Play on him.
There’s value in old TV like The Twilight Zone even when it doesn’t entertain. It’s a window to the awful world that the Greatest Generation and the Boomers perpetuated, where it was preferable to be miserable together than either happily divorced or “living in sin.” As fiction, it’s impossible for me to look at this as anything other than the story of two horrible adults getting what they deserve. As history, it’s another reminder that the “good ol’ days” were often incredibly rotten.
On the other hand, our son at least seemed to enjoy the amusing shock of the stepdad answering that telephone call at the commercial break…
In 1983, there was a film of The Twilight Zone, and the accompanying novelization was the first bit of the program that I ever encountered. I must have read it seven times before the movie came on HBO, and teenage me enjoyed each segment more than the previous one. The remake of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” which starred John Lithgow, was my favorite, in part because of how “cool” the gremlin on the wing was. I saw the original a few months later and scoffed at the TV show’s gremlin, which was just some dude in a teddy bear costume.
But, oh, to be seven. To be sure, when I stopped being a teen idiot and became instead an ordinary idiot, I grew to enjoy this segment greatly. It’s just so darn fun. But I never enjoyed it half as much as I did tonight, when the gremlin scared the almighty heck out of our son. When William Shatner pulled that curtain back, our kid jumped out of his skin.
It has been so fun to enjoy all the programs and movies that we’ve watched together before he starts becoming jaded by dated special effects. He didn’t see anything threadbare in this adventure. He took this at face value and babbled to make himself brave and hid behind his balled-up security blanket.
And speaking of face value, the flight engineer, played by Edward Kemmer, fibs to his frantic passenger and tries to reassure him by saying the pilots are aware of the beast and wish that he would please keep it down and not cause a panic. Our son concluded that gremlins can’t be seen by women, since this one only jumps away when a woman looks out at the wing. We still had to give him an after-show explanation of what a gremlin is. And speaking of movies from 1983-84, he’s far too young to meet Gizmo and Stripe, so we left those gremlins out of the explanation!
Back to The Twilight Zone for eleven selections from its final season. To start with, I picked “In Praise of Pip,” which was written by Rod Serling. It’s Bill Mumy’s third appearance in the program, but it’s really worth watching for Jack Klugman’s amazing performance. Life kind of got in the way tonight and so I don’t have much to share, but I did want to make sure I praised Klugman as Pip’s dad, because he was just so good in this. That and our son was very confused by the jump in time before the final scene. Several weeks pass, but, especially since the scene takes place in the same location as the one before it, it looked to him like it was the following morning.
Also, remember those cigarette companies that used to sponsor this show? Well, they must have found some other kind of sponsor in season five, because Klugman smokes Morley in this one!
Morley King Size! The 555 of Cigarettes!
Another oddball coincidence: a few days ago, when we watched “Printer’s Devil,” I told our son to be on the lookout for an actor he’d seen before, hoping that he’d identify Burgess Meredith. So with his brow furrowed and his aim to please, he asked, when the actor Charles Thompson came on screen, “Is that Batman’s butler, Alfred?” No, but he just had to wait a few days. I told him this evening that Alan Napier was in this episode instead. And then, wouldn’t you know it, the story’s about a ship completely booked with men and women in their seventies. Every new old-timer the young couple met, our son asked, “Is that Alfred?” Napier doesn’t show up until the final scene.
I’m afraid this one didn’t go over too well. I was intrigued by the strange goings-on aboard the Lady Anne, and why all the old codgers want this unhappy young couple, trying to save their marriage by way of two weeks on a ship without any of the man’s distractions, aboard. But our son was bored out of his skull, despite a great little halfway mark “cliffhanger” to lead into the commercial break. And Marie cannot bear to watch unhappy couples. I knew all the way through this one was like nails on a chalkboard for her. The opening scene, in which the unhappy couple (Joyce Van Patten and Lee Phillips) consult the most condescending travel agent in America, was particularly painful!
On the other hand, Marie often smiles patiently as I grumble good-naturedly about our son not quite recognizing actors, because, as she always reminds me, she never recognizes actors, either. But as soon as Wilfrid Hyde-White showed up, right after our son asked “Is that Alfred?” she asked “Is he Colonel Pickering from My Fair Lady?”
I had to check to make sure. I’ve never actually seen My Fair Lady. Sacrilege, I know.
That’s all from The Twilight Zone for now, but we’ll return with a look at season five in June. Stay tuned!
Strange little coincidences with this morning’s episode of The Twilight Zone, which Rod Serling scripted from a short story called Blind Alley by Malcolm Jameson. As regular readers may recall, I picked most of the new-to-me episodes for our viewing based on whether I knew the actors, and I always enjoy seeing the people who would later play villains on Batman in these roles. So the other day, we watched an episode with Burgess Meredith as the devil, and this morning, we watched Julie Newmar as the devil. I genuinely didn’t know when I picked these what the plots of these tales were!
The other nice surprise was that title. As we started watching this show, I quickly became bored of Rod Serling’s use of the good old days trope of old men’s nostalgia for simpler times. I don’t think even Julie Newmar could save yet another one of these tales of men looking starry-eyed at old town squares. But that’s not what this is about at all, mercifully! Albert Salmi plays a downright sadistic robber baron who, having made his final, ultimate, screw-turning “deal,” has thirty million in the bank and is bored. The devil, here in the guise of a travel agent named Miss Devlin, offers him the chance to go back to 1910 and do it all again, only this time with all the memories of his past and about $1400 in his pocket. But memories are fragile, imperfect things.
Once again, our son really didn’t enjoy this story. Salmi’s character is just too darn mean. Even when we pointed out that this is a story about a mean guy getting his comeuppance, he wouldn’t budge. But he did understand even the talkiest bits. The story opens with Salmi twisting the knife into a very old rival and letting him know his only way out is bankruptcy, and we paused it to clarify what went on, but he recapped it very well for us. On the other hand, none of us spotted that the very old rival was played by gravel-voiced John Anderson, who we’ve seen twice as MacGyver’s grandfather Harry, so pobody’s nerfect.
Actually, I’ll tell you who really wasn’t perfect, and that’s the makeup artist for this story. Sure, they had a chore making Salmi, Anderson, and Wright King all look fifty years older for the stuff set in the present so they could appear as their normal ages in 1910’s Cliffordville, but you’d have to have been watching with a bent antenna in a snowstorm on a very small TV set in 1963 to ignore Salmi’s unbelievably phony bald cap!
Wow, our son didn’t like tonight’s episode of The Twilight Zone at all. Not a bit. I think he was most aggravated by this season’s version of the devil, played by Burgess Meredith, driving a car very, very fast down an old two-lane to bring his passenger to a grisly end. He shouted “He needs to slow down,” which I thought was a charming bit of concern. He does get invested in teevee enough to worry about the protagonists, and at the same time, he doesn’t like worrying.
I thought Charles Beaumont’s story was wickedly funny in places. Robert Sterling plays the beleaguered editor of a dying small-town newspaper and asks Meredith’s “Mr. Smith” whether he’s a creditor. Almost under his breath, the devil hastily replies “Not yet, anyhow.” I wasn’t thrilled with the ending. There’s a sense that this particular kind of evil just can’t be allowed to win when the mortal isn’t actually wicked, just desperate, and so it comes to a cute, but not really satisfying conclusion. That’s a shame, because in between the black comedy and a downright electric scene between Sterling and Meredith debating whether to sign over the human’s soul, this really did please me, but in the end, there wasn’t a twist, just a good winning over evil wrapup when the story was calling for something a shade more malevolent.
Did it just not occur to this girl’s parents that naming her Jess-Belle was asking for trouble?
A couple of nights ago, our son got intrigued by the preview for tonight’s story, which was written by Earl Hamner Jr., because it mentioned witches and showed a big jungle cat. I was interested because the jezebel in question is played by Anne Francis. If it’s 1963 and Anne Francis wants to buy a love spell and bewitch me, then I’m totally fine with her turning into a big jungle cat from midnight until dawn.
Hamner is best remembered as the creator of The Waltons and Apple’s Way, and he worked on the cartoon adaptation of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. He seemed to enjoy telling stories of folklore from the Appalachians and the Ozarks, or much farther away and and just set in an electricity-free Blue Ridge Mountains. These are God-fearing people, and they practice a faith that I believe is rarely seen on contemporary television, and as such, they are not likely to be very sympathetic to witchcraft. That said, it might seem a little odd that everybody simultaneously knows all about Jeanette Nolan’s character’s spells and potions and yet gets very concerned about the right way to kill witches. That’s the way in northeast Georgia. People will drive to church and buy salves from the wart witch in the gravel lot after the sermon. It’s only when people actually turn into leopards that there’s a problem.
James Best is fairly awesome as the fellow who’s been bewitched, and I really enjoyed seeing this story unfold and, like the last one we saw, stretch out and breathe and not follow the strict Zone formula, but our son felt a little bit betrayed. There was a whole lot less of people shooting at wild animals than he hoped, and a whole lot more smooching. The embraces, the kisses, the talking of marriage, the dancing… we’re lucky he sat as still as he did!