Monday, February 4, 2019

"Miniature"

The Doll (Claire Griswold) and Charley Parkes (Robert Duvall)


“Miniature”
Season Four, Episode 110
Original Air Date: February 21, 1963

Cast:
Charley Parkes: Robert Duvall
Mrs. Parkes: Pert Kelton
Myra Russell: Barbara Barrie
Dr. Wallman: William Windom
Buddy Russell: Lennie Weinrib
Guard: John McLiam
Diemel: Barney Phillips
Harriet: Joan Chambers
Guide: Chet Stratton
The Suitor: Richard Angarola
The Maid: Nina Roman
The Doll: Claire Griswold

Crew:
Writer: Charles Beaumont
Director: Walter E. Grauman
Producer: Herbert Hirschman
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: Robert Pittack
Associate Producer: Murray Golden
Film Editor: Edward Curtiss
Art Direction: Edward Carfagno & George W. Davis
Set Decoration: Henry Grace & Don Greenwood, Jr.
Assistant Director: Ray De Camp
Assistant to the Producer: John Conwell
Music: Fred Steiner
Sound: Joe Edmondson & Franklin Milton
Mr. Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at MGM Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next on Twilight Zone a most unusual program called ‘Miniature.’ The very eminent Charles Beaumont takes us into a brand new realm of science fiction and fantasy that is at the same time intriguing and strangely believable.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration: 

“To the average person a museum is a place of knowledge, a place of beauty and truth and wonder. Some people come to study, others to contemplate, others to look for the sheer joy of looking. Charley Parkes has his own reasons. He comes to the museum to get away from the world. It isn’t really the sixty-cent cafeteria meal that has drawn him here every day, it’s the fact that here in these strange, cool halls he can be alone for a little while, really and truly alone. Anyway, that’s how it was before he got lost and wandered into The Twilight Zone.”

Summary: 
John McLiam as the museum guard, with Robert Duvall

            Charley Parkes is an introverted man who works a menial job and still lives with his mother. He uses his lunch breaks from work to visit a nearby museum. There he comes across a curious dollhouse. A staging of a nineteenth century domestic scene, the dollhouse comes to life before Charley’s eyes. A beautiful young woman seated before a piano begins to move and play. Amazed, Charley asks the museum guard how this effect is achieved. The guard gives Charley a questioning look and tells him that the wooden doll does not move and there is no music to be heard.
            Charley eagerly visits the dollhouse each day, standing in front of the glass display watching the young woman go about her daily business. The museum guard begins to show an interest in Charley, curious as to what Charley sees in the display. Charley’s obsession with the dollhouse grows to the point where he is gently let go from his job after returning late from lunch.
            Instead of looking for work Charley spends more time at the museum gazing into the dollhouse and speaking softly to the young woman within. Into the world of the dollhouse comes a caped, mustachioed rogue who is after the young woman’s hand in marriage. Charley is helpless but to watch as the young woman futilely attempts to ward off the rough suitor.
            Charley’s frequent trips to the museum catch the attention of his sister, Myra, who is concerned about her brother’s welfare. Myra believes Charley should be free of their mother’s house and living with his own wife and family. Charley reluctantly agrees to go on a blind date with Myra’s friend Harriet, a date which ends in disaster as Charley is unable to loosen up and enjoy himself.
            When Charley again visits the dollhouse he sees the rouge suitor attacking the young woman and tries to break the glass display in order to stop it. Charley is subdued and committed to a psychiatric institution where he is placed under the care of Dr. Wallman, whose stated mission is to help Charley rid himself of the delusion that the doll of the young woman is alive.
            At first Charley refuses to acknowledge that it is a delusion but soon realizes that his only way free of Dr. Wallman’s care is to feign a total recovery. Charley is eventually released into his mother’s care where he appears to have made a remarkable turnaround.
            Charley escapes from his bedroom as soon as he is able in order to return to the museum and the dollhouse. Charley hides inside the museum and waits until after closing to emerge into the darkened corridor. There he turns on the dollhouse display and sees the young woman inside. She is sad and crying heavily. Charley desperately wishes to comfort her but he cannot do so from outside the dollhouse. He wills himself desperately to join the young woman's world inside the dollhouse.
            Charley’s family discovers his absence and contacts Dr. Wallman, who knows exactly where Charley has gone. A search of the museum, however, yields no evidence of Charley’s whereabouts. Or does it? As the museum guard gazes into the dollhouse he sees a new doll within. It is a familiar looking young man sitting comfortably beside the young woman. The guard smiles because he knows this man, and he also knows that he will not say anything about what he’s seen because nobody would ever believe him.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“They never found Charley Parkes because the guard didn’t tell them what he saw in the glass case. He knew what they’d say and he knew they’d be right, too, because seeing is not always believing, especially if what you see happens to be an odd corner of The Twilight Zone.” 

Commentary: 

            It is a terrible irony that the fourth season is arguably the strongest showcase for the talents of writer Charles Beaumont. The season served as a swan song of sorts for his writing career before the onset of debilitating effects from what is believed to be early onset Alzheimer’s. As is well documented, Beaumont began to suffer memory loss which increased in severity and slowly robbed him of his ability to write. Beaumont’s professional commitments were completed by his friends under Beaumont’s byline to benefit the Beaumont family.
The fourth season is also occasionally derided as unworthy of time or consideration due to the hour-length of the episodes and the resulting change to the snap-ending formula of the half-hour segments. The fourth season showcased a number of moving and thought-provoking stories which offered more complex narratives and greater shades of characterization than many of the half-hour offerings from previous seasons. Charles Beaumont provided more teleplays (5)* for the fourth season than he did for any prior season and appeared to flourish given the extra half-hour of time. Among this final gathering of Beaumont’s tales is perhaps his finest script for the series, “Miniature,” a highly personal vision aided by an exceptionally moving performance from Robert Duvall and the spoils of the show’s talented production team. It is perhaps not too strong to suggest that “Miniature” is one of the finest hours of fantasy television presented in that rich decade of the 1960s.
            Beaumont excelled at crafting the half-hour drama from the beginning of his television writing career but quickly proved that he was equally adept at producing longer work, writing his first feature in 1958 (Queen of Outer Space), following it with now-highly regarded scripts for director Roger Corman (The Premature Burial, The Haunted Palace, The Masque of the Red Death, The Intruder) and supplementing this work by writing hour-long segments of Boris Karloff’s Thriller and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Beaumont was inspired to write “Miniature” by his close friend William F. Nolan, a prolific short story writer then at the beginning of a long film and television writing career. Much of Nolan’s life at the time was mirrored in that of protagonist Charley Parkes. We spoke to William F. Nolan in 2017 and took the opportunity to ask about his connection with “Miniature,” to which he replied: “Well, for one thing, the character was shy around women and Chuck (which is what we called Beaumont) was well aware of this. It was partly his way of ribbing me, but I also have always had a thing for miniature figures and models. Maybe it’s because my eyesight – I am near-sighted in one eye and far-sighted in the other – prevents me from really seeing large objects in 3D. But a small object that I can hold up in front of my face can become a whole world to me. I can see it in its totality and study it. It fascinates me. Chuck was one of the only people who knew me well enough to pick up on this and used it in the story.”
            Nolan revealed more about his role as inspiration for “Miniature” in an audio commentary which accompanied the episode on the Blu-ray release of the series. Beaumont took the raw material of Nolan’s life at the time, his shyness around women, his meek appearance, his living situation with his mother, his struggles to fit in at work, and crafted a moving tribute to his close friend and a potent examination of the ways in which society can pressure an outsider to fit an acceptable mold.
            A surprising aspect of the episode is its humor. Though the humor is never in danger of spoiling the carefully constructed gravity of the narrative, it lightens the fantasy and prepares the viewer for the lighthearted and sentimental tone of the ending. A humorous moment occurs on the initial visit to the museum with Charley. Discovering the cafeteria to be closed, Charley attempts to ascend the main stairway only to be ambushed by a tour group descending the stairs. Attempting to push his way upwards through the crowd, Charley is instead pushed back down the stairway as though by a wave. Incidentally, it is in this way that Charley happens upon the display of the dollhouse which will come to consume his life. It is a perfectly staged moment which not only serves to provide humor but also to illustrate Charley’s place in the world as a mild man who prefers quiet solitude but continually finds himself pushed this way and that by crowds, coworkers, and family members. A broader moment of physical humor occurs later when Charley witnesses the young woman in the dollhouse being led away by the roguish suitor. Attempting to better see them exit the dollhouse, Charley presses his face against the glass in a comical expression. It is an odd moment for comedy but fortunately does not ruin a carefully built scene of tension. The intrusion of humor in an otherwise serious production is sometimes used to reinforce the idea that the play is a fantasy and not to be taken too seriously, although it is just as likely that here the humor was used to better illustrate the awkwardness of Charley Parkes.
            “Miniature” also contains some recognizable motifs from Beaumont’s other scripts, notably the use of psychoanalysis as a tool for narrative transition. Beaumont was clearly fascinated with the field of psychology beyond its utility as a method for conflict. Beaumont’s first episode for the series, “Perchance to Dream,” is told from the psychiatrist’s couch. A later episode, “Person or Persons Unknown,” makes use of similar circumstances. Beaumont seems to have little faith in the process, however, as each case features a person undergoing an extraordinary event but unable to convince rational-minded authority figures of their sanity.
           
            Producer Herbert Hirschman told author Marc Scott Zicree that he believed the episode had its genesis in a previously published story, one which also concerned a dollhouse and featured an enormous hand descending on an occupant of the house. The story Hirschman recalled is “None Before Me” by Sidney Carroll. Carroll (1913-1998) is remembered as an accomplished screenwriter (The Hustler) who also wrote for television, winning an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his episode “The Fine Art of Murder” on the anthology series Omnibus (1956). Carroll also wrote for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. “None Before Me” was originally published in the July, 1949 issue of Cosmopolitan and benefited from being reprinted in Ray Bradbury’s anthology of fantasy stories, Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow (1952). The anthology went through numerous printings down the years and should be relatively easy to find. The story relates the tale of an elderly miser whose time is spent coveting the fine items his lifelong passion for collecting has yielded. The man purchases an antique dollhouse which quickly becomes an obsession. He creates imaginary lives for the occupants while also terribly mistreating them until a giant hand descends from above to crush him, as though he were in a dollhouse of his own. If Hirschman’s recollection is accurate then Carroll’s tale inspired two episodes of Twilight Zone as Rod Serling’s third season episode, “The Little People,” features an ending sequence also likely inspired by the tale.
            According to litigation introduced by a television writer named Clyde Ware, Beaumont’s script had its genesis in another story, a script Ware submitted to Rod Serling’s Cayuga Productions in the spring of 1961 titled “The Thirteenth Mannequin.” Ware’s claim of plagiarism was ultimately found baseless by both the initial judge and the appeals judge but did result in “Miniature” being kept out of syndication packages of the series for decades. “The Thirteenth Mannequin” concerns an elderly department store guard who becomes obsessed with the store’s twelve mannequins. The mannequins begin to feel more real to him than other people; they move and speak to him. Soon after the old man’s death a thirteen mannequin is added to the store, a mannequin which looks like him. Cayuga passed on Ware’s script and returned it to the writer. It was never produced for television although Ware steadily sold his writing to various series through the 1970s. Of interest is his adaptation of Robert Bloch’s 1960 story “The Final Performance” for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. “The Thirteenth Mannequin” somewhat resembles Rod Serling’s first season episode “The After Hours,” which itself was the subject of baseless plagiarism charges when veteran pulp writer Frank Gruber claimed Serling stole the idea from Gruber’s 1949 story “The Thirteenth Floor.” Ware’s tale better resembles the later fourth season episode “The New Exhibit,” an episode which wears its influences on its sleeve. That episode was attributed to Charles Beaumont but was actually written by Beaumont’s friend Jerry Sohl. The subject of “The New Exhibit” is wax figures but the similarities remain. Those who desire a more detailed look at the litigation are directed to Martin Grams, Jr.’s The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (2008).
           
The subtle special effects in “Miniature” were handled simply and efficiently. A full-sized interior set was constructed along with the actual dollhouse. The dollhouse could be filmed in exterior or outwards from the interior. The full-sized set was used to the stage the action within the dollhouse.
“Miniature” was one of a number of episodes featuring dolls, dummies, and effigies from the fourth and fifth seasons. The series was producing so many of these type episodes (“Miniature,” “The New Exhibit,” “Living Doll,” “Caesar and Me”) that the show’s final producer, William Froug, declined to put into production a script by Richard Matheson simply titled “The Doll.” Froug felt there was an overabundance of doll stories being produced on the series and sold the script back to Matheson. It was eventually published in the June, 1982 issue of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine before being produced on Steven Spielberg’s anthology series Amazing Stories. Phil Joanou directed the segment from Matheson’s script and the episode was broadcast on May 4, 1986. The nearly twenty-five years it took to arrive before an audience paid off for its creators as star John Lithgow took home an Emmy Award for his central performance and Richard Matheson nabbed a Writer’s Guild nomination for his script. 
A colorized segment of "Miniature"

            The first appearance of “Miniature” after its initial broadcast came during a television special titled The Twilight Zone Silver Anniversary Special on October 20, 1984. The special consisted of three episodes previously unavailable in syndication: “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain,” “Miniature,” and “Sounds and Silences.” The special was hosted by actor Patrick O’Neal, star of “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain.” In an article covering the special, Stephen Holden of The New York Times described “Miniature” thus: “the young Robert Duvall plays a 30-year-old mamma’s boy who falls in love with a wooden doll in a museum exhibition. . . Mr. Duvall’s role demands only that he be half-witted and sweet.” The television special was notable because the dollhouse sequences from “Miniature” were colorized using hand-colored and computer processes. This has occasionally caused confusion from those who first experienced the episode with the colorized segments being led to believe the episode originally included color.


            Robert Duvall (b. 1931) is one of the most accomplished performers whose early careers included a stop on The Twilight Zone. The young actor who gives a moving yet emotionally restrained performance as Charley Parkes would go on to acclaim as one of the most gifted actors of his generation, nominated for seven Academy Awards (winning for Tender Mercies (1983)), as well as winning a number of other awards, including the Golden Globe (of which he won four), the Screen Actors Guild, and the Emmy Award. Duvall was at one time labeled the most versatile actor in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records during a career which saw him play a diversity of roles, including such political figures Joseph Stalin and Adolf Eichmann. Born in San Diego and raised in the Annapolis, Maryland area due to his father’s service in the Navy, Duvall would eventually make his way to New York City to study acting. A busy and fruitful career on the New York stages during the 1950s led to television work in the early 1960s. Duvall appeared as the titular character in an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson” in the premier episode of the short-lived replacement series Great Ghost Stories (1961). He also appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “Bad Actor” (1962), scripted by Robert Bloch from a story by Max Franklin. Duvall appeared in The Outer Limits episodes “The Chameleon” and the two-parter “The Inheritors.” Other genre television appearances include Kraft Suspense Theatre, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and The Time Tunnel. After a hiatus Duvall returned to television for the award-winning miniseries Lonesome Dove (1989), based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Larry McMurty, for which Duvall received a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award as Captain Augustus McCrae.
Film work followed the early television work, including a memorable role as Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).** An appearance in George Lucas’ first film, THX 1138 (1971), led to a role in that film’s producer Francis Ford Coppola’s production of The Godfather (1972), a career defining moment. Duvall also appeared in Coppola’s troubled production of Apocalypse Now (1979) as Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore, the surf-loving commander who uttered the famous proclamation, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Other notable film roles include The Godfather Part II, The Great Santini, The Handmaid’s Tale, Falling Down, The Apostle, The Judge, and many others. Most recently, he appeared in the 2018 suspense film Widows.
 
From left: Barbara Barrie, Pert Kelton, Lennie Weinrib
            In support of Duvall’s central performance is an impressive assemblage of veteran actors. Pert Kelton (1906-1968) portrays the doting Mrs. Parkes in the way of an endearing caricature. The veteran actress began her career in vaudeville before moving to more lucrative stages, eventually making it on Broadway. Regular film work followed in the 1930s. Kelton took a hiatus from screen acting after the end of the decade, not reappearing until the advent of television in the early 1950s. She is probably best remembered today as the original Alice Kramden, wife of Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason), on the variety series Cavalcade of Stars.
            Barbara Barrie (b. 1931) portrays Myra, Charley’s perceptive and protective sister. Barrie has enjoyed a distinguished career built up the old-fashioned way through the New York stages. Barrie enjoyed stage work and continued to appear on stage well into her film and television career. She was nominated for a Tony Award for her role as Sarah in Stephen Sondheim’s Company (1970). Like so many stage actors Barrie transitioned to television in the 1950s, appearing on dozens of series including turns in such genre programs as Suspicion, Great Ghost Stories, Kraft Mystery Theater, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and The Invaders. Barrie’s breakthrough screen role came in 1964 in the controversial film One Potato, Two Potato, in which she portrayed a white divorcee who falls in love with a black man. Barrie received an Academy Award nomination for her performance. Barrie aged gracefully into a reliable character actor who has continued to appear regularly in guest roles on a variety of television series.
            Lennie Weinrib (1935-2006) portrays Myra’s good-natured husband Buddy. Weinrib appeared in a handful of Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes and in Roger Corman’s Poe-anthology Tales of Terror (1962), scripted by Richard Matheson, but found his true calling as a voice actor. Beginning in the 1960s, Weinrib amassed dozens of voice acting credits on many children’s programs, most notably as the voice of H.R. Pufnstuf. His last credited voice work was as Max the Mole in an updating of Hanna-Barbera’s Yogi the Bear titled Yo Yogi!
            Claire Griswold (1936-2011) graced the episode as the beautiful, melancholy doll trapped inside the dollhouse. Griswold’s brief acting career began on television in 1958 and included a variety of appearances on the leading series of the time. Griswold appeared alongside Ray Milland in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode “A Home Away from Home,” scripted by Robert Bloch from his story which originally appeared in the July, 1961 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Griswold married actor/director Sydney Pollack in 1958 and quietly retired from acting in 1967 to raise their family. Pollack previously appeared on The Twilight Zone as the pushy young theater director in E. Jack Neuman’s “The Trouble with Templeton.”
The Doll (Claire Griswold), the Suitor (Richard Angarola)
and the Maid (Nina Roman)

            Richard Angarola (1920-2008) portrayed the menacing, black-clad suitor. Angarola had a long and busy career as a hardworking supporting player. He began his television career in a bit role on Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond in the episode “The Return of Mitchell Campion.” A lot of work in crime and detective series followed although Angarola’s versatility is apparent in his diverse number of appearances: Mike Hammer, Bonanza, The Andy Griffith Show, and Honey West, among others. Angarola’s genre appearances include two episodes of Kraft Suspense Theatre and the 1969 shocker What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?
William Windom

            The remainder of the cast should be familiar faces to regular viewers of The Twilight Zone. William Windom (1923-2012) portrayed the obligatory psychiatrist. Like many of Beaumont’s doctors, Windom is sympathetic yet incapable of understanding the extraordinary circumstances of his patient. Windom was a prolific television actor who graced dozens of programs with exceptional acting. He previously appeared on The Twilight Zone as the Major in “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.” He appeared in perhaps his finest role as a businessman on the edge of retirement coming to terms with the past in Rod Serling’s masterful Night Gallery episode, “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar.” Windom returned to Night Gallery for “Little Girl Lost.” Other genre programs to get the Windom touch include Lights Out, Boris Karloff’s Thriller, Kraft Mystery Theater, The Invaders, and Circle of Fear, the latter being an anthology series developed by Richard Matheson.
             Prolific actor John McLiam (1918-1994) gives a refreshingly different performance as the curious museum guard, a role which in lesser hands would have devolved into one of antagonism and one-dimensional service. As it is, McLiam imbues the guard with a sympathetic nature whose own loneliness (or boredom) draws him to the curious Charley Parkes. The way in which the episode ends, with a circular narrative in which the guard sees the life inside the dollhouse, is more than a fitting denouement. McLiam appeared in dozens of television series, mostly westerns and police dramas. He also appeared on The Twilight Zone in “The Shelter,” “The Midnight Sun,” and “Uncle Simon,” only receiving credit for the first. McLiam also appeared on other genre programs such as The Outer Limits, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and The Invaders.
Barney Phillips with Robert Duvall
            Rounding out the cast is the ever-reliable Barney Phillips (1913-1982) as Charley Parkes’ boss Mr. Diemel, who must let Charley go when it becomes clear that Charley will never fit in with his co-workers. Phillips is one of the most recognizable actors on The Twilight Zone due to his appearance in Rod Serling’s “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” in which Phillips donned a third eye on his forehead to portray a Venusian masquerading as a short-order cook in an out of the way diner. Phillips also appeared in “The Purple Testament” and “A Thing About Machines.” Phillips can also be spotted in episodes of Science Fiction Theatre, Kaft Suspense Theatre, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and the cult film I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957).
            The director and composer for “Miniature” deserve mentions, as well. Walter E. Grauman (1922-2015), director, was behind the camera only this single time for The Twilight Zone. He began by directing the low-budget horror film The Disembodied (1957), a film notable for offering a starring vehicle to Allison Hayes a year before she portrayed the title character in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958). Grauman moved quickly into the lucrative television market and began a busy career shooting dozens of series. The intermittent feature film offered such items of interest as Lady in a Cage, a 1964 shocker which featured Olivia de Havilland as a woman trapped in her private elevator who is tormented by a young James Caan.
            The music of Fred Steiner (1923-2011), composer, can be heard in dozens of Twilight Zone episodes. Notable are Steiner’s original compositions for “King Nine Will Not Return,” “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” “The Passersby,” and “Mute,” portions of which reverberate across the series as stock music cues. Steiner enjoyed a long and busy career providing music for many television series and feature films. He composed the theme for Perry Mason and several scores for the original Star Trek. The wistful composition which the Doll plays on the piano is “Piano Sonata no. 11 in A major” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

            “Miniature” is an episode which has a number of excellent selling points: a thoughtful, sensitive script by Charles Beaumont, a quiet yet mesmerizing performance by Robert Duvall, an excellent supporting cast, some pleasing special effects, and a fine Fred Steiner score. The notoriety of the episode has likely suffered due to its long absence from syndication packages as well as its misfortune for being one of the hour-long fourth season episodes. Nevertheless, it is essential viewing, especially for fans who desire a full appreciation of the show’s range. It may even sway some viewers who do not always enjoy the hour-long episodes. It comes highly recommended. 

Grade: A

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following:

The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree, second edition (1992)
The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic by Martin Grams, Jr. (OTR, 2008)
“Silver Anniversary for ‘The Twilight Zone’” by Stephen Holden (The New York Times, Oct 19, 1984; digitized copy)
Audio commentary with William F. Nolan and Marc Scott Zicree (Blu-ray)
The Internet Movie Database (imdb.org)
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org)

*A sixth episode, “The New Exhibit,” is credited to Beaumont but was ghost-written by Beaumont’s friend Jerry Sohl after Beaumont became unable to write due to the effects of the disease which would take his life four years later.

**To Kill a Mockingbird is a film whose cast should be familiar to viewers of The Twilight Zone. Members of that cast included Frank Overton, Ruth White, Collin Wilcox, Robert Duvall, William Windom, and Mary Badham, all of whom appeared on The Twilight Zone.

Notes:
--William Windom also appeared in the third season episode, “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” as well as in two segments of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” and “Little Girl Lost.”
--John McLiam also appeared in “The Shelter,” “The Midnight Sun,” and “Uncle Simon,” uncredited in the latter two episodes.  
--Barney Phillips also appeared in “The Purple Testament,” “A Thing About Machines,” and, most memorably, in “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”
--Chet Stratton also appeared in “The Mind and the Matter.”
--“Miniature” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Lou Diamond Phillips.

-JP

Monday, January 7, 2019

"Jess-Belle"

Granny Hart (Jeanette Nolan) offers Jess-Belle (Anne Francis) a dangerous bargain

“Jess-Belle”
Season Four, Episode 109
Original Air Date: February 14, 1963

Cast:
Jess-Belle: Anne Francis
Billy-Ben: James Best
Ellwyn: Laura Devon
Granny Hart: Jeanette Nolan
Ossie Stone: Virginia Gregg
Luther Glover: George Mitchell
Mattie Glover: Helen Kleeb
Obed Miller: Jim Boles
Minister: Jon Lormer

Crew:
Writer: Earl Hamner, Jr.
Director: Buzz Kulik
Producer: Herbert Hirschman
Director of Photography: Robert Pittack
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Associate Producer: Murray Golden
Assistant to Producer: John Conwell
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Edward Carfagno
Film Editor: Edward Curtiss
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and Don Greenwood, Jr.
Assistant Director: John Bloss
Sound: Franklin Milton and Joe Edmondson
Music: Van Cleave
Mr. Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at MGM Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling:

“Next week we’ll delve into the realm of American folklore and through the offices of a fine writer named Earl Hamner, Jr. we peruse a little witchcraft to bring you a story called ‘Jess-Belle.’ This exercise in terror and talisman stars Anne Francis and James Best.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration: 

“The Twilight Zone has existed in many lands, in many times. It has its roots in history, in something that happened long, long ago and got told about and handed down from one generation of folk to the other. In the telling, the story gets added to and embroidered on, so that what might have happened in the time of the Druids is told as if it took place yesterday in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Such stories are best told by an elderly grandfather on a cold winter’s night by the fireside – in the southern hills of The Twilight Zone.” 

Summary: 
Billy-Ben (James Best)
& Jess-Belle (Anne Francis)
            During a square dance in a rural community, Billy-Ben Turner proposes marriage to Ellwyn Glover, the beautiful daughter of the town’s most prosperous farmer. Elly accepts and the dance turns into a celebration of their engagement. One member of the town not celebrating is Jess-Belle Stone, a darkly alluring young woman who makes a demonstrative exit from the dance. At Elly’s request, Billy-Ben approaches Jess-Belle to ask her to stay. It is revealed that Billy-Ben and Jess-Belle have a history together, a history of intimacy and secret meetings at night. Naturally, Jess-Belle feels scorned by Billy-Ben’s proposal to Ellwyn and vows to have Billy-Ben at whatever cost.
            The cost to Jess-Belle takes shape when she decides to consult the town witch, Granny Hart, an amoral woman who gladly takes Jess-Belle’s soul in exchange for Billy-Ben’s love. The next time Billy-Ben sets eyes on Jess-Belle he is stricken with the witch’s magic and falls head-over-heels in love, breaking away from Elly in the middle of a dance to follow Jess-Belle out into the night.
            Soon, Jess-Belle realizes to her horror that she has become a witch herself, victim of a terrible transformation into a large wildcat after the midnight hour. Jess-Belle hides this from Billy-Ben and continues to put off their wedding day. She returns to Granny Hart to beg relief from her affliction only to be told that she will never change back and the rest of her life will be spent in a witch's body.
            News of the wildcat reaches the men of the town who gather in the night to slay the animal preying on their livestock. They find the wildcat in a loft of Elly’s father’s barn. Billy-Ben fires the shot which kills the beast. It disappears and Jess-Belle is seen no more. Billy-Ben rekindles his relationship with Elly and their lives progress happily toward marriage. Their marriage night becomes a night of horrors, however, as the spirit of Jess-Belle wreaks havoc upon their home.
            Billy-Ben leaves Elly and rushes to Granny Hart’s cabin. There he demands the witch to tell him how to rid himself of Jess-Belle once and for all. After a payment of silver, Granny Hart tells Billy-Ben he must make an effigy of Jess-Belle, dress it in her clothing, and pierce it through the heart with silver. Billy-Ben receives Jess-Belle’s wedding dress and a silver stickpin from Jess-Belle’s mother. He puts the dress on a dressmaker’s dummy and sticks the pin through the heart. Billy-Ben sees a spectral vision of Jess-Belle, shock and relief showing upon her face as she is released from the witch’s curse.
            Elly, who had momentarily been bodily possessed by Jess-Belle, is revived by Billy-Ben. They look to the sky and see a falling star. Elly says: “My mama says when you see a falling star that means a witch has just died.” Billy-Ben agrees and the dark shadow of Jess-Belle is lifted from their lives. 

Commentary: 

            In The Twilight Zone Scripts of Earl Hamner (ed. Tony Albarella, 2003), the writer states: “I was raised on folk songs and folk stories and I suppose it was inevitable that this kind of material would work its way into my writing . . . Looking back I realize that if I made any unique contribution to the series, it was to introduce an American folklore element to it.” Although Hamner did not actually introduce American folklore to the series (this quality was anticipated by Montgomery Pittman’s “The Grave” and "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank," and by Rod Serling’s adaptation of Manly Wade Wellman’s “Still Valley”) he is a writer closely associated with tales of the rural South. His stories of the people there and the events which befall them remain some of the most compelling moments from the series, and it was this quality in his writing upon which Hamner built a successful career. Hamner’s concerns and, to a lesser degree, writing style felt almost wholly fresh yet his talent was such that he was able to make his scripts feel like a natural extension of the work of the other writers on the series, particularly that of series creator Rod Serling. 
            Hamner’s professional development largely mirrored that of Serling’s. Both came up in regional radio drama before making inroads in live television anthologies in the early days of the medium. Both men eventually went on to create some of the most enduring television in history. Hamner’s talent and professionalism were highly polished when he arrived on The Twilight Zone, making a smooth transition to Rod Serling’s world of ordinary people faced with extraordinary situations, as well as to the show’s high literary standards.  
Hamner was a writer of a characteristic duality. He was clearly interested in folk tales of the rural South, tales which illuminate the everyday magic of a pastoral existence. Hamner was also interested in the lives of the wealthy and cultured upper-middle class. Hamner neatly combined these two elements in his divisive final episode for the series, “The Bewitchin’ Pool,” in which children escape the shadow of their wealthy parents’ divorce by discovering a rural Neverland. This duality is also seen in Hamner’s two significant creative endeavors after The Twilight Zone, the long-running autobiographical series, The Waltons, and the prime-time soap opera Falcon Crest, about infighting between members of a wealthy California family.
            “Jess-Belle” came to life as an emergency replacement script. Series producer Herbert Hirschman saw a proposed script fall through and needed another in place so the tight production schedule would not be affected. Hirschman called Hamner and asked the writer if he had any scripts lying around which could be sent into production. Hamner hadn’t any but assured Hirschman that he could write an hour-long play in a week’s time. Hamner wrote the opening act and an outline for the remainder of the play and sent it to Hirschman. After two days, Hirschman came back with the go-ahead to finish the script by the end of the week. Hamner wrote an act a day and turned in the completed script on time.
Hirschman requested a script with the folksy feel of Hamner's debut episode, “The Hunt,” a sentimental episode which was a rewrite of an earlier Hamner script and which remains popular with viewers. Hamner looked to the folklore of witchcraft, the deal with the devil, and the tale of human transformation to craft a decidedly darker and more complex tale liberated by the hour-long format. Hamner worked well with each producer he encountered during the final three seasons of the series. He later hired Herbert Hirschman to direct several episodes of The Waltons. Typical for the series, Hamner’s script was filmed virtually as written. Only a single notable change was required due to the demands of the production. Unable to find an amiable cougar (the wildcat called for in Hamner's script) the production settled on a docile leopard, with Hamner's approval.* 

            Tales of human transformation date to earliest antiquity but Hamner worked closely with the type of tales he heard as a boy growing up in the hills of Virginia (the setting for “Jess-Belle,” like much of Hamner’s work, is the Blue Ridge Mountains), tales of people cursed by a desperate decision and doomed to pay for that decision body and soul. In these tales witches, magical cats, and transformations are common enough motifs to recur frequently in both the oral and written tradition of the region. One volume which collects such tales, The Silver Bullet and Other American Witch Stories (ed. Hubert J. Davis, 1975) recounts the tale of the “Cat Wife,” a woman who transforms into a cat after nightfall and whose curse falls to her children. Hamner was likely familiar with such tales and paid homage by composing a traditional ballad which runs like a hymn through the episode:
           
            Fair was Elly Glover
            Dark was Jess-Belle
            Both, they loved the same man
            And both they loved him well

            By day, she knew a woman’s form
            By night, a witch’s spell
            For love of Billy Turner
            Accursed was Jess-Belle

            An awful night was spent by all
            On Eagle Rock did dwell
            Strange things were seen by moonlight’s fall
            But none saw Jess-Belle
           
            Warm was Elly Glover
            Cold dead was Jess-Belle
            And husband would be Billy-Ben
            Of the one he loved so well

            Fair was Elly Glover
            Dark was Jess-Belle
            Both, they loved the same man
            And both they loved him well

            Hamner included many traditional aspects of witchcraft in his script, from the witch’s aversion to silver to the (humorous) use of a cauldron and shawl. Hamner also nominally pulled from the story of Jezebel in the Hebrew Bible. Queen of Israel, Jezebel attempted to divert her husband's worship to underground gods. As such, Jezebel has become shorthand for a scheming or manipulative woman. 
Hamner was likely also familiar, at least as a casual reader, with classic and contemporary supernatural fiction, a field in which tales of transformation and witchcraft abound. Some relevant examples include Ambrose Bierce’s “The Eyes of the Panther” (1897) in which a man marries into a family of feline shape-shifters. An Academy Award-winning French short film based on Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was broadcast on The Twilight Zone during the fifth season as equal parts showcase and cost saving measure. “Ancient Sorceries” (1908) by Algernon Blackwood (a writer later adapted for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery) concerns a traveler who spends a terrible night in a French town whose residents transform into cats after nightfall. It was loosely filmed by director Jacques Tourneur in 1942 as Cat People. The rise of fiction magazines saw such stories as Sax Rohmer’s “In the Valley of the Sorceress” (1916), which uses a witch from ancient Egypt and the familiar black cat to achieve its effects. The American pulp fiction tradition was typically represented by such tales as “The Leopard Woman” by Edith Ross (1929), tales in which females either transform into large cats or are protected by such beasts from meddling males.  

            “Jess-Belle” also leans upon such traditional tales as the deal with the devil and the tale of the wild woman. The Twilight Zone frequently approached the former type of story in such episodes as “Escape Clause,” “The Chaser,” and “The Man in the Bottle,” stories about wishes and desires which turn blackly back upon their owners. The stand-in for the devil figure may vary (genie, strange shopkeeper, witch) but the elements remain the same. The tale of the wild woman, of the woman who lives alone beyond civilization, is often tied to tales of witchcraft and transformation.** Jeanette Nolan (1911-1998), as Granny Hart, brings a strain of humanity to this role in "Jess-Belle," crafting a scene-stealing performance highlighted by a humor pleasantly at odds with the graven quality of the play. Nolan performed well in the prior Hamner episode, “The Hunt,” and would grace Rod Serling’s Night Gallery with two performances, memorably playing another witch in an adaptation of A.E. van Vogt's story, “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay.” Nolan’s veteran presence brings a professional cohesiveness to a talented cast clearly having a lot of fun with Hamner’s script.
Jeanette Nolan as Granny Hart
            Anne Francis (1930-2011) and James Best (1926-2015) were certainly familiar with one another and their chemistry onscreen bears out this comfortable familiarity. Both continued to express fond memories of filming "Jess-Belle." They previously appeared together in Forbidden Planet (1956)*** (which has its own unique history with The Twilight Zone as the film and its props were put into service on several episodes of the series). That same year Francis and Best appeared in the film adaptation of Rod Serling’s television play, The Rack. Later, Best appeared in an episode of Honey West, a short-lived showcase for Francis. Francis and Best are also familiar to viewers of The Twilight Zone from their appearances in other episodes, Francis as the lead in Rod Serling’s “The After Hours” and Best in two episodes for writer/director Montgomery Pittman, “The Grave” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank.” Actress Laura Devon (1931-2007), a versatile performer who also launched professional careers in modeling and music, was a professional actress for less than a decade, beginning in 1960 and ending in 1967. “Jess-Belle” was her only appearance on The Twilight Zone but she appeared in other genre fare such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Invaders, and the 1966 film Chamber of Horrors. Another familiar face in the cast is actress Virginia Gregg (1916-1986), who appeared in a later episode also tied to an aspect of American folklore, Rod Serling’s “The Masks.” A prolific actress of television and film, Gregg appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, as well as numerous western and detective programs. Gregg appeared in the 1963 film adaptation of Hamner’s 1961 novel Spencer’s Mountain.
            The episode is aided by excellent production design which heightens the dreamlike atmosphere of the story. Director Buzz Kulik returns to the series for the first time since the third season’s “A Quality of Mercy.” Kulik was one of the most reliable directors on the series who distinguished himself as an actor’s director, bringing out some of the finest performances on the series in episodes such as "The Trouble with Templeton," "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim," and "A Game of Pool." Kulik would end his run on the series with the later fourth season episode, “On Thursday We Leave for Home,” featuring an excellent Rod Serling script highlighted by an equal performance from James Whitmore. “Jess-Belle” is also graced with an original musical score from Nathan Van Cleave, whose music was used in over thirty episodes and whose contributions to the series are often overshadowed by other composers such as Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith. 
            “Jess-Belle” is an engaging piece of rural folklore with the seemingly simple yet complex design of a fairy tale. There is a lot to unpack from it if you desire but the story is also as simple as one told by a fire. It features one of the finer ensembles of the series and is given the attention to design, music, and direction to match the high quality of the writing and acting. The hour-long format ultimately benefits the episode, unlike much of the show’s fourth season. Hamner used the extra space to develop character and setting and to spin a larger story. Although Hamner wrote several memorable episodes of the series, “Jess-Belle” will stand as his crowning achievement. "Jess-Belle" simply feels like the episode Hamner was brought on board to write, and he pulls it off brilliantly.      

Grade: A

*There are conflicting reports of the type of wildcat which the production initially attempted to bring in for the episode, with some sources citing a tiger as the initial option. I have chosen to relate the story told by Earl Hamner in the interview portion of his collected Twilight Zone scripts. "I had written in a cougar. Turning into such a 'wildcat' was the price Jess-Belle had to pay for Billy-Ben's love. Cougars are indigenous to the area I was writing about I thought it would have been easy to find such a trained animal. However, Herb Hirschman, who was producing at the time, called to say that he had auditioned several cougars and that they were all bad tempered and unreliable." 

**For more see Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs (1996).

***Best was uncredited as a ship's crewman in the film. 

Notes: 

--Buzz Kulik directed eight additional episodes of the series: “King Nine Will Not Return,” “The Trouble with Templeton,” “Static,” “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” “The Mind and the Matter,” “A Game of Pool,” “A Quality of Mercy,” and “On Thursday We Leave for Home.”
--Earl Hamner, Jr. arrived on the series with the third season episode “The Hunt” and wrote seven additional episodes: “A Piano in the House,” “Jess-Belle,” “Ring-A-Ding Girl,” “You Drive,” “Black Leather Jackets,” “Stopover in a Quiet Town,” and the final broadcast episode, “The Bewitchin’ Pool.”
--Anne Francis also appeared in the first season episode, “The After Hours” and in the 1956 film version of Rod Serling’s The Rack. Stewart Stern’s screenplay for the film was an adaptation of Serling’s television script which appeared on The United States Steel Hour on April 12, 1955.
--James Best also appeared in writer/director Montgomery Pittman’s episodes “The Grave” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank.” Best appeared alongside Anne Francis in the aforementioned film version of The Rack.
--Jeanette Nolan also appeared in “The Hunt” and in the Night Gallery segments “The Housekeeper” and “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay.”
--Virginia Gregg also appeared in “The Masks.”
--George Mitchell also appeared in “The Hitch-Hiker,” “Execution,” and “Ring-A-Ding Girl.”
--Jim Boles also appeared in “The Arrival” and in the Night Gallery segments “Lindemann’s Catch” and “Death on a Barge.”
--Jon Lormer also appeared in “Execution,” “Dust,” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank.”
--Helen Kleeb performed the role of Mamie Baldwin in Hamner’s The Waltons.
--“Jess-Belle” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Stephanie Weir.
--In a rare instance, Rod Serling recorded no closing narration for the episode.

-JP