Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"The Changing of the Guard"

Professor Ellis Fowler (Donald Pleasence) and the
students of the Vermont Rock Springs School for Boys
“The Changing of the Guard”
Season Three, Episode 102
Original Air Date: June 1, 1962

Cast:
Professor Ellis Fowler: Donald Pleasence
Headmaster: Liam Sullivan
Mrs. Landers: Philippa Bevans
Artie Beachcroft: Tom Lowell
Bartlett: Russell Horton
Dickie Weiss: Buddy Hart
Graham: Bob Biheller
Butler: Kevin O’Neal
Boy: Jimmy Baird
Boy: Kevin Jones
Thompson: Darryl Richard
Rice: James Browning
Hudson: Pat Close
Whiting: Dennis Kerlee

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Robert Ellis Miller
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Merril Pye
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and Keogh Gleason
Make Up: William Tuttle
Assistant Director: E. Darrel Hallenbeck
Casting: Robert Walker
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock
Optical Effects: Pacific Title
Rod Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagles Clothes
Filmed at M.G.M. Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling
“Next week on the Twilight Zone, Mr. Donald Pleasence, visiting us from Broadway, brings his exceptional talents to a very special program. The story of an aging schoolmaster who finds some faith, some hope, and some mending glue for a few shattered dreams. But he finds it in that strange manner unique in the shadow regions of the Twilight Zone. Next week Donald Pleasence stars in “The Changing of the Guard.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Professor Ellis Fowler, a gentle, bookish guide to the young, who is about to discover that life still has certain surprises, and that the campus of the Rock Spring School for Boys lies on a direct path to another institution, commonly referred to as the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:

            Professor Ellis Fowler is an aging English teacher at the Vermont Rock Spring School for Boys, a position he has held for over half a century. After saying goodbye to his last class of the fall semester, Professor Fowler is summoned to the headmaster’s office before leaving for the winter break. The headmaster, a young well-to-do man, reluctantly informs the professor that the school’s board of trustees have voted not to renew his contract for the Spring. They feel that someone younger may be more beneficial to the students. Fowler is speechless. 
At home that evening, he flips through old yearbooks, remembering the hundreds of students who have graced his classroom. He wonders how many of his students remember him. He thinks of all the years he spent spouting poetry to bored, indifferent faces and feels foolish. He informs his housekeeper that he is going for a walk and wanders out into the night. After he leaves she discovers an empty gun holster in his desk drawer.
      Professor Fowler makes his way to the deserted school campus and finds himself in front of a statue of Horace Mann. He remarks to the statue that he has won no victory for humanity, in reference to the great educator's famous quote. As he raises the barrel of the gun to his temple, Fowler hears class bells ringing. Curious, he walks off to investigate. 
            He eventually finds himself back in his classroom, now empty. Before he has a chance to get a hold of his senses he sees a room full of students materialize out of nothing right before his eyes. He recognizes each of them. They are former students from various classes throughout the years, all of which are now dead. Each student tells him of the enormous impact that he had on their lives. The professor is moved to tears.
            He returns home in better spirits and tells his housekeeper that he is looking forward to retirement. He has made his mark and is ready to turn the reigns over to someone else. As he settles in for the night he hears Christmas carolers outside his window. He opens the window to find his students gathered on the lawn. They wish him a Merry Christmas and continue on their way. The professor closes the window and smiles, content with the victory he has won for humanity.


Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Professor Ellis Fowler, teacher, who discovered rather belatedly something of his own value. A very small scholastic lesson, from the campus of the Twilight Zone.”


Commentary:

            To close out the third season of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling penned this incredibly warm, moving story that seems to foreshadow many of the events that were to happen in his life in the coming years. While The Twilight Zone always held a dedicated fan base it was never a strong candidate when it came to ratings due likely to the fact that it was a fantasy program. The show lived in constant fear of cancellation and at the end of its third season, after failing to attract a new sponsor after the departure of Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company, it finally found itself off the air. It would cease to broadcast new episodes for the next seven months until it was brought as a mid-season replacement, unseating the very program that had replaced it. This temporary hiatus would have a lasting impact on the show and its creators. Long-time producer Buck Houghton, faced with the possibility of sudden unemployment, would reluctantly leave the show as would other important figures of the show’s production crew including film editors Bill Mosher and Jason Bernie and assistant director E. Darrel Hallenbeck. As for Serling, the constant grind of writing the bulk of the show’s scripts as well as acting as host and executive producer had taken an enormous creative toll. At the end of the 1961-62 season he accepted a teaching at his alma mater, Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio, thousands of miles away from Los Angeles, leaving incoming producer Hebert Hirschman with the task of resurrecting the show largely by himself. So when CBS did bring The Twilight Zone back in January of 1963 it may have resembled its former self in many ways but it was, without question, a noticeably different show.

I.

Rod Serling’s “The Changing of the Guard”

            When first viewing “The Changing of the Guard” the influence of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is immediately noticeable given its celebration of the common man and the promise that no one goes unnoticed or unloved in life. The fact that this episode, which aired in June, takes place around Christmas is probably not a coincidence but a deliberate nod to Capra’s classic holiday film. It should come as no surprise that Serling would be influenced by a storyteller like Capra for his films possess the same brand of empathy found in much of Serling’s work. Capra believed in humanity and the overlying message found throughout his body of work is simply that every human being has value and therefore has the right to feel valuable. This maxim seems to have greatly appealed to Serling for much of his work concerns the forgotten members of society: the misunderstood alcoholic with a heart of gold, the convict who is unjustly punished, the aging man who has suddenly found himself in an unfamiliar world. Like Capra, Serling seemed to possess a genuine affection for these types of characters and often awarded them a second chance at life as he does for Professor Fowler here. The theme of moral forgiveness appears in many of his Twilight Zone scripts including “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” “The Night of the Meek” and “A Passage for Trumpet,” all Capra-esque episodes with unlikely heroes similar to Professor Fowler. But his dedication to the downtrodden of the world is found throughout his work from early teleplays like Requiem for a Heavyweight and Old MacDonald Had a Curve to episodes of his western series, The Loner, and even in several of his scripts for Night Gallery—an unapologetically macabre series—including the Emmy-nominated “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar.”
            Serling’s empathetic relationship with his lowly protagonists was more than just his preaching of the humanist gospel. Serling was, above anything else, an autobiographical writer. No matter the setting or premise of a story Serling’s personality was always present and many of his heroes were simply extensions of himself. It seems safe to assume that Professor Fowler represents many of Serling’s fears as a writer even though he would later claim that he felt this episode was too sentimental. These fears would only grow as he grew older. In the years after The Twilight Zone, as the counter-culture movement flourished and television began to change, Serling saw the medium that he helped create more or less move on without him. The live dramas of the previous decade were gone, The Loner was canceled after a single season, many of his series ideas went unrealized, Night Gallery turned out to be an unpleasant experience for him, and his career as a screenwriter never quite progressed the way his television career had. In later years he often told interviewers that his work would likely be forgotten and that to simply be remembered as a writer would be sufficient enough. Time has proven him wrong and the fact that he allows Fowler a second chance at happiness in an attempt to remind his fellow man to simply treat one another with dignity and respect is probably the hallmark of his career as a writer, one which earned him six Emmy Awards for writing, a record he holds to this day. Ironically, given his fame as a writer, his epitaph simply reads RODMAN E. SERLING, TEC5 U.S. ARMY, WORLD WAR II in reference to his military rank as Technician 5th Class in the United States Army.
             Poetry plays an important role in "The Changing of the Guard." But the poems Serling includes are not chosen at random nor were they poems everyone in a 1960's television audience would necessarily recognize. The first poem mentioned, recited in-full by Donald Pleasence in the first scene of the episode, is from English poet A.E. Housman's (1859-1936) 1896 collection A Shropshire Lad. "Poem XIII," commonly referred to by its opening line, "When I was One and Twenty," recounts a young protagonist's encounter with a presumably older, wiser man at the age of twenty-one who tells him that falling in love has consequences that are not repaired as easily as losing money or material possessions, advice the young protagonist ignores. One year later, now a victim of a broken heart, the speaker regrets his ignorance. Fowler's recitation of the poem to his young students reflects the old sage's advice to the protagonist and the theme of the poem also foreshadows Fowler's heartbreak at having the thing he loves most, teaching, taken away from him. Serling may also have included it in reference to Fowler's students who died young, as many of the poems in A Shropshire Lad pay tribute to English soldiers who lost their lives at a young age. As Fowler recites this to the class, the camera pans slowly across the classroom of boys, some fiddling restlessly, some staring vacantly into thin air, all naive and inexperienced like the protagonist of the poem. Pleasence gives a fantastic rendition of the poem and this ends up being a very powerful moment in the episode. 
          The two other poems Serling includes are mentioned during the second classroom scene and are recited by the ghosts of Fowler’s former students. The first is American minister Howard Arnold Walter’s (1883-1918) poem “My Creed,” commonly referred to by its opening line “I Would be True,” first published in 1906. Serling includes the first four lines which are read by Russell Horton who plays a young man who gave his life for the cause of medical research. The poem is a testament to being brave and honest in the face of adversity.
The last poem mentioned is John Donne’s (1572-1631) “No Man is an Island.” First published in 1624 in his collection of religious essays, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, Donne actually wrote this as part of a much larger essay called Meditation XVII. The short passage that has become so famous is commonly referred to by either its opening phrase, “No man is an island” or its closing phrase, “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” often recited as “ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” It basically suggests that every person is part of a larger fabric of humanity and therefore what effects one person’s life inadvertently effects all of humanity. The second half of the passage is recited here by actor Buddy Hart who plays Dickie Weiss, a Naval officer who was on-board the Arizona and became the first person killed at Pearl Harbor while rescuing his crew mates—Serling’s reference here is perhaps a little over the top but the message still resonates. Audiences at the time might have recognized Hart as he had a reoccurring role on Leave It to Beaver. He later changed his name to Buddy Joe Hooker and went on to enjoy an enormously successful career as a stunt coordinator. This last poem is probably the best known of the three mentioned in the episode and one Serling likely admired.
             Much should be said about Donald Pleasence's performance as Professor Ellis Fowler for it is as moving and honest as any the show ever saw. It should be noted that Pleasence was only forty-three at the time of filming the episode. He is not only given the task of convincingly portraying a man who is at least in his late seventies but he must then affectionately charm the audience into liking this old man so that they care about what happens to him. He manages to accomplish both jobs flawlessly. In order to appear physically older, Pleasence wore aging makeup and a facial hair prosthetic designed by MGM makeup artist William Tuttle, whose work is memorably featured in numerous episodes throughout the series. Even with the heavy makeup Pleasence fully realizes the transformation through physical mannerisms, altered speech patterns, and improvisational dialogue. He captures both the joy and gratification Fowler feels as a teacher and the bleakness and despair that washes over him after he is made to feel like his contributions were worthless. 
            This was Donald Pleasence’s first appearance on American television. He had already enjoyed success in his native England both on the stage and on the big and small screens. While he was known for being gentle and soft-spoken, Pleasence enjoyed playing malevolent characters. When he was cast as the bookish Professor Fowler, Pleasence had just spent an entire year playing the role of Davies, an incredibly unlikable character, in Harold Pinter’s play The Caregiver, first in London and then on Broadway. The role earned him a Tony Award nomination, the first of four, and he revived the role for a film version, The Guest, in 1963. Pleasence would make a name for himself playing seedy, vicious characters and enjoy a successful and highly prolific career in a variety of mediums. His film roles include The Great Escape (1963), Dr. Crippen (1963), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Escape to Witch Mountain (1975), Dracula (1979), and Escape from New York (1981). He was well-known among horror fans and appeared in numerous independent films, mostly anthologies, from American International Pictures, Amicus Productions and others including Circus of Horrors (1960), From Beyond the Grave (1974), The Uncanny (1977), and The Monster Club (1981). He appeared in episodes of One Step Beyond, The Outer Limits, and The Ray Bradbury Theatre and was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in The Defection of Simas Kudirka in 1978. The two roles he is most known for, however, are Bond villain Ernest Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1967) and as Dr. Samuel Loomis in the original Halloween film series. Before becoming an actor Pleasence served as a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force during World War II and was taken captive by German forces after his plane was shot down over France. He remained a prisoner of war for almost two years before being released. Pleasence died in 1995 at the age of seventy-five.
           Making his only contribution to The Twilight Zone is director Robert Ellis Miller. Miller began his career in television directing many episodes of the live drama series of the 1950's as well as of The Donna Reed Show. In the late 1960's he made the transition to directing feature films, mostly romantic comedies, including Sweet November (1968), The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968), which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and The Buttercup Chain (1970). Ellis does a fine job on "The Changing of the Guard" and he reacts to the performances of the actors really well, as in the aforementioned opening scene in which Pleasence reads the Housman poem. The scene between Fowler and the headmaster is also particularly moving. His most noticeable contribution to the episode, however, is the second classroom scene featuring the ghosts of Fowler's students. To "summon" the ghosts he has an image of the actors sitting at their desks with their heads down gradually appear onscreen. Once in real time, they pick up their heads and look directly into the camera, or directly at Fowler. This is before the audience is made aware of the well-meaning intentions of the ghosts and the effect is appropriately eerie and convincing. 

II.

Rod Serling, Horace Mann, and Education

            The idea that Ellis Fowler is, at least to some degree, an extension of Serling’s personality is further solidified by the fact that Serling makes his hero an educator, at a school that prominently displays a statue of education pioneer Horace Mann, a hero of Seling’s and the founder of Serling’s alma mater Antioch College, where Serling would soon be a faculty member. Education was clearly important to Serling and he had a great admiration for teachers. He spoke fondly of the teachers who had made an impact on him creatively, particularly his public speaking teacher at West Junior High in Binghamton, Helen Foley. The two became lifelong friends and Serling even named the main character from his season one Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare as a Child” after Foley.
            Before becoming a writer Serling thought he wanted to be a teacher himself. After returning home from World War II, he enrolled in Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio as a physical education major. He soon changed it to language and literature. Serling found that writing offered a therapeutic outlet which helped him process the psychological trauma of combat and allowed him to learn more about himself. Serling saw Antioch as a haven of unrestricted self-expression, a place where he was encouraged to question things he felt were wrong with the world in which he lived. Not long after he began writing Serling became the head of the Antioch Broadcasting System’s radio program where he wrote, directed, and acted in weekly productions. In 1949 he made his first professional sale to the Dr. Christian radio show where his radio play “To Live a Dream” placed second in the annual script writing contest. In many ways Antioch was the place where Rod Serling the writer was born.
While still a student Serling came to admire the life of the school’s founder, American politician and education reformer Horace Mann (1796-1859). Mann was one of the first prominent advocates of universal, tax-funded public education. Born into poverty, he went on to graduate valedictorian from Brown University and held positions in the Massachusetts State House of Representatives, the State Senate, and the United States House of Representatives. He was an early advocate of gender equality, state-funded mental health facilities, the separation of church and state, and an outspoken opponent of slavery. Education, however, was always his priority. “A republic,” he said, “cannot long remain ignorant and free, hence the necessity of universal popular education…such education is best provided in schools embracing children of all religious, social, and ethnic backgrounds.” In 1853, Mann became the first president of Antioch College, the first non-sectarian, coeducational college in the United States. During Mann’s six years as president, Antioch became the first college to appoint a female to its faculty--with the same rank and pay as her male coworkers. Mann also kept tuition at a rate affordable for students, something that almost caused the school to close after the Christian Connexion withdrew its funding. The college enrolled students of all races, religions, and financial backgrounds. In his 1859 commencement address Mann delivered the phrase which he would forever be associated with and which Serling includes in “The Changing of the Guard.”

"Be Ashamed to Die Until You Have Won Some Victory for Humanity."

Mann collapsed not long after the ceremony and died a few months later. Today he is considered a pioneering social activist and the father of American public education.
            It should come as no surprise that Serling was an admirer of Horace Mann for their principles are very much the same. Serling mentions Mann in his lectures and in several of his teleplays. In an early teleplay for NBC’s Hallmark Hall of Fame titled “Horace Mann’s Miracle” Serling recounts Mann’s struggle to keep Antioch from closing its doors in financial ruin after losing most of its funding. The half-hour drama aired on March 8, 1953. It was directed by Albert McCleery and stars Frank M. Thomas as Mann.
            Serling told interviewers at the time that his official title at Antioch would be “writer in residence.” During his brief time at the college from September, 1962 to January, 1963 Serling taught two classes. One was an open enrollment survey course for undergraduates called Mass Media. The other was an evening course called Writing in the Dramatic Form. Enrollment for this course was by invitation only and was intended for graduate students or individuals just beginning their careers as writers. Jeanne Marshall was an aspiring writer at the time and was a student in the evening class. She kept detailed notes of each class period, noting the films they watched, assignments they were given, and Serling’s book and film recommendations. If you are interested, all twenty-three pages of her notes are available on the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation website. While Serling clearly needed a break from The Twilight Zone his choice for in-class viewing material suggested otherwise. Serling screened a variety of episodes of the show throughout the semester including “The Changing of the Guard.” Among the numerous books Marshall lists as recommended by Serling are Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, works by Gore Vidal and Paddy Chayefsky, and The Beardless Warriors by Richard Matheson. It should be noted that several of the students who attended the course, including Marshall, went on to make a career for themselves as writers. Serling even helped future television writer Sue Clauser sell her first two teleplays to Bonanza.
            Serling’s trial run as a teacher was short-lived. Not long after he moved to Ohio CBS green lit the fourth season of The Twilight Zone which would debut in January as a mid-season replacement. So in January of 1963 Serling and family moved back to California. This was not the last time he would don the teacher’s hat. Serling began to lecture at college campuses across the country. He held film screenings at the Sherwood Oaks Experimental College in Hollywood where he would often screen episodes of The Twilight Zone. He was a founding member of the Famous Writers School. In the late 1960’s, Serling took another teaching position, this time at Ithaca College near his home in Ithaca, New York. He is said to have found this job peaceful and rewarding. He continued to teach at Ithaca until his death in 1975.

IV.

The End of Season Three

            The reason The Twilight Zone went off the air is because Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company, who had sponsored the show since the beginning of the third season, chose not to renew their sponsorship due to CBS’s decision to move the show from its original time-slot of Fridays at 10:00 pm to Wednesdays at 7:30 pm. They did not think the audience would follow them to the earlier time and they were probably correct. The Twilight Zone was too weird to be placed in the middle of the primetime lineup next to westerns and situational comedies. When the show failed to find a new sponsor in time for production to begin on the fourth season they found themselves off the air. But this was not the first time the show had faced cancellation. A similar set of events had occurred at the end of the first season but popular demand managed to keep the show on the air. This time they weren’t so lucky.
            Unfortunately, many members of the show’s production crew found themselves at the risk of potential unemployment. Many could not afford to wait it out, so they submitted their resumes elsewhere. The show lost numerous members of its production crew, many of which had been there since the beginning. The biggest blow, however, was the departure of long-time producer Buck Houghton, who was a fundamental part of the show’s success. Unable to wait for a decision from CBS, Houghton accepted a position with Four Star Productions working on The Richard Boone Show at NBC. He had produced 101 episodes of the show, had won the award for Best Produced Series from the Producer’s Guild of America, and had helped create a landmark piece of television history. With so many new faces it’s no surprise that the show would look and feel different going into the fourth season and its seems appropriate that the new season have a different format and a different name—the show dropped the definite “the” from its title and would now be known simply as Twilight Zone.
            As for Serling, his time in Yellow Springs was not the rejuvenating getaway he had hoped it would be. Serling had the type of personality that had to remain in motion all the time. If he found himself with downtime he would invent another project for himself. In addition to his two classes at Antioch, while in Yellow Springs Rod was also writing the screenplay for Seven Days in May and writing scripts for Twilight Zone, which were now twice as long. He also had to fly back to Los Angeles periodically to film his onscreen introductions for the show and to meet with producer Herbert Hirschman. He also briefly hosted a movie series on WBNS in Columbus called 10 O’clock Theatre. So when he returned to Los Angeles in January he was still fatigued and frustrated which would unfortunately affect much of his writing for the show for the remainder of its existence.

IV.

Moving On

            Even if The Twilight Zone had ended after just three seasons Serling and company could have walked away from it with a sense of accomplishment. The 102 television episodes they produced in just under three years are some of the finest pieces of drama ever committed to film. “The Changing of the Guard” would have made an appropriate swan song to the series for it unabashedly embraces Serling’s sentimentalism and celebrates the value of human beings. But the show did continue. And despite the uneven quality of the fourth and fifth seasons, some fine episodes were still to come.


Grade: B


Grateful acknowledgement to the following:

As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling by Anne Serling (Citadel Press, 2013)

The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree (Second Edition, 1989)

The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic by Martin Grams, Jr. (OTR Publishing, 2008)

Rod Serling Teaches Writing: Jeanne Marshall's Seminar Notes, 1962-63 arranged and annotated by Jeanne Marshall; Rod Serling Memorial Foundation

“The Radio Career of Rod Serling” by Martin Grams, Jr.; Old Time Radio Researchers Group

“Fading into the Twilight Zone?” TV Guide (Summer, 1963); Rod Serling Memorial Foundation
  


Notes:
Illustration by Jim Harter which accompanied
Anne Serling's adaptation of
"The Changing of the Guard," from
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine
--Liam Sullivan also appeared in the season two episode “The Silence.”
--Russell Horton also appeared in the season five episode “In Praise of Pip.”
--Check out the Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Twilight Zone alumni Orson Bean.
--“The Changing of the Guard” was adapted into a short story by Serling’s daughter Anne Serling which first appeared in the January/February 1985 issue of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. It was reprinted later that year in two anthologies: The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories, published by MJF Books and edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Richard Matheson, and Charles G. Waugh and Young Ghosts, published by Harper and Row and edited by Isaac Asimov, Greenberg, and Waugh.


--Brian

2 comments:

  1. Brain, that was a very interesting article. I had forgotten that the series was canceled after season three.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Jack. It's hard to believe but the show was cancelled three different times during its five year run.

    ReplyDelete