|Dick York as Hector B. Poole|
"A Penny for Your Thoughts"
Season Two, Episode Fifty-two
Original Air Date: February 3, 1961
Hector B. Poole: Dick York
Miss Turner: June Dayton
Mr. E.M. Bagby: Dan Tobin
Mr. Smithers: Cyril Delevanti
Mr. Sykes: Hayden Rorke
Mr. Brand: James Nolan
Driver: Frank London
Newsboy: Anthony Ray
Writer: George Clayton Johnson (original teleplay)
Director: James Sheldon
Producer: Buck Houghton
Photography: George T. Clemens
Rod Serling's Promo:
"Next week on this very spot there commences a very kooky chain of occurrences. The story has to do with a young bank clerk who, for some unexplained and most uncanny reason, finds himself able to read other people's minds. And then finds that the power can get him into a peck of trouble and a bushel of travail. Our show is called 'A Penny for Your Thoughts' and it'll be here waiting for you next week on the Twilight Zone."
Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Mr. Hector B. Poole, resident of the Twilight Zone. Flip a coin and keep flipping it. What are the odds? Half the time it will come up heads, half the time tails. But in one freakish chance in a million it'll land on its edge. Mr. Hector B. Poole, a bright human coin, on his way to the bank."
While buying a morning newspaper from a street vendor, Hector B. Poole tosses his coin into the vendor's pay box only to watch the coin land perfectly on its thin edge. A moment later, after almost being hit by a car while crossing the street, Poole realizes that he can hear people talking without seeing their mouths move. He quickly learns that he is reading people's thoughts.
At the bank at which he is employed, Poole attempts to explain to the bank manager, Mr. Bagby, why he, Poole, was late arriving only to find Bagby irritated and excited about something. Overhearing Bagby's thoughts, Poole learns that his boss is having an extramarital affair. He stumbles awkwardly out of the office with his newfound knowledge.
Poole spends the remainder of the day using his new power to discover an assortment of interesting and alarming things about his coworkers and customers of the bank. He learns that his coworker Miss Turner has a crush on him and that another coworker is a blatant misogynist. More alarming still is one of the bank's customers, a man in for a loan named Sykes. Poole reads Sykes's mind and discovers that he is planning to use the bank loan to gamble in an attempt to repay losses that occurred when Sykes embezzled from his own company. When Poole inadvertently confronts Sykes about it, Sykes goes haywire and the deal for the loan is lost, to the irritation of Mr. Bagby.
|Hayden Rorke, Dan Tobin, and Dick York|
The final straw is when Poole overhears Mr. Smithers, the bank's oldest and most trusted employee, thinking about his method of robbing the bank. After alerting Mr. Bagby to this possibility, Bagby and the bank guard confront Smithers as the old man exits the bank vault. They search him to no avail. There is no money being stolen. Mr. Bagby has had enough of Poole and fires him. As Poole apologizes to Mr. Smithers, the old man, astonished that Poole even had an inkling of his intentions, explains that his thoughts of robbing the bank are nothing more than a daydream.
|Cyril Delevanti and Dick York|
As Hector is cleaning out his desk, Bagby learns that Mr. Sykes was arrested for gambling with company funds and that Hector had saved the bank such embarrassment had the loan gone through. Bagby offers Poole his old job back but, with Miss Turner's encouragement, Poole demands a promotion and uses the leverage he has on Bagby, about Bagby's affair, to get it, along with a round trip ticket to Bermuda for Mr. Smithers at the bank's expense. Bagby has no choice but to agree with Poole's terms.
Satisfied, Poole walks Miss Turner home and stops to buy an afternoon paper. As he throws his coin in the vendor's box he knocks down his earlier coin which the vendor had managed to keep standing on edge all day. His mind reading powers disappear but Poole walks on contentedly with Miss Turner.
Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"One time in a million, a coin will land on its edge. But all it takes to knock it over is a vagrant breeze, a vibration, or a slight blow. Hector B. Poole, a human coin on edge for a brief time, in the Twilight Zone."
By late 1960, writer George Clayton Johnson had sold two stories to Rod Serling's show, "All of Us Are Dying" and "Execution." Serling himself adapted the teleplay for the stories and both aired in the first season, the former under the title “The Four of Us Are Dying.” By the time production was ready for the second season, George Clayton Johnson began to seriously consider not only selling stories to Serling's show but also producing his own teleplays. Johnson was good friends with Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, the show's two leading writers besides Serling, and was heavily encouraged by Beaumont to start producing his own teleplays if he ever wanted to start building a serious body of work. Johnson would use his story "A Penny for Your Thoughts" as an opportunity to do just that.
Johnson's first move was to sell the story as usual to the show's producer Buck Houghton. Rod Serling approved the story and Houghton was prepared to pay Johnson for it when Johnson breeched the idea of writing the first draft teleplay himself. Houghton was initially against the idea for two reasons. The first was that Serling was prepared to write the teleplay himself and their previous dealings with Johnson had gone smoothly just the way they operated and Houghton was apprehensive to deviate from the method. Secondly, Johnson was, in a way, holding Houghton hostage because if Johnson wasn't allowed to write the first draft teleplay he wouldn't allow the show to use his story and Houghton would have to scrap the entire episode and go on the search for new material. Houghton left Johnson waiting for an answer for two weeks before the show's lawyer called Johnson down to his Los Angeles office and gave him a check. It was payment for a teleplay, in an amount much more than Johnson had received for his stories, and it came with the condition that a teleplay would be in producer Houghton's hands in two weeks.
Johnson was elated and had to learn quickly the routine of regular writing work. With some unspecified assistance from story editor and associate producer Del Reisman, who came on board during the show’s second season, Johnson got the teleplay written and the show was produced as normal. Though Johnson would never be as prolific as Beaumont or Matheson, he would only produce three additional teleplays ("Kick the Can," "Nothing in the Dark," "A Game of Pool") and sell two additional stories ("The Prime Mover" and "Ninety Years Without Slumbering"), the high quality of his contributions certainly put him in the front ranks of the show’s writers. Johnson's originality of concepts and innovative ideas were a refreshing addition to a show which had found its unique, if off-beat, identity among a very small core of principle creators.
Rod Serling and Buck Houghton never regretted the idea of allowing Johnson into that core group. Johnson visited the set whilst the production team was filming "A Penny for Your Thoughts" and was greeted warmly by the production team and by Serling in particular. Johnson relates the story of how he and his wife, Lola, were standing off to the side and watching it all happen on the set when Rod Serling came by with a group of studio people he was touring around the production. When this group arrived in front of Johnson and his wife, Serling proudly informed the people that Johnson was the writer whose idea and teleplay was making it all happen. Being treated as an important element in the production did wonders for Johnson's confidence going forward.
Since principle production on the show was achieved at MGM studios and the writers for the show all lived around the Los Angeles area, it allowed the show to become somewhat inclusive and lend a feeling of cohesion to a show which was irregular in nature. Despite the show's wide range, in both subject and style, there is no mistaking an episode of The Twilight Zone for something else. This was achieved principally because writers were treated not only with respect but as the core creative foundation upon which all else rested. Writers visited the sets, discussed the story with actors and directors and photographers and make-up artists, and were generally a part of production in a manner which was unusual in television. It made the show strong on story and is the main reason certain episodes are fondly remembered fifty years later.
As originally written, Hector B. Poole's mind reading power was to have originated from being hit by a car. Though the episode still featured Poole being hit by a car shortly after his coin landing on its edge, the production team felt that staging a realistic car accident would be too difficult and decided on the coin effect instead when a special effects technician demonstrated to Serling how the effect could be achieved with a coin on a string. This seemed to be the better choice since the car accident that is featured in the episode is not very convincing and required an obvious quick cut and edit to achieve the effect.
While visiting the set, George Clayton Johnson spoke with actor Dan Tobin, who played the role of Mr. Bagby. Tobin felt that the idea for the episode was very clever and suggested to Johnson that it would make a good ongoing series in which different people encountered the coin and were possessed of its uncanny power for a short time each. Johnson took Tobin seriously enough to write up a series treatment which featured as one potential character a poker player that used his mind reading ability to destroy the competition until he is paired with a high stakes player that just happens to be Asian and whose thoughts aren't in English. The series never panned out as it would be hard to sustain a series on such a simple premise for any length of time without some very creative writing.
Since the episode required light comedy, the casting was very important if this was going to work. Dick York (Sept. 4, 1928-Feb. 20, 1992) was so perfectly cast in the role of Hector B. Poole that it is difficult to imagine another actor in the role at this point. In this pre-Bewitched role, York is honing his light comedy skills and doing it well. The show had earlier used in him in a much more serious role in the downbeat war episode "The Purple Testament" as a rugged infantry leader. This role didn't seem suited for someone with York's skill set. The show got it right the second time around. Though best known as the first Darrin Stephens opposite Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha on Bewitched (1964-69), York had been featured on film and television since the late '40s and worked up until the mid '80s when he was permanently laid up with a degenerative spine injury which he first sustained while filming They Came to Cordura in 1959. A longtime smoker, York developed emphysema and died from the disease in 1992 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His additional genre credits include an episode of Boris Karloff's Thriller, six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
Actor Dan Tobin (Mr. Bagby) had a long career in first films and later television as a comic relief sort who always played the type of character he portrays in this episode of Twilight Zone. Tobin crossed paths again with York on Bewitched. He died in Santa Monica in 1982.
English born actor Cyril Delevanti was the son of an Anglo-Italian music professor and in his long acting career, stretching from the early '30s to the early '70s, he managed to amass over 150 credits. He was also a highly regarded drama coach. Delevanti always appeared older than his years and frequently played characters older than his actual age. He was a specialist in cockney accented English characters. His substantial genre roles, often uncredited, include: Night Monster, Son of Dracula, Phantom of the Opera (1943), Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, The Lodger (1944), The Invisible Man's Revenge, Phantom Lady, Ministry of Fear, The House of Fear, 4 episodes of Science Fiction Theatre, and episode of The Adventures of Superman, I Bury the Living, 3 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and episode of Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, and episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery. He died in Hollywood on Dec. 1, 1975.
A final thought about this episode: it always struck me as strange that the world which is presented to the viewer in "A Penny for Your Thoughts" seems very innocuous and meek. In other words, it's not a world the viewer feels like something really bad would happen and yet there is certainly an uncomfortable darkness underlying everything in the episode. Here you have a character reading people's thoughts only to discover infidelity, embezzlement, misogyny, and daydreams of grand larceny. It is a strange contrast to play the very light comedy over the very dark impulses running through the minds of the principle characters. Though I realize this broad sort of writing was done to illustrate the main idea behind the episode, that being people often say things they think otherwise and think things they have no intention of doing, it still strikes me odd as a viewer, especially how coolly Poole reacts to his boss's cheating and how easily he slips into the role of blackmailer. Just another example of how the show was always working on more than one level. All in all, a good start to George Clayton Johnson's contributions as a writer of original teleplays and a fondly remembered show which has found its way as one of the most repeatedly aired in syndication.
-Dick York also appeared in the first season episode, "The Purple Testament."
-Cyril Delevanti appeared in three additional episodes of the show, "The Silence" (season two), "A Piano in the House" (season three), and "Passage on the Lady Anne" (season four).