Saturday, May 27, 2017

Reading Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, Part 1

In which we take a closer look at each issue of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. For our capsule history of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine go here.

Volume 1, number 1 (April, 1981)
Editor: T.E.D. Klein
Cover illustration by Jim Warren, 
for Harlan Ellison’s “Grail” 

--Klein is today known for two critically lauded and commercially successful books from the 1980’s, a novel, The Ceremonies (1984), and a collection of long stories, Dark Gods (1985). He left Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine in 1985 to focus on writing fiction. Klein is also known among genre readers for his lack of productivity following the aforementioned two books. A third novel, Nighttown, was heavily advertised and slated for release in 1989 only to remain unpublished. That novel concerns a subway murderer in New York City who hunts down the only witness to his crimes. Klein recently retired from his day job and there are indications that Nighttown will eventually appear.

--Klein developed an early interest in weird fiction and his tastes in the genre would shape the course of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. Klein became active in the early 1970’s with the appearance of his highly regarded short story, “The Events at Poroth Farm,” a story which provided the framework for his 1984 novel The Ceremonies. He continued to produce short fiction throughout the 1980’s. Klein provided critical essays to studies of H.P. Lovecraft and story notes for Kirby McCauley’s 1976 horror anthology Beyond Midnight before devoting his time to magazine editing. He briefly edited Night Cry magazine and the true crime magazine CrimeBeat. Klein also produced a how-to book for aspiring horror writers, Raising Goosebumps for Fun and Profit: a Brief Guide, for Beginners, to the How’s and Why’s of Horror (1988).  

TZ Publications, Inc.
-The magazine was published and distributed by Montcalm Publishing. The TZ Publications imprint was created for the magazine.

President & Chairman: S. Edward Orenstein
Secretary & Treasurer: Sidney Z. Gellman
Executive Vice Presidents: Nils A. Shapiro & Eric Protter
-Protter, who also served as Editorial Director, was an occasional anthologist, most notably with Monster Festival, illustrated by Edward Gorey (Vanguard Press, 1965) and A Harvest of Horrors (Vanguard, 1980)

Executive Publisher: S. Edward Orenstein
Publisher: Nils A. Shapiro
Associate Publisher and Consulting Editor: Carol Serling
Editorial Director: Eric Protter
Editor: T.E.D. Klein
Managing Editor: Diana Steinhorn
Contributing Editors: Gahan Wilson and Theodore Sturgeon
-The editorial department was comprised of an impressive group of contributors throughout the course of the magazine, but particularly in this early era, as Protter, Wilson, and Sturgeon, all highly accomplished in their chosen fields, contributed to the editorship of talented writer and critic T.E.D. Klein.

Design Director: Derek Burton
Art and Studio Production: Georg the Design Group
Design Consultant: Steve Phillips
Production Director: Edward Ernest
Controller: Thomas Schiff
Administrative Asst: Eve Grammatas
Public Relations Manager: Melissa Blanck-Grammatas
Public Relations Assistant: Jeffrey Nickora
Accounting Manager: Chris Grossman
Circulation Manager: Denise Kelly
Circulation Assistant: Karen Wiss
Circulation Marketing Manager: Jerry Alexander
Western Newsstand Consultant: Harry Sommer
V.P. Advertising Director: Martin Lassman
N.Y. Advertising Manager: Louis J. Scott
Advertising Production Manager: Rachael Britapaja
Advertising Assistant: Marina Despotakis

--Cover Matter: The magazine billed itself as including all-new tales of suspense, horror and the supernatural in the tradition of the classic television series, firmly aligning itself with horror and supernatural fiction rather than with science fiction (commonly, though erroneously, believed to be the primary thoroughfare of the television series), although the magazine would publish a good deal of the latter. It also indicated that the original television series would play a key role in the contents of the magazine. The magazine frequently utilized very appealing painted or photographic artwork. From the October, 1983 issue, however (an issue that was a Twilight Zone: The Movie special), the magazine covers were devoted to films and film coverage. This remained the case, more or less, until February, 1985, when the magazine reverted back to using painted covers. 

Contents:

--“A Personal Message” by Carol Serling
--In the Twilight Zone by T.E.D. Klein
--“Rod Serling: First Citizen of the Twilight Zone” by T.E.D. Klein and Marc Scott Zicree
--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
--Other Dimensions: Books by Theodore Sturgeon
--TZ Interview: Stephen King by Charles L. Grant
--“Grail” by Harlan Ellison
--“Remembering Melody” by George R.R. Martin
--“Author’s Query” by Fred C. Shapiro
--“The Rose Wall” by Joyce Carol Oates
--Screen Preview: “Escape from New York”
--“The Death Runner” by Thomas Sullivan
--“The Next Sideshow” by Ramsey Campbell
--“Absolute Ebony” by Felice Picano
--3 Cautionary Tales: “The Helping Hand,” “The Man Who Loved,” and “The Wish” by Robert Sheckley
--“Groucho” by Ron Goulart
--America Enters the Twilight Zone: Part 1 of TZ’s Show-by-Show Guide
            by Marc Zicree
--TZ Classic Teleplay: “Walking Distance” by Rod Serling
--Looking Ahead: In the May TZ

--Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine filled a void on the newsstands for readers interested in intelligent dark fantasy fiction as well as current coverage of fantasy books, films, music, and news from the horror/fantasy/science fiction community. The magazine also, particularly under Klein’s editorship, devoted a good amount of space to the classic writers of weird fiction. The magazine successfully melded the best of a genre film magazine with the best of a genre fiction magazine. A notable predecessor in this format was Omni magazine, begun in 1978, a magazine with a more science (and science-fictional) leaning and one which clearly influenced the layout and content of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. Notable successors include Science Fiction Age and Cemetery Dance (exploring science fiction and horror, respectively), two of the finest such magazine of the 1990’s.

--Once established, the structure of the magazine generally remained the same throughout its run. Features included an interview with a notable writer or filmmaker, a book review column, a movie review column, a music review column, a news column, a letters page, along with eight or so works of illustrated fiction. Some features, such as show guides to anthology television series, teleplays from the original series of The Twilight Zone, full-color movie previews, and features on Rod Serling and other Twilight Zone writers, appeared regularly as well. Editorial features began to overcrowd the magazine, particularly once a feature film and the revival television series bearing The Twilight Zone name were released. Editor Klein’s answer was, in 1984, to create a sister magazine, Night Cry, which was devoted solely to horror and dark fantasy fiction. The fiction, however, remained the linchpin of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine.

--“A Personal Message: An invitation to re-enter the Twilight Zone” by Carol Serling
-Rod Serling’s widow, acting as Associate Publisher and Consulting Editor, provided a welcome message, hereafter titled “A Note from the Publisher,” for several subsequent issues. This first essay focused on ways in which the term “twilight zone” became a regularly used part of the American idiom since the end of the original television series. Serling also briefly dispels any notions that Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine would feature space opera or the baser aspects of horror fiction, promising instead to deliver intelligent adult fantasy fiction. Carol Serling took a marked interest in the preservation of her late husband’s work, beginning in the early 1980’s with a series of fiction anthologies, including Rod Serling’s Night Gallery Reader in 1987 (Dembner Books; with Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg) and several Twilight Zone themed anthologies leading up to the present day. Serling took an active interest in the magazine as well, particularly during Klein’s editorship.

--In the Twilight Zone by T.E.D. Klein
-This editorial would continue for every issue and served as a preview of the contents of the issue, with thumbnail photographs of and notes on each contributor. This page also includes all editorial credits.

--TZ Profile: Rod Serling, First Citizen of the Twilight Zone by T.E.D. Klein and Marc Zicree
-This profile centers on Rod Serling’s life from childhood to the inception of The Twilight Zone. A hugely informative essay, much of the material would appear again a year later in Marc Scott Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion, and will therefore be familiar to readers of that volume. Interestingly, Zicree’s then-forthcoming book is referred to as The Making of the Twilight Zone. The profile includes several photographs, many of which have not appeared elsewhere.

--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
-Wilson, best known as the creator of morbidly funny cartoons for Playboy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, is also an accomplished writer of short macabre fiction, including the frequently anthologized stories, “Mister Ice Cold” and “The Sea Was Wet as Wet Could Be.” Here, Wilson dives right in with his first movie review column. He favorably reviews two films from director David Lynch, The Elephant Man, then in general release, and Eraserhead, then making the arthouse circuit rounds. Wilson less-favorably reviews the Charlton Heston film, The Awakening, an almost completely forgotten film loosely based on Bram Stoker’s 1903 novel of Egyptian horror, The Jewel of Seven Stars. Wilson finishes with a short dismissal of the cult horror favorite, Motel Hell.  Wilson previously reviewed books for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1968-1976 and later provided the same service to Realms of Fantasy magazine from 1994-2000. Wilson continued to review fantasy films for Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine until the publication folded in 1989.

--Other Dimensions: Books by Theodore Sturgeon
-Sturgeon, the celebrated science-fantasy writer (The Dreaming Jewels, More Than Human, Some of Your Blood, and many short stories) was also a frequent book reviewer for genre publications, notably for Galaxy Science Fiction and Venture Science Fiction. Sturgeon takes a measured approach in his first review column, setting forth his philosophy toward criticism and what readers can expect of the column. Notable among Sturgeon’s parameters is the opportunity to review older, neglected works. Sturgeon leaves himself little room for actual reviews and quickly recommends a list of books.

The books listed by Sturgeon are:
The Sunset Warrior; Shallows of Night; and Dai-San by Eric Van Lustbader
Savage Heroes edited by Michel Parry
Firelord by Parke Godwin
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
The Grey Mane of Morning by Joy Chant
The Seekers of Shar-Nuhn by Ardath Mayhar
Satyrday by Steven Bauer
The Shapes of Midnight by Joseph Payne Brennan (intro by Stephen King)
The Dark by James Herbert
Edges edited by Virginia Kidd and Ursula K. Le Guin
Ray Bradbury; and Ursula K. Le Guin edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander
H.P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism edited by S.T. Joshi
Magic Time by Kit Reed
The Paradise Plot by Ed Naha
King David’s Spaceship by Jerry Pournelle
The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe
An Island Called Moreau by Brian W. Aldiss
Wizard by John Varley
The Magic Labyrinth by Philip Jose Farmer
The Arbor House Treasury of Modern Science Fiction edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg

-Sturgeon continued to review books for Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine for an additional year before giving way to other voices, notable among whom were Thomas M. Disch and E.F. Bleiler. Two of Sturgeon’s short stories, “A Saucer of Lonliness” and “Yesterday Was Monday” (as “A Matter of Minutes”) were adapted for the first revival Twilight Zone television series. Many of the writers for both the original television series and the revival series consider Sturgeon a chief influence on their work.

--TZ Interview: Stephen King: “I Like to Go for the Jugular,” conducted by Charles L. Grant
-This is an excellent interview with Stephen King at a time when he was ascendant on the publishing scene, having just released Firestarter the previous year. At the time of the interview King was at work on Cujo and also discusses the general plot of what eventually appeared as IT in 1986. The interview is conducted by King’s friend and fellow horror writer Charles L. Grant. Grant was a leading proponent of the “quiet horror” school of writing in which atmosphere and character are given precedence over violence and gore. This school of horror writing was in direct response to the more visceral style of horror beginning to crop up in the industry, which better reflected horror films and which reached its brief zenith in the Splatterpunk movement of the mid-to-late 1980’s, exemplified in the works of Joe R. Lansdale, Clive Barker, David J. Schow, John Skipp and Craig Spector, all of whom would contribute to either Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine or Night Cry.

-What is particularly refreshing about the interview is that King is not yet as self-conscious about being a horror writer as he would later become. When asked about influences he lists Ray Bradbury (especially Bradbury’s collection of weird tales, The October Country), Charles Beaumont, and, particularly, Richard Matheson. King singles out Matheson’s novella, “Mute,” as a personal favorite. “Mute” was adapted by Matheson as an hour-long episode of the fourth season of the original television series. The films adapted from King’s work are also discussed and the interview is accompanied by many photographs, including a rarely seen candid photo of the King family. 

--“Grail” by Harlan Ellison

Illustration by A.G. Metcalf
“To crack the vault where true love lay buried, he needed an expert from Hell with a gift for opening locks.”
-A man searching for true love resorts to traveling the globe and conjuring demons in an effort to discover the location of an ancient artifact. 
Grade: B

-Ellison, who should be familiar to readers of this blog, is likely the most awarded writer of speculative fiction the field has yet produced, best known for scores of classic short stories, too many to list here,  as well as the Outer Limits episodes “Soldier” and “Demon With a Glass Hand.” He was arguably at the height of his abilities in the early 1980’s and “Grail” displays the fecundity of his style. The story contains idiosyncratic characterizations, a frantic pace, splendid grotesqueries, and a unique blending of the real and the imaginary. The story does run a bit long and the frantic pacing can be exhausting in places but few can challenge Ellison in this sort of street-wise horror story, which combines humor, dark fantasy, and the lure of esoteric knowledge in an appealing manner.

-Ellison was a frequent contributor to the magazine and served on a panel of judges for the magazine’s first short story contest. Ellison also contributed to the first revival television series of The Twilight Zone, working as Creative Consultant and providing teleplays until friction with the network over an adaptation of Donald E. Westlake’s short story, “Nackles,” caused Ellison to walk away from the series.

-“Grail” was collected in Ellison’s 1982 volume Stalking the Nightmare, a book which includes a memorable introduction by Stephen King. The story also appeared in the only annual issue of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, Great Stories from Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine (1982). “Grail” also appeared in the anthology Demons! edited by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann. The story appeared in both the 35 and 50 year editions of Ellison’s career retrospective, The Essential Ellison, edited by Terry Dowling with Richard Delap and Gil Lamont. 

 --“Remembering Melody” by George R.R. Martin

Illustration by Jose Reyes
“He had to end it once and for all. Get rid of this curse on his life.”
-A man’s life is altered by the sudden appearance of a troubled and troublesome friend from the past. Grade: A

-Martin, now known for the massively successful Game of Thrones franchise, was a far more versatile writer in his earlier years, producing outstanding, award-winning science fiction, fantasy, and horror, particularly in the short form. This subtly creepy story is a near-perfect updating of the Twilight Zone style of dark fantasy for the 1980’s, and it is a shame it was not adapted for the revival television series, though the grisly subject matter was perhaps too strong for network television of the time. Martin was a veteran of television production, working on the Beauty and the Beast series as a writer and producer, and was a natural to contribute to The Twilight Zone revival series. Martin acted as Story Editor on a handful of episodes and contributed memorable teleplays, particularly for the episodes “The Road Not Taken” and “The Once and Future King,” the latter of which was based on a story by Bryce Maritano.

-“Remembering Melody” was included in Great Stories from Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine (1982) and collected in the definitive edition of Martin’s horror stories, Songs the Dead Men Sing (Dark Harvest) in 1983. The story is also included in Terry Carr’s Fantasy Annual V (Pocket Books, 1982), Fears, edited by Charles L. Grant (Berkley, 1983), and A Century of Fantasy 1980-1989: The Greatest Stories of the Decade, edited by Robert Silverberg. The story was also included in the definitive collection of Martin’s short fiction, GRRM: A Retrospective (Subterranean, 2003), later published in two volumes by Bantam Books as Dreamsongs I and Dreamsongs II.

--“Author’s Query” by Fred C. Shapiro
Illustration by Jose Reyes
“How come M.X. Davis knows more about my life than I do?”
-A writer finds his life being supplanted by an unseen personality who bears remarkable similarities to himself. Grade: C

-The journalist Shapiro is more familiar to readers of The New Yorker than of genre publications, and presents here what appears to be his only foray into speculative fiction. The story is slight and slightly derivative, owing much to an old concept most expertly explored in Harlan Ellison’s famous story, “Shatterday,” a story which was memorably adapted as the premier episode of The Twilight Zone revival series starring Bruce Willis and directed by Wes Craven. The original series Twilight Zone tried its hand at this type of story as well, most memorably with Charles Beaumont’s season four shocker “In His Image.”

--“The Rose Wall” by Joyce Carol Oates

Illustration by Thomas Angell
“Your punishment will be to go without supper . . . to spend the night alone, outside the wall.”
-A young girl ventures beyond the wall which boarders her estate with terrible results. Grade: A

-In this unsettling mood piece, Oates presents a disorienting and unnerving alternate reality which she wisely keeps ambiguous in terms of setting and time period, heightening the paranoia and strangeness of the story. Oates is unique among writers who frequent the material of horror and gothic fiction in that she is widely respected among mainstream critics as a novelist of realist fiction. The hugely prolific Oates has won multiple literary awards, including a National Book Award and the O. Henry Award, and has always seemed intrigued by the darker side of fiction. Oates presence alone strengthens the magazine. She was a strong supporter of the magazine who also sat on a panel of judges for the magazine’s first short story contest.

-“The Rose Wall” was also included in Great Stories from Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine (1982), as well as the 2012 anthology Other Worlds Than These, edited by John Joseph Adams.

--TZ Screen Preview: Escape from New York
-A full-color feature on director John Carpenter’s film which would be released a few months later on July, 10, 1981. In features such as this, and in its dedication to feature editorials, the magazine separated itself from the other science fiction, fantasy, and horror periodicals as it straddled the line between genre entertainment periodical and genre fiction periodical. It is interesting to note that the audience for genre films/television and those for genre fiction do not necessarily correlate and some magazines, such as the aforementioned Science Fiction Age, suffered when a conscious attempt was made to include more coverage of the entertainment industry. Likewise, when some dedicated film magazines attempted to include fiction, it was not favorably received. The article points out the fact that two actors from Escape from New York, Donald Pleasance and Lee Van Cleef, also starred in Twilight Zone episodes, “Changing of the Guard” and “The Grave,” respectably.

--“The Death Runner” by Thomas Sullivan
Illustrated by Robert Neubecker
“But the real horror was that final runner.”
-An aging runner meets his past selves on the track with deadly results. Grade: C

-Sullivan is a fairly prolific writer of horror, fantasy, and mystery novels and short stories. He began publishing in the mid-1970’s. “The Death Runner” is a bit too slight in terms of plot and characterization to stick in the memory but does possess an unusual supernatural device and a stark, albeit predictable, ending. The story was reprinted in the second issue of Night Cry, Summer, 1985. 

--“The Next Side Show” by Ramsey Campbell

Illustration by Frances Jetter
“Was the proprietor sneaking mirrors into new positions, for revenge?”
-A man enters a mirror maze to escape the rain with unforeseen results. Grade: B

-Campbell is perhaps the most respected and awarded writer of modern horror to come out of Great Britain in the modern era. He’s been actively producing quality work since the late 1960’s and is refreshingly devoted to horror as an artform. He deserves a much wider audience. Campbell’s work for most part eschews the traditional aspects of the horror genre to create ambiguous and unsettling fiction which aims to disturb rather than horrify. Although highly accomplished as a novelist (The Face that Must Die, Ancient Images), Campbell is at his most powerful when working in the short form. His works have won numerous British Fantasy, World Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Awards. Campbell’s career retrospective, Alone With the Horrors, comes highly recommended, and is a book dedicated to T.E.D. Klein. Campbell is also an accomplished editor, anthologist, and essayist with an enviable knowledge of horror fiction and films.

-“The Next Side Show” is typical of Campbell’s work in that it involves an average person drawn into a subtly horrifying situation. A man locks his keys in his apartment and decides to walk down to the park where he finds a grimy caravan. To escape the rain, he ducks into a mirror maze that changes him forever. Mood and atmosphere are expertly evoked and Campbell’s fiction is underscored by a sense of urban decay. He credits H.P. Lovecraft and Fritz Leiber as his chief influences. Many of Campbell’s stories take place in marginalized places: seaside towns, grimy carnivals, abandoned urban areas, and the like. A similar, yet superior Campbell story is his classic 1976 story, “The Companion.”  

--“Absolute Ebony” by Felice Picano

Illustrated by Arthur Somerfield
“Michaelis felt as though he were seeing through a portal into an entirely new dimension.”
-A painter who’s suffered a personal tragedy seeks the darkest of colors to paint his masterpiece. Grade: B

-This chilling supernatural horror story is marred only by the unsatisfying ending. It concerns an American painter in Rome who suffers a personal tragedy which changes his life and his craft. Using an unnaturally dark pigment to fashion his masterpiece, a period self-portrait, the painter discovers that the ebony hue has a life of its own. The story evokes the best of the classic weird tales of LeFanu, Machen, and the like, which is certainly why it appealed to editor T.E.D. Klein. The Italian setting is convincing and the pace of the story is perfectly measured. Picano is a prolific writer of novels, stories, poetry, memoirs, and essays. He is also an accomplished editor and anthologist. His work is frequently speculative in nature and is closely aligned with gay literature. He has won several literary awards.

--3 Cautionary Tales by Robert Sheckley
Illustrated by Jose Reyes

“The Helping Hand”
-A man contemplating suicide is given a nasty surprise by his wife.

“The Man Who Loved”
-A woman escape the imprisoning affections of a rejected suitor.

“The Wish”
-A man conjures a powerful demon but hesitates when considering his one wish to be granted.

-Three short-shorts from Robert Sheckley, a familiar name among science fiction readers whose output of short stories displays a sardonic and grimly humorous view of humanity far ahead of its time. The first and third stories contains the biting irony typically necessary for the short-short form to be effective. The second story is less successful with an interesting set-up but an unsatisfactory payoff. A bit of trivia: in the third season episode, “The Arrival,” Rod Serling chose the name Sheckley for his main character. Was this a possible nod to the Robert Sheckley, who was a frequently seen name in the science fiction magazines of the time? Sheckley died in 2005.

--“Groucho” by Ron Goulart

Illustration by Randy Jones
“Even in Hollywood you couldn’t get by with letting a cat talk all over the place.”
-A hack writer uses black magic to reincarnate his old writing partner, who returns in the body of a housecat. Grade: B

-This humorous story by the prolific Goulart is written in the concise style of hard-boiled crime fiction. It plays on the familiar tropes of fantasy fiction and includes plenty of sly dialogue. Goulart is knowns as a prolific mystery writer as well as a comic-book historian. Goulart was friends with several members of the Southern California Group of writers.

--Show-by-Show Guide: American Enters the Twilight Zone
Part One of Marc Scott Zicree’s Show-by-Show Guide to the Entire Twilight Zone Television Series, Complete with Rod Serling’s Opening and Closing Narrations.

-Zicree, author of the definitive examination of the series, The Twilight Zone Companion, here offers an introductory essay examining the creation of the series from where Rod Serling was in his career at the time. Zicree then begins his examination of each episode. Zicree provides Rod Serling’s opening and closing narrations and a detailed summary of each episode. He does not provide the running commentary which would feature in his book, presumably to given a buyer reason to purchase said volume. The episodes he covers in this issue are: “Where is Everybody?,” “One for the Angels,” “Mr. Denton on Doomsday,” “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine,” “Walking Distance,” “Escape Clause,” ”The Lonely,” “Time Enough at Last,” “Perchance to Dream,” “Judgment Night,” “And When the Sky Was Opened,” “What You Need,” “The Four of Us Are Dying,” and “Third From the Sun.” An interesting aspect of Zicree’s coverage for the magazine is that he chooses to examine the episodes in order of original broadcast whereas in The Twilight Zone Companion he chooses to examine the episodes in order of production.

--TZ Classic Teleplay: “Walking Distance” by Rod Serling
­-This is the shooting script of the episode, accompanied by stills from the filmed episode. “Walking Distance” is a story that went through several drafts and alterations before a final shooting script was produced. To read an earlier draft of the teleplay, see volume 2 of As Timeless as Infinity: The Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling, edited by Tony Albarella (Gauntlet Press, 2005). Read our review of “Walking Distance” here.

--Looking Ahead

A back cover feature which previews the next month’s issue.

-JP

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:

           “Here, in the tense prose of Dick Matheson, is a new kind of trouble. You are an ordinary young husband living in a nice bungalow in an average town. You have a medium-priced car, an undistinguished dog, and a very special little daughter. The scene is set. Now – you wake up in the middle of an ordinary night and hear your daughter crying. You go to her room. You can still hear her. But she isn’t there! Yet, she cries to you for aid. A perilous situation. We can only hope you get her back.” -from the introduction to the original magazine appearance of "Little Girl Lost" in the Oct/Nov, 1953 issue of Amazing Stories.

          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:
Illustration for "Little Girl Lost"
by Ray Houlihan for
Amazing Stories, Oct/Nov, 1953
--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