Monday, April 30, 2018

"In His Image"


“In His Image”
Season Four, Episode 103
Original Air Date: January 3, 1963

Cast:
Alan Talbot/Water Ryder, Jr.: George Grizzard
Jessica Connelly: Gail Kobe
Old Woman: Katharine Squire
Man: Wallace Rooney
Driver: George Petrie
Sheriff: James Seay
Hotel Clerk: Jamie Forster
Girl: Sherry Granato
Grizzard’s double: Joseph Sargent

Crew:
Writer: Charles Beaumont (based on his story “The Man Who Made Himself”)
Director: Perry Lafferty
Producer: Herbert Hirschman
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Art Direction: George W. Davis & William Ferrari
Editor: Edward Curtiss
Set Decoration: Henry Grace & Edward M. Parker
Assistant to the Producer: John Conwell
Assistant Director: John Bloss
Sound: Franklin Milton & Bill Edmondson
Music: stock
Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at MGM Studios

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“What you have just witnessed could be the end of a particularly terrifying nightmare. It isn’t. It’s the beginning. Although Alan Talbot doesn’t know it, he’s about to enter a strange new world, too incredible to be real, too real to be a dream. It’s called – The Twilight Zone.” 


Summary:
            Alan Talbot is accosted by a religious fanatic in the form of an old woman while waiting for a subway train in the early morning hours. They are alone on the platform. Alan has lately been plagued by discordant sounds inside his head which strike without provocation or warning. As the train enters the station Alan again hears the strange sounds and is irresistibly compelled to push the old woman down onto the tracks. He runs from the scene after committing this terrible act.
            Alan next arrives at his girlfriend's house. Her name is Jessica Connelly and together they are taking a trip to Alan's hometown, Coeurville, so that Alan can introduce Jess to his friends and family. Alan has been in New York City for only a few days and in that time has met and began courting Jess. Alan seems to retain no knowledge of pushing the old woman in front of the train. 
            Alan points out the familiar landmarks of his hometown as they drive by, except things do not always match his memory. The university he works for is not there, buildings have changed or been replaced, and his friends and family have either died or never existed at all. Worse still, there is no record of an Alan Talbot ever residing in Coeurville.
Jess becomes concerned about Alan’s mental state but truly loves him and so tries to help him get to the bottom of this mystery. Alan leads her to the cemetery to visit his parent’s graves. Instead, he finds headstones for a Mr. and Mrs. Walter Ryder, people he does not know.
Later that night, as Jess drives them down the highway, Alan suddenly become ill, strange sounds again whirling within his head. Jess pulls the car over and Alan runs off into the dense undergrowth. He leans against a tree and picks up a large rock. He calls out to Jess, compelled to kill her. At the last moment Alan manages to control his deadly urge and tells Jess to run away. She leaves him there.
Alan runs to the road and is nearly hit by a passing motorist. The motorist stops to help Alan and there, in the light from the headlamp, Alan examines a wound suffered while dodging the vehicle. It is a small slit in his forearm which he opens to expose wires and circuits beneath the skin.  
            Alan locates Walter Ryder, Jr. in the phonebook and goes to his home in the middle of the night. There he finds a man who looks exactly like himself. Walter Ryder, Jr. tells Alan an incredible story. Walter is an inventor and Alan is his invention, a synthetic man built in an attempt to create a perfect version of himself. There was a problem, however, a glitch in the framework which manifests itself as an unpredictable homicidal urge. Days before, Alan tried to kill Walter with a pair of scissors.
            Alan disbelieves. Walter takes him down into a basement laboratory to display the apparatus which was used to create Alan. Alan asks if he can be repaired. When Walter says he cannot, Alan tells him about Jess. Suddenly, the deadly urge again overcomes Alan and he attacks Walter.
            Later, there is a knock on Jess’s door. She opens to find Walter, whom she believes to be Alan. Walter has survived Alan’s attack and has come to continue where Alan left off. They begin their courtship anew, cleansed of the danger which previously lay between them.
            In a final shot we see Alan lying dead on the floor of the laboratory. Despite the violence of the scene around him, his face is set in an expression of peaceful parting.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“In a way it can be said that Walter Ryder succeeded in his life’s ambition, even though the man he created was, after all, himself. There may be easier ways to self-improvement but sometimes it happens that the shortest distance between two points is a crooked line through – The Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:

“Pete Nolan knew everything about his past life up to the present, but the trouble was he couldn’t find anybody to verify his existence!”
            -original publication tagline for “The Man Who Made Himself”
Original magazine illustration
by W.E. Terry

            In one sense, “In His Image” provides a comparative view of Charles Beaumont’s principal concerns as a fiction writer: the pliable nature of reality, the disorder of perception, and our over-reliance upon memory as the basis of self-identity. Beaumont’s contributions to The Twilight Zone are filled with characters whose senses deceive them and whose memories prove faulty, from the unfortunate astronauts in “Elegy” to the unwary traveler who encounters “The Howling Man” to the man who wakes up as an non-entity in “Person or Persons Unknown.” In Beaumont’s fictional constructs, however, the world around us is confusing not only because we fail to properly perceive it but because it actively changes its nature to harass or destroy us. For Beaumont there is another, often more malevolent, layer to individual existence.
The romantic poet, artist, and philosopher William Blake, in his influential work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93), suggests that the five senses of human perception are inlets to the soul and a path to natural truth. It is the nature of perception which writers have relentlessly confronted in the decades since Blake printed his masterwork, but Blake’s metaphysical view of human perception has proven far too restrictive for subsequent generations, particularly in the years after psychology and related behavioral studies became a codified scientific field.
For Charles Beaumont, writing one hundred and sixty years after Blake, the only truth derived from our senses is that our senses alone cannot lead us to truth. These are unreliable, malformed tools we use to perceive something astonishingly complex and our senses are constantly under the degrading effect of outside forces. “In His Image” features a protagonist assaulted with a barrage of disturbances concerning sight and sound, those tools most essential for committing experience to memory. Alan’s homicidal episodes occur when he is disoriented or irritated, accompanied by bursts of jarring noise suggestive of phonophobia, an aversion to loud noise which can cause acute stress and panic in one who suffers from the condition. Walter Ryder, Jr. later characterizes this condition as Alan's lack of inhibition, though we can all sympathize with Alan's annoyance at being accosted by a cloying religious zealot even if very few of us would push the woman in front of an oncoming train.
Charles Beaumont faced many challenges in his short life, from an abusive, transient childhood to the devastating illness which robbed him first of his creative ability and then of his life. "In His Image" presents a form of tragic irony in its story concerning a man who finds the solid foundations of his memory suddenly contorted into ever-increasing unreliability. In 1963 Beaumont began his own tumultuous path down the slippery slope of forgetfulness, a real-life situation not entirely dissimilar to that experienced by Alan Talbot in “In His Image.”
Beaumont’s condition initially disguised itself as the effects of an ever-increasing workload. Beaumont rarely turned down a professional writing assignment and by 1963 he was drowning in deadlines for film and television scripts, essays, stories, and book publications. In the midst of this professional chaos was Beaumont’s increasingly full home life. 1963 saw the birth of Beaumont’s fourth child. Beaumont sought respite in alcohol and one of the few changes Beaumont made in transitioning the story “The Man Who Made Himself” into the television episode “In His Image” is the addition of the shadow of alcoholism. Jess asks to stop for a drink before meeting Alan’s Aunt Mildred. Walter Ryder, Jr. is a drunk, whose alcoholism has dulled his drive to capitalize on his natural intellectual gifts beyond the obsessive desire to create another self.
By the spring of 1963 the effect of the early-onset Alzheimer’s which eventually took Beaumont’s life began to manifest itself. Friends Jerry Sohl, John Tomerlin, OCee Ritch, and William F. Nolan stepped in to complete Beaumont’s writing assignments, including four Twilight Zone episodes, but rarely received credit for their efforts. This was largely by design. Beaumont’s friends wanted the money from the assignments to go completely to Beaumont’s family. By year’s end Beaumont’s writing career was effectively over. The summer of 1964 brought the terrible diagnosis which stated that in some strange, Twilight Zone manner, Beaumont, a youthful man in his thirties, was suffering from a fatal, degenerative mental disease which remains uncannily rare for someone so young. An even crueler twist is that the disease manifested itself at the height of Beaumont's creative powers. The fourth season of Twilight Zone may well be Beaumont’s strongest. Unlike Rod Serling and, to a lesser degree, Richard Matheson, the hour-long format seems to have magnified Beaumont’s strengths as a writer, evident in such episodes as “Miniature,” “Printer’s Devil,” and “Passage on the Lady Anne.”

In another sense, “In His Image” is highly derivative, the culmination of ideas and images previously presented on the series in “The After Hours,” “A World of Difference,” “The Lateness of the Hour,” “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” and the aforementioned “Person or Persons Unknown.” What elevates “In His Image” above the derivative nature of its plot and theme is the convincing love story at its center and the excellent dual performance from George Grizzard, here portraying a very different character from his comedic turn in the first season episode “The Chaser.” Both of these elements are greatly assisted by the presence of Gale Kobe as Jessica Connelly. Kobe is a familiar face to regular viewers of the series, having previously appeared in the thematically similar episode “A World of Difference” and soon to appear in the fifth season episode “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross.” Kobe (1932-2013) was born Gabriella Joyce Kobe in Hamtramck, Michigan and trained in acting and dance at UCLA, after which she entered television, gracing dozens of shows with guest appearances throughout the 1950s and 1960s, mostly westerns and detective dramas but occasionally genre programs such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Outer Limits. Kobe discovered a second career in the industry when she moved into a producer’s chair in the 1970s, overseeing production on an array of daytime dramas including Guiding Light and The Bold and the Beautiful. “In His Image” offers Kobe her strongest role on the series and she and Grizzard display the finest onscreen chemistry since William Shatner and Patricia Breslin in “Nick of Time.”
The episode is also graced with excellent photography from George T. Clemens, an effective use of stock music cues, and subtle visual effects, including the nearly invisible insertion of future film director Joseph Sargent as George Grizzard’s double. Perry Lafferty was behind the camera for “In His Image” and his work on the episode set a precedence for quality which unfortunately would not be sustained throughout the fourth season. Lafferty was born in 1918 in Davenport, Iowa and initially trained as a pianist at the Yale School of Music before moving into radio production and direction in the 1940s. Lafferty directed a handful of television episodes but is better known in the industry as a producer and network executive. In 1965 CBS promoted Lafferty to the head of their West Coast production unit. Lafferty directed two additional Twilight Zone episodes, “The Thirty Fathom Grave” and “Valley of the Shadow,” both of which immediately followed “In His Image” in broadcast order. He died in Los Angeles in 2005.

The tale of the artificial person (or the person created by artificial means) is a staple of science fiction older than the genre itself, stretching in time from the Golem of Jewish folklore to the increasingly self-aware beings which populate Westworld. The most interesting subset of this story type is that which uses the artificial person to explore questions of identity, existence, perception, memory, and the ways in which these fundamental, yet abstract, aspects of an individual can be changed or altered by near and outlying factors.
As science fiction in America dragged itself out of the pulps writers began to incorporate aspects of mainstream literature to explore themes of the genre. The 1950s, a decade gaining favor in critical circles as the true Golden Age of the genre, saw an uptick in the production of the artificial person story type as writers gradually turned the science fictional lens inward to the mind and self. By the time Beaumont came to write “The Man Who Made Himself” in 1957, he was preceded in his effort by such writers as Ray Bradbury, whose 1949 story “Marionettes, Inc.” allowed henpecked husbands to create duplicate versions of themselves at a fatal price, Clifford D. Simak, whose 1951 tale “Goodnight, Mr. James” (aka “The Duplicate Man”) described a future society in which wealthy citizens created duplicate versions of themselves to perform undesirable tasks, and Philip K. Dick, whose 1953 story “Impostor” featured a protagonist very much like Alan Talbot, an artificial man who does not know his true nature and, owing to Dick’s penchant for political thrillers, harbors within his artificial body a weapon of mass destruction. All of these stories have seen dramatic adaptation, Bradbury’s on radio’s Dimension X and on television’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Ray Bradbury Theater. Simak’s appeared as an episode of The Outer Limits and Dick’s as a 2001 feature film. Dick returned to the themes found in his story for his most famous work, the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?, filmed by Ridley Scott in 1982 as Blade Runner.
Other examples of this story type abound in and out of the science fiction genre. Beaumont’s own 1953 story “Last Rites” covers much of the same ground despite a fundamental inversion to the theme of the tale. “Last Rites” concerns an artificial man who has found religion and, on his deathbed, calls upon a priest to administer last rites. The story is primarily concerned with forms of the soul and the afterlife but clearly demonstrates that Beaumont was concerned at an earlier date with the themes of “In His Image.” Like the prior story, Beaumont imbues “In His Image” with overtones of spiritual faith. Unlike “Last Rites,” however, Beaumont here presents religion as antagonistic, the symbolism of which (a religious pamphlet) twice triggers Alan’s homicidal outbursts, including what is likely the most shocking opening sequence of the series. There is also the rather obvious choice of the title “In His Image,” taken from Genesis 1:27, the Christian tale of the creation of the human race. “The Howling Man” is another Beaumont episode with obvious religious overtones, though one dealing with the broader sociological question of good and evil.
 The tale of the artificial person is a story type intimately related to the tale of the doppelgänger, the uncanny other which can manifests itself equally as an internal or external being. The most famous treatment of the doppelgänger in English is Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), a work which has been endlessly adapted since its original publication and is directly alluded to in “In His Image.” Stevenson was preoccupied with the theme and his similar 1885 tale “Markheim” was in some ways a trial run for the more complex and satisfying Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Twilight Zone approached similar material with the underrated first season episode “Mirror Image” and to a lesser degree with episodes such as “Long Live Walter Jameson” and “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You,” the latter two episodes derived from Beaumont’s story material.  
Another essential tale to which “In His Image” alludes is Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, in which a young medical student constructs a man from the parts of cadavers and imbues the creature with life through an ambiguous means generally interpreted to be electricity. Like the young Victor Frankenstein, Alan Talbot declares his early and ongoing obsession with the creation of artificial life. For Alan, however, it is not so much about playing God as it is about creating a perfect version of himself, someone with none of his insecurities, fears, or weaknesses. The fatal flaw in his design, and one with which Dr. Jekyll could certainly relate, is that his perfect self also possesses none of his inhibitions, those learned behaviors developed in our formative years which prevent us from acting upon our baser, more violent instincts. The relationship between “In His Image” and Frankenstein was duly noted by contemporary critics and, unfortunately, resulted in many of these critics writing the episode off as a weak derivation.

Beaumont typically remained very faithful to his own stories when adapting the material for The Twilight Zone and “In His Image” is no exception*. The entire course of events is mirrored almost exactly from the short story and Beaumont lifts large portions of dialogue as well. The changes imposed by Beaumont are those to be expected when adapting from a medium which is primarily interior to one which is primarily exterior. The most notable change is in the title, which Beaumont alludes back to in Rod Serling’s outgoing narration, and in the names of the principal characters. Alan Talbot is Peter Nolan in the story. Nolan, of course, is for William F. Nolan, one of Beaumont’s closest friends who also served as the inspiration for the protagonist Charley Parkes in Beaumont's later episode “Miniature.” Jessica Connelly is Jessica Lang in the story. Again, Beaumont chose the name of an acquaintance, this time the celebrated German expatriate film director Fritz Lang. Beaumont first met Lang when the teenage Beaumont traveled from his home in Everett, Washington to Los Angeles to interview Lang for Beaumont’s amateur fanzine Utopia. The two became friendly and Lang later helped to get Beaumont signed to an acting contract at Universal, though nothing resulted from Beaumont’s attempts at professional acting. Beaumont long intended to write a biography of Lang but the project never came to fruition. Finally, Walter Ryder, Jr. is Walter Cummings, Jr. in the story.
Another change is the way in which Alan/Peter discovers his true nature. In the episode he is nearly hit by a car and suffers an injury to his arm. In the story he angrily punches a tree until the skin breaks across his knuckles. Also altered is the way in which the reader realizes it is Walter and not Alan/Peter who arrives at Jess’s door to conclude the tale. When Walter is attacked in the story, it is his face which is scarred, not his chest. Thus, the reader realizes that the man who arrives at Jess’s door to end the tale is Walter when Jess calls attention to the scar on his face. The episode does provide a nice, if brief, bit of suspense when the audience is unsure whether Alan or Walter has survived the laboratory fight.

“In His Image” begins the fourth season with a very strong effort which operates at a high level in nearly every aspect of production. Though “In His Image” generally does not suffer the pacing issues which plagued the hour-long fourth season episodes, there are some minor pacing problems, particularly in transitioning from Alan’s discovery of his true nature to his encounter at Walter’s home. Some of the production design leaves more to be desired as well. Walter’s basement laboratory is highly stereotypical and William Tuttle’s makeup designs for the aborted attempts which lie upon the laboratory slabs have not aged well. These are small problems, however, and hardly detract from the overall artistry of “In His Image.” This one comes recommended, especially for viewers wary to engage in the hour-long episodes.

Grade: B

Grateful acknowledgement is made to William F. Nolan for information found in The Work of Charles Beaumont: An Annotated Bibliography (revised 2nd edition, Borgo Press, 1990), and to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org), the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), and the Internet Archive (archive.org). 

* “The Jungle” is a notable exception. See my review for a story to episode comparison. 

Notes:
---Charles Beaumont’s original story, “The Man Who Made Himself,” was published in the February, 1957 issue of Imagination magazine, edited by William L. Hamling. Beaumont included the story, as “In His Image,” in his 1958 collection Yonder: Stories of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Bantam Books). The story has seen subsequent inclusion in such volumes as The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories (editors: Martin Harry Greenberg, Richard Matheson, and Charles G. Waugh; Avon Books, 1985), Mass for Mixed Voices: The Selected Short Fiction of Charles Beaumont (editor: Roger Anker; Centipede Press, 2013), and Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories (Penguin Classics, 2015).
--Charles Beaumont wrote 17 additional episodes of the series, with another 4 written by other writers under his byline. Among the many exceptional episodes written by Beaumont are “Perchance to Dream,” “Long Live Walter Jameson,” “The Howling Man,” “Shadow Play,” and “Miniature.”
--Perry Lafferty also directed the season four episodes “The Thirty Fathom Grave” and “Valley of the Shadow.”
--George Grizzard also appeared in the first season episode “The Chaser.”
--Gail Kobe also appeared in the first season episode “A World of Difference” and the fifth season episode “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross.”
--Katharine Squire also appeared in the third season episode “One More Pallbearer.”
--Wallace Rooney also appeared in the second season episode “The Rip Van Winkle Caper” and the third season episode “Young Man’s Fancy.”
--George Petrie also appeared in the 1980s Twilight Zone episode “Shadow Play,” a remake of Charles Beaumont’s original series episode.
--Joseph Sargent appeared uncredited in the second season episode “Twenty Two.”
--“In His Image” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring John Heard.

-JP

Monday, April 16, 2018

An Introduction to the Fourth Season


Twilight Zone: Season Four (1963)
Rod Serling in a promotional
image from the fourth season.

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension, a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into – The Twilight Zone.” 

            Any long-running television series experiences a certain amount of turnover when transitioning from one season to the next. Through its first three seasons The Twilight Zone was fortunate to suffer few changes among its production crew or the creative team assembled around series creator Rod Serling. The relatively smooth transitions between the first three seasons resulted in sustained critical success and high creative quality. Everything which followed the third season, however, was characterized by attrition, turnover, and uneven quality. There was still quality material to be seen in the show’s final two seasons but consistent quality became a thing of the past.
            The parameters for survival placed upon The Twilight Zone by CBS were that the ratings not dip too low and that the show maintained sponsorship in a timely manner. Though never a ratings winner, the series enjoyed a loyal following which kept it in the top portion of the middle pack. The one area in which the series struggled was in maintaining a sponsor. While other series enjoyed consistent sponsorship for years at a time, The Twilight Zone found itself scrambling to acquire a sponsor at the end of each season. As such, the series frequently dodged cancellation at the eleventh hour. At the end of the third season, however, this recurrent problem finally resulted in a series cancellation.
            In the late spring of 1962 The Twilight Zone found itself without a sponsor. In the midst of scrambling to acquire the necessary sponsorship to produce a fourth season, the series was abruptly removed from the CBS production schedule, replaced with a new comedy series, Fair Exchange. CBS executive James T. Aubrey (1918-1994) descended upon Rod Serling’s award-wining fantasy anthology series with the decisive action for which his reign over the network would later be characterized. Aubrey assumed the role of President of CBS in December, 1959 and relinquished it in 1965. His control over the network spanned nearly the entirety of The Twilight Zone’s broadcast run. Aubrey disdained dramatic anthology programs and was peeved by the fact that Serling’s production was virtually untouchable as long as it remained within those two aforementioned parameters. Aubrey was convinced that television audiences desired simple stories told with recurrent characters. Inane sitcoms, many produced around bizarre or ludicrous storylines, became the principal product offered by CBS during Aubrey’s reign, one characterized by a ratings domination not seen before or since.
Time has largely proven Aubrey correct in his assessment of the television viewing audience, but Aubrey’s style of programming, characterized by CBS's two most successful programs, Gilligan’s Island and The Beverly Hillbillies, came with enormous creative and intellectual cost to the medium. The viewer seeking intelligent, creative, or edifying programming was running out of options.
            One of Aubrey’s first actions upon assuming the role of President at CBS was to cancel the dramatic anthology series Playhouse 90 at the end of that series’s fourth season in 1960. Despite solid ratings and a shelf of Emmy, Golden Globe, and Peabody Awards, Playhouse 90 was ground under the wheels of Aubrey’s vision for the future of CBS programming. At the end of its third season, and again despite solid ratings and a shelf full of Emmy, Golden Globe, and Hugo Awards, The Twilight Zone suffered the same fate. Though the series would return due to the immediate failings of the series CBS chose to replace The Twilight Zone, the inopportune timing of the cancellation fundamentally disrupted the creative course of the series, resulting in a continued period of transition from which the series never recovered.

            CBS replaced The Twilight Zone with the insipid and ironically titled hour-long sitcom Fair Exchange. The series starred Eddie Foy and Victor Maddern as army buddies who allow their teenage daughters to switch households. With the return of Twilight Zone in January, 1963, Fair Exchange finished out its short broadcast run at a different time and in truncated form until March, 1963. As the fate of Fair Exchange became apparent, CBS asked Rod Serling to return and produce another season of The Twilight Zone.  
            Numerous changes were required to bring the series back as a mid-season replacement in 1963. The name of the series was changed to simply Twilight Zone and it was scheduled in a Thursday night slot which Serling felt lost the series a considerable amount of its younger viewership. Ironically, this marked the time in which Twilight Zone marketing material, particularly Twilight Zone books, shifted efforts toward younger viewers. A more fundamental change was that Twilight Zone now had to fill an hour-long slot in the CBS schedule.
Twilight Zone’s new hour-long format was met with hostility by a number of current and prior creatives involved in production as well as most of the series viewership. The attitude toward the fourth season is little different today and the hour-long episodes still struggle for acceptance among viewers of the series. Most syndication packages do not include the fourth season episodes and popular streaming services such as Netflix avoid offering the fourth season altogether. Only recently during the SyFy channel’s annual Twilight Zone marathon and on the retrospective channel MeTV can the fourth season episodes be seen outside Twilight Zone home video packages.
The initial and continued backlash against the hour-long format is almost entirely the result of the fact that, for better or worse, Twilight Zone is a series characterized by its twist endings. The hour-long format made it very difficult, if not impossible, for the series to construct effective twist endings. Realizing this, the writers on the series generally did not attempt to replicate the story format of the half-hour shows but instead adapted the series to the traditional four-act drama successfully exhibited for years on dramatic programs. The widespread rejection of the fourth season is unfortunate since it allowed the show’s principal writers to create stories with greater levels of characterization and greater narrative complexity without the burden of relying upon a twist in the tale.
Claire Griswold and Robert Duvall
in Charles Beaumont's "Miniature"

The fourth season offered fine episodes from the core writers on the series, including Richard Matheson’s “Death Ship,” Charles Beaumont’s "In His Image" and “Miniature,” and Earl Hamner’s “Jess-Belle." One wonders whether these dramas had been presented on a different program (such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour or The Outer Limits) would their qualities be better recognized today. In some ways, the Twilight Zone label was a burden on the hour-long episodes due to viewer expectations from episodes of the prior three seasons. Not unreasonably, and despite the change in format, viewers expected more of the same. Rod Serling, who wrote many memorable dramas for the anthology programs a decade earlier, had the most trouble adapting to the longer format. Episodes such as “The Thirty Fathom Grave,” “No Time Like the Past,” and “The Parallel” feel very much like padded half-hour episodes, a quality Serling himself acknowledge in later interviews. Serling did, however, create an enduring episode in “On Thursday We Leave for Home” and interesting material in “He’s Alive,” the underrated comedic episode “The Bard,” and “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville,” his adaptation of Malcolm Jameson’s story “Blind Alley.”  
            Many creators associated with the series have gone on record dismissing the achievements of the fourth season. Serling stated that viewers “could watch fifteen minutes without knowing whether they were in a Twilight Zone or Desliu Playhouse.” Ironically, The Twilight Zone essentially began as an episode of Desilu Playhouse when Serling’s “The Time Element” was produced on that program in 1958. Though he had not directed a Twilight Zone episode since “The Invaders” during the second season, Douglas Heyes refused to return to the series to direct an hour-long segment. Ironically, Heyes left The Twilight Zone in part to direct hour-long segments of NBC’s similar series, Thriller, hosted by Boris Karloff. When asked by interviewers, Richard Matheson, who contributed two scripts to the fourth season, one very good, one not-very-good, repeatedly lamented the failings of the hour-long format.  

The half-hour format did have at least one inherent advantage in terms of production. The short shooting schedule required for each episode meant that the same production crew could handle every episode of the series. With the expansion to an hour-long format, and an eight day production schedule per episode, it was impossible to maintain this level of consistency. New crew members were brought in to alternate with the regular production crew retained by the series. The most significant change was that Emmy Award-winning cinematographer George T. Clemens was only able to film half of the hour-long segments. At Clemens's suggestion, veteran cinematographer Robert W. Pittack was brought in to film the remaining segments. Pittack previously substituted for Clemens on the third season episode “Person or Persons Unknown” and would remain with the series into the fifth season, photographing such episodes as “Night Call” and “Living Doll.” Other new crew members included Associate Producer Murray Golden, Assistant to the Producer John Conwell, Assistant Directors Ray de Camp and John Bloss, Art Directors John J. Thompson, Paul Groesse, and Edward Carfagno, Editors Edward Curtiss, Richard W. Farrell, Eda Warren, Everett Dodd, and Al Clark, and Set Directors Frank R. McElvy and Don Greenwood, Jr.
New writers also appeared on the series, the most significant of which was the invisible arrival of Jerry Sohl (1913-2002). Sohl was a novelist and short story writer of science fiction and mainstream material. His teleplays saw production on such series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits, and Star Trek, among others. Sohl was a member of the Southern California Group and a close friend of Twilight Zone writers Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. By the spring of the 1963, Charles Beaumont began exhibiting the symptoms of the early-onset Alzheimer’s disease which ended his writing career and took his life in 1967 at the age of 38. Though Beaumont produced some of his finest material for the fourth season, including the episodes “In His Image,” “Miniature,” and “Passage on the Lady Anne,” he was unable to complete many of the writing assignments to which he had previously committed. Several of Beaumont’s friends stepped in to complete Beaumont’s assignments, finishing work on magazine articles, screenplays, and teleplays. These writers often worked for no credit and no residual compensation in order that the money from the assignments benefit Beaumont’s family. Jerry Sohl arrived on Twilight Zone with “The New Exhibit” and continued by ghostwriting two fifth season episodes, “Living Doll” and “Queen of the Nile,” the latter of which was a virtual remake of Beaumont’s first season episode “Long Live Walter Jameson,” under Beaumont's name. 
The fourth season also saw writer John Furia, Jr’s comedy “I Dream of Genie,” and a new version of Reginald Rose’s 1955 Studio One drama “The Incredible World of Horace Ford,” complete with a new ending written especially for Twilight Zone.  

            There are indications that Rod Serling was ready to quietly end the series after the third season. The continuous effort required to produce the anthology series took an enormous toll on Serling, resulting in physical and creative exhaustion. As Serling stated in a short essay, "My Beliefs About the Real Twilight Zone," published after the series ended: "Doing a television series involves a back-breaking, frustrating schedule. Doing a dramatic series has a special difficult quality all its own. You have your own problem doing a show like this as often as you do them but to try to create qualitative, consistently good shows each week for five years is next to impossible." 
            Serling not only hosted the series and wrote the vast majority of the scripts but also assisted in script approval, casting, and various other aspects of day-to-day production. At the news of the series cancellation, Serling accepted a one-year teaching residency at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, instructing undergraduates in Mass Media and Dramatic Writing courses. When news of the series renewal reached him, Serling was unwilling to abandon his teaching residency and return to California to oversee production on another season of Twilight Zone. Serling remained remotely involved, continuing to write scripts and approve the additional scripts required to round out the season. Serling also took a step back from writing Twilight Zone tie-in material, a task he performed during the first three seasons, producing paperback Twilight Zone collections for Bantam Books. To capitalize on a new marketing strategy which targeted younger readers, Twilight Zone moved over to the parent company of Bantam Books, the hardcover publisher Grosset & Dunlap, with a goal to issue new illustrated hardcover Twilight Zone books. Serling had not the time to write the material and veteran pulp fiction author Walter B. Gibson (The Shadow) was brought in to adapt a number of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone scripts into short stories as well as create new stories for the books. These volumes were published as Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (1963) and Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Revisited (1964). The books were later issued in paperback and in an omnibus hardcover edition.  
            An equally enormous problem for the continued production was the departure of producer Buck Hougton, a largely unsung player who ensured the efficiency of production which characterized the first three seasons of the series. Houghton could not afford to wait the several months required to renew the series at CBS and, largely on the advice of industry colleagues, moved on to a role as producer of The Richard Boone Show, taking a handful of Twilight Zone production crew members along with him. 
            With Serling in Ohio and Buck Houghton gone, CBS brought in veteran producer and director Herbert Hirschman (1914-1985) to oversee production on the fourth season. Hirschman began his career as a script reader at RKO and moved into television in 1951 directing episodes of the anthology series The Web. Hirschman brought a wealth of experience to Twilight Zone learned over many years directing episodes of anthology series such as Studio One and Playhouse 90, as well as in various television production roles since 1955. Hirschman previously crossed Rod Serling’s path when Hirschman was the Associate Producer on the Playhouse 90 production of Rod Serling’s “Velvet Alley.” Hirschman’s directing career ended on Earl Hamner’s long-running autobiographical television series The Waltons.
            The multifaceted talents of Hirschman served the series well. Hirschman’s creative drive resulted in the design and construction of the visual montage which opens the fourth and fifth seasons. This opening sequence is likely the most famous of the season openings and is one which was retained and updated for Twilight Zone: The Movie and served to inspire the opening segments of the first two Twilight Zone revival series. Hirschman’s experience as a director also allowed him to shoot any necessary retakes which would otherwise have required the episode’s director to return to the set several days after principal production. Hirschman also directed all of Rod Serling’s season four hosting segments. Since Serling was based in Ohio during 1963, his infrequent returns to Los Angeles meant that Hirschman and cinematographer George T. Clemens had to shoot Serling’s hosting segments, including the preview segments, in batches of four or five at a time and against only a plain gray background. Some of these hosting segments were filmed weeks before production began on the episode in question. This was a method previously used by Alfred Hitchcock on his series, though the Hitchcock segments were far more creative.
            Hirschman understood that with the format change the deck was stacked against him and he was determined to produce quality hour-long material worthy of the Twilight Zone name. As such, Hirschman could be demanding in terms of quality and often let Rod Serling know that the scripts the series creator was turning in could be improved. Serling, who was teaching full-time, writing the screenplay for Seven Days in May, and writing teleplays for Twilight Zone did not always respond well to Hirschman’s goading, resulting in more than a few arguments between the two men. Whether this less than congenial working relationship resulted in Hirschman’s quick exit from the series remains unknown but after only twelve fourth season episodes, Hirschman departed the production. A transitional episode, “No Time Like the Past,” was overseen by Associate Producer Murray Golden.
            Veteran producer Bert Granet (1910-2002) was brought in to complete production on the fourth season. Granet’s relationship with Serling was more amicable, going back to 1958 when Granet served as producer on the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse overseeing production on Rod Serling’s “The Time Element.” Granet began his career writing screenplays in the 1930s before moving into film production in 1944 with Bride by Mistake. Granet moved into television production in 1955 with The Loretta Young Show and served as producer on such series as The Walter Winchell File and Kraft Mystery Theater. Granet remained with the series well into the fifth season, overseeing production on such well-regarded episodes as “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “The Masks,” before giving way to the show’s final producer William Froug.

            For now, however, Twilight Zone was embarking upon a new path with a shortened name, a longer format, a new time slot, new producers, and with its creator two thousand miles away. Longtime contributor Charles Beaumont, soon the victim of a tragic decline, would start the new season with a compelling adaptation of his short story “In His Image.”

-JP


Grateful acknowledgement is made to Marc Scott Zicree for information contained in The Twilight Zone Companion. 

Notes: 
-An added feature for the individual credits of each episode is the listing of character names along with the names of the actors/actresses.
-Another new feature is a short episode preview shown along with Rod Serling's preview segments.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Buck Houghton: The Unsung Hero of the Fifth Dimension


"The producer has to be sensitive to the human condition, to the human feeling about things, because you are in a sensory art. You are working in an art form depending on human feeling and on human reactions."

-Buck Houghton



Buck Houghton:
The Unsung Hero of the Fifth Dimension

by Brian Durant


Tall, soft-spoken, with a deep, sandy voice, Buck Houghton was an atypical Hollywood producer. A film or television producer’s job is to make sure that the production is completed on time and within the allotted budget. How they go about accomplishing this varies from producer to producer. Given the demanding schedules and stressful work environment, most resort to an attitude of stern authority while on set so that everyone remains on their toes. Houghton was unique in that he possessed a creative sensibility that many producers do not. He knew the people he was working with were the best in the world at what they did so he let them work with as little interference as possible, checking in from time to time to make sure everyone was on the same page. He was a calm and reassuring presence on the set and for the first three seasons of Rod Serling’s celebrated fantasy series he instilled in the entire cast and crew a creative and professional freedom that is rare in television. In short, Buck Houghton was The Twilight Zone’s unsung hero. And without him the show would not be the same.

Archible Ernest “Buck” Houghton, Jr. was born in Denver, Colorado on May 4, 1915. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was eight years old. While in high school he worked as a stagehand on several Cecil B. DeMille films. After graduating from UCLA, where he majored in English and Economics, Houghton was hired as a script reader for Val Lewton—after simply writing Lewton a letter and asking for the job despite his limited experience—and later as a story editor for Selznick International Pictures. To supplement his income, Houghton took jobs at Paramount Studios working first in the mail room and later in the casting and budgeting offices. With the onset of World War II, he took a position at the Office of War Information, making training films for the military. After the war he took a job at RKO Studios as an assistant to producer Jack Gross who was making films for Houghton’s former employer, Val Lewton. This allowed Houghton to be on set during the filming of several classic Lewton films including The Body Snatcher (1945), Isle of the Dead (1945), and Bedlam (1946).

After four years at RKO, Houghton took a position at MGM Studios. In 1951 he became the story editor for Schlitz Playhouse of the Stars working under well-known producer William Self and his production company, Meridian Productions. Self would play a key role in The Twilight Zone’s success years later. In 1952 Houghton first became a producer on the short-lived series China Smith which starred future Twilight Zone actor Dan Duryea. Over the next seven years he worked on a handful of series including Wire Service (starring Twilight Zone actor Dane Clark), Yancy Derringer, and Man with a Camera starring still another Twilight Zone actor, Charles Bronson. He also worked on a 1955 film directed by Leslie Goodwins called The Paris Follies of 1956 (also released as Fresh from Paris) featuring acts from Frank Sennes’s famous Moulin Rouge Night Club. On these early projects Houghton was credited as associate producer A.E. Houghton, Jr.

In 1959 William Self, now a newly-promoted CBS executive in charge of development, was assigned to help produce the pilot episode of a new fantasy series created by Rod Serling called The Twilight Zone. Self met with Serling and, after he voiced his doubt in the young writer’s first two teleplays, the two agreed on a half-hour script called “Where is Everybody?” about a man with amnesia who finds himself in a deserted town. The pilot was a hit and CBS greenlit the series. Serling asked Self to stay on as producer given his widespread knowledge of the industry. But Self chose to stay in his position at CBS. Instead, he recommended a producer who had worked on several projects for Meridian Productions named Buck Houghton. He also recommended other names including production manager Ralph W. Nelson, director of photography George T. Clemens, assistant director Edward Denault, and several others who had already worked with Houghton. This familiar work environment not only made it easier on Houghton, who was still relatively new to his role as producer and was taking on a highly publicized project, but it is likely a factor in why the show was a creative success right from the start. Serling hired all of Self’s recommendations and production began in the summer of 1959.

With Serling contractually obligated to write around seventy-five percent of the show’s episodes, the task of finding material that would comprise the remainder of the episodes fell largely on Houghton who was not an avid fan of fantasy and science fiction. Regardless, he was able to spot the right material when he saw it. This was his major contribution to the show. While his talents were mostly as a businessman, Houghton knew artistic quality when he saw it. And he knew whether it would translate well on the screen and which actors and directors to call upon to make that happen. “The first few episodes shape the series,” Houghton writes in his 1991 guide to the industry, What a Producer Does: The Art of Moviemaking (Not the Business). “In [Serling’s] first few scripts, his instincts led him to a pattern that he and I soon agreed upon as the bottom-line basis for buying stories.” He lists the seven criteria he relied on when purchasing material for the show. First, he says, the characters should be ordinary and the problem facing them must be resonant of the fears or desires of the audience even if the circumstances of the story are impossible in the real world. Also, allow only one miracle or imaginative circumstance per episode. More than one, he says, and the audience grows impatient. And probably most significant to the show’s success: mere scare tactics do not work. The focus should always be on the characters. This is the characteristic that most noticeably separates The Twilight Zone from other science fiction and horror programs. Its objective was to comment on the human condition. The horror elements grew from there.

Houghton was also responsible for hiring the right actors and director for each episode, approving set locations, resolving any grievances or personal conflicts among the cast and crew, overseeing the edit of the rough cut and approving the finished product, making sure everyone got paid, communicating with network executives, and seeing that everything ran efficiently so he could bring the episode in on time and under budget. He was usually doing all of this while balancing several episodes at once, each in a different stage of production. It was Houghton’s idea to shoot on the MGM backlot because he knew their extensive prop department would save both time and money.

In 1960 Houghton received a Producer’s Guild Award for Best Produced Series from the Producer’s Guild of America for a remarkable first season. He managed to keep the show afloat for the next three seasons-101 episodes-with the quality of creative content remaining, for the most part, as fresh as it felt at the beginning. Near the end of the 1961-62 season, CBS, under the leadership of President James T. Aubrey, changed the show’s time slot from Friday night at 10:00 pm to Wednesday at 7:30 pm, the middle of the primetime lineup. After getting wind of this, Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company, who had sponsored the show since the end of the previous season, decided not to renew their contract for the upcoming fourth season. They didn’t believe the show would fare very well in its new spot as it was surrounded by westerns and situational comedies. Unable to secure a new sponsor in time, the show found itself off the air.

Although there was talk that the show might be brought back at some point, Houghton decided that he could not risk potential unemployment waiting to find out. He also decided that it would be a wise career choice to prove that he could be successful outside of the celebrity of Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone. Another reason still, was the talk of expanding the show to an hour which he was definitely not in favor of doing. So after being offered a position at Four Star Productions, Houghton left the show. His replacement was producer Herbert Hirschman who would stay for only twelve episodes before being replaced by Bert Granet near the end of the fourth season. In an interview with television historian Steven Bowie in 1998, Houghton said that Serling later asked him to return to produce the show’s fifth season—this was likely around the time that Hirschman left. Houghton was apparently on board with the idea but CBS ruled in favor of Granet instead.

Four Star Productions was formed in 1952 as the brainchild of actor Dick Powell. The company produced mostly television programs and is responsible for shows like Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Rifleman, Honey West, The Big Valley, and Four Star Playhouse, among others. In 1963 actor Richard Boone had grown weary of playing gunfighting poet of the west Paladin in the iconic series Have Gun – Will Travel and left the show to pursue something new. The result was The Richard Boone Show, an ambitious half-hour dramatic anthology series which aired each week on NBC. The show featured the first televised repertory theatre company in which a rotating group of actors played different characters each week. Boone served as host and he also directed and appeared in many episodes. The show featured numerous former members of The Twilight Zone’s production crew.

The series was produced by Four Star and Houghton was hired to oversee production. To aid him in getting such a highly publicized project off the ground was revered American dramatist Clifford Odets. Odets had signed on to write four original teleplays for the show in addition to acting as script supervisor—the project would be his last, however, as he died suddenly in August of 1963. Despite critical acclaim—a Golden Globe Award and several Emmy nominations—and an immensely talented roster of writers, directors, performers, and production staff, the show was not able to find an audience and ended in 1963 after only twenty-five episodes. After the death of founder and president Dick Powell in January of 1963, Four Star Productions appeared to be unraveling and Houghton left the company.

He worked almost exclusively in television throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. After The Richard Boone Show he served as producer on the short-lived World War II series Blue Light, created by Larry Cohen and Walter Grauman and starring Robert Goulet, and the subsequent feature film it inspired, I Deal in Danger (1966). Although he continued to find steady work in television, serving as producer on several made-for-television films and a handful of well-known and less well-known series including Lost in Space, The High Chaparral, Harry O, Executive Suite, and Hawaii Five-O, Houghton never found another long-term position in the industry and in the last decade of his career he turned his attention toward feature films.

In 1982 Houghton served as producer on the film The Escape Artist which starred Griffin O’Neal and Raul Julia. The film was directed by Caleb Deschanel with a screenplay by Melissa Mathison and Stephen Zito from the novel by David Wagoner. Francis Ford Coppola served as executive producer and the film was released by his company, Zoetrope Studios. Houghton and Coppola were close friends for many years. Houghton made a brief cameo as a senator in The Godfather Part II (1974) and a quote from Coppola appears on the cover of Houghton’s book. The Escape Artist is also notable as the last screen appearance of television icon Desi Arnaz. Houghton also produced the cult horror films Eternal Evil (1985) starring Karen Black and The Wraith (1986) with Charlie Sheen. His final role as producer was on the CBS film Spring Awakening in 1994.

Although he preferred to remain on the business side of the industry, Houghton did occasionally see his own work make it to the screen. The Internet Movie Database lists seven writing credits for various series including Big Town, Four Star Playhouse, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Nichols, Mission: Impossible, and Project U.F.O. 

Houghton was not involved in the Twilight Zone reboot which aired on CBS from 1985 to 1987. Although he was not in favor of reviving the series he was always careful not to criticize the show’s creators as he realized that they were making a very different show than the one he and Serling had made simply by default. “I think they should have started another series,” he told interviewers Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier in 1987. “It’s counterproductive to say you’re going to remake Back to the Future or Mutiny on the Bounty because remakes generally don’t work. There’s some self-consciousness that goes into the remaking process that is self-defeating.” He made similar statements about Twilight Zone: The Movie after seeing the bizarre set designs and elaborate special effects while on the set of director Joe Dante’s segment which was based on Serling’s season three classic “It’s a Good Life”—Houghton makes a brief cameo in Dante’s version.

Houghton’s career as a television producer inspired both of his children to seek careers in the industry as well. His daughter, Mona Houghton, who played the little girl on the sidewalk in Serling’s season three Twilight Zone episode “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” went on to write for several television series during the 1970’s and 80’s. His son, Jim Houghton, who also appeared on The Twilight Zone during season three as a town rough hand in Montgomery Pittman’s “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank,” has enjoyed an enormously successful career first as an actor (Knot’s Landing) and then as a writer (Tales from the Darkside, The Young and the Restless). He has received two Writer’s Guild of America Awards.


In 1991 Silman-James Press published What a Producer Does: The Art of Moviemaking (Not the Business), a step-by-step outline to being a producer of film and television in the elusive machine that is Hollywood. Running through a list of important bullet points, Houghton dedicates each chapter to a different aspect of the producer’s job from buying source material to hiring the cast and crew to marketing the finished product, explaining how each step differs from television to film. Since its original publication the book has become a standard of the industry and its straightforward approach makes it as relevant as it was twenty-five years ago. The book is dedicated to Serling’s memory.

After retiring, Houghton’s health began to decline. Suffering from a combination of emphysema and ALS, Houghton died in Los Angeles on May 14, 1999. He was 84.




Grateful acknowledgement is made to:

What a Producer Does: The Art of Moviemaking (Not the Business) by Buck Houghton (Silman-James Press, 1991)

The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree, second edition (Bantam, 1989)

“Buck Houghton: Ghosts of Twilight Zone’s Past” interview with Houghton conducted by Randy and Jean-Mark Lofficier (Starlog #115, February, 1987)

The Twilight Zone Definitive DVD Collection, Season 1 (Image Entertainment, 2004)

“Notes from Buck Houghton” by Steven Bowie (The Classic TV History Blog, November 6, 2009), retrieved April 7, 2018