Thursday, April 20, 2017

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

Gauntlet Press collection
of Rod Serling scripts

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the third season, the series was late in finding a sponsor and abruptly canceled. Production resumed some months later when the series returned as a mid-season replacement (replacing the series which had replaced it) in an hour-long format with new producers. This was the first truly transitional time for the series and many believe it never achieved the level of quality it previously held under producer Buck Houghton, who departed with the initial news of cancelation, taking a sizable portion of the production crew with him. Adding to Houghton’s departure was Serling's acceptance of a year-long teaching residency at a liberal arts college two thousand miles away and the early-onset Alzheimer’s experienced by writer Charles Beaumont, the second leading contributor of scripts to the series. Though Serling continued to write scripts and record introductions for the series, the level of his active involvement in production was largely diminished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Additional Images:

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

Special thanks to Christopher Conlon.

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

Selected Works:

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

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

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

"The Fugitive"

Old Ben (J. Pat O'Malley) and Jenny (Susan Gordon) moments
before they depart this planet for a better one.
“The Fugitive”
Season Three, Episode 90
Original Air Date: March 9, 1962

Old Ben: J. Pat O’Malley
Jenny: Susan Gordon
Mrs. Gann: Nancy Kulp
First Man: Westley Lau
Second Man: Paul Tripp
The Doctor: Russ Bender
Howie: Stephen Talbot
The Pitcher: Johnny Eiman

Writer: Charles Beaumont (original teleplay)
Director: Richard L. Bare
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: Jack Swain
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Direction: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Jason Bernie
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week on the Twilight Zone contributor Charles Beaumont provides us with a most charming tale of an old man and some children. An old man who’s an exceptional playmate. Exceptional because, well, how many old men do you know who can change into monsters? Mr. Beaumont’s excellent tasting stew is further seasoned by an element of mystery. It’s called ‘The Fugitive.’ We hope to see you next week.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“It’s been said that science fiction and fantasy are two different things. Science fiction: the improbable made possible. Fantasy: the impossible made probable. What would you have if you put these two different things together? Well, you’d have an old man named Ben who knows a lot of tricks most people don’t know, and a little girl named Jenny who loves him, and a journey into the heart of the Twilight Zone.”


           An elderly gentleman who the neighborhood kids refer to as Old Ben spends his days winning their hearts with magic and kindness. Old Ben can transform into any kind of creature imaginable, real or otherwise. He can also move things with his mind and he can heal the sick and the wounded faster than any medicine found on Earth.
Ben is especially close to Jenny, a young girl who wears a knee brace and walks with a limp. Jenny lives with her cold, abusive aunt named Mrs. Gann. Mrs. Gann doesn’t like Old Ben and after he walks Jenny home one afternoon she tells him he is not to see her again. Later, two men in suits introduce themselves to Mrs. Gann and begin asking questions about Old Ben. Jenny sneaks out and races up to Ben’s room to warn him. Minutes later, Mrs. Gann and the two men arrive at Ben’s room only to find Jenny all by herself. Jenny tells the men that she does not know where Old Ben is but Mrs. Gann suspects she is lying.
            Back in her room, Jenny takes a mouse from her pocket and places it on the bed. The mouse transforms into Old Ben. He says that he has to go away so the men do not find him. But first, he says, he will heal her leg. Ben makes good on his promise and afterwards he transforms into a bumblebee and flies out the window. Jenny races after him only to run into the two men in suits in the hallway. They aim a strange weapon at her and she collapses.
            Later, in her bedroom, a doctor tells her aunt that she may in fact be dying. After they leave the room, Old Ben, still in bee form, returns through the window and transforms back into his human self. He produces a strange device and begins to reverse Jenny’s condition. Moments later, the two men arrive in the room. Ben tells Jenny that he is the king of a planet far from Earth and that these men are his subjects.
Not wanting to leave Jenny in the hands of her horrible aunt he suggests that they take her back to their kingdom. The two men remind their king that such an act is forbidden. Old Ben asks to speak to Jenny alone. The two men exit. When they return they are greeted by two young blond girls who appear completely identical to one another. As they cannot distinguish one from the other they are forced to bring them both back to their kingdom.
After everyone leaves Rod Serling appears in the room holding a photograph of a handsome young man who he says is Old Ben in his natural form. He says that one day Jenny will likely become queen of a distant planet in a faraway galaxy somewhere…in the Twilight Zone.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Mrs. Gann will be in for a big surprise when she finds this [photo of young man] under Jenny’s pillow because Mrs. Gann has more temper than imagination. She’ll never dream that this is a picture of Old Ben as he really looks and it will never occur to her that eventually her niece will grow up to be an honest-to-goodness queen somewhere in the Twilight Zone.”


            “The Fugitive” is one of the very few dull spots in Charles Beaumont’s canon of Twilight Zone episodes. It is also one of the few times the typically macabre writer would pen a genuinely light-hearted script for this or any other program. It is a twentieth century fairy tale complete with an evil guardian, a victimized princess, a charming prince (a king, actually) who comes to her rescue, and lots of warm, fuzzy magic a la Walt Disney. The episode has a lot of heart and good intentions but the plot is ultimately too flimsy and too bizarre for any kind of emotional connection to be formed with the two main characters. The end result of this creative effort may have been particularly disappointing to Beaumont as this story may have had painful origins.
            The most notable thing about “The Fugitive” is its fairly honest portrayal of child abuse, something rarely seen on television at the time. Always a program to push political and social boundaries, The Twilight Zone would examine this sensitive subject several times during its five season run. Richard Matheson, who first broke into publishing in 1950 with the sale of his famous story “Born of Man Woman,” about parents who keep a deformed child locked in their basement, would adapt his story “Mute,” about a telepathic child who is subjected to harsh treatment by several adult characters, for an hour-long episode in the fourth season of the show. Earl Hamner examined the repercussions of parental neglect in the final episode of the series, “The Bewitchin’ Pool."
            Beaumont likely possessed great sympathy for victimized children due to his own painful childhood experiences. He admitted as an adult that his mother was mentally unsound and at times emotionally and psychologically abusive. He confided in friend William F. Nolan that she would dress him in girls’ clothing and even once killed a pet in front of him as punishment. His story “Miss Gentilbelle,” about a boy who lives in fear of his unstable mother, is heavily based upon his troubled upbringing. Although the story was not published until 1957 when it appeared both in Beaumont's first collection of short fiction, The Hunger and Other Stories, and in Beaumont's literary agent Don Congdon's horror anthology, Stories for the Dead of Night, it dates back to several years before and was actually one of Beaumont’s first attempts at fiction writing. It was the first story he showed his friend and literary mentor Ray Bradbury. When Bradbury wrote of this first of many literary workshop sessions between the two of them in later years, he claimed that Beaumont’s talent was clear from the very beginning.
            Like his young protagonist, Beaumont also suffered a handicap as a child. Around the age of twelve he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, a condition which left him largely immobilized for over a year. It was during this time, however, that he discovered a love of books. Isolated from other children and unable to engage in any physical activity, he dove into the worlds of Poe and L. Frank Baum and Edgar Rice Burroughs. As a result of both his illness and his mother’s instability Beaumont was sent to live with his aunts in Washington state for several years. It was here that his love of horror and the macabre blossomed as his aunts would often talk of their deceased husbands, describing their deaths vividly. One of his aunts even indulged young Beaumont’s grisly interests by playing pranks on the other women in the house. On one occasion she attached a bloody knife handle (via ketchup) to her chest and pretended to be dead while Beaumont screamed to the others for help.
            Beaumont’s output on The Twilight Zone, like much of his fiction, leans towards the macabre, often with an emphasis on dreams and the subconscious. He wrote only a few sentimental scripts for the show—“Static” “Miniature” “Passage on the Lady Anne”—and even these feature varying degrees of unsettling imagery. “The Fugitive” may be his only genuinely feel-good episode and it is perhaps for this reason that it falls short. It doesn’t contain any of the familiar traits found in most of his work and instead feels more like a poor imitation of a Rod Serling teleplay.
American-born actor and silent-film star
Pat O'Malley (1890 - 1966) in season two's
"Back There."
James Patrick O’Malley (1904 – 1985) was an English actor and singer who appeared in four episodes of the show: “The Chaser,” “The Self-Improvement of Salvador Ross,” “Mr. Garrity and the Grave” and “The Fugitive.” He is often confused with American actor Pat O’Malley (1890 – 1966) who had a fairly successful career during the silent film era. His later career consisted mostly of bit roles including three appearances on The Twilight Zone: “Walking Distance,” “Back There” and “Static.” 
English actor J. Pat O'Malley (1904 - 1985)
in season five's "Mr. Garrity and the Graves"
(in the middle)
          The English O’Malley began his long and varied entertainment career as a successful singer in Britain as part of the Jack Hylton Orchestra and also as a solo artist. In the 1930’s he moved to the states to further his music career but failed to gain the level of success he had known in Britain. Instead he turned his attention to acting. In 1952 he appeared in the Broadway production of Frederick Knott’s Dial M for Murder which was made into a successful film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1954. O’Malley had a long and rewarding relationship with Walt Disney Studios and found his greatest success as a voice actor in a handful of animated Disney classics, including The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), Alice in Wonderland (1951, as The Walrus / The Carpenter/ Tweedledee / Tweedledum / Mother Oyster), 101 Dalmatians (1961), Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967), and Robin Hood (1973). He also lent his voice to several characters in “The Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction of Disney's theme parks. In 1958 he appeared in Rod Serling’s Playhouse 90 episode “Bomber’s Moon” alongside fellow Twilight Zone alumni Martin Balsam, Robert Cummings, and Cliff Robertson. He also appeared in episodes of Suspense, Lights Out, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Thriller. O’Malley delivers a good performance here. Most of his scenes feature just himself and Susan Gordon. Playing off the energy of a child actor is difficult but he responds to it well and the relationship between Old Ben and Jenny is believable enough.
            Nancy Kulp is probably the most recognizable face in this episode. Kulp was a character actress whose career dates back to the dawn of television. She made the rounds in the medium throughout the 1950’s and 60’s appearing on many live anthology dramas and in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1962 she was cast as bird-loving Miss Jane Hathaway in The Beverly Hillbillies. She stayed with the show for nine seasons until it was canceled in 1971. She also enjoyed a relatively successful film career including Disney’s The Parent Trap (1961) and The Aristocats (1971). Her performance here is a bit too much for the tone of the episode. While her character is repugnant she mainly comes across as totally absurd.
            Susan Gordon’s career lasted only six or seven years until she abandoned acting as an adult. However, she managed to appear in a lot of places during her brief time as a child actress, including episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Several days into the filming of “The Fugitive” Gordon became ill and was sent home by an MGM doctor. Production ceased for four days while she recuperated. When she returned to the set she was still tired and disoriented. She managed to make it to the end of the production but as soon as she filmed her last scene on the baseball field she collapsed, likely due to the intense heat, and was carried off the set on a stretcher.
            “The Fugitive” was directed by Twilight Zone regular Richard L. Bare who directed seven episodes of the show including the previous episode “To Serve Man.” His direction in this episode is competent but forgettable, a far cry from the avant-garde styles of his earlier episodes like “Third from the Sun” or “The Purple Testament.” Bare is best known as the writer and director of the Joe McDoakes short films starring George O’Hanlon during the 1940’s and 1950’s and as the long-time director of Green Acres, in which he directed 166 episodes. He also directed numerous episodes of Petticoat Junction, Maverick, and Cheyenne.
            This may not be Beaumont’s worst effort on the show—that honor probably goes to season four’s “Valley of the Shadow”—but it is a rare sore spot for a wildly talented writer who produced some of the best episodes of the series. Sugary-sweet sentimentality was not a trope which Beaumont often applied to his fiction and his stories which do bare this quality are not usually considered among his best, with a few exceptions like the fan-favorite stories “Fair Lady” and “The Vanishing American,” both of which are excellent. The warm-hearted element of “The Fugitive” falls flat largely due to bland direction and poorly cast supporting characters. It is a watchable episode for genuine fans of the show but not one that should represent its overall quality or the quality of Beaumont or Bare’s contributions to it. This one, unfortunately, does not come recommended.
Grade: D

Grateful acknowledgement is made to:

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)

“California Sorcerers: A Group Portrait” by Christopher Conlon, California Sorcery, edited by William F. Nolan and William Schafer (Cemetery Dance, 1999)

Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories, edited by Roger Anker (Dark Harvest, 1988)

--Charles Beaumont wrote or co-wrote 22 episodes of the show placing him second only to Serling (who wrote 92 episodes) in terms of contribution. Among his many classics are “Perchance to Dream” from season one, “The Howling Man” and “Shadow Play” from season two, “Person or Persons Unknown” from season three, and “In His Image” and “Miniature” from season four.
--Richard L. Bare also directed “Third from the Sun” and “The Purple Testament” from season one, “Nick of Time” and “The Prime Mover” from season two, “To Serve Man” from season three, and “What’s in the Box?” from season five.
-- J. Pat O’Malley appeared in three other episodes of the show: “The Chaser” from season one and “The Self-Improvement of Salvador Ross” and “Mr. Garrity and the Graves” from season five.
--Russ Bender also appeared in season one’s “The Hitch-Hiker” and season four’s “On Thursday We Leave for Home.”
--Stephen Talbot also appeared in the season two episode "Static."
--This is one of only three episodes to feature an onscreen appearance by Serling somewhere other than during his opening narration. Season one’s “A World of His Own” and season two’s “The Obsolete Man” (both of which were season finales) also include him in the final scenes.
--Check out the Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Stan Freberg.