It was on the evening of October 2nd of 1959 that CBS debuted the very first episode of a brand new and exciting television anthology called The Twilight Zone. From the mind of Rod Serling, a rather well known writer who dazzled audiences of the popular Kraft Television Theatre in 1955 with his Emmy winning Patterns – followed by the equally impressive Requiem for a Heavyweight a year later. While the original premiere date might have been back in the beginning of October – Fathom Events hosted the 60th Anniversary of The Twilight Zone last evening. Digitally restoring six episodes of the classic and groundbreaking television series – with a short documentary entitled Remembering Rod Serling as a bonus. When I wrote about this celebration a couple of months back I made comment that depending on my mood – my number one television series of all time is either Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner or Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Having said that I honestly believe that the latter stands as the pinnacle of writing in the history of television – granted with a pool of writers like Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, Charles Beaumont, as well as Rod Serling himself – it’s easy to see why the show has stood the test of time. Last night’s screening marks the first time that these episodes of The Twilight Zone have ever been shown on the big screen and thanks to my co-workers at the arcade I was able to spend a magical three hours sitting in a darkened theater auditorium… traveling through another dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.
Considering that a handful of the Saturday Frights podcast shows tackle episodes of The Twilight Zone – I feel it is more than safe to say that I am a very big fan. And while I wish I could say that the auditorium was filled to capacity, there was still a pretty decent turn out – especially for a black and white series that is 60 years old. Furthermore judging from the reactions of the audience at how some of the episodes end, this apparently was the first time they had seen them at all. The six chosen episodes of the 60th anniversary of The Twilight Zone started off with the 1959 episode entitled Walking Distance.
“Martin Sloan, age thirty-six. Occupation: vice-president, ad agency, in charge of media. This is not just a Sunday drive for Martin Sloan. He perhaps doesn’t know it at the time – but it’s an exodus. Somewhere up the road, he’s looking for sanity. And somewhere up the road, he’ll find something else.” – Walking Distance, (Opening Narration)
Walking Distance has always been one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes – in general I am rather fond of the more sentimental offerings of Serling – who by the way would end up writing 92 of the 156 episodes of the series. Starring Gig Young as Martin Sloan… as I’ve gotten much older this message about a man seeking an escape from his modern troubles by way of a visit to the past gets clearer and clearer. Buoyed by an exceptional score by Bernard Herrmann, there is never a time when viewing it that I don’t become a little teary-eyed and last night was no exception.
The second episode shown was Time Enough at Last – which is possibly the most famous of all The Twilight Zone episodes. Starring Burgess Meredith as Harry Bemis, a poor man whose sole passion in life is to read and appears to be thwarted by everyone in his life. A very memorable performance by Meredith, Bemi is played equal parts humorous as well as tragic.
The Invaders which originally aired back on January 27th of 1961 – features former The Shadow radio series actress Agnes Moorehead as a mostly mute Woman who finds her country home the visitor of a group of diminutive invaders from space.
The fourth classic Twilight Zone episode was 1962’s To Serve Man which features Richard Kiel as a different type of visitor from outer space. We are told the story of the arrival of the rather large Kanamits – all played by Kiel although the voice provided is that of Paul Frees – who it seems have arrived to bring peace to the inhabitants of the Earth.
Eye of the Beholder was the next Twilight Zone episode to be shown for the 60th anniversary event last night. This one, thanks to Maxine Stuart’s incredible performance as Janet Tyler, seemed to emotionally affect the audience at my showing the most. A role that since she was under bandages meant that no one ever sees her face – besides Time Enough at Last this might be the second most well known Twilight Zone episode.
Last but most assuredly not least was The Monsters are Due on Maple Street – an episode featuring Claude Akins, Jack Weston, and Barry Atwater that is just as powerful and relevant today as when it aired on March 4th of 1960. Rod Serling was very well known for sharing the truth of our society – both the highs and lows. Although he was sometimes forced to hide it under the guise of science fiction and horror… having said that, in the case of this episode – mankind’s ability to jump to mob mentality is pretty much front and center. A nice way to end the 60th anniversary of The Twilight Zone in my personal opinion and a great reminder of why Rod Serling as well as his iconic TV series remains such an important part of pop culture.