Monday, May 1, 2017

"Little Girl Lost"


“Little Girl Lost”
Season Three, Episode 91
Original Air Date: March 16, 1962

Cast:
Ruth Miller: Sarah Marshall
Chris Miller: Robert Sampson
Bill: Charles Aidman
Bettina (Tina) Miller: Tracy Stratford
Voice of Tina: Rhoda Williams

Crew:
Writer: Richard Matheson (based on his short story)
Director: Paul Stewart
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Merrill Pye
Set Decoration: Keough Gleason
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Robert Walker
Editor: Jason H. Bernie
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Bernard Herrmann

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week an excursion into a strange and totally different dimension. We’ll bring you a story by Richard Matheson called ‘Little Girl Lost.’ And this one we guarantee is not the kind found on a police docket or in a Missing Persons Bureau. When this little girl is lost, we’re talking about out of this world. I hope you can join us next week and find out precisely where she’s gone.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“Missing: one frightened little girl. Name: Bettina Miller. Description: six years of age, average height and build, light brown hair, quite pretty. Last seen being tucked in bed by her mother a few hours ago. Last heard: ‘ay, there’s the rub,’ as Hamlet put it. For Bettina Miller can be heard quite clearly, despite the rather curious fact that she can’t be seen at all. Present location? Let’s say for the moment, in The Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
          Chris and Ruth Miller awaken in the middle of the night to the sound of their young daughter, Tina, crying from the next room. Chris gets out of bed to check on the child. He finds Tina’s bed empty and begins to search under and around her bed. Panic flares within him when he cannot find his daughter anywhere in the room, despite the fact that she can clearly be heard crying out to her parents. Not knowing what to do, Chris calls his friend and neighbor, Bill, who works as a physicist. Chris then lets the family dog into the house and the dog immediately runs into Tina’s room and disappears into the opening through which Tina vanished.

          Bill arrives a short time later and begins an examination of the room, all the while explaining that Tina may have fallen into another dimension. Tina’s bed is moved and Bill begins to search the area for the opening. He discovers it when his hand passes through a section of the wall. Bill marks the boundaries of the opening.
          The three adults attempt to follow the voice of the child throughout the house but struggle to pinpoint Tina’s location. Bill tells Ruth to instruct Tina to follow the dog, whose heightened senses could lead the child back through the opening.
          The dog finds Tina and begins to lead her out. Chris reaches into the opening and calls the dog but reaches too far and falls through. There he discovers the disorienting nature of the other dimension. Bill urges Chris to hurry. Chris calls out to the dog, who leads Tina to her father. Bill quickly pulls all three of them back through the opening.
          As Ruth carries Tina away, Bill informs Chris that, despite Chris’s perception, only half of him had fallen through the opening. Worse yet, the opening was slowly closing the entire time. Bill slaps the wall to show that the opening is now completely closed off. Bill tells Chris, “Another few seconds and half of you would have been here and the other half . . .”

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“The other half where? The fourth dimension? The fifth? Perhaps. They never found the answer, despite a battery of research physicists equipped with every device known to man, electronic and otherwise. No result was ever achieved, except perhaps a little more respect for and uncertainty about the mechanisms of The Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:

          “Little Girl Lost” marks the first time writer Richard Matheson adapted one of his own short stories for the series. Though Matheson sold series creator Rod Serling two stories early in the first season (“Third from the Sun” and “Disappearing Act” (filmed as “And When the Sky Was Opened”)), he was intent on creating original material for the series, unlike his friend and fellow writer Charles Beaumont, who immediately set out with adaptations of his short fiction for the first season episodes “Perchance to Dream” and “Elegy.”
It is important to note the transition marked by “Little Girl Lost” as Matheson would begin to heavily rely upon his considerable body of short fiction going forward. After crafting six original teleplays for the series, six of the following eight Matheson scripts would be adaptations of previously published material.
“Little Girl Lost” was first published in the October/November, 1953 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. Matheson included the story in his 1957 collection, The Shores of Space (Bantam) and it is also included in The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories (ed. Richard Matheson, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh; Avon, 1985). The story is most readily found in Matheson’s 2003 retrospective volume, Duel: Terror Stories (Tor).
2nd edition paperback, art by Mitchell Hooks
The idea derived from a real-life experience, the story of which Matheson told many times throughout the years, most accessibly in his interview for the Archive of American Television (available on YouTube). Matheson used the real names of his wife and daughter, Ruth and Tina, for the story. Matheson awakened one night to the sound of his daughter crying. He entered her room and found her bed empty. Assuming his daughter had fallen to the floor, Matheson knelt down and looked under the bed. At first, he could not locate his crying daughter. He soon discovered that the child had fallen to the floor and rolled against the far wall. The incident unnerved the young writer and set his imaginative wheels turning.
          Matheson frequently used real-life incidents as springboards for his memorable short fiction. Something as simple as sitting in a window seat on an airplane flight and imagining a man skiing across the sky as though the clouds were snow could result in his classic 1962 story, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” memorably filmed by Richard Donner for the fifth season of The Twilight Zone. On the day President Kennedy was assassinated, Matheson was playing golf with friend and fellow Zone writer Jerry Sohl. The men cut their game short due to the terrible news and headed home. They were soon tailgated by an aggressive eighteen-wheeler. Matheson was effected by the experience enough to write down the initial idea which became his classic 1971 novella, “Duel,” filmed that same year by Steven Spielberg.
           “Little Girl Lost” also serves as an excellent representation of two essential aspects of Matheson’s short fiction output, his use of children as a conduit between the real and the uncanny, and a mode of storytelling best described as Domestic Gothic. Although the child Tina barely appears in the episode, and then only in distorted or obstructed imagery, director Paul Stewart does a commendable job of reminding the audience of the child’s presence through the use of sound and repeated shots of the child’s framed portrait. She thus remains the focal point of the narrative.
          Matheson’s use of children in his fantasy stories began with his first professionally published story, the now-classic “Born of Man and Woman” (1950), which concerns a “normal” couple who keep their mutant child confined in the basement. Matheson typically uses children as innocent travelers between the world of the real and of the unreal. In stories such as “Drink My Red Blood . . . (“Blood Son”) (1951), “Through Channels” (1951), “Dress of White Silk” (1951), and “Big Surprise” (1959) (later adapted by Matheson for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery), naïve children are darkly influenced by a supernatural force. Matheson continued to use children as a lens through which to view domestic strife in stories such as “The Doll that Does Everything” (1954) and “A Visit to Santa Claus” (1957). He did not approach the subject in a novel-length work and largely abandoned writing short fiction after 1972.
          Each of the stories listed above also stands as representative of Matheson’s Domestic Gothic mode of storytelling. Matheson, along with Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Shirley Jackson, Charles Beaumont, Roald Dahl, and a few others, is largely responsible for applying the traditional elements of Gothic fiction (romanticized elements of fear, horror, death, and gloom, combined with the heightened emotions of fear and suspense) to a modern domestic setting. Matheson used the Gothic mode to examine such unpleasant elements of modern society as murder, child abuse, failed marriages, sexual perversion, infidelity, personal failures, urban paranoia, and financial stress.
          Matheson was initially hesitant to use this style of storytelling on The Twilight Zone. “A World of Difference” and “Nick of Time” are marginally stories of the type but, again, “Little Girl Lost” would mark the transition after which Matheson would further align his efforts for the series with the characteristics of his prose output. Subsequent efforts for the series such as “Young Man’s Fancy,” “Mute,” and “Night Call” are far more representative of the Domestic Gothic style pioneered by Matheson.
          Matheson also typically resisted the use of children as a purely malevolent force. Though Matheson’s approach to children in fiction is often similar to that of his literary mentor, Ray Bradbury, who consistently used children in his fiction and approached similar material as Matheson in stories such as “The Man Upstairs” (1947), “The Black Ferris” (1948), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), Matheson diverged with his mentor’s occasional use of children as catalysts of fear, violence, and aggression. Bradbury used children as such in “The Small Assassin” (1946), “Let’s Play ‘Poison’” (1946), “Zero Hour” (1947), and “The World the Children Made” (“The Veldt”) (1950), to name a few. Interestingly, after having two of his script submissions rejected by the series, Bradbury broke through with a near-future domestic fantasy, “I Sing the Body Electric,” which examined death and grief through the perspective of a child.
          “Little Girl Lost” is an immediately engaging episode due to its familiar setting, recognizable situation (the disappearance of a child), the curiously outré aspect of the fantasy element, and the intrinsically suspenseful nature of the “ticking clock” narrative style. The relatively small scale of character and setting also work in favor of the episode. The story does require a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief from the viewing audience, most noticeably in the fact that Chris (Robert Sampson) decides to call his friend and neighbor, Bill (Charles Aidman), instead of the police. Bill also just happens to be a theoretical physicist who quickly comes to the (correct) conclusion that little Tina has fallen into another dimension. The characterizations (especially that of Charles Aidman as Bill) and the engaging narrative are such that these unlikely elements are quickly forgiven by the viewer.
          One aspect which is perhaps not so easily forgiven by the viewer is the use of an adult voice actress, Rhoda Williams, as the voice of Tina, played in the episode by Tracy Stratford (both actresses are uncredited). Although Williams was a very talented voice actress, the effect does not come off convincingly. The reason for this substitution remains unclear. Stratford can briefly be heard in the episode once she is pulled from the other dimension. Rhoda Williams was a radio, film, and television actress fondly remembered today for her association with the Walt Disney Company. Williams voiced the evil stepsister, Drizella Tremaine, in Cinderella (1950), and also leant her voice to attractions at Disneyland, including The Carousel of Progress, reported to be Walt Disney’s favorite attraction in the theme park. Tracy Stratford, who later appears as Christie, new owner of Talky Tina, in the fifth season episode, “Living Doll,” is also remembered for her voice work, as she voiced Lucy Van Pelt in A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).

          “Little Girl Lost” is notable for the use of then-current theories in physics as catalyst for the fantasy element. Charles Aidman is to be further commended for bringing a memorable characterization to a character whose job is essentially to deliver long passages of exposition detailing theories of parallel dimensions. The special effects needed to bring off the episode proved challenging for the production team and were, by and large, achieved using in-camera effects. The centerpiece of the episode is the opening in Tina’s bedroom wall. This effect was achieved by moving the “opening” section of the wall back a foot and then using strong light to blur the missing space. Thus, when the characters pass through the opening, they are moving through a missing section of the wall.
          Matheson gives little indication in his script what appearance the fourth dimension should assume. The production team decided to create as unusual a set as possible and to further enhance the disorienting effects in post-production. Oil covered glass globes, blinking lights, spinning fan blades, and heavy fog are enhanced with post-production effects such as distorted photography, rotating camera angles, and an echoing soundtrack.
          Of course, the most effective aspect of the soundtrack is the haunting musical score composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann, arguably the greatest of all composers of film music, was uniquely attuned to the musical demands of The Twilight Zone. Herrmann composed the subtle and effective opening title theme music for the first season, and when he graced an episode of the series with an original composition, it always resulted in something special. Portions of Herrmann’s music were frequently recycled on the series but his primary works, the scores for “Walking Distance,” “Eye of the Beholder,” “Little Girl Lost,” “Living Doll,” and “Ninety Years Without Slumbering,” remain some of the most memorable selections of television music of the era. His score for “Little Girl Lost,” an otherworldly blend of the bass clarinet accompanied by Herrmann’s trademark harp and violin, may be his finest achievement on the series. Many home video packages of the episode contain an option for hearing the isolated music score for “Little Girl Lost” and it is highly recommended that the viewer do so in order to observe Herrmann’s ability to compose music which is both atmospheric and narrative. Such was Herrmann’s prestige at the time that the composer is given top billing above all except writer Richard Matheson.
          Herrmann receives billing above even director Paul Stewart, who was a long-time acquaintance of the composer due to their shared association with Orson Welles and The Mercury Theatre. Herrmann composed the music for The Mercury Theatre on the Air radio program as well as for many of Welles’s appearances on other programs. For several years, Herrmann was married to prolific radio dramatist Lucille Fletcher, author of “The Hitch-Hiker.” Additionally, Herrmann followed Welles into feature films and composed the scores for Welles’s RKO films, Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) before the dissolution of The Mercury Theatre.
              Director Paul Stewart first achieved recognition as a talented character actor on stage, radio, and film. Stewart’s hardened, gaunt features secured him many shifty or villainous roles throughout his acting career. Stewart was also a founding member of The Mercury Theatre when it was established by Welles and producer John Houseman. Stewart acted as associate producer for The Mercury Theatre on the Air when the troupe moved to radio, producing, writing, and acting in such renowned projects as The Mercury Theatre’s radio productions of War of the Worlds and Dracula. 
Paul Stewart in Citizen Kane (via Wikipedia)
          A native New Yorker, born in Manhattan on March 13, 1908, Stewart began his stage career as a young man after leaving the Columbia law program without a degree. By 1930, he was on Broadway. Stewart moved into radio production in 1932, securing a job writing, acting, producing, and occasionally directing productions at WLW in Cincinnati, the same radio station which would later employ both Rod Serling and Earl Hamner, Jr. Stewart is reportedly responsible for securing Orson Welles’s first job in radio when Stewart introduced the young actor to radio director Knowles Entrikin. Stewart and Welles grew very close and remained life-long friends. They worked together in direct collaboration on many stage and radio productions, notable among which is their work on The March of Time, a program narrated by Westbrook Van Voorhis, the original narrator of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone pilot production, “Where is Everybody?” Stewart’s own extensive radio work benefited him later when he secured regular work narrating various documentaries and new reels, including acting as host and narrator of the syndicated series Deadline from 1959-1961.
          Stewart appeared alongside Welles as Raymond the valet in Citizen Kane and continued to find acting work in such film productions as Twelve O’Clock High (1949), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), In Cold Blood (1967), and The Day of the Locust (1975), but acting had largely lost its luster for Stewart by the early 1950’s. He greatly enjoyed his time working with producer David O. Selznick at Paramount during the immediate post-war era when Stewart wrote, produced, and directed second unit material. In an attempt to rejuvenate himself creatively, he moved into television directing with an episode of the syndicated series Top Secret in 1954. Television continued to provide Stewart with a steady medium by which to apply his acting and directing skills until his death from heart failure on February 17, 1986 in Los Angeles. Stewart can be seen in episodes of Climax!, Panic!, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, among many, many others.   
          Charles Aidman provides the most effective performance in the episode as Bill, the friend and neighbor who quickly gets to the bottom of the mystery. Aidman is familiar to regular Twilight Zone viewers from his equally effective performance in the first season episode “And When the Sky Was Opened,” adapted by Rod Serling from Richard Matheson’s 1953 short story “Disappearing Act.” Aidman was later chosen to narrate the first revival Twilight Zone series for CBS. He exited the production after two seasons of work when the network series was canceled and moved into production for syndication. Born in Indianapolis on January 21, 1925, Aidman began participating in drama workshops after the war. Although Aidman was noted for his stage production of Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology and appeared in some minor film work, he is best known today for his appearances in genre television fare, particularly western programs. Aidman briefly secured a regular role on the fourth season of The Wild Wild West when series regular, and Twilight Zone alumni, Ross Martin grew ill. Aidman can be seen in episodes of The Web, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, Thriller, The Invaders, The Wide World of Mystery, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. He died from cancer in Beverley Hills on November 7, 1993, aged 68.
          In a serviceable performance as the father, Chris, is prolific film and television actor Robert Sampson. A Los Angeles native born on May 10, 1933, Sampson remained active in the profession until his retirement in 2008. He began his television career in 1954 and can be seen in genre fare such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Thriller, The Outer Limits, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Star Trek, and Wonder Woman. Later in his career, Sampson found work in a memorable slate of B-grade horror films such as Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (aka Gates of Hell) (1980), The Dark Side of the Moon (1990), The Arrival (1991), Netherworld (1992) and two Stuart Gordon films, Re-Animator (1985) and Robot Jox (1989), the latter co-written by award-winning science fiction author Joe Haldeman.
          Less serviceable is Sarah Marshall’s manic performance as the mother, Ruth, a character admittedly under-developed in the script. Born in London to highly regarded actors Herbert Marshall and Edna Best, Marshall found work on stage as a young woman, often opposite her mother, and was on Broadway by 1951. She began work in American television in 1954. Her genre credits include Dow Hour of Great Mysteries, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Thriller, Star Trek, and Great Mysteries. Marshall died of cancer in Los Angeles on January 18, 2014, aged 80.
          A final aspect of “Little Girl Lost” which is often discussed is the episode’s relation to the 1982 supernatural horror film Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper and produced and co-written by Steven Spielberg. Many sources suggest that, despite Hooper’s presence in the director’s chair, Spielberg was the true creative force behind the popular and successful production (the film spawned two sequels). Poltergeist also concerns a young girl, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), who vanishes into another dimension through an opening in her bedroom closet. The family of the young girl communicate with her through the static on a television set. In an interview with Matthew R. Bradley (a portion of which is reprinted in Martin Grams, Jr.’s The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic) Matheson states that Spielberg requested a videotape copy of “Little Girl Lost” shortly before production began on Poltergeist. One can easily see how “Little Girl Lost” may have influenced Spielberg, consciously or not, when he created Poltergeist. One aspect not often mentioned in discussions of the similarities between the productions is that Matheson also wrote a short story about a television which serves as a conduit between worlds, in the aforementioned “Through Channels” (1951), which concerns a boy who discovers his parents have been consumed by their television set. What is certain is that Spielberg was an avid fan of both Matheson and The Twilight Zone. Spielberg later hired Matheson as a creative consultant on his high quality but short-lived anthology television series Amazing Stories, a series which was, for all purposes, a revival of The Twilight Zone, a property name which Spielberg was unlikely to desire a continued relationship with due to the disaster that was Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). Spielberg’s early feature-length effort, Duel (1971) was based on Richard Matheson’s 1971 novella of the same name and Spielberg had previously directed the “Eyes” segment of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery pilot film.
          “Little Girl Lost” remains an engaging, effective, and chillingly relatable story with a great script, an excellent musical score, capable direction, and a strong central performance from Charles Aidman. It displays all the hallmarks of Richard Matheson’s unique skills as a storyteller and stands as his finest episode of the third season. It comes recommended.

Grade: B

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org), the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), The Archive of American Television interview series, Marc Scott Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion (Silman-James, 1992), Martin Grams, Jr’s The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR, 2008), and The Twilight Zone Scripts of Richard Matheson, Volume One (ed. Stanley Wiater; Gauntlet Press, 2001).

Notes:
--Writer Richard Matheson was one of the key contributors to the series and wrote many of the most well-regarded episodes, including “Nick of Time,” “The Invaders,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” “Little Girl Lost” marks the first time on the series that Matheson adapted one of his previously published short stories. Rod Serling previously adapted two of Matheson’s short stories for the first season, “Third from the Sun” and “Disappearing Act” (filmed as “And When the Sky Was Opened”).
--Charles Aidman also appears in the aforementioned first season episode, “And When the Sky Was Opened.”
--Tracy Stratford also appears in the fifth season episode, “Living Doll.”
--“Little Girl Lost” is an episode which presents the family dog as able to rescue its owner from the clutches of the supernatural, similar to that presented in the previous season three episode, “The Hunt.”
--Here you can view the portion of Richard Matheson’s interview with the Archive of American Television in which he discusses the origin of “Little Girl Lost." The clip begins with Matheson discussing the origin of his idea for the classic fifth season episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." 
--Rod Serling is given a memorable lead-in to present his opening narration. The third season represents the apex of Serling interacting with the set to deliver his opening narrations. It is an element that will be noticeably absent in the fourth season, when Serling recorded his hosting appearances in blocks against a plain studio background.
--"Little Girl Lost" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Stephen Tobolowsky.


-JP

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Marketing Rod Serling: The Unique Branding of The Twilight Zone Host

Gauntlet Press collection
of Rod Serling scripts
I.

          There is little question that the television anthology, a series presentation of individual, self-contained stories, saw its greatest success and widest popularity during the first two decades of the medium. Although anthology programming is experiencing something of a renaissance, albeit in a transmogrified manner, a previously utilized element of the television anthology, the series host, is now considered antiquated and is vacant from modern anthology offerings. There was a time, however, when the anthology host not only presented the series to the viewer but distinctly influenced the style and form of the content. The host was often the draw of the series and was marketed as such by networks, sponsors, and agents.

If you were a viewer who enjoyed short-form genre entertainment, namely mystery, fantasy, horror, and science fiction, the years 1955-1965 were the ideal years to be situated in front of your television. This decade saw the productions of such genre anthology series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents (and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour), Suspicion, Science Fiction Theatre, Alcoa Presents (One Step Beyond), The Twilight Zone, 'Way Out, The Outer Limits, and Thriller, each with its own idiosyncratic style and content. October, 1957 also marked the release of the Screen Gems Shock Theater package of classic horror films to television and in the process created a need for dozens of local programming hosts across the country.

There were precedents for the genre television anthology host, namely among the transitional shows making the leap from radio to television (Lights Out, Suspense) and other early efforts such as Tales of Tomorrow and Climax! Yet, few of the early series could match the quality of subsequent offerings and, though most featured a host, none contained a distinctly marketed host who inspired the production of consumer marketed material. Of the genre anthology series of the period, three distinctly marketed hosts emerged and greatly defined the branding of a television personality. One was an award-winning television writer (Rod Serling), one a highly regarded film director (Alfred Hitchcock), and one an actor celebrated for his roles in horror films (Boris Karloff). These three television hosts inspired shelves upon shelves of books, comic books, magazines, record LPs, toys, home video releases, and dozens of other consumer materials.

Unlike Hitchcock and Karloff, whose appearances on television were preceded by several years of branding and marketing, Serling’s appearance as host on a television series was something completely new to the celebrated writer. It was the culmination of a journey that began with the optimism of a new medium and ended as a flight from and fight against censorship. For Serling, the transformation from an award-winning but largely invisible television writer to one of the most recognizable television personalities of the era was one of lucrative reward and typecasting hardship.

Earl Holliman in Rod Serling's
"Where is Everybody?"

II.

          The premier of The Twilight Zone on the CBS network on October 2, 1959, with the episode "Where is Everybody?," marked the long and often difficult journey of a decorated television writer in realizing his goal of producing a dramatic series free from the creative restraints imposed by networks executives and corporate sponsors. Though he was chose to cloak his confrontational style of drama in the recognizable tropes of science fiction and fantasy, Rod Serling, the creator of The Twilight Zone, quickly realized the burden of undertaking a job now labeled showrunner: the long hours with the production team, the continued fight against censorship, the promotion of corporate products, the exhausting commitment to produce quality material, and the unique challenges of assuming hosting duties as an on-camera personality.

          Serling's transition from creative talent behind the scenes to on-air personality was not something the Emmy Award-winning writer directly invited upon himself, and it would be several years before Serling fully embraced the celebrity status hosting The Twilight Zone afforded him. He considered himself, first and foremost, a writer, and he vigorously protected the individual creative vision of the series, a quality which attracted many of the best creative people in the industry to The Twilight Zone.

Serling previewing the third season
episode, "A Game of Pool"
There are indications that even in the late seasons of The Twilight Zone Serling remained uncomfortable as on-camera host. One widely circulated story relates that Serling's rehearsals were often filmed without the host's knowledge in order to put him at ease and capture the most genuine delivery of the material. Though Serling likely never considered himself a natural in front of the camera, it resulted in the enduring cultural image of a middle-aged man standing board-straight in a fitted suit, cigarette in hand, delivering poetic monologues in a clipped manner, bracketing clever tales of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. 

Like the paintings of Chesley Bonestell or the writings of Willy Ley, the black-and-white image of Rod Serling as host of The Twilight Zone became a cultural touchstone for the Space Age, and the series itself possesses the dual quality of being as timeless as folklore and yet firmly set in its time. To sell his series to network executives, corporate sponsors, and the American public, Serling chose to craft a story about the emerging Space Race a full decade before the Apollo 11 lunar landing and in the process became the recognized brand of televised science fiction, to the ire of a number of science fiction writers, many of whom enviously dogged the writer with unfounded charges of plagiarism throughout the course of the series. Serling’s humanistic and frequently naïve approach to science fiction and fantasy is certainly one reason The Twilight Zone remains both accessible and popular among viewers of all ages. Serling as host is another reason.

          Serling's assumption of hosting duties on The Twilight Zone was one of necessity. The show needed a voice to intone the opening narration which introduced the series each week. Serling screened the series pilot for network executives and potential sponsors with voice work recorded by Westbrook Van Voorhis, a prolific narrator whose booming delivery did not match the desired effect for The Twilight Zone. Though the series sold with the Van Voorhis voice work, it was decided a new voice would be needed before the series went to broadcast. After a proposed deal with Orson Welles fell through due to Welles's asking price, Serling, who previously narrated a successful on-camera pitch to potential sponsors, stepped in to do the work himself. Serling's voice and image have become such an inseparable aspect of The Twilight Zone that one can hardly imagine other options were explored.

         
Serling vanishes from
"A World of His Own"
Serling's delivery of the series opening narration proved a natural fit and he continued to provide voice-over narration to open and close each first season episode. Serling first appeared on-camera as host of the series after the final commercial break on each episode as part of promotional footage to preview the next week's episode. These promos were often highly creative, such as when Serling de-materialized from a time machine while previewing the time travel episode, "Execution," and they suggested the creativity which would be brought to Serling’s future on-camera appearances during the episodes proper. It was finally writer Richard Matheson, with the concluding episode of the first season, "A World of His Own," who designed for Serling to move in front of the camera to close out an episode. Matheson wrote Serling into the story as a character to capture the humorous moment in which actor Keenan Wynn, portraying a writer with the power of creation, causes Serling to disappear before the viewer's eyes. The gimmick was amusing and it was decided that viewers ought to see more of the series creator.

From the second season onward, Serling appeared before the audience to personally introduce each episode and continued to provide outgoing voice-over narration to close each episode. Only rarely did Serling appear at the end of an episode outside of the continuing promotional material. He appeared at the end of the second season episode, “The Obsolete Man” and again at the end of writer Charles Beaumont’s third season episode, “The Fugitive.” The exposure Serling received due to appearances as host on the series ensured his ascendency to cultural icon followed soon thereafter.
         
In April, 1960, there appeared a paperback volume, Stories from the Twilight Zone, which marked the beginning of both Rod Serling’s long association with Bantam Books and the marketing of The Twilight Zone on a consumer level, a practice which continues to this day and has encompassed virtually every type of consumer level entertainment product. Stories from the Twilight Zone contained Serling’s prose adaptations of six of his first season teleplays. The book was highly successful and went through four additional printings before the year was out. Stories from the Twilight Zone also established the show’s close relationship with the printed word, as the vast bulk of Twilight Zone related material, outside of home video releases of the series itself, would be composed of books, magazines, comics, and the like. 


Serling had not previously experienced a particularly prolific relationship with book publishing, though he did enjoy a certain level of notoriety unusual for a television writer. This notoriety was largely due to the fact that television featured plenty of talented up-and-coming actors but few established stars, thus pivoting the promotional attention toward talented writers like Serling, Reginald Rose, Gore Vidal, and Paddy Chayefsky. After winning Emmy Awards for writing “Patterns” for Kraft Theatre (1955) and “Requiem for a Heavyweight” for Playhouse 90 (1956), Serling was widely recognized as one of, if not the, finest television dramatist of his time. Consequently, Serling’s offerings on the dramatic anthology series of the time were often promoted on the strength of the award-winning writer’s involvement rather than for any other aspect. Serling was frequently interviewed or featured in trade journals and his reputation was such that by the time he came to create The Twilight Zone, the buzz among creatives in the industry was substantial. In 1957, Serling’s television play, “Requiem for a Heavyweight” was included in The Writers Guild of America volume, The Prize Plays of Television and Radio, 1956 (Random House), and later that year Serling released a hardcover volume from Simon & Schuster titled Patterns, which included his two Emmy Award-winning scripts and two additional scripts plus copious amounts of commentary on his journey as a writer. In 1958, Patterns was printed in paperback as a Bantam 50, a paperback series from Bantam books which sold for fifty cents. It marked the beginning of Serling's long association with the publishing company that would print the majority of Twilight Zone and Rod Serling related material.
       
 With the publication of the first volume of Twilight Zone stories, Serling’s presence in the book publishing industry increased exponentially. Stories from the Twilight Zone was followed in 1961 by More Stories from the Twilight Zone and in 1962 by New Stories from the Twilight Zone. All three volumes featured images of Serling on the covers, as Serling was by now fully recognized as an on-camera personality and as the creative force behind The Twilight Zone. An interesting aspect of the covers is the differences in art and design. The first volume featured a posed image of Serling at his writing desk and gives little indication of the type of fantasy tales within. The cover could have served well for the Patterns book. The cover of the second volume is more fantastic and interpretive in design, with Serling’s face hidden behind a series of lunar circles only to be revealed, eclipse-like, in a gradual progression. The cover to New Stories from the Twilight Zone features an enlarged view of Serling’s disembodied face with cartoons pouring from an opening in Serling’s head. The difference in the promotional text between the first volume (“Brilliant, Original, Fascinating---a famous young TV dramatist now turns his hand to story-writing in this collection that goes from subtle shock to heart stopping delight”) and the third volume (“Another starling pack of weirdies out of that wonderful place”), gives good indication of the subtle transformation in the marketing angle for The Twilight Zone books, from initially touting Serling’s achievements in television writing to appealing to the superficial thrills nominally offered by the series. 


In 1960, about the time production began on the second season of The Twilight Zone, Dell Comics approached Rod Serling with an offer to produce a Twilight Zone comic book. Dell was a publisher intent on licensing as many television properties as possible and would later add a short-lived Outer Limits comic to its stable. The Twilight Zone comic first appeared on sale in December, 1960 with a cover date of March-May, 1961 as part of Dell's Four Color series, a try-out series to gauge the potential of certain titles. The Twilight Zone was popular enough that it appeared in its own series in 1962 for two issues under the Dell banner before moving to the Gold Key imprint due to a split between Dell and Western Publishing. Gold Key would outdo Dell in television properties, adding the likes of Boris Karloff Thriller (later Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery) and Star Trek to their inventory. Each issue of The Twilight Zone comic featured Serling’s image on the cover and each story within included an introduction by an artist’s rendering of Serling. Serling’s production company, Cayuga Productions, was displayed on the cover of each issue and the comic would enjoy a run which outlived both its source material and its creator, seeing continued publication until 1979, with a final, alternate issue arriving in 1982, seven years after Serling’s death and nearly twenty years after the final broadcast episode of The Twilight Zone.  

III.
          By this point, Rod Serling the on-camera personality had, in many ways, eclipsed Rod Serling the television writer. Though Serling would continue to make his living by his typewriter, he now found himself a marketable television personality who could generate income through his image and his voice. Even today, most literate television viewers would quickly associate Serling with The Twilight Zone but few could name his prior television triumphs, some of which were award-winning, critically lauded efforts. He had come to embody the series he created in a way perhaps unique in television. Rod Serling was The Twilight Zone, to a point that even to this day many writers and critics give Serling credit for every episode aired on the series, despite the obvious presence of several other notable creatives. As early as 1959, with his famous appearance on The Mike Wallace Interview, Serling was in-demand on talk shows. As The Twilight Zone afforded Serling more exposure in his capacity as host, he found himself talking with such notables as David Susskind, Mike Douglas, and Johnny Carson, as well as in comedic skits on The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, The Red Skelton Hour, The Jack Benny Program, and others, often in parodies of his own creations. Though much of this material is embarrassing in hindsight, it does display the level of celebrity which Serling was able to achieve at the time.

Roald Dahl hosting 'Way Out
Television executives were quick to recognize the potential of emulating Serling’s success on the series. When tasked with creating a mid-season replacement series for Jackie Gleason’s disastrous return to television in 1961, producer David Susskind quickly put together a fantasy anthology series that in many ways emulated the format set by The Twilight Zone. The CBS series, 'Way Out, would be a 30-minute anthology program of fantasy dramas shot on video in New York. Those that have viewed episodes of ‘Way Out know that the show distinguished itself during its short run (14 episodes) with truly bizarre tales of horror and fantasy. The element which most strongly relates to The Twilight Zone is the style of host. Susskind tasked his friend Roald Dahl, the popular British short story writer, to host the program and provide the script for the opening episode, an adaptation of Dahl's short story, "William and Mary." Dahl wore a tailored black suit and smoked a cigarette while humorously narrating the show’s opening and closing moments in a deadpan manner. If it was not a conscious imitation of Rod Serling it was a remarkably similar performance. Dahl would later host a show with a much longer life, Tales of the Unexpected, complete with a companion book of stories published by Penguin Books in 1979. Though ‘Way Out was likely too outré for the average American viewing audience of the time, it stands to reason that one cause of its early demise was its similarity to The Twilight Zone, a series which immediately followed it on Friday nights in 1961. 

          By 1963, Serling was exhausted, both physically and creatively. The burdens of producing material and acting as executive producer for The Twilight Zone proved to be damaging to the writer’s health and creativity. A near-cancellation after the second season of The Twilight Zone meant that Serling had to agree to endorse Chesterfield cigarettes in his promotional spots to secure sponsorship for the third season. That third season, though a strong season by any standards, also marked a significant downturn in Serling’s self-perception, as he struggled with doubt in his own ability to continue to produce quality material. Some of the critical favor which the series acquired over its previous two season also began to turn against its principal creator. If Rod Serling was there to accept the Emmy Awards and Hugo Awards being showered upon the series, he was also there to accept the brunt of responsibility when the series failed to illicit the same high level of critical acclaim.

After the third season, the series was truly canceled and only returned as a truncated, mid-season replacement series in a new hour-long format and with a new producer. This was the first truly transitional time for the series and many believe it never achieved the level of quality it had previously under producer Buck Houghton, who departed with the news of cancelation. Adding to Houghton’s departure was Serling leaving to teach writing and the early-onset Alzheimer’s experienced by writer Charles Beaumont, the second leading contributor of scripts to the series. Though Serling continued to write the majority of scripts and record introductions for the series, the level of his active involvement in the operations of production were largely diminished.

The success of The Twilight Zone books, however, demanded that additional volumes be produced. Serling had not the time nor the energy to compile additional Twilight Zone material for publication. There were dozens more Serling-penned episodes which had not seen prose adaptation but the act of writing an entire Twilight Zone book during this time seemed unfeasible. The solution was to bring in another writer, pulp fiction veteran Walter B. Gibson, who would adapt several Rod Serling scripts as well as produce original material, and to switch publishers, from Bantam Books to Grosset & Dunlap. The move between publishers was facilitated by the fact that young viewers made up a significant portion of the overall viewership for The Twilight Zone and there was a desire to produce literary material to capitalize on this demographic. The two volumes which were produced with Walter B. Gibson were directly marketed to younger viewers. This trend toward a younger readership was also recognized by Bantam Books, who released each of Serling’s three previous Twilight Zone books as Pathfinder editions, a paperback line of fiction and non-fiction designed to appeal to young adult readers.
Pathfinder edition

Although the two Grosset & Dunlap books, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (1963) and Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Revisited (1964) included Serling’s name in the titles, both eschewed images of Serling on the cover designs of the hardcover and paperback editions (Tempo Books), presumably due to the assumption that younger readers (viewers) found the material a stronger draw than the host. As for the Bantam Pathfinder editions of Serling’s Twilight Zone books, appealing new covers were created, only the first of which featured an image of Serling.

1963 saw Serling nominally edit the first of three fiction anthologies for Bantam Books, Rod Serling’s Triple W: Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves. Though Serling wrote the introductory material, the contents of the book were compiled by noted science fiction author Gordon R. Dickson, who did not receive credit for the work and who would reprise his role as ghost editor for the 1967 volume Rod Serling’s Devils and Demons. These two anthologies were clearly aimed at the reader of horror fiction, both in cover design and content, and prefigured Serling’s later involvement in the Night Gallery series. A third anthology for Bantam, Rod Serling’s Other Worlds (1978), was released three years after the writer’s death and it remains unknown whether he chose the contents of the book as no story editor is listed. This final book was aimed at the science fiction market and featured an introduction from Twilight Zone writer Richard Matheson and story notes by science fiction writer Jack C. Haldeman. 

IV.
          As The Twilight Zone came to a rather merciful end in 1964, having gone through three additional producers since Buck Houghton’s exit at the end of the third season, Serling found himself suddenly free of the daily operations of a television series. The shadow of the series, however, hung over him and would largely define every move of his professional career until his early death in 1975. Between the failure of his adult western program, The Loner, his teaching at Ithaca College in New York, and his brief stint as host of the syndicated game show Liar's Club, Serling continued his association with book publishing.

          Serling found time to write three excellent novella length fantasy/horror stories which were published in hardcover as The Season to Be Wary in 1967 by Little, Brown, with less than appealing cover art. Bantam books brought out a paperback edition a year later with a much more appealing cover which featured a painted collage design representing the three stories contained within. Serling adapted two of the stories, “Eyes” and “The Escape Route,” as two-thirds of an NBC television anthology movie in 1969. This film, Night Gallery, contained a third story, an original Serling teleplay, “The Cemetery,” which together comprised some of the finest writing Serling had achieved in years. The television film contained an excellent cast, including Roddy McDowall, Ozzie Davis, Joan Crawford, and Sam Jaffe, as well as excellent direction from Boris Sagal, Steven Spielberg, and Barry Shear. It was truly a triumphant return to television fantasy for the esteemed writer. The telefilm was well received and rated highly, generating the idea of a new Rod Serling fantasy series, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, which was soon ordered to production.


Serling had previously considered development of a new fantasy series at the end of The Twilight Zone, but every idea, including one in which Serling toured a gallery of wax figures which was later echoed by Night Gallery, seemed to be fixated on pulp horror and held little appeal to Serling. A few years later, Serling was more open to the idea of a horror series carrying his name in the title. It was another indication that Rod Serling, the on-camera personality, was higher currency to network executives than was the quality of the story material which could be provided by the award-winning writer.

          Night Gallery began as part of the NBC Four in One program and enjoyed a short yet quality first season. For its only full season, the second season, much of Night Gallery approached the quality of writing, directing, and performances of The Twilight Zone. Unfortunately for Serling, the autonomy he experienced on The Twilight Zone was nowhere to be found on Night Gallery. Despite the fact that he performed well as host and primary writer of series, Serling was partnered with a producer, Jack Laird, whose inability to take the fantasy genre seriously resulted in some disastrous comedic material, and whose misguided impulse to control production led to Serling being cut out of any creative input.

         
Night Gallery did result in two final books from Rod Serling which serve as an excellent swan song to a memorable publishing career. Bantam Books again partnered with Serling in an attempt to recreate the success of the first three Twilight Zone books from the early 1960’s, this time adapting his scripts from Night Gallery. Though the resultant books were not as successful as the Twilight Zone books, the two Night Gallery volumes, published in 1971 and 1972, contain adaptations of two Emmy Award-nominated efforts and display Rod Serling in top form. The cover illustrations on these volumes are extremely appealing as well. Like the paperback edition of The Season to Be Wary, the Night Gallery volumes use a painted collage design with images from the stories surrounding a central image of Rod Serling.

          Despite the fact that late in his professional career Rod Serling seemed unable to turn down any offer to utilize his marketable image and voice, including selling beer and narrating documentaries on such outre subjects as UFOs and cryptozoology, his legacy remains firmly connected to The Twilight Zone, a series he had not the foresight to believe would endure as a culturally significant work of art. Serling's final bow as host was for the syndicated radio series The Zero Hour, which featured stories of mystery and suspense and which boasted an impressive pedigree of writers and performers. Serling had, in a way, come full circle, having begun in radio all those many years ago at the beginning of his professional career.

V.     

In the time since Rod Serling's death in 1975, the marketing and memorial efforts on behalf of both Serling and his principal creations have been robust and continuous. The first book-length biography of Serling appeared in 1989 with Joel Engel’s Rod Serling: The Dreams and Nightmares of Life in the Twilight Zone, from Contemporary Books. Since then, there have been several additional Serling biographies, including a moving memoir, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling, from Serling’s daughter Anne, an excellent offering on Serling from the prestigious American Masters series from PBS Documentary Films, and a line of books, Rod Serling Books, which have brought back into print all of Serling’s books published during the writer’s lifetime. Perhaps most important among the preservations efforts on behalf of Rod Serling was the formation of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation, whose Foundation Board and membership roster includes virtually every important family member, writer, scholar, or critic association with the examination of Serling’s works.

          Serling’s seemingly immortal creation, The Twilight Zone, has seen even more activity since the death of its creator. Among the endless stream of Twilight Zone material are two television revival series, two additional comic book series and a line of graphic novels, tribute fiction anthologies compiled by Serling’s widow, Carol, book anthologies compiling source material for The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, reprints of Serling’s Twilight Zone stories, boundless literary appreciations and critical guides (spearheaded by Marc Scott Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion), photo books, script books, interview books, audio books, The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, and Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, which ran from 1981-1989 and set the standard for a genre periodical of its time. There have been toys, New Year’s marathons, Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics, and exceptional home video offerings in every format. And during all this time The Twilight Zone has enjoyed an uninterrupted run in syndication. It adds up to one of the most impressive cultural legacies from a man who never truly believed in the lasting value of his work and who only wanted to be known as having written something worthwhile.

-JP

Additional Images:













Grateful acknowledgement is made to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org), The Grand Comics Database (comics.org), Amazon.com, Atlas Obscura, and Goodreads for providing information and images used in this post.

Special thanks to Christopher Conlon.

Note: A listing for a large selection of Twilight Zone related material can be found in the Vortex Library

Selected Works:

Shows as Host:
-The Twilight Zone (CBS, 1959-1964)
-Liar's Club (syndicated game show, one season, 1969-1970)
-Night Gallery (NBC, pilot: 1969; series: 1970-1973)
-The Zero Hour (radio; 1973-1974)

Books:
-Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam, 1960)
-More Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam, 1961)
-New Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam, 1962)
-From the Twilight Zone (Doubleday/BCE, 1962)
-Rod Serling’s Triple W: Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves (Bantam, 1963)
-Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (with Walter B. Gibson; Grosset & Dunlap, 1963)
-Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Revisited (with Walter B. Gibson; Grosset & Dunlap, 1964)
-Rod Serling’s Devils and Demons (Bantam, 1967)
-The Season to Be Wary (Little, Brown, 1967)
-Night Gallery (Bantam, 1971)
-Night Gallery 2 (Bantam, 1972)
-Rod Serling’s Other Worlds (Bantam, 1978)

Comics:
-The Twilight Zone (Dell/Gold Key, 1960-1982)