Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"The Arrival"

The mysterious Flight 107
“The Arrival”
Season Three, Episode 67
Original Air Date: September 22, 1961

Cast:
Grant Sheckly: Harold J. Stone
Bengston: Noah Keen
Paul Malloy: Fredd Wayne
George Cousins: Bing Russell
Robbins: Robert Karnes
Dispatcher: Jim Boles

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Boris Sagal
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
          Literature is studded with stories of ghost ships and skeleton galleons, and next week on The Twilight Zone we take the old tale of the Flying Dutchman and give it a coat of fresh paint. This time the haunted ship is an aircraft. It lands in a typical busy airport and rolls up to the ramp, and it’s at this point that you find yourselves on a passenger manifest of a flight that leads only to The Twilight Zone. It’s called “The Arrival.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

This object, should any of you have lived underground for the better parts of your lives and never had occasion to look toward the sky, is an airplane, its official designation a DC-3. We offer this rather obvious comment because this particular airplane, the one you're looking at, is a freak. Now, most airplanes take off and land as per scheduled. On rare occasions they crash. But all airplanes can be counted on doing one or the other. Now, yesterday morning this particular airplane ceased to be just a commercial carrier. As of its arrival it became an enigma, a seven-ton puzzle made out of aluminum, steel, wire and a few thousand other component parts, none of which add up to the right thing. In just a moment, we're going to show you the tail end of its history. We're going to give you ninety percent of the jigsaw pieces and you and Mr. Sheckly here of the Federal Aviation Agency will assume the problem of putting them together along with finding the missing pieces. This we offer as an evening's hobby, a little extracurricular diversion which is really the national pastime in The Twilight Zone.

Summary:
          Passenger Flight 107 from Buffalo arrives at an airport and makes a perfect landing. Upon inspection it is discovered that, despite the perfect landing, no one was piloting the airplane and there are no signs of crew or passengers on board. Grant Sheckly, an investigator with the Federal Aviation Agency, is sent in. Sheckly is assisted in his investigation by members of the airport staff, including Vice President of Operations Bengston, Public Relations Officer Malloy, Robbins, a mechanic, and Cousins, the ramp attendant.
The men are unable to solve the riddle of the empty airplane until Robbins remarks upon the color of the passenger seats being blue, which contradicts Sheckly’s perception of the seats being brown. Bengston perceives the color of the seats as red. Sheckly follows this train of observation by reading aloud the registration numbers on the airplane’s tail. Each man sees a different set of numbers. Sheckly comes to the conclusion that the men are seeing conflicting aspects of the aircraft because the aircraft is not there at all, but merely a figment of their imaginations.   
To prove this theory, Sheckly instructs Robbins to turn on the engines. Sheckly then places his hand directly in the path of the aircraft’s whirling propeller. The result is that Sheckly is unharmed and the plane suddenly disappears. As Sheckly triumphantly turns to the other men, each man also disappears in turn.
Startled and calling out the names of the men, Sheckly stumbles into the Operations Building. It is there that he again encounters Bengston and Malloy. Only this time the two other men have no idea who Sheckly is or why he is there. Bengston, when pressed, reports that Flight 107 from Buffalo arrived without incident. A moment later, Bengston understands what is happening. He recognizes the name Sheckly and recalls the incident of the missing Flight 107 from Buffalo to which Sheckly continues to refer. He informs Sheckly that the incident occurred 17 or 18 years ago.
The truth is revealed that Sheckly was the lead investigator on that incident all those years ago and has since remained tortured by the unsolved mystery, constructing elaborate hallucinations in order to cope with the illogical aspects of the investigation. He is left wandering alone on the dark airport runway with the sound of aircraft engines rising above him.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
          Picture of a man with an Achilles' heel, a mystery that landed in his life and then turned into a heavy weight, dragged across the years to ultimately take the form of an illusion. Now, that's the clinical answer that they put on the tag as they take him away. But if you choose to think that the explanation has to do with an airborne Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship on a fog-enshrouded night on a flight that never ends, then you're doing your business in an old stand in The Twilight Zone.

Commentary: 
From left: Noah Keen, Fredd Wayne, Harold J. Stone
           The September 27, 1961 issue of Variety and the October 28, 1961 issue of TV Guide, each upon reviewing “The Arrival,” observed that The Twilight Zone was beginning to reuse and recycle story elements, “feeding on itself” as the Variety review put it. Though the TV Guide review was, despite the implication, somewhat positive, finding comfort in the fact that the series was not attempting to bloat its concepts or its time frame, the latter being ironic considering the series would move to an hour-long format after the third season, the Variety review was not as kind to the show, the implication there being that the show had run dry of original content. It is shortsighted on Variety’s part that a publication which did much to celebrate the series through the first two seasons of production would only now begin to recognize the reuse of story elements in certain third season episodes. They simply were not watching closely enough as the series was “feeding on itself” almost from its inception, and, unlike with “The Arrival,” not always to the detriment of the series.
Though there is no denying that “The Arrival” is a particularly blatant example of story recycling, it was hardly a sign that the series was struggling to come up with new material. This estimation was not true when it was proposed at the beginning of a very strong third season and it would not be true until the departure of the third producer for the series, Bert Granet, in the middle of the fifth and final season. This was the point from which the show would truly be unable to recover the consistent quality of earlier material.
When discussing the derivative aspects of the series it is important to remember that series creator Rod Serling was contractually obligated to write the large majority of the show’s content, eighty percent alone in the first season and not much less as the show went on. It stands to reason that when Serling was passionate about a subject, or felt that a previous episode was successful, he would approach the subject again from a different angle. It is a testament to Serling’s talent that he was able to craft as many memorable and successful episodes as he did while under obligation to produce as much as he was. As stated earlier, recycling story elements did not always work against the series.
Take an example from the first season. Serling wrote four episodes, “The Hitch-Hiker,” “Mirror Image,” “Nightmare as a Child,” and “The After Hours,” that are essentially the same story construct, a solitary young woman’s seemingly normal existence is intruded upon by a supernatural (or psychological, often interchangeable terms on the series) element. One character is stalked by a ghost, another by a double, and two others by a memory. Of the four, only one can be said to be an unsuccessful treatment of the theme, and two of the episodes are inarguable classics.
Immediately after “The Arrival” would be “The Shelter,” Serling’s reworking of “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” We would see this same essential story again in the fifth season’s “I Am the Night-Color Me Black.” One treatment was of high quality and the other was not successful.  The other core series writers were not immune to reusing story motifs either. Charles Beaumont had his obsessions with dreams and nightmares. Richard Matheson wrote his episodes focused on marriage and the domestic condition and would even produce a later third season episode, “Little Girl Lost,” that would mirror certain aspects of “The Arrival.” Series writers sometimes even echoed each other, as Beaumont’s third season episode, “Person or Persons Unknown” strikes the same chord as Matheson’s first season script, “A World of Difference.” Rod Serling’s “A Thing About Machines” likewise feels very much like an uncredited adaptation of Matheson’s 1953 short story “Mad House.” It was this type of story sharing that made the series such an incredibly well written show and produced as many classic half hours of television as it did.
          “The Arrival” is the culmination of a number of story concepts borrowed from earlier episodes, from the strange appearance or disappearance to the focus on aircraft to the ending that reveals the psychological reasoning behind the prior events. This is likely the reason the episode remains unremarked upon or outright rejected among viewers of the show. Familiarity breeds contempt and by the third go-around with this story Rod Serling was unsuccessfully trying to spin straw into gold.
Exteriors (the landing strip and hangar) were filmed at the Santa Monica airport and the interior was filmed on an MGM stage. In front of the camera was an accomplished group of character actors and behind the camera was Ukranian born Boris Sagal. Sagal (1923-1981) was a successful television and film director best remembered for the Rich Man, Poor Man miniseries (1976). Sagal also helmed episodes of Way Out (an excellent, macabre anthology show contemporary of and similar to The Twilight Zone and hosted by Roald Dahl), Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Night Gallery (“The Cemetery” segment of the full-length pilot movie written by Rod Serling and starring Roddy McDowell and Ossie Davis). Sagal also helmed the 1971 film The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston and loosely based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend. The director met with a tragic end in 1981 when he accidentally walked into the rear rotor blades of a helicopter while exiting the aircraft on the set of the miniseries World War III.
Producer Buck Houghton had the show running as smoothly as it would ever run at the beginning of the third season. It is interesting to contemplate whether Houghton chose to use Montgomery Pittman’s poignant episode “Two” as the third season opener instead of Serling’s “The Arrival” because “The Arrival” too closely echoed earlier episodes and was of generally lower quality. The series had opened the second season with “King Nine Will Not Return,” a virtual remake of the series pilot, “Where is Everybody?” Perhaps production did not want to open the third season in a similar manner. “Where is Everybody?” and “King Nine Will Not Return” are the two episodes “The Arrival” most closely resembles.
          Rod Serling’s older brother, Robert Serling, was a nationally renowned writer on the aviation industry. This and the contemporary American obsession with air and space travel inspired the younger Serling to set many of his scripts around aircraft. These stories invariably concerned a strange appearance or disappearance and range from the existential horror of “And When the Sky Was Opened” (nominally based on Richard Matheson’s aircraft-less short story “Disappearing Act”), to the psychological thriller “King Nine Will Not Return,” to science fiction fare like “The Odyssey of Flight 33.” Serling again approached the subject in “The Arrival,” which could nearly work as a sequel to “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” if the viewer contends that Sheckly, the investigative character in “The Arrival,” is tortured by the disappearance of the time lost Flight 33.
          It is notable as well that many of the episodes in the series associate mass travel in one form or another with a metaphysical event. In some episodes, “The Hitch-Hiker,” “Judgment Night,” or “Death Ship,” the connection to travel is readily apparent. In others, “Mirror Image” or “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (both episodes which deal with bus transit), the connection is secondary. There are dozens more such examples.
          As stated before, “The Arrival” also resembles a later episode in the third season, Richard Matheson’s “Little Girl Lost,” based on Matheson’s previously published short story. Both episodes present mysteries in a quantifiable manner and focus on a systematic investigation. In both episodes, the nature of the mystery is revealed upon the outstretched hand of the investigator. Unlike Serling’s treatment in “The Arrival,” Matheson wisely avoids the let-down ending in “Little Girl Lost” by maintaining the conviction of the metaphysical event.
          Rod Serling was inspired by folklore, or at least stories told so often they have entered folklore, when writing many of his scripts. “The Hitch-Hiker,” “The Man in the Bottle,” and “Twenty-Two” are a few of the episodes that fit within this category. He was likewise inspired by true-life mysteries. Though Serling alludes to The Flying Dutchman in his preview narration, “The Arrival” was most likely inspired by the story of the Mary Celeste, an American merchant ship found deserted and adrift in the Atlantic Ocean in 1872. If the viewer recalls, Serling was likewise inspired by the 1943 disappearance of the B-24 bomber the “Lady be Good” when composing the related episode, “King Nine Will Not Return” from the second season.
          For all the knocks against it, “The Arrival” does have some nice touches. One is the methodical build-up of the mystery and the way in which the men logically attack it. The idea that the men all see a different form of the aircraft is an interesting moment, cluing them in, as well as the viewer, on the fact that something even further out of the ordinary is at work. Upon re-watching the episode, the viewer can easily follow the slow awakening to what is happening in Sheckly’s mind. Another effective moment is the very tense scene in which Sheckly prepares to place his hand into a whirling propeller in an attempt to prove his theory that the aircraft is not there at all, but only a figment of their imaginations. It is one of the show’s most suggestively grisly moments. It is the strength of much of this setup that makes the ending of the episode a disappointment. By the beginning of the third season viewers were simply not willing to buy the “it’s all in the character’s head” ending, especially one which required such an elaborate setup.
A couple of other factors are also at work in weakening the effectiveness of the ending. The first is that there are introductory scenes which do not include Sheckly at all. It seems rather ludicrous that Sheckly’s hallucination, however all-encompassing, would go so far as to include scenes he had no part in. The supposition, of course, is that Sheckly is recreating the entire investigation from 17 or 18 years ago, built whole cloth out of the investigative report he has read and obsessed over in the time between. A more debilitating reason why the ending is a letdown may be that the stress factor upon the character’s mind is not convincing enough. For the two episodes “The Arrival” most closely resembles, both in construction and ending, “Where is Everybody?” and “King Nine Will Not Return,” a man is isolated for a long period of time in a solitary chamber and another is unconscious in a hospital bed, respectively. Whatever the level of the believability of these two scenarios, they are certainly more believable than a man’s mind completely fracturing from obsession over an unsolved mystery nearly two decades before, one in which he played only a secondary role.
          Harold J. Stone (1913-2005) portrayed the investigator Sheckly in the episode. Stone was born Howard Hochstein into a family of Jewish actors. He appeared in six productions on Broadway and made his film debut in the 1946 film noir The Blue Dahlia, alongside Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, and William Bendix (star of Rod Serling’s unofficial Twilight Zone pilot film, "The Time Element"). Stone occasionally appeared in other genre fare, such as Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956), The Invisible Boy (1957), and Roger Corman’s X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963). Stone was busy on television throughout his career and appeared on Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including the famous episode, “Lamb to the Slaughter”), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Stone found his niche playing domineering characters in television crime dramas from 1960s to the 1980s.
          Noah Keen (1920- ), playing Bengston, began appearing on television in 1959 and amassed nearly one hundred credits over the next forty plus years. He did not often turn up in science fiction or fantasy programs outside of his two appearances on The Twilight Zone.
          Fredd Wayne (1924- ) appears as the public relations man Paul Malloy. Wayne is best known for his one man show, Benjamin Franklin, Citizen. Wayne has appeared as Franklin on the Today and Tonight shows as well as in a two-part episode of Bewitched. He has amassed over one hundred acting credits and began first appearing on television in the 1940s. Wayne also appeared in an episode of Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond.
          Bing Russell (1926-2003) played George Cousins in the episode. He is the father of actor Kurt Russell, and played Vernon Presley to Kurt’s Elvis in the 1979 television movie, Elvis. Bing is best remembered for his role as Deputy Foster on Bonanza, and was featured in a number of television westerns during that genre’s golden age on the small screen. Russell also appeared in episodes of Science Fiction Theatre and The Munsters, as well as in the cult film Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966).
          Robert Karnes (1917-1979), here playing Robbins, was a familiar face on television, amassing nearly 200 acting credits on the small screen. Born in Kentucky, Karnes may be best known for the NBC series The Lawless Years, a Prohibition-era crime drama which preceded the similar series The Untouchables but never attained the latter show’s popularity. Karnes also enjoyed a long run on Have Gun, Will Travel. Karnes was featured in episodes of Rocket Squad, Men into Space, Night Gallery, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and 8 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock’s programs, five times for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and another three for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
          “The Arrival” does not have a great deal to recommend it to the average viewer of the show since it is far too similar to more successful episodes. For the long-time viewer of the show, however, it offers an interesting capsule study of where the show was at the beginning of the third season and how the show consistently re-approached earlier material in an effort both to keep pace with production and to also examine an intriguing story concept from a different angle. All in all, it’s par for the course at the beginning of a third season that would see many of the most popular and enduring episodes of the series, beginning with the following episode, “The Shelter,” an underrated gem that is a more mature treatment of “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” and which marks the debut of director Lamont Johnson on the series.

Grade: C

Notes:
-Boris Sagal also directed the second season episode, “The Silence.”
-Noah Keen also appears in the third season episode, “The Trade-Ins.”
-Fredd Wayne also appears in the second season episode, “Twenty-Two.”
-Bing Russell also appears in the fifth season episode, “Ring-a-Ding Girl.”
-“The Arrival” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Blair Underwood.

-Jordan Prejean      
           

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"Two"

Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery at the
beginning of a new life.
“Two”
Season Three, Episode 66
Original Air Date: September 15, 1961

Cast:
The Man: Charles Bronson
The Woman: Elizabeth Montgomery

Crew:
Writer: Montgomery Pittman (original teleplay)
Director: Montgomery Pittman
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photographer: George T. Clemens
Music: Van Cleave

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“This is a jungle: a monument built by nature honoring disuse, commemorating a few years of nature being left to its own devices. But it’s another kind of jungle, the kind that comes in the aftermath of man’s battles against himself. Hardly an important battle, not a Gettysburg or a Marne or an Iwo Jima. More like one insignificant corner patch in the crazy quilt of combat. But it was enough to end the existence of this little city. It’s been five years since a human being walked these streets. This is the first day of the sixth year—as man used to measure time. [Enter the Woman] The time? Perhaps a hundred years from now. Or sooner. Or perhaps it’s already happened two million years ago. The Place? The signposts are in English so that we may read them more easily, but the place—is the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
            We open on a deserted city, a city that said goodbye to the spirit of progress and the electric hum of bustling streets ages ago. A city that clings to a world forgotten, one ripped apart and abandoned by those who helped build it. A city whose buildings lay in ruin, whose streets are littered with debris, whose stores are empty. A lonely city.
            A young woman enters the city. She walks its streets and gazes at its buildings, she admires its artwork. Her clothes, a military uniform, are tattered and dirty, her hair unkempt. Her face is worn with exhaustion and caked with dirt and time. Still, she is beautiful.
She spots the remnants of a restaurant and makes her way to the kitchen. She rummages through trash and rubble and finds a sealed container of food. As she works to open it a young man appears in the doorway. He is also wearing a uniform, one different from hers. The woman immediately begins hurling objects at the man. He dodges them and approaches her. After a short struggle he knocks her unconscious. After searching around for food he wakes her up by dumping a bucket of water on her face. The woman jolts up and the man slides the can of food towards her. He tries to communicate with her but fails because she doesn’t understand his language. He continues talking anyway and tells her that since there are no more armies or governments left then there is no reason for them to fight. He waxes philosophically to himself for a moment then leaves.
The woman follows after him, cautiously. They walk through the city, rummaging through shops, taking what they need. They stop at a movie theater and admire film posters from another world. The man takes a wedding gown from a window display. He hands the dress to the woman encouragingly and she walks inside an abandoned recruiting office to change. While inside she spots a war propaganda poster in which her homeland is presumably portrayed as the enemy. Enraged, she grabs her rifle and charges outside. She fires at the man but misses. He stares back at her in disbelief and then walks away. Confused and embarrassed, she goes back inside the store.
She returns later and sees the man wearing a suit. He tells her to go away, that he is done fighting. She emerges from behind a bus wearing the wedding dress. Her face is apologetic and eager. She is ready to move on. The man looks at her for a moment and tells her she is beautiful and she smiles.
She joins him as they stroll quietly through the littered streets of the forgotten city, man and woman, on their way to another city and to tomorrow.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
            “This has been a love story, about two lonely people who found each other…in the Twilight Zone.”



Commentary:
            For the Season Three premiere the producers chose this sweet, poignant story about love and survival in a post-nuclear world. It may not seem like a bold decision today, but “Two” was a risky choice for the season opener. There are only two actors in the entire episode, little dialogue, and basically no plot. And for the first time in the show’s history the producers chose an episode not written by Serling as the season opener, an episode penned by someone who had never written for the show before. The risk proved to be well worth it, however, and the result is a warm, well-crafted fairytale delivered in the show’s signature brand of pathos and wonder.
            Montgomery Pittman holds a unique spot in the show’s history. He is the only writer to direct his own episodes, which he did a total of three times. He also directed two additional episodes written by others. Considering the short time he was involved with the show, Pittman’s output is both impressive and significant. He seemed to appear out of nowhere at the end of Season Two and by the middle of Season Three he had disappeared just as quickly. He may have contributed much more to the show had he been given the opportunity. Unfortunately, The Twilight Zone would be one of his last projects. He succumbed to cancer in June of 1962. He was 45.
Although his career spanned only a decade or so, his body of work is impressive. He started on Broadway as an actor then moved to Hollywood where he turned his attention to writing and eventually directing. Pittman made the leap to directing his own scripts mostly due to his frustration with directors and networks altering his material. This may have been why he was attracted to a venue like The Twilight Zone, where the writer was often the star of the show and the producers took great care to preserve the original script. He was primarily known during his lifetime as a writer of western television, penning teleplays for Maverick, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, and Lawman, among others. He had worked with Buck Houghton several years before as a writer on Schlitz Playhouse.
            While his two other writing efforts on The Twilight Zone, both westerns, are probably better representations of his style and personality, “Two” is definitely Pittman’s crowning achievement on the show. The plot is simple and the dialogue sparse. He simply sets up a situation in Serling’s opening monologue and hides a few plot points in Bronson’s dialogue and in various set pieces. Explanatory exposition is always tricky for a writer and Pittman pulls it off brilliantly without saying hardly anything. This episode works because it appeals to many themes the show had already explored and would continue to explore until the end of its run. On the surface it’s a post-apocalyptic story about life after the big war. But it’s not a cautionary tale. It’s simply a story about loneliness and about two individuals who find each other in the aftermath of devastation. It’s warm-hearted but it doesn’t pour on the sentimentalism to the point of nausea like many of the lighter episodes do.
           This episode is notable for featuring early performances from two actors who later became parts of Hollywood immortality. With little dialogue and only a vague concept of a plot it was largely up to the actors to make this story believable. If their chemistry wasn’t genuine then the entire episode was lost. To play the part of the Woman, Houghton enlisted a largely unknown actress named Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of actor Robert Montgomery. This is several years before her iconic role on Bewitched and she is almost unrecognizable here as a brunette with tattered military clothes and a dirt smeared face. The part called for her to remain silent for nearly the entire episode. This meant that her thoughts and emotions had to be conveyed through physical mannerisms and facial expressions. She pulls this off nicely and there is never a moment in the episode where the audience is unsure of her thought process.
            Charles Bronson plays the part of the Man. This was an interesting casting choice albeit a brilliant one. At this point in his career Bronson had primarily made his living in television often playing a villain, vigilante killer, detective, or a similar brutish-type character. But a year or so before this episode he landed a part in The Magnificent Seven where he played the role of Bernardo O’ Reilly, a hardened gunfighter who turns out to have a soft spot when he gives his life to save a group of small children. This role was a turning point for Bronson and helped mold his on-screen image as the archetypal tough guy with a moral center. It’s this persona that he brings to his performance here. His physical appearance and demeanor give the audience the first impression of a brute without a conscience. But he turns out to be a sympathetic character. Pittman plays against gender stereotype here and Bronson’s character, the male, is the one resisting a confrontation while the attractive female in the short skirt is the aggressor. Bronson seems to understand this for he plays the character with an equal mix of wisdom, anger, and hope.
            And lastly, Van Cleave’s score deserves a nod here for it also helps to convey the thoughts of both characters, particularly Montgomery’s. It's suspenseful when it needs to be, whenever the characters feel as though they are in danger, but mostly takes a sad stroll with them throughout the city. They are many scenes, however, that have no music or dialogue at all. It was most likely Pittman’s decision to leave these scenes with nothing but sound effects in order to convey how empty and still the city is supposed to be.
            The first time I saw this episode I found it enjoyable but forgettable. Over the years, however, I have developed an attachment to it. It has a refreshing quality that isn’t cheap or sugary-sweet like many of the show’s happier episodes. It’s a doomsday story without the same tired message that often accompanies such fare. Instead, it begins as one type of story and ends as another, leaving the audience with empathy for these two characters and quite possibly a better understanding of themselves.

Grade: B

Notes:
--Montgomery Pittman also wrote and directed Season Three’s “The Grave” and “The Last Rights of Jeff Myrtlebank.” He also directed Season Two’s “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and Season Three’s “Dead Man’s Shoes.” For a more in-depth look at his career check out this cool essay by John Desmond.
--“Two” was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Don Johnson.

--Brian Durant

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Season Three





“Your Next Stop, the Twilight Zone”

The Twilight Zone entered its third season at what was probably the height of its popularity. By this point the show had established itself as both a commercial and creative success, scoring points with viewers, critics, and the CBS front office. On the surface, the transition from Season Two to Season Three seemed a smooth one. But for his part, Rod Serling was beginning to feel stretched too thin. Between being the on-screen host, showrunner, and primary writer, fatigue was beginning to catch up with him. He also felt that the quality of his writing was slipping. “I’ve written so much I’m woozy,” he told an interviewer in 1961. “If only I could take off for about six months and replenish the well.” Serling would not get that opportunity to replenish the well until the show ended, leaving its creator exhausted and further disillusioned with the medium he help legitimize as an artform. Of course, Serling would come back strong a few years later with Night Gallery, an underrated anthology series that would present its own unique production problems for the talented dramatist. Not all was as bad as Serling intimated anyhow and he was able to craft some of the most enduring material from the series during the third season, including the adaptations "Five Characters in Search of an Exit," "To Serve Man," and "It's a Good Life," as well as the original teleplays "Deaths-Head Revisited" and "The Dummy."
In addition to his current responsibilities, the new season of the show would also see Serling promoting products on camera. The American Tobacco Company was brought in as a sponsor and Serling became contractually obligated to plug products for the company at the end of every episode they sponsored. It was another transition on a show that seemed to always be in flux, despite the exemplary job being done by producer Buck Hougton to keep the production running at a consistently high level. Rod Serling went from a voice off screen to a host on-screen between the first and second seasons. There was also the unsuccessful experiment of recording six episodes of the second season on videotape. The third season would see little of these types of alterations outside of Serling's new obligation to the series sponsor. The show again changed its opening sequence, as it would do one more time before the end of its run. It also began to list the title, writer, producer, and director at the beginning of every episode.

 Writer George Clayton Johnson began selling his original teleplays to the series with the second season's "A Penny For Your Thoughts" and "The Prime Mover" (written with Charles Beaumont, credited only to Beaumont) after sustaining himself chiefly as a contributor of story material through the first and second seasons. Johnson would produce his finest scripts for the third season with the classic episodes "Nothing in the Dark," "A Game of Pool," and "Kick the Can." Richard Matheson also began adapting his own short stories into teleplays with "Little Girl Lost," based on his 1953 story first published in the October-November issue of Amazing Stories. Adapting his own previously published material was something Matheson had resisted during the first and second seasons, only going so far as to allow Rod Serling to adapt two of his short stories. Matheson would quickly warm to the idea and adapt more of his previously published short fiction in the fourth and fifth seasons, including the classic episodes "Death Ship," "Mute," "Night Call," and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," but would also continue to a steady output of original material, including "Once Upon a Time" and "Young Man's Fancy" from the third season.

On the other hand, Charles Beaumont returned to crafting original teleplays for the third season after spending the second season working with other writers (OCee Ritch, George Clayton Johnson) or adapting his previously published short fiction ("The Howling Man" and "Shadow Play"). These original efforts include the excellent "Person or Persons Unknown" and the disappointing "The Fugitive." Beaumont would continue his excellent adaptations of his influential body of short fiction as well with "The Jungle" from the third season, a story that first saw light in the December 1954 issue of If: Worlds of Science Fiction.

The third season episode "The Hunt" marked the first appearance of writer Earl Hamner, Jr. Hamner would continue as a regular contributor to the series right up until the final broadcast episode, "The Bewitchin' Pool." Hamner also contributed "A Piano in the House" to the third season. Also making his debut on the series was director Lamont Johnson, who would direct many of the finest episodes of the third season. It was fortunate for the series that a director like Johnson could step in after the departure of Douglas Heyes, who was easily the consistent director of quality episodes to that point, and perhaps in the show's entire production run. 
By the end of the third season the show would lose another key figure with the departure of producer Buck Houghton. Although the show ran for another two seasons (1 ½ really) and delivered many great episodes, some of them considered among the best the show ever produced, Houghton’s departure signaled the beginning of the end, for the consistency and creative quality would never be the same.  
For now the show was still going strong as it began the longest (37 episodes) of its five seasons with writer/director Montgomery Pittman's post-apocalyptic love story "Two," starring Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery.

Rod Serling’s Intro to Season Three:

“You’re traveling through another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop, the Twilight Zone.”

--Brian Durant & Jordan Prejean


Saturday, January 2, 2016

"The Obsolete Man"

Mr. Romney Wordsworth (Burgess Meredith) stands
ready to be judged by jury and Chancellor (Fritz Weaver)
"The Obsolete Man"
Season Two, Episode 65
Original air date: June 2, 1961

Cast:
Romney Wordsworth: Burgess Meredith
The Chancellor: Fritz Weaver
The Subaltern: Josip Elic
The Guard: Harry Fleer
First Man: Barry Brooks
Second Man: Harold Innocent
Third Man: Bob McCord
Woman: Jane Romeyn

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Elliot Silverstein
Producer: Buck Houghton
Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decorations: Henry Grace and H. Web Arrowsmith
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
            “Mr. Burgess Meredith is no stranger to the Twilight Zone, but his role in next week’s story is a unique one, even for him. The Time will be the future, the place just about anywhere where men have been taken over by a machine state. Our story is called ‘The Obsolete Man.’ It may chill, it may provoke, but we’re certain it will leave a mark. Next week on the Twilight Zone, ‘The Obsolete Man.’”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
            “You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future, not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history…since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advancements, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace. This is Mr. Romney Wordsworth, in his last forty-eight hours on Earth. He’s a citizen of the state but will soon have to be eliminated, because he’s built out of flesh and because he has a mind. Mr. Romney Wordsworth, who will draw his last breath…in the Twilight Zone.”


Summary:
            The future. Dark, cold, empty. A door opens onto a large, shadowy court room, and Mr. Romney Wordsworth, rigid with fright, enters to await his doom. Wordsworth is ordered to approach a large podium where a chancellor will tell him if he is worthy of living. The Chancellor takes the podium and asks Wordsworth what his occupation is. “A librarian,” he replies. Laughter rolls from the shadows of the courtroom. “A librarian?” the Chancellor says. He tells Wordsworth that since all books were banned by the state that there is no need for librarians. Wordsworth then mentions God and the Chancellor tells him that the state has proven that there is no God. A state-run jury declares Romney Wordsworth to be obsolete and sentences him to death. He is, however, given a choice as to his execution method. He chooses for his death to be broadcast live from his library. He also asks that his method be known only by himself and his executioner. The Chancellor seems amused by this and eagerly agrees.
            Later. The Chancellor, upon Wordsworth’s request, meets the condemned man in his library hours before his execution. Wordsworth tells the Chancellor that a bomb is set to explode at midnight right there in his library. Frightened, the Chancellor runs for the door but finds it locked. He demands that Wordsworth unlock the door. But the librarian refuses. The Chancellor has no choice but to sit and wait.  They are being filmed live in front of millions.
            Hours, minutes, seconds tick by. The Chancellor squirms like an impatient child. Wordsworth reads his tattered bible paying little attention to his guest. Finally in the last minutes before the explosion the Chancellor begs that Wordsworth release him. “For the love of God!” He shouts. Wordsworth hands him the key and the Chancellor escapes just moments before the room explodes.
            The next day. The Chancellor arrives in the court room to start his work for the day. To his horror he finds that his podium is occupied by another man. The new chancellor informs him that his declaration of a deity renders him unable to perform his task and therefore declares him obsolete. The former chancellor begs like a child for his life as a mob of mindless zombies converge on him and rip him apart.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“The Chancellor—the late Chancellor—was only partly correct. He was obsolete. But so was the State, the entity he worshipped. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man, that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under ‘M’ for mankind…in the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
            For the second season closer Serling turned in this Orwellian horror story of a machine-like society that disposes of anyone or anything deemed unnecessary by the all-powerful forces of the State. I have always enjoyed this episode but it’s definitely not without flaws. If it is didacticism that Serling strives for then he loses his audience almost from the start. The world he creates here pushes the tolerance of the audience. It is ominous simply for the sake of being ominous. A world populated by mindless, monotone citizens absolutely devoted to a callous, faceless government. The audience never really gets the sense of what the structure of this imagined future is supposed to accomplish, or what exactly constitutes a person or idea as being “obsolete.” Serling simply fills his dystopia with any restriction of personal freedom that allows him to get his point across which is simply that totalitarianism is bad and a lack of free will is never fun. His plot is also littered with implausible circumstances, the most notable of which is that the Chancellor diligently accepts Wordsworth’s invitation to join him in his room on the night of his execution. Why doesn’t the Chancellor bring any kind of entourage or security with him? What if he doesn’t show up at all? This would spoil Wordsworth’s plan and would end Serling’s script rather abruptly. But despite all of these limitations this episode still manages to work quite well and, in many ways, still evokes in the audience the moral dread that Serling intended.
            Now that I have pointed to the flaws in this episode and probably given you the impression that it’s nothing short of atrocious I can move on to why I think it’s great.
            He may over-indulge the message here but Serling saves “The Obsolete Man” by filling it with sharp, powerful dialogue between Fritz Weaver and Burgess Meredith. The dialogue works so well because its focus is not on Serling’s message but simply on the difference of ideals between two characters, which is why the tension between these two men seems completely natural instead of forced in order for Serling to make his point. Both characters have lengthy, carefully sculpted monologues saturated with the type of rhetoric that makes Serling’s work memorable.           
           Casting was a key element in this episode. While Serling’s dialogue is amazing it could have been worthless in the hands of lesser actors. So Silverstein and the producers turned to familiar faces as a safety net to assure great performances. Making his third of four appearances on the show is veteran actor Burgess Meredith. All of the characters that Meredith has portrayed thus far on the program have been lowly, bookish types in varying degrees of seriousness. Although some may feel that “Time Enough at Last” is his best effort on the show I have always enjoyed him best in this episode. Making his second and final appearance on the show is Fritz Weaver. In Season One’s “Third from the Sun” Weaver plays a quiet family man trying to keep things afloat while he and his family attempt to leave their planet in the face of a looming nuclear holocaust. Here he plays the complete opposite: a boisterous, unforgiving authority of the State. He displays an impressive range of emotions in this episode and the result is one of the most interesting characters to ever appear on the show. His monologue in the opening scene has always been one of my favorites.
            But the unsung hero of this episode is director Elliot Silverstein. This would be his first of four episodes for the show. It’s interesting to point out that his other three episodes (Season Three’s “The Passerby” and “The Trade-Ins” and Season Five’s “Spur of the Moment”) are all episodes that also focus on dialogue and acting rather than story. And like “The Obsolete Man” most would have worked well on the stage (with the exception of “Spur of the Moment,” which features a chase scene on horseback in which the audience isn’t supposed to see the pursuer’s face). Silverstein had a background in theatre and began his career as a television director in the live dramas of the fifties. “The Obsolete Man” features only two sets, which are radically different from one another. The first and last acts take place in a large, open courtroom which features sharp, expressionistic shadows which are very reminiscent of the German horror movies of the 1920’s. There are only two pieces of furniture in this room: a long, narrow table in the center of the room and the Chancellor’s obnoxiously tall podium at the far end of the table. The only other visible set piece is a twenty-five foot double door that opens into the courtroom. The walls are covered in black velvet and an off-screen light fixture placed above the door appears to be only source of light inside the courtroom. The government officials, there are about a dozen of them places randomly around the large room, are all dressed in drab, colorless uniforms and stand expressionless behind Wordsworth. The room is cold and unwelcoming. This set is highly effective to both the scene and the story and gives the audience an immediate idea of what this society is like.
            Act Two takes place in Wordsworth’s apartment. A tiny studio apartment consisting of a single room cluttered with furniture and lined wall-to-wall with overflowing bookshelves, it is a striking juxtaposition to the lifeless courtroom in the other two scenes. The cozy, cluttered room feels immediately warm and welcoming and it gives the audience a better understanding of Wordsworth’s personality. In many ways these two sets are the unspoken stars of the episode.
            While it has some sore spots, “The Obsolete Man” is still a remarkable episode and a good choice for the season finale. The final scene, in which the Chancellor is judged and then evidently ripped apart by his comrades, was an extremely bold choice for the show, especially for 1961. It’s weird and vague and doesn’t really make sense but it somehow works perfectly. It closes out the season on a high and shocking note and leaves the audience talking all summer long while they wait with anticipation for the start of the third season.
            If The Twilight Zone started on a high note with Season One, then it’s safe to say that it hit its stride both creatively and commercially with Season Two. Season Two produced many of the show’s best including “Eye of the Beholder,” “The Howling Man,” “Nick of Time,” and “The Invaders” to name a few. While not every episode is a masterpiece (“A Thing about Machines” and “The Man in the Bottle” among the sore spots), and don’t forget the experiment with videotape that proved unpopular with nearly everyone, the show began to grow into its own during this season. The viewership had grown and the pacing was faster. The producers settled on an opening theme which would become one the show’s trademarks and one of the most well-known pieces of popular culture to ever exist. Serling began to appear onscreen during his opening monologues (also one of the show’s trademarks that has become a universally known and often mimicked phenomenon) and the monologues themselves grew shorter and tighter and were officially given the “…in the Twilight Zone” closing tagline. Also important in Season Two were writers Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, and George Clayton Johnson. All three made contributions to the first season but their personalities and writing styles became known to the audience and became part of the personality of the show. When accepting the Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama that summer, Serling held up the award and shared its credit with all three men and stated that they could “carve it up like a turkey.” Director of Photography George T. Clemens also nabbed an Emmy for his work on Season Two. The show also won the Hugo Award for this season.
Unfortunately, the show would begin to unfold toward the end of the next season for numerous reasons. But for now, with two groundbreaking seasons and sixty-five episodes under its belt, The Twilight Zone drifted quite comfortably into its third season.

Grade: B

Notes:
--As mentioned, director Elliot Silverstein also directed Season Three’s “The Passerby” and “The Trade-Ins” and Season Five’s “Spur of the Moment.” He would go on to direct feature films including 1965’s Cat Ballou with Jane Fonda and Twilight Zone alumni Lee Marvin. His last work in television was as the director of four episodes of HBO’s seminal anthology show Tales from the Crypt.
--Burgess Meredith also appears in Season One’s “Time Enough at Last,” Season Two’s “Mr. Dingle the Strong,” and Season Four’s “Printer’s Devil.”
--Fritz Weaver also appears in Season One’s “Third from the Sun.”
--“The Obsolete Man” was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama by Falcon Picture Group starring Jason Alexander.
--This marks the second and last time that Serling appears on screen at the end of an episode. The first time was the Season One closer "A World of His Own."

-Brian Durant

Happy New Year!!

It's a new year here at the Vortex and we are back from a much needed break to bring you as much information as possible on the best television program of all time! We hope you are all enjoying The Twilight Zone marathon on SyFy. This year is a special year for the annual marathon as the network has decided to air all 156 episodes of the show, in order of original air date, over a four day stretch. We think this is very cool. Feel free to comment or shoot us an email if you have any thoughts about the marathon or the show in general. Keep an eye out as we hope to incorporate some new features on the blog as well as branch out onto other subjects that we feel will be interesting for fans. We thank you so much for your patience as we move on into the third season of the Zone. Thanks for reading!!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

George Clayton Johnson (1929-2015)


George Clayton Johnson passed away on December 25, 2015. He was 86 years old. If you are a fan of The Twilight Zone or a reader of this blog then you know his importance both to the show and to us personally. He was a highly gifted writer and delivered some of the most enduring episodes of the Zone. Johnson had 8 total credits on the show, four for story and four more for story and teleplay. Despite his relatively low volume of output, his contributions to the show were of such high quality that his presence looms equally large as those of his personal friends and professional colleagues Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, both of whom were principle show writers. Below are Johnson's credits for the Zone: 

Stories:
"The Four of Us Are Dying" (adapted by Rod Serling)
"Execution" (adapted by Rod Serling)
"The Prime Mover" (adapted by Johnson and Charles Beaumont, credited soley to Beaumont)
"Ninety Years Without Slumbering" (as "Johnson Smith," adapted by Richard de Roy)

Story and Teleplay:
"A Penny For Your Thoughts"
"A Game of Pool"
"Nothing in the Dark"
"Kick the Can"

"A Game of Pool," "Nothing in the Dark," and "Kick the Can" must be rated as among the most successful episodes of the show. Johnson broke into writing for television through Rod Serling and the Zone. After selling some of his stories to Rod Serling's Cayuga Productions, Johnson's friend and Zone writer Charles Beaumont challenged Johnson to not only sell the story that became "A Penny for Your Thoughts" but to also write the teleplay. It took some negotiation with show producer Buck Houghton but Johnson was eventually allowed to write the script himself. The episode was a success and Johnson launched his career as a freelance television writer. Twilight Zone was his most steady outlet and he would contribute exceptional episodes over the following two seasons. Serling acknowleged Johnson's contribution to the show by name when delivering his acceptance speech for Twilight Zone's Emmy Award for writing. Rod Serling accepts Emmy Awards for Twilight Zone.

George Clayton Johnson co-wrote (with William F. Nolan) the famous 1967 dystopian novel Logan's Run, later turned into a cult movie, television show, and two comic book series. He wrote the story treatment that became the 1960 film Ocean's 11, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr., which was remade in 2001 starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt. He also wrote the first episode of Star Trek, "The Man Trap." Johnson also has writing credits on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Route 66, Honey West, and Kung Fu. He assisted Ray Bradbury in turning that writer's short story "Icarus Montgolfier Wright" into an Academy Award nominated, animated short film. View the short film.

Johnson credited Ray Bradbury and Theodore Sturgeon as two of his mentors as a developing writer. His many short stories can be found in the books Twilight Zone Scripts and Stories (Streamline, 1996) and All of Us are Dying and Other Stories (Subterranean Press, 1999). A book length profile, George Clayton Johnson: Fictioneer, by Vivien Kooper, was released by Bear Manor in 2013.

Below are some photos from when George visited the set for the filming of "Nothing in the Dark." Follow the links to Johnson's episodes we've covered here in the Vortex. We'll miss you, George. Thanks for the stories.

Robert Redford and George Clayton Johnson on the set of "Nothing in the Dark"

George Clayton Johnson and Gladys Cooper on the set of "Nothing in the Dark"

"The Four of Us Are Dying"
"Execution"
"The Prime Mover"
"A Penny For Your Thoughts"

-Jordan Prejean and Brian Durant

Friday, October 2, 2015

Twilight Zone Anniversary

"Where is Everybody?"


Today marks the anniversary of the premier of the Twilight Zone on CBS television with the broadcast of the episode "Where is Everybody?" on October 2, 1959. This episode, written by Rod Serling and starring Earl Holliman, remains a fan favorite and did much to establish the look and feel of the show. Below are portals to our coverage of the genesis of the show and the episode guide to "Where is Everybody?"

The Premier of the Twilight Zone

Episode guide to "Where is Everybody?"


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Playboy Fiction Anthologies of the 1960s and 1970s


-Here's a short article about the high quality short fiction anthologies from the pages and press of Playboy in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of The Twilight Zone show writers were featured as well as writers that influenced the look and fell of the show. 

Beginning in 1966, with The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Playboy Press, the magazine's book publishing arm, began publishing a series of paperback (and occasionally hardcover) anthologies that would mine the magazine's accumulated collection of short form horror, crime, and science fiction. The fiction editor at the time was Ray Russell, himself a notable fiction writer of modern Gothics (Sardonicus and Other Stories; The Case Against Satan), who had, since the beginning of the '60s, bought fiction from the finest genre (and non-genre) writers of the time.
Playboy was, even then, a high paying fiction market that allowed its writers to produce fiction free of the restraining components of genre magazines and of a more violent and sexually exploratory nature than was acceptable to the standards of mainstream "slick" magazines, the latter of whom were largely ignoring genre fiction anyway, with the exception of an occasional Ray Bradbury or Jack Finney offering. The result was the accumulation in a single market of some of the most outstanding horror, crime, and science fiction of the late middle portion of the 20th century. In a relatively short number of years the magazine had assembled a wealth of high quality genre material with first book publication rights held on nearly all of it. Once Playboy Press was created to enter the book publishing market, it became obvious how to use that store of quality fiction.

The production of genre anthologies from Playboy Press began slowly. 1966 saw the release of The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy and The Playboy Book of Crime and Suspense in hardcover. It was followed the next year with the hardcover The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural. 1968 saw all three books reprinted in paperback editions. Playboy's Stories of the Sinister & Strange, a paperback, followed in 1969. These titles, especially The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernaturalare still highly sought after items, noted among fans for the quality of the fiction. It became apparent that the anthologies were popular and also that the magazine held the publishing rights to a number of other extraordinary stories. They prepared to commit to book form nearly every science fiction, fantasy, horror, and crime story in the young magazine's considerable possession.

After a quiet 1970 in which Playboy Press published no genre anthologies, nine paperback anthologies appeared in 1971, most of them under the banner title Playboy Science Fiction, which also published science fiction novels and single author collections under the same banner. Most of the stories contained within the anthologies seamlessly blended variations of the established elements of science fiction and horror, a type of genre mash-up that was particularly popular at the time. Stories of psychological alienation and of man's diminishing importance in the face of an infinite universe proliferated. A self-conscious, modern form of the horror story matured in the pages of the magazine and were later reprinted in the anthologies. These horror stories were set in a recognizable middle class milieu, where monstrosity, murder, and mutation were as likely as after dinner cocktails. The single editorial demand imposed upon the writers was for high quality fiction.

The anthologies were occasionally themed ("10 Stories of Space Flight," etc.) and usually took the book title (The Dead Astronaut, The Fiend, etc.) from the title of the lead story within. A list of notable authors represented in the anthologies are too many to completely list here, but include such luminaries as J.G. Ballard, Arthur C. Clarke, Charles Beaumont, Frederik Pohl, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Robert Sheckley, Robert Bloch, Algis Budrys, Gerald Kersh, Ray Bradbury, William F. Nolan, Dennis Etchison, Anthony Boucher, Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad, Henry Slesar, Richard Matheson, Fredric Brown, Avram Davidson, William Tenn, Damon Knight, Italo Calvino, Arthur Porges, and the list goes on and on.

After that fruitful year of anthologies, the production of that type of book from Playboy Press abruptly slowed down, undoubtedly due to the depletion of available genre material in the magazine's possession. 1974 saw an anthology of crime stories, Murder, My Love, but Playboy Press had begun to concentrate their efforts on works of original fiction and on non-fiction books consisting of reprint material, such as Beyond Reason: Playboy's Book of Psychic Phenomena. 



There was, however, an all-too-brief resurgence of the horror anthology from Playboy Press beginning in 1979 with Nightmares, an anthology compiled by horror writer and editor Charles L. Grant. This anthology, and those that quickly followed, were unlike the preceding anthologies in that the stories were not first published by the magazine. The anthologies were assembled in a more traditional manner. Grant's work with Playboy Press continued with the paperback edition of the first volume of his celebrated Shadows series of anthologies in 1980, followed by Horrors in 1981, and Terrors in 1982. Stuart David Schiff, creator of the marvelous but long discontinued Whispers magazine, delivered the horror anthology Death in 1982. The contents of these anthologies were a combination of established masters (Saki, Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, William F. Nolan, Joseph Payne Brennan, etc.) and younger writers, some of whom were on the verge (with Stephen King's considerable best-selling help) of implementing the horror publishing "boom" of the emerging 1980s. With the benefit of hindsight it is unquestionable that these horror anthologies from Playboy Press, along with the excellent horror anthologies compiled by literary agent Kirby McCauley between 1975 and 1980  (Night Chills, Beyond Midnight, Frights, Dark Forces), were a significant part of the foundation upon which a short lived but fiercely marketed publishing campaign was built, that of mainstream horror publishing. This publishing movement allowed a genre once relegated solely to genre magazines and small press publishing houses to proliferate and be found at every checkout counter in America.

It is interesting to note two further related events. In 1980 Playboy Press published the retrospective volume Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction in hardcover. It is a celebration of the best of Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine with stories from the magazine's archives and memoirs from the writers that contributed to the magazine. It was also available through the Science Fiction Book Club.

The later Playboy fiction editor, the venerable Alice K. Turner, compiled a hardcover volume in 1998 titled The Playboy Book of Science Fiction. It is a fine volume of stories and an excellent companion to the Ray Russell-edited volume from 1966.

Most of the volumes discussed are affordable if not downright cheap to purchase either online or at quality used bookstores. I highly suggest the original trilogy of paperbacks: The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, The Playboy Book of Crime and Suspense, and The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural. Complete lists of contents can be accessed at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, which provided the cover images.


Here are the anthologies:
-Most of the anthologies were compiled by regular Playboy fiction editor Ray Russell and credited as by "The Editors of Playboy." It is noted below where Russell was not the editor.

1966
The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Playboy Book of Crime and Suspense

1967
The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural

1968
The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy (paperback)
The Playboy Book of Crime and Suspense (paperback)
The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural (paperback)

1969
Playboy's Stories of the Sinister & Strange

1971
Transit to Earth
Last Train to Limbo
From the "S" File
The Dead Astronaut
The Fiend
Masks
The Fully Automated Love Life of Henry Keanridge
Weird Show
The Future is Now (edited by William F. Nolan)

1974
Murder, My Love (edited by Eric Corder)

1979
Nightmares

1980
Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction (edited by Frederik Pohl, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander)
Shadows (edited by Charles L. Grant)

1981
Horrors (edited by Charles L. Grant)
Galaxy: Vol. 1 (paperback)
Galaxy: Vol. 2 (paperback)

1982
Death (edited by Stuart David Schiff)
Terrors (edited by Charles L. Grant)

1998
The Playboy Book of Science Fiction (edited by Alice K. Turner)

--Jordan Prejean