Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Static"


Ed Lindsay (actor Dean Jagger) tunes in to the Twilight Zone

"Static"
Season Two, Episode 56
Original Air Date: March 10, 1961

Cast:
Ed Lindsay: Dean Jagger
Vinnie Broun: Carmen Matthews
Professor Ackerman: Robert Emhardt
Roscoe Bragg: Arch Johnson
Mrs. Nielsen: Alice Pierce
Miss Meredith: Lillian O'Malley
Mr. Llewellyn: J. Pat O'Malley
Boy: Stephen Talbot
Junk Dealer: Clegg Holt
Rock & Roll Singer: Jerry Fuller
Real Estate Pitchman: Eddie Marr
Girl in Commercial: Diane Strom
Disc Jockey (voice): Bob Crane
TV/Radio Announcer: Roy Bowan
Man #1: Bob Duggan
Man #2: Jay Overholts

Crew:
Writer: Charles Beaumont (based on an unpublished story by OCee Ritch)
Director: Buzz Kulik
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Art Direction: Robert Tyler Lee
Set Decoration: Buck Henshaw
Technical Director: Jim Brady
Assoc. Director: James Clark
Casting: Ethel Winant
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
"Item of consequence: a radio. A carryover from that other era when quiz shows went up to only sixty-four dollars and entertainment was aimed only at the ears. Mr. Charles Beaumont has given us a most unusual story called 'Static.' We invite you to watch Mr. Dean Jagger fiddle with a few of these knobs, change a few stations, and find a couple of programs that are broadcast only in The Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"No one ever saw one quite like that because that's a very special sort of radio. In its day, circa 1935, its type was one of the most elegant consoles on the market. Now, with its fabric-covered speakers, its peculiar yellow dial, its serrated knobs, it looks quaint and a little strange. Mr. Ed Lindsay is going to find out how strange very soon, when he tunes in to the Twilight Zone."

Summary:
            Ed Lindsay, an elderly bachelor, lives in a boarding house in which the other tenants, also elderly, spend their waning days and nights parked on couches and chairs taking in endless hours of television. Lindsay, bored with this routine, goes down into the basement of the boarding house and retrieves his old radio, a hulking set that is over twenty five years old. He brings the radio up to his room and, to his astonishment and delight, is able to catch many of the old radio programs he remembers from his younger years, programs which have long since gone off the air. When he tells the other tenants, they scoff at the idea. Most frustrating for Ed is that he is only able to hear the old radio shows when he is alone and is unable to prove to anyone else in the house that his old radio is working some sort of magic.
            Vinnie Broun is an elderly maid that was once engaged to marry Ed many years ago. Circumstances prevented the marriage and thereafter Vinnie and Ed have been living tensely under the same roof, having grown into tired, bickering adversaries. Vinnie thinks Ed is imagining the broadcasts of all those old radio shows and tells him in a frank confession that she believes it is a result of them missing out on their one chance at happiness all those years ago. Ed dismisses the idea the he is imagining the broadcasts.
            In an effort to stop Ed's descent into what she believes to be an unhealthy fixation, Vinnie sells Ed's radio to a junk dealer. When he finds out, Ed is furious and immediately retrieves his radio, having to buy his own property back from the junk dealer. Fearing the radio won't work the way it did before, Ed lugs it home and fires it up. It still works and even better than before. When Ed calls Vinnie up to hear the old broadcasts it is a young, vibrant version of Vinnie that appears in his doorway. Ed, now a young man again, realizes that they’ve gone back in time to be given a second chance.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Around and around she goes and where she stops nobody knows. All Ed Lindsay knows is that he desperately wanted a second chance and finally got it, through a strange and wonderful time machine called a radio, in the Twlight Zone."

Commentary:
            In an interview with Buzz Kulik, director of "Static," author Marc Scott Zicree (The Twilight Zone Companion) suggests that "Static" is an episode which presents a theme opposite from that explored in the earlier episode "The Trouble with Templeton." Whereas "The Trouble with Templeton" says you can't go back again (as does a bevy of episodes from "Walking Distance" to "The Incredible World of Horace Ford"), "Static" shows that, with a little magic, and a lot of hope, you definitely can go back. A more apt comparison is perhaps the highly regarded third season episode "Kick the Can," scripted by close friend of and frequent collaborator with Charles Beaumont, writer George Clayton Johnson. In that episode, the children's game of kick-the-can transforms the aged in a nursing home back into their younger selves. "Static" displays the quintessential Twilight Zone set up, the intrusion of a magical or fantastic element, in a highly realistic setting. In other words, ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. It is interesting to note here, and it has been noted before in other studies of the show, that the main writers of the show were all young men in their early to mid 30s and yet returned time and again to create episodes dealing with the elderly, exploring what it means to grow old with astonishing insight into the regret and sorrow and, ultimately, hope that accompanies the aging process. "Static" shares a lot of thematic ground with other Zone episodes that center on elderly characters, such as the aforementioned "Kick the Can," "Nothing in the Dark," "The Hunt," “The Trade-Ins,” and "Night Call," among others; each being an example from the core writers of the show.  
            "Static" began as an unpublished short story with the evocative title "Tune in Yesterday" by OCee Ritch, a friend of and frequent collaborator with Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont. Ritch contributed to Beaumont's book on motor racing, The Omnibus of Speed: An Introduction to the World of Motor Sport, edited with William F. Nolan (G.P. Putnam's, 1958; "The Golden Days of Gilmore") and collaborated with Beaumont on nostalgic essays for Playboy and other magazines (published under Beaumont's name alone and later collected in Beaumont's volume, Remember, Remember? (Macmillan, 1963)). The two writers also collaborated on television scripts beyond their two efforts for The Twilight Zone, with "The Long Silence" for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (with William D. Gordon and based on "Composition for Four Hands" by Hilda Lawrence) as well as a teleplay for Boris Karloff's Thriller, "Guillotine," based on a story by Cornell Woolrich. A final collaboration was "Gate to Nowhere" for the dramatic series Channing. Ritch's name does not appear in the credits for any of these efforts. In 1962, Ritch had a small role in director Roger Corman's adaptation of Beaumont's 1959 novel, The Intruder, starring William Shatner. Other Beaumont friends William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson also appear in the film. Ritch wrote an article on making the film for the December, 1961 issue of Rogue magazine (under the simple title "The Intruder"). 
              Ritch and Beaumont initially bonded over their shared love of automobiles (Ritch published several motorcycle repair manuals for the Chilton series in the 1960's) and discovered a shared passion for fantasy and nostalgia. Beaumont so liked the original title of "Static" that he re-titled his nostalgic essay on radio, originally published as "Requiem for Radio" in Playboy, as "Tune in Yesterday" for its appearance in Remember, Remember? 
            As recorded in Marc Scott Zicree's The Twilight Zone Companion, OCee Ritch got the idea for "Static" while attending a party thrown by writer Richard Matheson, also a frequent contributor to The Twilight Zone. At the party was an old time radio fan who performed bits from some of the old shows. Ritch struck upon the idea of being able to simply tune in to those old radio shows that were no longer on the air and set out to write a fantasy story around the concept. Instead of submitting "Tune in Yesterday" as a short story to a fiction magazine, Charles Beaumont convinced Ritch to submit the story for production on The Twilight Zone. Producer Buck Houghton accepted the story upon Beaumont's recommendation as well as on the condition that Beaumont wrote the teleplay adaptation. During the first two seasons, Houghton was particularly wary to let other writers in on the show. See his relationship with George Clayton Johnson for instance. Johnson had been selling stories to the series since the first season but had to bargain his way in to writing original teleplays for the show. 
            Beaumont took the adaptation as an opportunity to change Ritch's story to suit the show as well as Beaumont’s own writing style. Whereas Ritch's main character was an unhappily married man looking to escape into the past, Beaumont changed him to an unhappy bachelor that wanted a second chance to correct past mistakes. Beaumont also allowed changes that would take ironic shots at the television industry, the very medium which supported the show. It was an industry in which Beaumont worked and thrived but for which he held no love, made apparent in the later essay on old time radio, "Requiem for Radio." Beaumont presents the tenants of the boarding house as the dull slaves of routine, whiling away their days in front of the television whereas the introduction of the radio in the episode drives all the action, is the catalyst for heated conversation and startling confession, and inspires excitement and laughter. The commercials presented on television are absurd and humorous caricatures of the type of advertising common to the 1960's. It is made clear that Beaumont felt television an unfit successor to radio. As Ed Lindsay poignantly states in the episode, radio is “a world that has to be believed to be seen.”
            To create the genuine feel of old time radio, the episode utilized recordings from old broadcasts (The F.D.R. fireside chat and a segment from The Fred Allen Show) as well as creating new recordings, including the use of a Los Angeles radio announcer named Bob Crane who would later star on the popular television series Hogan's Heroes.
            “Static” hinges so heavily upon a single concept (the magic radio) that a good script and better performances were necessary to keep the action moving smoothly along. Dean Jagger is perfectly cast as Beaumont’s unhappy bachelor and manages to tamper his performance so as not to alienated the viewer by simply playing a one-dimensional grump, but rather like a man trapped in a miserable situation from which derives his ill tempered behavior, particularly toward the character of Vinnie. Jagger portrays the loneliness of a man surrounded by people that, for the most part, he cannot relate to and it lends his character weight as a relatable, if not pitiable, figure. Jagger was born in Ohio on November 7, 1903. After studying acting in Chicago, he found character roles in films and later on television, eventually winning a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for Twelve O’Clock High (1949). Jagger’s other genre credits include the films Revolt of the Zombies (1936), X: the Unknown (1956) and Alligator (1980), and an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He died in Santa Monica in 1991.
            Ably supporting Jagger are Carmen Matthews as Vinnie Broun and Robert Emhardt as Professor Ackerman. Matthews was born in Philadelphia in 1914 and was trained in the theater. She found early television work in anthology programs such as Kraft Theater and Goodyear Playhouse and continued working in television throughout her career, finding the occasional film role. Her other genre credits include television episodes of Suspense (1952), 'Way Out, six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and an episode of Tales from the Darkside. She died in 1995.
             Actor Robert Emhardt amassed an astounding number of credits in theater and television over his long career. He seemed tailored to play villains but found a variety of roles in every type of show on the small screen, from soap operas to westerns to science fiction. He was born in Indianapolis in 1914 and died in California in 1994. His other genre credits include episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, and the Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
            “Static” remains a memorable episode that is unfortunately given the videotape and stock music treatment and is thus not as memorable as one of the better produced episodes. It is apparent in certain aspects of production, however, that a lot of care was given to making the episode a success. One of the show’s best writer was given the job to adapt the source material and effort was made to replicate the authentic sounds of old time radio. The only major flaw in the episode is the choice to use older actors and attempt to make them look young again through color and makeup processes for the surprise ending. The typical approach to this type of fantasy is to use makeup to age younger actors (see this done effectively in "The Howling Man") and then simply remove the makeup when the time comes to reveal the younger versions of the characters. Often, two different sets of actors are used to achieve the same effect. The makeup department isn’t quite able to convincingly turn back the clock forty years on the two main characters but nevertheless the episode remains effective, with a good script and solid acting all around.

The Twilight Zone was given the radio drama treatment beginning in 2002 with The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, conceived, produced, and directed by Carl Amari, with episode adaptations by Dennis Etchison. Read our look at this radio series. 

Grade: B

Grateful acknowledgement is made to William F. Nolan for The Work of Charles Beaumont: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide (2nd edition, Borgo Press, 1990) 

Note:
-“Static” was adapted as a The Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Stan Freberg.

--Jordan Prejean

3 comments:

  1. Nice article! I recall liking this one, though I haven't seen it in a long time. Isn't it funny that technology made this fantasy come true--we can now tune in to many old radio shows just by locating them online!

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  2. I just watched this episode and I loved it! I've been humming that song for over 30 years and had forgotten where I first heard it. This one gets an A- from me only due to the videotape limitations. Carmen Mathews gives a great performance. The scene at the dinner table sounds like Serling added some dialogue.

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  3. Yeah, I forgot to mention it in the post but old time radio seems to be making a strong comeback. Blackstone Audio recently acquired the BBC Audio library and has reissued a great deal of old radio shows. And hey, Jack, they also released a few Fred Brown audio books as well, "The Screaming Mimi" and "Honeymoon in Hell" I know for sure. It's nice that old radio still has a dedicated following because some of those old shows (esp. Inner Sanctum Mystery, my all time favorite) are really great.

    Not sure how much the writers borrowed from each other or what kind of imput Serling had on the episodes he didn't write but I'm sure there were brainstorming sessions before the cameras rolled. I think it's most likely that the main writers of the show (Serling, Beaumont, Matheson, Johnson) inspired each other creatively and found their styles somewhat blending together. Serling's trademark is a lot of dialogue (think "Monsters are Due on Maple Street" or "The Shelter") as it was his strongest talent and Beaumont had to fill "Static" with a great deal of dialogue to carry the simple plot along for the full half hour required by the show. But Beaumont himself wrote some pretty talky episodes ("The Howling Man" and "Shadow Play" come to mind) whereas a writer like Richard Matheson was more concerned with experimental type of episodes like "The Invaders" which hardly had any dialogue at all. Great writers, all. Thanks for reading.

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