Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Television Work of the Early Makeup Masters:

William Tuttle, Dick Smith, and John Chambers 
by Jordan Prejean
William Tuttle with his makeup creations

Much has been made recently about the fact that television has caught up to Hollywood not only in terms of acting and storytelling but also in terms of technical production. Design, costuming, music, visual effects, photography, and the myriad other technical aspects of a television production now rival in quality the finest the big screen has to offer. One need only look to the work of artists such as Greg Nicotero on The Walking Dead, Nick Dudman on Penny Dreadful, or Eryn Krueger Mekash on American Horror Story to realize that special makeup effects work in television is equal to, and in many cases greater than, anything contained in a recent Hollywood production. Many of the finest makeup artists in the industry are returning to work on the small screen due to rising production values, a cooperative creative environment, and an opportunity to craft something singular using techniques that many feature film productions have begun to replace with digital means.
            The suggestion, however, that such excellent achievements in special makeup effects on television are a recent development is wholly misleading. Television has been a showcase for innovative makeup designs from its earliest days and the medium has often displayed exceptional work from the most revered names in the industry.
If you were only to take three television anthology series from the early years 1959-1963 and examine the three artists who made each of these shows memorable for unusual, inventive, and highly influential makeup designs, you would have three of the most significant makeup artists in the history of the industry. Between them, these men would claim four Academy Awards and a slew of Emmy, Saturn, and BAFTA Award nominations and wins over the course of long and fruitful careers. In fact, one could likely trace the entire lineage of American special makeup effects artists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries to the three men responsible for this early television work: William Tuttle on The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), Dick Smith on ‘Way Out (1961), and John Chambers on The Outer Limits (1963-1965).  
In early 1959, Emmy Award winning writer Rod Serling, fed up with his confrontational scripts being censored by fearful corporate sponsors, developed a science fiction and fantasy television program with the CBS network, intending the science fiction genre to mask the controversial style of drama he was determined upon writing. Serling called his series The Twilight Zone and the West Coast production utilized the vast resources at Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios.
A publicity photo of Tuttle's work on "The Masks"
William Tuttle had been the head of the MGM Makeup Department since 1950. When Serling and company arrived at the studio to produce their unique anthology series, Tuttle sensed an opportunity to contribute makeup designs that would set the series apart from television’s already crowded science fiction landscape. After the show’s fifth and final season, when the series began its continual existence in syndication, the aesthetic of Tuttle’s inimitable makeup designs would see reproduction and reinterpretation in a variety of marketing material, from comic books to board games to lunchboxes to toys to posters and art prints, not to mention the memories of any viewer who happened upon the show.
Tuttle was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1912 and was forced to leave school early in order to support his mother and younger brother after his father abandoned the family. He gravitated early to art and music, trying his hand as both a comic and violin player in Vaudeville before making his way to the University of Southern California in the spring of 1930. Tuttle focused on art and developed a talent for molding and sculpture, skills he later utilized as an innovator in creating life masks to fine-tune the application of prosthetic appliances. Tuttle’s time at USC would direct the entire course of his professional life. He returned to the university to teach from 1970-1995, beginning a year after he vacated his position as head of the MGM Makeup Department due to a change in ownership of the studio. A permanent collection of more than 100 of Tuttle’s creations for film and television reside at the university.
Pioneering makeup artist Jack Dawn arrived at USC in early 1934 seeking a recommendation for a sculptor and a painter to assist in his increasing workload at MGM. Dawn was directed to Tuttle and Tuttle’s colleague Charles Schram. Dawn took both young artists under his tutelage and put them to work as assistants. It was at MGM and the 1935 production of Tod Browning’s Mark of the Vampire that a convincing bullet hole effect in the forehead of Bela Lugosi persuaded Dawn that Tuttle was capable of work beyond ordinary assistant procedures.
Two years later, Tuttle was applying Dawn’s innovative flexible appliances to transform white actors into Chinese farmers for the 1937 film The Good Earth. 1939 brought a career defining moment for Jack Dawn with The Wizard of Oz, perhaps the most intensive production in terms of makeup design and application in feature films to that point. Tuttle and Schram applied Dawn’s improved prosthetics as well as their own makeup designs to create the rigorous production’s iconic characters. Among the other uncredited makeup artists toiling on the set of the film was Fred Phillips, who fell under the mentorship of Tuttle and who would later work extensively with makeup artist John Chambers on properties such as The Outer Limits (1963-1965) and Star Trek (1966-1969).
For Tuttle, The Wizard of Oz was the beginning of a long climb to the top of MGM’s Makeup Department, earning the position after it was vacated by Jack Dawn in the fall of 1950. Tuttle became as renowned in the 1940s and 1950s for beautifying MGM’s contract stars (he was married to Donna Reed from 1943-1945) as he would become for his strange creations of the 1960s and beyond. By the time Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone came along in 1959, Tuttle had applied his skills to dozens of genre productions including Forbidden Planet (1956), North by Northwest (1959), and television’s Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond (1959-1961).
Tuttle's work aging Kevin McCarthy for "Long Live Walter Jameson"
Though Tuttle was initially expected to consult and occasionally supervise episodes of The Twilight Zone which required a unique or challenging makeup effect, he frequently elected to work directly with the show’s production team by crafting and applying his own makeup designs. Some of Tuttle’s finest achievements on the series include a life-like facial cast of Anne Francis for the first season episode “The After Hours,” in which Francis’ character reverts to a mannequin state. Tuttle transformed Kevin McCarthy into a withering pile of ancient dust for “Long Live Walter Jameson,” a first season episode about an immortal man who is murdered after centuries of existence. Tuttle achieved the initial stages of the effect by a process of color makeup application with corresponding color filters placed over the camera lens. As the color filters were removed, the makeup became visible, giving the impression of a transformation. This technique for black-and-white film was most memorably used by Paramount Studios makeup artist Wally Westmore to transform Fredric March into Mr. Hyde for director Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 version of Dr. Jeyll and Mr. Hyde.
Tuttle's designs for "Eye of the Beholder"
Tuttle’s greatest innovation was casting life masks of actors and actresses in order to craft fitting appliances without the necessity of having the actor or actress present. Tuttle utilized this for the deep aging process on Kevin McCarthy, as well as for the idiosyncratic makeup designs (exemplified by large, twisted lips, pig-like noses, and a pronounced shelf of bone above the eyes) for Twilight Zone episodes ranging from “The Eye of the Beholder,” in which Tuttle transformed a hospital staff into swine-like visages with forehead and nose appliances, to “The Dummy,” in which Tuttle was tasked with sculpting a ventriloquist dummy to resemble actor Cliff Robertson as well as apply a dummy-like makeup design to actor George Murdock. Tuttle crafted the face of the famous “thing on the wing of the airplane” which terrorized William Shatner in the fifth season episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” as well as the grotesque masquerade makeup for Rod Serling’s last great episode of the series, “The Masks.” 
Tuttle also displayed his ability for traditional stage makeup with the third season episode “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” which required makeups for a traditional clown and hobo among others archetypal characters. Even when Tuttle’s makeup design was not particularly effective, such as in the second season’s “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?,” he is capable of producing an iconic image, in this case a man with a third eye in the center of his forehead. This effect was initially to be achieved by optical means, projecting the eye onto the head of the actor, only to be abandoned as unfeasible at the last minute, forcing Tuttle to scramble to create a workable application.
Tuttle's design for the Morlocks in George Pal's "The Time Machine"
After the end of the series, Tuttle produced memorable makeup effects for director/producer George Pal at MGM in the 1960s, beginning with The Time Machine (1960) on to The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), the latter for which he became the first makeup artist to win an Academy Award, given to Tuttle as a Special Achievement Award 17 years before Achievement in Makeup became a regularly given award in 1981.
After vacating his position as head of makeup at MGM in 1969, Tuttle concentrated on teaching and occasional, but memorable, freelance film and television work. He created the makeup effects for the Mel Brooks film Young Frankenstein in 1974 as well as contributing makeup to the futuristic design of Logan’s Run in 1976. Tuttle’s last great work was as supervisor of special makeup effects for director Brian de Palma on The Fury in 1978, for which he shared a Saturn Award with Rick Baker. Tuttle’s last film work was for Zorro: The Gay Blade in 1981 for Twentieth Century Fox and director Peter Medak.
In 1989, Tuttle established his own makeup company, Custom Color Cosmetics, and was the subject of a 1968 MGM documentary short titled King of the Duplicators, in which he discusses his techniques alongside frequent collaborator Charles Schram. Tuttle died at his home in Pacific Palisades on July 27, 2007, age 95.
Dick Smith with his creations
In the spring of 1961, as William Tuttle was creating memorable makeups for The Twilight Zone, celebrated film and television producer and talk show host David Susskind was tasked with developing a summer replacement series for CBS. Jackie Gleason’s triumphant return to television on January 20th of that year resulted in the debacle that was You’re in the Picture, a ludicrous game show so poorly received it lasted but a single episode before Gleason returned the following week to publicly apologize for insulting the intelligence of the television audience.
David Susskind, like Rod Serling, was committed to producing intellectually engaging material for the young medium. Two years before, in the formative year of 1959, which marked the beginning of both Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond and The Twilight Zone, NBC passed on Susskind’s idea for a series of macabre half-hour plays, partially due to the unreliability of an anthology series to garner a dedicated viewership. The idea stayed with Susskind, however, and he pitched the idea to CBS as a possible replacement for the Gleason show. CBS, in a more receptive position, gave Susskind the green light and a hurried production began in New York on the series Susskind titled ‘Way Out.
Susskind hired Roald Dahl to host the program as well as provide the script for the premier episode. At the time, Dahl was best known for his ghoulish short stories published in the pages of The New Yorker, a half-dozen of which had been adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents during the three years prior. Dahl’s stories contained a humorously macabre tone in accordance to that which Susskind desired for ‘Way Out. It quickly became apparent to Susskind and his production team that the nature of the show required a talented makeup artist to achieve the bizarre effects indicated by several of the scripts for the series. Susskind recruited a makeup artist he’d previously worked with at NBC named Dick Smith.
Smith was a native New Yorker, born in Larchmont in 1922, and initially set out on a path in dentistry. He was admittedly not a traditionally talented visual artist but was inspired to try his hand at makeup from the discovery in his late teen years of Ivard Strauss’ 1936 book Paint, Powder and Make-up: The Art of Theater Makeup from the Amateur and Class Room Viewpoint. Several attempts failed to land him a position at a Hollywood studio so Smith began submitting his work to the emerging arena of television networks, eventually landing a position at NBC in 1945.
By 1961 and the beginning of production on ‘Way Out, Smith had mastered a technique for the sectional application of prosthetics to allow an actor greater freedom of facial expression. Despite the participation of Susskind, Dahl, and a host of talented stage and television actors, ‘Way Out is most often remembered today for Smith’s shocking makeup effects.
‘Way Out lasted a mere 14 episodes from late March to the middle of July, 1961, where it directly preceded The Twilight Zone, airing at 9:00 P.M. EST on Friday nights. Despite such brevity, the series provided enough material to showcase Smith’s prodigious talent for makeup effects.
Dick Smith erases half of Barry Morse's face
His most renowned achievement on the series was for the penultimate episode, “Soft Focus,” which concerned a photographer who discovers a chemical which possesses the astonishing ability to alter the appearance of the person in a photograph. The episode ends on a ghastly note when the chemical spills across an image of the photographer, erasing half of his face. Smith used a makeup base to blend a large, flexible appliance over the left side of actor Barry Morse’s face, producing a convincing illusion of erasure.
Smith's Quasimodo makeup on Martin Brooks
The seventh episode, “False Face,” written by cult film director Larry Cohen, draws particular attention to the art of film and stage makeup. It concerns an arrogant actor (Alfred Ryder) who uses a hideously deformed man (Martin Brooks) to model his stage makeup for the role of Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. After his performance, the actor is horrified to discover that he cannot remove the makeup, which has somehow fused with his own flesh. For the episode, Smith admirably recreated Lon Chaney’s makeup design from Universal’s 1923 historical epic The Hunchback of Notre Dame on both Ryder and Brooks, adding more defined elements (exaggerated lips and nose) made possible by the advancement in prosthetics, allowing for several hideous close angle shots.
Smith's makeup on Alfred Ryder
For the claustrophobically frightening eighth episode, “Dissolve to Black,” Smith created a believable pallor of death across the faces of several actors using heavy black around the eyes and a withered, textured composition on the skin. “Side Show” is the memorably chilling twelfth episode which required Smith to craft a horrifying old hag makeup using a fright wig and appliances to exaggerate the nose and lower portion of the face while creating a wrinkled, aged appearance which would become a trademark of his skill set. Smith completed the effect by adding stitching where the head had been sewn to a beautiful body.
Smith's aging makeup on Jonathan Frid for Dark Shadows
Smith would win an Emmy Award in 1967 for transforming Hal Holbrook into Mark Twain for Mark Twain Tonight! on CBS and would continue to apply his skills to television productions long after he established a successful career in feature films. He worked on Dan Curtis’ Dark Shadows series and feature films, House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971), and also served as makeup effects consultant on the syndicated horror anthology series Monsters (1988-1991) and the television miniseries Stephen King’s Golden Years (1991).
Though Smith, working with Ben Nye, then head of the makeup department at 20th Century Fox, created the makeup effects for 1959’s The Alligator People, starring Beverly Garland and Lon, Chaney, Jr., his first significant film work was again with producer David Susskind, for Columbia’s production of Rod Serling’s Emmy Award-winning Playhouse 90 drama Requiem for a Heavyweight in 1962, starring Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, and Mickey Rooney.
Once given the production values of a feature film, Smith would create some of the most enduring special makeup effects in the history of the medium. In 1970, he aged a thirty-two year old Dustin Hoffman into a 121 year old man in Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man. With a custom dental insert, he gave Marlon Brando the sagging jowls of an aged mafia don in Francis Coppola’s The Godfather in 1972. A career watershed arrived in 1973 with The Exorcist, from director William Fiedkin and author William Peter Blatty. Smith, assisted by a young Rick Baker, turned cherubic Linda Blair into the gaunt, lacerated figure of a demon-possessed girl and should have been given an Academy Award for the astonishing results.
The film brought Smith an array of offers to create makeup effects for technically challenging productions in the horror and science fiction genres. In 1980, he crafted the most effective full-body prosthetic suit since 1954’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon to affect William Hurt’s physiological changes in Altered States, creating a unique situation a year later when two of Smith’s films fostered a tie for the Saturn Award for makeup effects as voters could not decide between awarding his work on Altered States or his work on David Cronenberg’s Scanners, the latter for which he served as makeup effects consultant, working with future Academy Award winners Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis. Four years earlier, Smith was recruited by Martin Scorsese to fit Robert De Niro with a menacing Mohawk hairstyle and compose the blood-splattered conclusion to Taxi Driver.
Smith’s highly accomplished makeup effects appeared in The Sentinel (1977), Ghost Story (1981), and The Hunger (1983) before garnering an Academy Award, with Paul LeBlanc, for his work aging F. Murray Abraham’s Salieri in Milos Forman’s 1984 Best Picture winner Amadeus. Smith would be honored with a special ceremony, “A Tribute to Dick Smith: The Godfather of Special Makeup Effects,” hosted by Rick Baker, from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2009 before being awarded a second Academy Award in 2012 in recognition of his astonishing career and his remarkable influence on the makeup effects industry.
Smith was always willing to teach artists interested in the industry and freely divulged the many secrets of his methods, something which was highly unusual at the time. Smith’s final film work was designing the makeup effects for House on Haunted Hill in 1999, after which he concentrated on Dick Smith Special FX Makeup Training, a series of courses for developing up-and-coming special effects artists. He was the subject of Scott Essman’s 1998 documentary short A Tribute to Dick Smith and died in Los Angeles on July 30, 2014, age 92.                
John Chambers with his ape creations
On Monday, October 14, 1963, at 7:30 PM, EST, television audiences with an interest in science fiction could have turned to the ABC Network and viewed one of the finest special makeup effects created for a television series to that point. The series was The Outer Limits and the episode, “The Sixth Finger,” sees an angry young man (David McCallum) rapidly change, physically and mentally, into a highly evolved, and highly dangerous, human through the experimentation of a well-meaning scientist (Edward Mulhare). The makeup was designed and applied by special makeup effects artist John Chambers and included a series of appliances laid in increment stages over the face of David McCallum, culminating in a full-head appliance to complete the transformation.
       The Outer Limits was the brainchild of precocious playwright Leslie Stevens (he sold a play to Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre while still a teenager) who aimed to create a science fiction program which would
elicit awe in the viewing audience. This, of course, precluded the idea of a series light on special effects. Stevens placed Joseph Stefano, the screenwriter of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, in charge of production and positioned himself as Executive Producer and frequent contributor.   
Chamber's makeup for "The Sixth Finger"
The show was a demanding production for a special effects artist for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the quick production schedule (one episode every seven days), the relatively low budgets, or the fact that the show featured an intricate creature design in nearly every episode of the first season.
The heavy lifting in the special effects department was accomplished by Project Unlimited, a freelance company established in 1957 by technicians Gene Warren, Wah Chang, and Tim Baar, designed to handle a multitude of special effects procedures for film and television productions. 
Chamber's makeup for "The Man Who Was Never Born"
The members of Project Unlimited were skilled designers and sculptors who created the numerous creatures for the series, beginning with the pilot episode’s irradiated alien, “The Galaxy Being,” and continuing on to such classic designs as Robert Culp’s full-body transformation into the Thetan alien in “The Architects of Fear” and the ghastly alien ants with human faces in “The Zanti Misfits.”
John Chambers was brought on board for episodes which required more intricate makeup effects as well as for simpler applications such as the manipulation of the eyes, nose, or chin of an actor. Once he began to find steady work in feature films in the 1960s, Chambers became particularly well-known for his ability to change or exaggerate a feature of an actor’s face or hands, undoubtedly resulting from earlier time spent in government service crafting dental and body prosthetics.
Like William Tuttle, Chambers used life masks to create molds in order to insure makeup appliances not only fit the unique contours of an actor’s face but also allowed the actor to be recognized beneath the makeup. Chambers worked on The Outer Limits with frequent collaborator Fred Phillips, who served as makeup supervisor for the series, and had a hand in a number of first season episodes, most notably “The Hundred Days of the Dragon” in which the face of an Asian spy is physically manipulated to resemble a murdered presidential candidate, and “The Man Who Was Never Born,” which sees Martin Landau changed into a malformed human from a bleak future Earth.
John Chambers was born in Chicago in 1922 and became interested in art at a young age, finding early work as a commercial artist and jewelry designer before serving in the Army first as a dental technician and later crafting prosthetics to repair the faces and bodies of wounded veterans. Chambers decided to apply his artistic skills in the entertainment industry, sensing an opportunity when his work with wounded veterans became a point of emotional stress.
In 1953, Chambers landed a position creating makeup for NBC’s live television programs. By 1959, Chambers had moved into regular feature film work under Bud Westmore at NBC’s parent company, Universal Studios.
Chambers soon became dissatisfied with the burdens inherent in being a contract artist for either a network or a studio and retrofitted a garage adjacent to his Burbank, California home to function as a freelance makeup laboratory. He remained firmly entrenched in the television industry, however, since by the early 1960s he had begun to receive positive recognition for his makeup effects on a number of programs. He created ghoulish makeups for Boris Karloff’s horror anthology series Thriller (1960-1962), working alongside longtime NBC makeup artist Jack Barron, who himself handled makeup duties for Alfred Hitchcock on both the director’s television series and films (Psycho (1960), Marine (1964) and Torn Curtain (1966)) and would later assist Chambers with the makeup effects on the Planet of the Apes films. For Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (1966-1969), again working with makeup supervisor Fred Phillips, Chambers created numerous bizarre alien makeup effects as well as famously designing Mr. Spock’s pointed ears.
It was Chambers’ work creating disguises for the espionage television series Mission: Impossible (1966-1973) and I Spy (1965-1968) that drew the attention of the Central Intelligence Agency, who recruited Chambers in the early 1970s, along with makeup artists Tom Burman (who became a frequent collaborator) and Michael Westmore, to create disguises for government field agents. The declassification of CIA documents in 1997 revealed Chambers to be a crucial part of a 1979 operation that successfully freed six American diplomats during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Chambers was portrayed by actor John Goodman in Ben Affleck’s Academy Award winning 2012 film about the operation, Argo.
Chambers continued to stay busy with television projects, working with Ben Nye on Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space (1965-1968) for CBS, and with Bud Westmore on Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1969-1973) for NBC. It was Nye, then head of makeup for 20th Century Fox, who approached Chambers about working on a project adapting Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel Planet of the Apes.
The resultant 1968 film marked a significant turning point not only in the career of John Chambers but in the area of special makeup effects as an industry. Chambers, who spent much of preproduction time on the film studying primates at the Los Angeles Zoo, would use life masks of the principle actors to craft pliable prosthetic appliances which would allow the actors an impressive range of facial movement beneath the heavy ape makeups. Chambers supervised nearly sixty makeup artists for the film, many of whom were non-union workers, in an effort to battle time and the required workload.
Many of the artists working under Chambers on the film were recruited from the Don Post Studios, a California-based producer of high quality masks and props for commercial consumption as well as for the entertainment industry. Chambers had previously assisted at the studio on mask designs pertaining to apes and primitive man. Noted mask designer Verne Langdon was hired to create the realistic ape masks worn by the many background performers. Langdon, who followed career paths ranging from professional wrestler to recording artist, became a legend among collectible masks hobbyists for his revolutionary work with sculptors Pat Newman and Ellis Burman (father of makeup artists Ellis Burman, Jr. and Tom Burman) at the Don Post Studios in the 1960s, crafting highly detailed masks based on famous monsters from film and television, as well as his own unique designs. Langdon, Newman, and the Burman brothers all used the time spent on Planet of the Apes as a springboard into regular work in the film and television industries.
For his work on Planet of the Apes, Chambers was given a Special Achievement Academy Award at the 41st Ceremonies in 1969. Chambers and William Tuttle were the only two makeup artists to receive such an award before 1981, when the award became standard.
Though Planet of the Apes was unquestionably the pinnacle of his career, Chambers continued to create impressive makeup effects in the years following. He worked with director Brian De Palma on the 1974 film Phantom of the Paradise and again worked with artist Tom Burman to create the beast-men in the 1977 film version of The Island of Dr. Moreau.
His final television work was for the short-lived series Beyond Westworld in 1980. He finished his film career on two high notes, however, by creating makeup effects on John Carpenter’s Halloween II (1981) and prosthetics for Ridley Scott’s future-noir Blade Runner a year later, after which Chambers quietly retired.
He is the subject of Scott Essman’s 1998 documentary short A Tribute to John Chambers and died in hospital on August 25, 2001, age 78.
It stands to reason that without the early television work of Tuttle, Smith, and Chambers, as well as the film work which followed, the special makeup effects industry would have evolved in a very different, and likely less interesting, way. To simply take an account of the young artists that each man took the time to mentor and teach would alone define the successive progression of the industry and continues to stand as a defining monument to three pioneering titans of special makeup effects.  

Grateful acknowledgement is given to the following for providing information used in the text:
Bergan, Ronald. “William Tuttle: Eminent Hollywood Makeup Artist Who Worked With the Glamorous and Great,” The Guardian, 23 August 2007.
Essman, Scott. “John Chambers: Maestro of Makeup,” Cinefex, issue 71, September 1997.
Fox, Margalit. “William J. Tuttle, Master Makeup Man, Dies at 95,” New York Times, 4 August 2007.
Gilbey, Ryan. “Dick Smith: TV and Film Makeup Artist Who Transformed Hollywood Idols into Misshapen Grotesques,” The Guardian, 5 August 2014.
Nelson, Valerie J. “William J. Tuttle, 95; Pioneering Film Makeup Artist Was First to Get an Oscar,” Los Angeles Times, 3 August 2007.
Nelson, Valerie J. “Dick Smith Dies at 92; ‘Exorcist’ Makeup Man Won Oscar for ‘Amadeus’,” Los Angeles Times, 31 July 2014.
Yardley, William. “Disc Smith, Oscar-Winning Makeup Artist, Dies at 92,” New York Times, 1 August 2014.

Watch William Tuttle in “King of the Duplicators” here.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

"The Grave"

Hired gun Conny Miller (Lee Marvin) arrives at the grave of outlaw
Pinto Sykes to await his doom.

“The Grave”
Season Three, Episode 72
Original Air Date: October 27, 1961

Conny Miller: Lee Marvin
Mothershed: Strother Martin
Johnny Rob: James Best
Steinhart: Lee Van Cleef
Ione: Ellen Willard
Ira Broadly: Stafford Rep
Jasen: William Challee
Corcoran: Larry Johns
Pinto Sykes: Richard Geary
Man on Rooftop: Bob McCord (uncredited)

Writer: Montgomery Pittman (original teleplay)
Director: Montgomery Pittman
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Editor: Leon Barsha
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“It’s traditional in the great American western that the climax of any given story is the gun-down on the main street. Next week, Montgomery Pittman has written a story in which we have our gun-down and then go on from there. It’s a haunting little item about a top gun as he was alive…and his operation after death. This is one for rainy nights and power failures, but wherever you watch it, I think it will leave its imprint.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Normally, the old man would be correct. This would be the end of the story. We’ve had the traditional shoot-out on the street, and the bad man will soon be dead. But some men of legend and folk tale have been known to continue having their way even after death. The outlaw and killer, Pinto Sykes, was such a person. And shortly, we’ll see how he introduces the town, and a man named Conny Miller in particular…to the Twilight Zone.”

            America, the Old West. A group of vigilante killers and lawmen converge on a lone gunman in the middle of a small town. Armed men are stationed all along the main street: on rooftops, in windows and doorways, behind wagons and buildings, in every possible path of escape. The man they are tracking is named Pinto Sykes and he is wanted by the law. As he exits a saloon a man calls out to him and tells him to surrender. Sykes draws and is shot dead.
            Several days later, night. Conny Miller, a hired gun in pursuit of Sykes, rides into town. He enters a saloon where three patrons, all of whom were involved in the shooting, inform him that Sykes is dead. They also tell him that Sykes claimed that Miller was afraid of him and deliberately remained a day behind him to avoid a confrontation. And according to them, Sykes warned that Miller stay away from his grave or the outlaw would rise from the dead and grab him.

Miller denies the claim just as Sykes’s sister, Ione, enters the saloon. She repeats her brother’s threat and dares Miller to visit the grave. Then she leaves. The three patrons also dare him to visit the grave and they propose a wager. If Miller can visit Sykes’s grave and plant a knife in it to prove he was there, he wins forty dollars. Furious, but wanting to prove his courage, Miller accepts.
When he arrives at the graveyard, he spots a drunk Ione leaving. She offers him a drink of whiskey to calm his nerves but he declines. She tells him that her brother is waiting for him and then leaves. Miller makes his way over to Sykes’s grave. All around him the wind howls. He hears strange noises and begins to lose his nerve but forces himself to ignore it. He kneels by the grave and plunges the blade of a long hunting knife into the fresh dirt. As he prepares to stand up, however, he is pulled back down.
The next morning. When Miller fails to come back the three patrons speculate over what happened. They notice that Miller’s horse and belongings are still at the bar so they know he hasn’t left town. They decide to accompany Ione to the graveyard to find out what happened. When they get there they find Miller sprawled over Sykes’s grave, dead. One of the patrons, a gambler named Steinhart, attempts to explain what happened. He believes that Miller mistakenly pinned his coat to the ground after the wind blew it over the grave and died of fright when he tried to stand up. But Ione claims that this is not possible for the wind would have been blowing in the wrong direction. Claiming that the wind is blowing in the same direction as the previous night, she demonstrates by standing where Miller would have stood. She gives the three men a haunting smile as the wind blows her long, black cloak behind her, far away from the grave of outlaw Pinto Sykes.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Final Comment: you can take this with a grain of salt or a shovel of Earth, as shadow or substance. We leave it up to you. And for any further research, check under ‘G’ for ghosts…in the Twilight Zone.”


“The Grave” wasn’t the first time The Twilight Zone explored the Western genre nor would it be the last. Probably the most interesting thing about the show, and the thing that distinguishes it from other anthology programs, is that it created a recognizable world for the audience. Not one that can be defined in terms of geography or time, but one immediately familiar just the same. No writer, except Serling, was ever under contract to the show or to CBS. This allowed each writer the freedom to develop their own voice. It also established a nice dynamic for the series as one that could discuss many different themes and ideas but somehow formulate them into one universal approach. Writers could hop genres and time periods liberally and the episodes would still feel like pieces of the same show.
            Although “The Grave” was written and directed by Montgomery Pittman, no stranger to the Western genre, all of the other Western themed episodes were written by Rod Serling. It seems obvious that Serling, a writer deeply concerned with social prejudice, would have had an affinity for Westerns, a genre which continuously explored the struggle between right and wrong and the price of the human condition. The Western was also the genre that most accurately reflected the pulse of the era in which it was made. Although the stories were set in the American frontier of the nineteenth century they commented on contemporary issues, which is what Serling was trying to accomplish with fantasy. The portrayal of the archetypal good-guy hero gunslinger and the absolute distinction between good and evil in traditional Westerns likely appealed to a post-war audience and the genre flourished in virtually every medium between the late 1940’s and mid-1960’s. However, as the nation changed so did the Western.
By the end of the 1950’s many filmmakers had begun to shed certain tropes of the genre in exchange for realistic themes and characters. Films like The Searchers (1956), The Left-Handed Gun (1958), and The Magnificent Seven (1960) began to showcase a new kind of Western, one that was adapting to a rapidly changing social and political landscape. These films, and countless others, often featured flawed heroes, unrealistic expectations, and unhappy endings. They reflected a nation moving further and further away from the Norman Rockwell idealism of the early twentieth century and closer to a Vietnam War-era mentality. These were the beginning of the end for the genre, the last great wave of Westerns to be produced by Hollywood before the collapse of the studio system. And the Westerns that followed throughout the next decade or so, namely Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969) and Pat Garret and Billy the Kid (1973) and the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, had far more in common with the bleakness and realism of the emerging independent film movement than with their predecessors in the Hollywood studio system. Even the television Western, once a fan favorite of viewers of all ages, was vanishing. By the middle of the 1970’s the era of the Western, one of the oldest and most celebrated genres of the cinematic landscape, was over. Filmmakers would revisit the genre in the subsequent decades (there are several A-list Westerns scheduled for release this year) but America’s fascination with the genre it had created was gone.
While the movement towards a more mature and reflective Western had been present in film since the 1950’s, television was far more reluctant to push creative boundaries. This is most likely due to the industry’s inexperience at diversifying content to such a broad viewing audience on such a new medium. Another factor was that the networks were in constant fear of losing sponsorship. On a fantasy program, particularly anthologies, where the material changes every week, networks were far more tolerant of creative experimentation. If the viewers or advertisers didn’t like something about a particular episode it was easier to reassure them that it wouldn’t occur again if the following week’s episode was completely different.
This is likely one of the reasons Montgomery Pittman found himself working on The Twilight Zone. Thus far in his career, he had written mostly within the confines of serial dramas such as 77 Sunset Strip, Cheyenne, and Sugarfoot. Like Serling, he had taken measures to ensure his artistic freedom due to his frustration with studios and networks altering his scripts. On a fantasy program, especially one where the writer was held in such high regard, he was free to create misunderstood characters or blend genres, as he does here.
“The Grave,” doesn’t subscribe to the somber themes that run throughout the Westerns of the 1960’s, but it isn’t a return to traditional Westerns either. On the contrary, it almost seems to be poking fun at them a little. There aren’t really any virtuous characters here and the hero, who may or may not be a coward, is ridiculed by the supporting cast. Instead, “The Grave” is a combination of the classic American Western and traditional horror folklore, which makes it an early example of the Horror Western. Pittman isn’t working toward a moral at the end of the story. He only wants to entertain the audience. This episode could have taken place anywhere, as the origin story demonstrates. But the desert setting lends it an overtly gothic atmosphere which makes it unsettling and fun at the same time.
Many will recognize this story from American and European folklore. It is often referred to as “The Graveyard Dare” or simply “The Dare.” The setting and characters differ with each version but the basic plot, someone being challenged to visit a graveyard alone and then dying of fright, is always present. A well-known version, entitled “The Dare,” appears in The Thing at the End of the Bed and Other Scary Stories (1953) by American folklorist Maria Leach. In her version a group of boys talk around a fire. The town curmudgeon has recently died and the boys dare one another to visit his grave, which is supposedly haunted. Finally, a boastful young man announces that he will visit the elderly man’s grave and leave his knife as proof. He follows through with his plan but pins himself to the ground and dies of a heart attack. In her notes, Leach claims that the tale is too old and widespread to be traced to a single source but she does list several versions that predate hers. The oldest version on her list appears in a 1934 collection by Dr. Ralph S. Boggs called North Carolina White Folktales and Riddles. Probably the most widely-read version of this story appears in Alvin Schwartz’s classic 1981 collection, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. This version features kids, presumably teenagers, at a party where a boy dares a girl to visit the graveyard down the street and stand on top of the grave. The rest of the story is much the same as the others.
“The Grave” is one of two episodes (the other is George Clayton Johnson’s “Nothing in the Dark”) filmed during Season Two but held until Season Three. Principle photography took place in March, 1961, six months before it actually aired. This makes “The Grave” Montgomery Pittman’s first appearance on the show as it predates his first screen credit in Season Two’s “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” by several weeks. This reason for shelving these episodes is likely due to CBS’s concerns over production costs. Despite its immense popularity, The Twilight Zone was always a program in danger of cancellation. In an effort to save the show Buck Houghton asked CBS for an early commitment on the third season. This way the show could begin filming in the spring of 1961 (before the end of the second season) and continue through the summer, when the salaries of the cast and crew would be far lower and the MGM backlot readily available. The network agreed and after the second season officially ended the show continued shooting new episodes well into June. But by the time the second season was drawing to a close they had more episodes than they had time slots. So the decision was made to hold two episodes until the third season. As a result, “The Grave” and “Nothing in the Dark” are the only Season Three episodes that do not feature a title or production credits at the start of Act I. Instead, they are listed during the closing credits as was the format for Season Two. “The Grave” was one of several episodes considered as the season premiere. But Houghton and Serling choose to hold it until October and promote it as a Halloween episode, which ended up being a wise decision.
As an actor turned writer/director Pittman seemed to have an eye for talent. All of his Twilight Zone episodes feature early performances from actors who went on to establish successful careers in film and television. “The Grave,” however, has perhaps the best collection of well-known Hollywood faces of any episode of the show. James Best, who plays Johnny Rob and was a friend of Pittman, had a prolific career in television, appearing largely in Westerns, before landing the role of Sherriff Rosco P. Coltrane in The Dukes of Hazzard. This is the first of three Twilight Zone appearances for Best who also appears in Season Three’s “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank” (also written and directed by Pittman) and Season Four’s “Jess-Belle.” The rest of the leading actors (Lee Marvin, Strother Martin, and Lee Van Cleef) all went on to enormously successful film careers. Their credits, which include an abundance of highly-regarded Western classics, are too many to list. Less than a year after this episode aired all three appeared together in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance—considered by many to be the best Western film of all time. Marvin plays the title character, the villain of the film, and Martin and Van Cleef play his two cronies. I was unable to locate the production date for the film but it was released in April of 1962 and “The Grave” had most likely finished filming by the time casting began on the Ford film.
Lee Marvin’s struggle with alcoholism and his resulting behavior on this and various other projects has been well documented. Houghton reportedly had to postpone the first day of filming after Marvin arrived on the set intoxicated. The next day, however, the actor arrived on time and gave a formal apology to the cast and crew. The incident does not seem to have affected his performance for he is totally believable as ridiculed tough guy Conny Miller.
What’s frustrating about “The Grave” is that it’s an enjoyable episode with great performances from an all-star cast and a fun, well-crafted atmosphere that is marred by a slow, dreary final scene. For starters, it is the only scene to take place during the day which removes the established mystique almost immediately. Also, the twist demands a detailed explanation—rarely a good strategy—which brings the pace of the story to a halt. The fact that the first twenty minutes are so enjoyable only makes the final two or three minutes of the episode that much more disappointing. It’s a lot of built up anticipation for little reward.
But the “The Grave” still manages to be an entertaining episode despite the lackluster ending and it's one that audiences may find more enjoyable in subsequent viewings. The performances really are spectacular and Pittman’s direction here is possibly his best work on the show. The high contrast lighting and gothic set pieces give it a strong resemblance to the German horror films of the 1920’s. The fact that the cemetery scene, with its absurd prop department grave markers and roaring wind soundtrack, is so clearly shot on a sound stage only adds to the atmosphere somehow. It appears to have been a conscious decision but it works. For anyone who may have been turned off from the episode after a single viewing I would suggest giving it another look. It’s a fun episode that is equal parts Hollywood nostalgia and solid, honest storytelling from a writer whose work warrants more attention than it is often given.

Grade: B

--Lee Marvin (1924 – 1987) also appeared in Season Five’s “Steel.” Marvin won an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1966 for his performance in Cat Ballou.
--James Best (1926 – 2015) also appeared in Season Three’s “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank” and Season Four’s “Jess-Belle.”
--Stafford Repp (1918 – 1974) also appeared in Season Two’s “Nick of Time” and Season Five’s “Caesar and Me.” A prolific television actor, he is mostly remembered for his role as Chief O’Hara in the 1960’s Batman series.
--Montgomery Pittman (1917 – 1962) wrote and directed the Season Three episodes, “Two” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank.” He also directed Season Two’s “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and Season Three’s “Dead Man’s Shoes.” The Twilight Zone was one of his last projects.
--“The Grave” was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Michael Rooker.

--Brian Durant

Sunday, April 17, 2016

"The Mirror"

Peter Falk as Ramos Clemente, gazing into the mirror that will display his downfall

“The Mirror”
Season Three, Episode 71
Original Air Date: October 20, 1961

Ramos Clemente: Peter Falk
General DeCruz: Will Kuluva
Cristo: Antony Carbone
Tabal: Arthur Batanides
Garcia: Rodolfo Hoyos
D’Allesandro: Richard Karlan
Father Tomas: Vladimir Sokoloff

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Don Medford
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Editor: Bill Mosher
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“We’ve had some performances of great depth on The Twilight Zone and next week is no exception. A distinguished and incredibly talented young man lends us his services when Peter Falk stars in ‘The Mirror.’ This is the story of a tyrant and his assassins, a shattered dream, and the death of a cause. Next week on The Twilight Zone . . . ‘The Mirror.’”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration: 
“This is the face of Ramos Clemente. A year ago a beardless, nameless worker of the dirt who plodded behind a mule, furrowing someone else’s land. And he looked up at a hot, Central American sun and he pledged the impossible. He made a vow that he would lead an avenging army against the tyranny that put the ache in his back and the anguish in his eyes. And now one year later the dream of the impossible has become a fact. In just a moment we will look deep into this mirror and see the aftermath of a rebellion in The Twilight Zone.”

            Ramos Clemente, leader of a bloody political revolution in an unnamed Central American country, basks in the adulating cries of the crowd gathered below the balcony of his new office. Together with his four trusted advisors he drinks wine in a toast to the new regime. 
            Clemente has the deposed leader, General DeCruz, brought in so that he, Clemente, can explain how all of DeCruz’s supporters will be executed and how DeCruz’s own death will be long and painful. DeCruz, however, is unaffected by Clemente’s threats. He tells Clemente that they are more alike than Clemente is willing to recognize and now that Clemente has taken control life will be fraught with fear and suspicion. He then warns Clemente that the large, ornate mirror hanging on the wall in the office will reveal the assassins who will come for Clemente’s life.
          Paranoia sets in quickly. As Clemente gazes into the mirror he sees a series of visions in which each of his most trusted men threaten him with an array of deadly weapons, from machine guns to knives to poison. In each case, Clemente either kills the man himself or has the man killed, all in quick succession. Clemente ponders how he can kill his best friends and yet feel nothing at all. Despite warnings from his most trusted friend, Cristo, Clemente cannot see the error of his ways. Even Cristo falls victim to Clemente’s murderous paranoia. When a priest, Father Tomas, arrives to beg Clemente to cease the ongoing executions of DeCruz’s supporters, Clemente rages against the idea, displaying the full measure of his psychosis.
            When the priest leaves, Clemente throws his gun at the mirror, shattering the glass. From without, the priest hears a gunshot. Accompanied by Clemente’s men, he rushes back into the office to find Clemente dead on the floor from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The final assassin, states the priest, is the one they never recognize until it is too late.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Ramos Clemente, a would-be god in dungarees, strangled by an illusion, the will-o’-the wisp mirage that dangles from the sky in front of all ambitious men, all tyrants. And any resemblance to tyrants living or dead is hardly coincidental, whether it be here or in The Twilight Zone.”      

            “The Mirror” is marred by a derivative premise, a divisive lead performance, an uneven supporting cast, unintentionally funny special effects, and a ludicrous ending. Despite this uneven quality, Rod Serling’s “The Mirror” must be applauded for the audacious move to dramatically illustrate the terror and corruption immediately evident in the regime of Fidel Castro, and, by extension, the regimes of the many dictators that had recently risen to power in Central and South America.
By utilizing a thinly-veiled, fictionalized version of the young Cuban dictator, as well as his then-enforcer Ernesto “Che” Guevara, here portrayed by Arthur Batanides as “Tabal,” Rod Serling delivered perhaps the most violent and angry episode of the entire series. It comes a mere two years after the end of the Cuban Revolution, illustrating not only how quickly established was the Castro cult of personality, as well as that of Che Guevara, the one-time overseer of Castro’s execution squad whose stylized likeness is now used as a countercultural symbol of personal freedom, but also how much Rod Serling had his finger on the pulse of social and political issues. This is demonstrated time and again on the series, from the red scare of “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” to the threat of nuclear annihilation in “The Shelter” to the aftermath of the Holocaust in “Deaths-head Revisited,” Serling was always working to fit the directly frightening aspects of the modern world into a relatable cultural context for the modern viewer.
“The Mirror” does not present an abstract social issue like the aforementioned episodes. It deals directly with its subject in an immediately recognizable way. Only one other time had the series presented a real-life communist leader in an episode, this when the veiled figure of Nikita Khruschev, the premier of the Soviet Union, appeared in the humorous, shot on videotape, second season episode, “The Whole Truth.” In “The Mirror,” a decidedly non-humorous episode, the deposed leader, General DeCruz, alludes to three real-life dictators when delivering his warning to Castro stand-in Ramos Clemente. DeCruz mentions Castro, Batista, and Trujillo. The character of DeCruz is the fictional stand-in for Fulgencio Zaldívar Batista, the dictator deposed by Castro in the Cuban Revolution. Rafael Trujillo was the President, and longtime shadow dictator, of the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. 
   One presumes these issues were fresh in the minds of most members of the American viewing audience. Either way, by the spring of 1961, with the Bay of Pigs disaster, and into the fall, with the Cuban Missile Crisis, there remained little doubt that Serling’s, and many a political commentator’s, view of the issue was both prescient and, in many cases, blindly optimistic. Serling was no different in his ultimately optimistic depiction of the violent usurper Ramos Clemente besieged by paranoia and self-inflicted violence. What lends the character of Clemente depth is the fact that he was a poor, idealistic young man who grew, in only the space of a calendar year, into a cold, sociopathic leader more brutish than those he rose up against. It was this sort of ideological hopefulness meeting the brutal nature of reality that made the bloody coupes of the period so disheartening for the United States and its own ideological foundations.
            Viewing the episode 55 years after its initial broadcast, it still manages to shock and provoke, even as we see through the thin storytelling, due mostly to the powerful, and contentious, performance of Peter Falk and the heated dialogue in Serling’s script. It was this type of bold social and political commentary which set the series apart from almost any other dramatic series of the time, especially any other science fiction series. It is this quality also which most closely relates The Twilight Zone to the well regarded science fiction series that followed in its wake, from The Outer Limits to The X-Files, and, conversely, which separates it from the series which seem unable to emerge from its long shadow of influence.
            A lot of filmed science fiction contemporary to The Twilight Zone, including the series itself, presented social and political commentary through the malleable symbolism of alien invaders, mad scientists, and atomic monsters. At its best, The Twilight Zone didn't bother to cloak its message to the viewer in any veneer of fantasy other than the most threadbare kind. The Southern California Group of writers, of which Serling was a satellite member and who collectively wrote virtually all of the material for The Twilight Zone, are notable for the fact that their approach to fantasy was to set it in as realistic a situation as possible. They approached fantastic material as would a writer of realist fiction, something they borrowed from notables like Jack Finney (The Body Snatchers), Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House), and Theodore Sturgeon (More Than Human). It was the model set beforehand by Sturgeon, the brilliant short fiction writer, which exerted the strongest influence on the group. In 1958, Sturgeon published both a short story and a collection entitled A Touch of Strange, the idea being that to create a convincing fantasy for the modern reader the writer must create a wholly believable setting and set of characters, one to which the modern reader can instantly relate, only then to introduce a touch of something strange, an intrusion of the fantastic upon the lives of the characters.
The most successful episodes of The Twilight Zone come with no deconstruction required at all. Think “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” or “The Obsolete Man” or “The Shelter” or “Deaths-Head Revisited” or “He’s Alive.” All Rod Serling penned episodes and all moral tales painted in strokes broad enough for an average middle school child to easily comprehend, which undoubtedly explained both the popularity of the show among children and its fascination for adults. So it is with “The Mirror.” Serling doesn’t feel the need to convince the viewer of the truth of the fantasy element, in this case a magic mirror, but rather decides to leave it purposefully ambiguous. The episode can just as easily, perhaps more easily, be interpreted from a psychological perspective, the fantasy element being a result of psychosis on the part of the protagonist. There are assassins everywhere, intimates DeCruz, and whether or not it is only in the mind of Clemente is left for the viewer to decide. A quick interesting note is that Serling previously used the name DeCruz for the villain among villains in the second season episode “The Rip Van Winkle Caper.” In that episode, DeCruz was played by Simon Oakland.
            Serling had earlier exited the dramatic anthology programs which soon after died away and underwent a transformation from cutting edge drama to unthreatening and watered-down television movies of the week. Here he is in 1961 with a twenty six minute play consisting almost entirely of a fictional Fidel Castro systematically murdering an array of people, including his own entourage, and culminating in his own self-inflicted death. Clemente’s brutal murder of D’Allesandro, slammed through a set of glass doors and thrown bodily over a balcony, should be indication enough that this was a different sort of program than those Serling was writing five years before.
It’s hard to imagine the corporate sponsors on Playhouse 90 giving a script like this the green light. Yet, here it is on Serling’s “kooky” (his word, not mine) Twilight Zone presenting just such a scenario. There was a reason the series aired at 9:00, the traditional time slot where a more mature block of programming commenced. If we as regular viewers of the series have become accustomed to the nostalgic comforts inherent in The Twilight Zone, “The Mirror” is anything but comforting or nostalgic, which may explain its status as an almost forgotten episode and one which is rarely commented upon in the circle of science fiction and fantasy fans that examine such things.  
            The major problems with “The Mirror” are the problems with most of Serling’s moral episodes. If you’re looking for an original plot, look elsewhere. As a writer, Serling was clearly more interested in using science fiction and fantasy as a lens through which to view the world around him than in developing unique story concepts. Not that he was unable to achieve the latter but only that he couldn’t be expected to produce “Eye of the Beholder” or “The Masks” each time out, nor did he care to do so. Serling was always keenly aware of the fantasy tradition and was never shy about using familiar concepts as springboards to drive his stories across.
During the course of producing The Twilight Zone, Serling was always beleaguered with calls of plagiarism and, for the vast majority, undeservedly so. The burden of producing a science fiction show, and the grave mistake of a call for open submissions prior to the first season, something which was still plaguing Serling three seasons in, was such that every episode put out, however successful or unsuccessful, would be claimed by some quack in his living room or by some professional writer irked by viewing a genre outsider like Serling, and don’t be fooled, he was viewed as such, clutching his Hugo and Emmy Awards at the end of each television season. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror have always been communal pools from which everyone drinks. One must simply stop short of drinking from someone else’s cupped hands.
             In “The Mirror,” Serling is using fairly standard fantasy elements to explore a very modern problem, the rise of the violent dictator in the 20th century. There is the old adage that science fiction isn’t really talking about the future; it’s talking about the present. So it goes with many of Serling’s Twilight Zone episodes. Serling’s plot constructions often suffered from cliché and repetition. One can hardly fault the guy since he was still writing about sixty-five percent of everything on the series, along with assuming his duties as executive producer. That aspect has been examined in detail before here in the Vortex, as has his reliance on common concepts of folklore, and there’s no need to go over it all again, except to say that “The Mirror” contains elements that go back to the Black Forest fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, themselves records of a much older oral tradition.
There is the haunted mirror which tells of a possible future. There is the character who seals his fate through the action of attempting to avoid a dire portent. The deposed leader, de Cruz, plays the role of both the accuser and of the one that lays the curse at the feet of the new leader. There is the wise old villager, here played by Vladimir Sokoloff, a Moscow-born character actor again relegated to playing a Hispanic character as he had previously done in the season two episode, “Dust,” who begs for understanding and spells out the moral for the audience at the conclusion of events. These are surely elements familiar to anyone with even a cursory interest in film or literature. Once passed through the cipher of Serling’s moralizing oratory the story becomes less about plot, thankfully, and more about what William Faulkner termed “the human heart in conflict with itself,” something at which Serling was masterful.
It is remarkable how confined are many of The Twilight Zone episodes. This was less to serve a small budget and more the series not needing the decorative aspects of a less cerebral, or more outer space oriented, science fiction series. The series was exceptional at minimization and producer Buck Houghton was not only a master at managing the production, along with Ralph W. Nelson, but had assembled a group of technicians that thrived within the constricted confines of the show. The effectiveness of the MGM backlot, the finest such studio backlot at the time, didn’t hurt matters either.
“The Mirror” takes place on two sets, one interior (Clemente’s office) and one exterior (the office balcony), and is all the better for it. It lends the episode intimacy which masks many of the missteps in narrative. Much like the later fifth season episode, “The Masks,” the use sound indicates vastness, as great crowds and the gunfire of the execution squads can be heard continuously roaring beneath the windows of Clemente’s office. Clemente never leaves the office, never changes clothes, so strong is his paranoia, so defined is his cause. Never is the viewer allowed to imagine this man with anything resembling a personal life. As far as we know, he has no wife, no children, no mother, no father, nor any siblings. He is a single minded individual, driven by will, desperation, violence, and an unacknowledged need for exoneration. Serling reminds us again and again, violence begets violence, hate begets hate, and prejudice begets prejudice. Clemente is the latest personification of this. There is a moment late in the episode which seems unnecessary and yet perfectly displays who and what Clemente represents. After murdering all but one of his entourage, Clemente wonders aloud how he can murder men he thought of as brothers and feel nothing about it.
Peter Falk portrays Ramos Clemente. Falk would later, of course, become famous as Lt. Frank Columbo in the show of the same name. Serling was very impressed with the young Falk as evidenced in his preview narration. Falk was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Murder, Inc. (1960) and Pocketful of Miracles (1961) and would go on to win five Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe. His performance as Clemente is a manic, exuberant performance which has undoubtedly left many viewers divided. Falk hovers the line between parody and effectiveness yet is unquestionably menacing and perfectly displays the single-minded arrogance of a man who knows only achievement through violence.
            Even as early as the late 1970s, when author Marc Scott Zicree was conducting interviews for The Twilight Zone Companion, series producer Buck Houghton was apologizing for Falk’s performance, finding it too flamboyant and explaining it as the way in which many Americans viewed the Cuban leader. The problem which this assessment is that though Falk is clearly made up to resemble Castro, he is playing a much broader character intended to represent the maniacal dictator which very much existed in Central and South America at the time. Whether or not Falk’s performance is a result of American perspective or not, the violence sweeping through that portion of the world at the time is undeniable, as are the leaders responsible for it.
            Antony Carbone, an Italian-American actor, matches the cartoonish nature of Falk’s performance, often delivering his lines which one eye squinted closed and his teeth bared in a grimace. The other supporting players are simply fodder for Clemente’s mania and are not given ground to really offer anything to the episode. The ever-present Robert McCord makes another uncredited appearance at the end of the episode as an off-screen voice and the Priest’s companion.  
            The final aspect of the episode that needs to be briefly commented upon is the ineffective mirror effects. One after another each of Clemente’s men are viewed in the mirror approaching the paranoid leader with a different array of deadly weapons, gun, knife, poison, etc. The effect simply doesn’t work and very closely skirts the line of being unintentionally humorous, especially the image of D’Allesandro (Richard Karlan) wielding a large machine gun and turning in a semi-circle. Perhaps Serling felt that he must show something in the mirror but one wonders if the episode would have been more effective if the viewer were not privy to what Clemente saw but left only to imagine what he beheld in the mirror.
            Director Don Medford was a veteran of television direction and is probably best remembered today for directing the two-part finale of The Fugitive. He was at the helm for four additional Zone episodes, including the similar and more successful “Deaths-head Revisited,” about a Nazi war criminal (Oscar Beregi, Jr.) who revisits the concentration camp where he committed his atrocities, which was filmed before “The Mirror” but aired afterwards. It is very likely Medford’s work on “Deaths-head Revisited” indicated he was the right man for the “The Mirror.”
            In all, “The Mirror” is not an episode easy to recommend as something other than an oddity in a third season populated with established classics. It is never boring and the high third season production values hold the viewer’s attention, as well as the opportunity to see a genuine artifact of the Cold War era. We’ll call it average, though that hardly speaks to the unique qualities offered by the episode.

Grade: C

--Don Medford also directed “A Passage for Trumpet” from season one, “The Man in the Bottle” from season two, “Deaths-head Revisited” from season three, and “Death Ship” from season four.
--Vladimir Sokoloff also appeared in the season two episode, “Dust.”
--Arthur Batanides also appeared in the season one episode, “Mr. Denton on Doomsday.”
--Richard Karlan also appeared in the season one episode, “Execution.”
--“The Mirror” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Tony Plana.

-Jordan Prejean