On this date in 1959 the series The Twilight Zone premiered on CBS television in the United States. I was well aware of the show in the 1960’s as a boy in Australia, and have been a fan – off and on – ever since. Although I did not see many episodes as a boy, I remember well some of them (“To Serve Man” left an indelible impression), and in more recent years I was able to see, or recall, all of the episodes courtesy of holiday-time 24- or 48-hour extravaganzas of non-stop airings. I was often glued to the screen, hour upon hour when these bonanzas came around (usually uninterrupted by commercials). To my mind the series is unparalleled. It did not rely on special effects or especially imaginative camera work. What it did have was great writing and great acting. Nor did the themes stretch credulity unduly. Admittedly there were elements of the supernatural and paranormal, and occasionally extraterrestrial. But these themes did not drive the series. Many of the situations were perfectly believable, even though unhistorical, such as living in a post apocalyptic world, or being presented with a seemingly insoluble conundrum (sometimes solved, sometimes left dangling). What I liked, and still like, was that the series made me THINK – a rarity in television, then and now.
The Twilight Zone premiered the night of October 2, 1959, to rave reviews. “…Twilight Zone is about the only show on the air that I actually look forward to seeing. It’s the one series that I will let interfere with other plans”, said Terry Turner for the Chicago Daily News. Others agreed. Daily Variety ranked it with “the best that has ever been accomplished in half-hour filmed television” and the New York Herald Tribune found the show to be “certainly the best and most original anthology series of the year.”
Although the show proved popular to television’s critics, it struggled to find a receptive audience of television viewers. CBS was banking on a rating of at least 21 or 22, but its initial numbers were much lower. The series’ future was jeopardized when its third episode, “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” earned a 16.3 rating. Still, the show attracted a large enough audience to survive a brief hiatus in November, after which it finally surpassed its competition on ABC and NBC and convinced its sponsors (General Foods and Kimberly-Clark) to stay on until the end of the season.
With one exception (“The Chaser”), the first season featured scripts written only by Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, a team that was eventually responsible for 127 of the show’s 156 episodes. Additionally, with one exception (“A World of His Own”), Serling never appeared on camera during any first season episode (as he would in future seasons), and was present only as a voice-over narrator. Many of the first season’s episodes proved to be among the series’ most celebrated, including “Time Enough at Last”, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”, “Walking Distance” and “The After Hours”. The first season won Serling an unprecedented fourth Emmy Award for dramatic writing, a Producers Guild Award for Serling’s creative partner Buck Houghton, and the Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation.
When I look back now on early episodes I love to see actors in their early years, now famous for later roles. Of the many, let me mention Bill Bixby, Lee Van Cleef, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Elizabeth Montgomery, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Don Rickles, William Shatner, Telly Savalas, and George Takei These actors are often now well known for classic roles that have them typecast, and it is fun to see them as totally different characters. Seeing Shatner as a delusional and frightened air passenger, for example, is priceless.
The Twilight Zone could be controversial, as in the case of “The Encounter” in which a very young George Takei plays a Japanese-American whose father was a traitorous signaler for the bombers at Pearl Harbor, and Neville Brand plays a WW II veteran who killed an unarmed Japanese P.O.W. They have both kept their secrets for all their lives, but they come out as they converse in an attic. Serling’s final narration sums it up:
Two men in an attic, locked in mortal embrace. Their common bond, and their common enemy: guilt. A disease all too prevalent amongst men both in and out of The Twilight Zone.
Although Serling was focusing on guilt, the images of Asian/U.S. conflict were too strident for a time when president Johnson was ramping up the Vietnam War, and for Japanese-American survivors of the war in the Pacific. In consequence the episode was banned from syndication.
Serling had sought an outlet for controversy in creating the series in the first place. By the late 1950s, Serling was a well known television writer. His successful teleplays included “Patterns” (for Kraft Television Theater) and “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (for Playhouse 90), but constant changes and edits made by the networks and sponsors frustrated him. “In Requiem for a Heavyweight,” for example, the line “Got a match?” had to be edited out because the sponsor sold lighters. Other programs had similar elimination of words that might remind the audience of competitors to the sponsor, including one case in which the sponsor, Ford Motor Company, had the Chrysler Building removed from a picture of the New York City skyline. Such script changes and editing are still very much alive and well. A few years ago I toured the set of Two and a Half Men and was told that a script had to be changed because it implied that pizza was fattening, and one of the sponsors was a pizza firm.
Serling’s plots often confronted tough issues – war, xenophobia, power politics, bigotry, etc. – which he wrapped in parable. I find the results masterful, and enduring in their messages. I wish only that we had such visionaries as Serling around today. I could fill up 20 posts with Serling’s quotes, he was so incredibly insightful about society and the human condition. Here’s a few that are representative:
The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs, and explosions, and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy; and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is, that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.
How can you put out a meaningful drama when every fifteen minutes proceedings are interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits with toilet paper? No dramatic art form should be dictated and controlled by men whose training and instincts are cut of an entirely different cloth. The fact remains that these gentlemen sell consumer goods, not an art form.
I happen to think that the singular evil of our time is prejudice. It is from this evil that all other evils grow and multiply. In almost everything I’ve written there is a thread of this: a man’s seemingly palpable need to dislike someone other than himself.
I think the destiny of all men is not to sit in the rubble of their own making but to reach out for an ultimate perfection which is to be had. At the moment, it is a dream. But as of the moment we clasp hands with our neighbor, we build the first span to bridge the gap between the young and the old. At this hour, it’s a wish. But we have it within our power to make it a reality. If you want to prove that God is not dead, first prove that man is alive.
And one that leads to my recipe of the day from a letter to his wife.
Hollywood’s a great place to live… if you’re a grapefruit.
For decades I used to make marmalade by the gallon when I lived in the New York Catskills. It was my way of recovering from the long Christmas season, and making January festive in a different way. Citrus fruits were cheap and plentiful so I would make all manner of marmalades besides orange – lemon, lime, kumquat . . . you name it. But grapefruit was always a big hit. Cooks often use pectin in preserves because it is quick and fail safe. But I never did. All that ever went into my marmalades were fruit, sugar, and water. All marmalades have the same recipe — equal weights of sugar and fruit plus water. I liked grapefruit marmalade the best because of the rich and complex flavors from both the pulp and the skin.
© Grapefruit Marmalade
Put around 1 kg of whole grapefruit in a large pot and add 2 liters of water. You can simply soak the fruit overnight, but I always put it on my woodstove where it gently warmed through all night when the fire was banked down. In the morning I took the pot from the stove, removed the fruit, and reserved the liquid. First, quarter the fruit, remove all the pips, and scrape out the pulp into a bowl. Then slice the skin into thin strips. Put the pulp and skin back into the water and add 1 kg of granulated white sugar. Bring to a rolling boil and cook uncovered for about an hour. Stir periodically at first, when the marmalade is watery, but be more vigilant as it thickens to avoid sticking. When the mix is syrupy begin to test for its ability to set – that is, jellify when cooled. This is an absolutely critical stage and requires some experience. Take a small amount of the mix with a spoon and drop it on to a chilled saucer. It should form a balled bead with a wrinkled skin that does not flow when the saucer is tilted. Pack into sterilized jars whilst the marmalade is hot, tightly lid, and store at room temperature. It can keep for months, but it never did in my house.
If marmalade does not appeal, see if you can find a roast beef platter for $1.25 !!