Monday, June 8, 2020

"The Bard"

William Shakespeare (John Williams) is conjured by Julius Moomer (Jack Weston)

“The Bard”
Season Four, Episode 120
Original Air Date: May 23, 1963

Julius Moomer: Jack Weston
Mr. Shannon: John McGiver
Sadie: Doro Merande
William Shakespeare: John Williams
Mr. Hugo: Henry Lascoe
Dolan: William Lanteau
Bramhoff: Howard McNear
Secretary: Marge Redmond
Bus Driver: Clegg Hoyt
Cora: Judy Strangis
Rocky Rhodes: Burt Reynolds

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: David Butler
Producer: Herbert Hirschman
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Art Direction: George W. Davis & Edward Carfagno
Film Editor: Edward Curtiss
Set Decoration: Henry Grace & Edward M. Parker
Assistant to the Producer: John Conwell
Assistant Director: John Bloss
Music: Fred Steiner
Sound: Joe Edmondson & Franklin Milton
Mr. Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at MGM Studios

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“You’ve just witnessed opportunity, if not knocking, at least scratching plaintively on a closed door. Mr. Julius Moomer, a would-be writer who, if talent came twenty-five cents a pound, would be worth less than car fare. But, in a moment, Mr. Moomer, through the offices of some black magic, is about to embark on a brand-new career. And although he may never get a writing credit on The Twilight Zone, he’s to become an integral character in it.”

            Julius Moomer is an enthusiastic yet untalented aspiring television writer and the bane of his agent Mr. Hugo. When Mr. Hugo gets wind of a new television series Julius begs for a chance to write a pilot episode. Mr. Hugo agrees under the condition that Julius completes the script by Monday morning. The subject of the new series is black magic. Since Julius knows nothing about black magic he stops in at a used bookstore hoping to find a volume on the subject. The eccentric shop owner informs Julius that they haven’t any books on black magic when a moment later an old book floats off the shelf and drops to the floor. Julius picks it up and discovers it to be exactly the book he needs.
            Back home, Julius consults the book and sets about casting a spell for help in writing a television script. Julius makes convenient substitutes for several of the spell’s ingredients and predictably does not achieve the desired effects. However, when Julius speaks the name William Shakespeare the great writer appears in a cloud of smoke in Julius’ apartment.
            Once he gets over the shock of the dead man’s presence, Julius sets Shakespeare to work on the new television script. At a meeting on Monday, television executives sense the potential of the script, despite its archaic language, and greenlight the pilot. Julius, who submitted the script under his name, is turned into an overnight star, making appearances on television shows and meeting with sponsors and high-ranking executives. Shakespeare, meanwhile, is prepared to return to the great unknown having completed his task. Julius is reluctant to let Shakespeare leave, wishing to keep a good thing going and have Shakespeare write more scripts. Shakespeare agrees to remain on the condition that when he attends rehearsal the following day he will witness his play being performed with accuracy and respect.
            To Shakespeare’s horror, his script has been butchered by rewrites and sponsor demands. To make matters worse, the lead in the play has been cast with Rocky Rhodes, an arrogant and contentious method actor. Shakespeare is appalled to the point of punching out Rhodes and storming out of the rehearsal and out of Julius’ life.
            Julius has a backup plan, however. When Mr. Hugo gets wind of a new television series on American history, Julius shows up to the agent’s office with an entourage of famous figures from American history, having conjured them with his spell book.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Mr. Julius Moomer, a streetcar conductor with delusions of authorship. And if the tale just told seems a little tall, remember a thing called poetic license, and another thing called The Twilight Zone.”

John Williams (L) with Burt Reynolds (R)
            It is clear at this point in the series that, for reasons which remain unclear, Rod Serling and company were intent on regularly featuring broad comedy on The Twilight Zone. For a series which remains notable for its introspective, often dark, fantasies concerning topical subjects, these comedic episodes strike the viewer as a jarring juxtaposition to the show’s average fare.
Perhaps comedy was simply a way to create variety in the show’s approach to its chosen subject matter. The series tried a variety of different strategies in bringing lighter fare to The Twilight Zone, from reworking old scripts (“The Mighty Casey”) to gimmicks such as silent film (“Once Upon a Time”) to featuring notable comedic performers (“The Mind and the Matter,” “Cavender Is Coming”). Incredibly, the episodes “Mr. Bevis” and “Cavender Is Coming,” some of the most ineffective material produced on the series, were initially written to launch television series.
These broadly comedic episodes, which also include such offerings as “Mr. Bevis,” “Mr. Dingle, the Strong,” “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby,” and “From Agnes – With Love,” are typically viewed as among the least successful episodes of the series by all except those reluctant to criticize any of Rod Serling’s scripts. It could be worth a writer’s time to explore why comedy did not work on the series, especially in light of the talent in front of the camera, with the likes of Shelly Berman, Buster Keaton, Andy Devine, and Carol Burnett appearing on the series.
            In some respects, comedy was effectively featured on the series. Several episodes, such as “The Chaser,” “A World of His Own,” “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” “The Prime Mover,” “Dead Man’s Shoes,” and “A Kind of Stopwatch,” featured a lightness of touch which, if not outright comedy, was about as close to farcical as the series could comfortably operate. Other episodes, such as “The Fever,” “A Most Unusual Camera,” and “A Piano in the House,” offered dark, and perhaps unintentional, humor. It is apparent that anything broader in comedic scope than, for example, Dick York struggling to adjust to his newfound mindreading abilities in “A Penny for Your Thoughts” was an overabundance.

            “The Bard” has much in common with earlier comedic episodes, particularly “Mr. Bevis,” “Mr. Dingle, the Strong,” and “Cavender Is Coming.” Like these earlier episodes, it features a luckless character who, by chance or magic, is gifted extraordinary abilities or an entity to perform extraordinary feats on their behalf. William Shakespeare performs much the same role as the guardian angels in “Mr. Bevis” and “Cavender Is Coming,” or the aliens in “Mr. Dingle, the Strong.” He arrives to assist a person whose primary quality is their failure to successfully launch along the course of life.
“The Bard” subtly recreates, or recalls, scenes from earlier comedic episodes, as well. The eccentric bookshop proprietor and her crowded, dusty shop recalls A. Daemon’s apothecary shop from “The Chaser,” while her baseball obsession recalls “The Mighty Casey.” “The Bard” includes a scene of mischief on a city bus reminiscent of a similar scene in “Cavender Is Coming,” complete with finger writing in the air. “The Bard” also features an element which recurred with regularity on the series and which perhaps strikes the modern viewer as unusual, this being the featured relationship between an adult man and a female child. In “The Bard” it is used for comedic effect as Julius Moomer trades barbs with Cora, his landlady’s smart-mouthed young daughter. Producer Herbert Hirschman was particularly wary of the language used in these scenes. In other episodes, such relationships were used to elicit empathy (“On for the Angels,” “The Fugitive”) or menace (“Caesar and Me”).

An appealing aspect of “The Bard” is the biting satire in Rod Serling’s script, a quality not seen in this quantity since the dismal second season episode “The Whole Truth.” “The Bard” was hardly the first time Serling approached the dehumanizing aspect of trying to create art or quality in an essentially commercial endeavor, but chose to approach the subject this time not with the blunt force of a drama but with the sharp edge of satirical comedy. This theme pervades much of Serling’s work, dating back to his first great success as a professional writer, the Kraft Theatre production of “Patterns” (1955), in which a new executive is forced to confront his personal morality in a cutthroat business environment. On The Twilight Zone, Serling examined the theme in “Walking Distance” and, most memorably, “A Stop at Willoughby.” In “The Bard” this quality is played for laughs (Serling is, after all, using the most revered figure in English literature to illustrate the plight of the television writer) but it should not be lost on the viewer that “The Bard” is, in some ways, a culmination of Serling’s career-long battles with networks and sponsors. If the viewer is versed in their Twilight Zone history, they know that the prevailing narrative concerning the creation of The Twilight Zone is that Rod Serling wished to create a series over which he had greater control after repeatedly seeing his scripts censored at the hands of network executives and sponsors. Serling also felt that he could approach topical issues with less interference if he cloaked his stories in the trappings of fantasy and science fiction. This oversimplified genesis story still contains an essential truth of Serling’s career. As one of the “angry young men” of television drama, Serling consistently battled for control over his scripts and their content.
The Twilight Zone, however, was still a place where the network and the sponsors exercised a certain amount of censorship and control. One situation on the series which mirrors the butchering of Shakespeare’s script in “The Bard” is the aborted production on George Clayton Johnson’s second season episode “Sea Change.” Johnson’s story, about a man who loses his hand in a boating accident only to discover that the hand has grown into a full bodied doppelganger intent on his destruction, was nixed by the show’s sponsor, a food manufacturer, because it was thought that the grisly subject matter would put the audience off their appetites. Buck Houghton, then producer on the series, was forced to ask George Clayton Johnson to buy back his story, allowing the writer to move himself into a bargaining position to write scripts for the series (to that point he had only sold stories to the series).
            Ironically, the satire in “The Bard,” which was aimed squarely at network executives and sponsors, was enjoyed by the executives at CBS. It was series producer Herbert Hirschman who battled Serling over the script. Hirshman issued Serling numerous requests to change content in the script, pushing production on the episode dangerously close to deadline and forcing Serling to, unsuccessfully, demand a stop to the requests for changes. It became clear that “The Bard,” though perhaps not as funny or effective as Hirschman would have liked, was a script which was important to Serling and a story he was intent on telling. Readers interested in the particulars of the requested changes are advised to see the entry on “The Bard” in Martin Grams, Jr.’s The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (2008), an excellent production history compiled chiefly from scripts, letters, interoffice memorandums, financial documents, contemporary reviews, and interviews.
            Outside of certain inherent qualities in Rod Serling’s script, and despite an overuse of "hip" jargon and Shakespearean quotes, “The Bard” is elevated by its excellent cast and their commitment to the material.

            Jack Weston’s (1924-1996) energetic turn as Julius Moomer largely prefigures Richard Erdman’s performance as McNulty in the fondly remembered fifth season episode “A Kind of Stopwatch.” For his part, Weston is remembered as one of the great villains on The Twilight Zone, the antagonistic Charlie Farnsworth in Rod Serling’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” Weston’s two appearances on the series provide a good view of the parameters of the actor’s versatility. His many film and television roles ranged from slimy villains to lovable buffoons, typified by appearances as George Stickle, friend to Don Knott’s The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964), and the conman Carlino in Wait Until Dark (1967).
In our sphere of interest, Weston got his television start on the short-lived, pioneering science fiction anthology series Out There (1951-1952), appearing in an adaptation of John D. MacDonald’s “Susceptibility.” Weston appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the fifth season episode “Forty Detectives Later,” written by Henry Slesar, the prolific mystery and science fiction writer behind Twilight Zone’s “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” and “The Old Man in the Cave.” Weston twice appeared on Boris Karloff’s Thriller, in Robert Bloch’s “The Cheaters,” from the first season, and the less-successful second season episode “Flowers of Evil,” directed by John Brahm from a story by Hugh Walpole.
Weston later appeared in two episodes of the Roald Dahl-hosted anthology series Tales of the Unexpected: “A Dip in the Pool,” from the first season, and “Mr. Botibol’s First Love” from the second season. These episodes have a curious connection as in both Weston portrays a character named Botibol. The characters are not the same, however, and possess no connection other than their unusual surname and their kinship as products of Roald Dahl’s imagination. “Mr. Botibol’s First Love” was adapted from a 1948 story by Dahl while “A Dip in the Pool” was based on Dahl’s 1952 story from The New Yorker (collected in Someone Like You (1953)). Keenan Wynn, son of Ed Wynn (Twilight Zone’s “One for the Angels”) and star of Twilight Zone’s “A World of His Own,” previously portrayed Botibol in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation of “A Dip in the Pool.”

John McGiver (R) with Howard McNear
Second-billed is inimitable character actor John McGiver (1913-1975) as the bored, insensitive television sponsor Mr. Shannon. McGiver later assumed the lead role in the fifth season episode “Sounds and Silences,” a lesser-known episode partly due to its many years of being held out of syndication packages of the series. McGiver got a relatively late start in professional acting but made up for lost time with a hugely prolific output. He is remembered today for character roles in such films as Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and Midnight Cowboy (1969).
McGiver twice appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in the third season episode “Fatal Figures” and the fourth season episode “Six People, No Music.” McGiver appeared in a television adaptation of Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife on the short-lived anthology series Moment of Fear, appearing alongside fellow Twilight Zone performers Larry Blyden (“A Nice Place to Visit,” “Showdown with Rance McGrew”) and Janice Rule (“Nightmare as a Child”). McGiver also memorably featured in “The Croaker,” perhaps the most bizarre episode of the off-beat anthology series ‘Way Out, a David Susskind-produced, Roald Dahl-hosted series which briefly aired on CBS as a companion of sorts to The Twilight Zone in the spring and summer of 1961. In “The Croaker,” McGiver portrays Mr. Rand, an eccentric who discovers a way to transform his neighbors into frogs.

John Williams (1903-1983), a dryly sarcastic William Shakespeare in a ludicrous bald cap, was best-known for his appearances in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, especially his portrayal of Chief Inspector Hubbard, recreated from Broadway, in Dial M for Murder (1954). Williams recreated the role for a 1958 television adaptation of Frederick Knott’s play. Williams also secured roles in Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case (1947) and To Catch a Thief (1955). Williams appeared in an impressive ten episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including the John Collier (Twilight Zone’s “The Chaser”) episodes “Back for Christmas” and “Wet Saturday,” both directed by Hitchcock, and the three-part episode “I Killed the Count,” directed by Robert Stevens, director of Twilight Zone’s “Where Is Everybody?” and “Walking Distance.” Williams appeared on Boris Karloff’s Thriller in an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” based on Bloch’s most famous tale before the publication of Psycho (1959). Williams later appeared in two of the finest segments of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, the first season episode “The Doll,” based on the story by Algernon Blackwood, and the second season episode “The Caterpillar,” from the story “Boomerang” by Oscar Cook.

The most memorable performance in “The Bard” is the relatively brief appearance of Burt Reynolds (1936-2018) as Rocky Rhodes, a highly amusing and spot-on spoof of Marlon Brando and method acting. His exchanges with the television director, an uncredited Jason Wingreen (Twilight Zone’s “A Stop at Willoughby,” “The Midnight Sun”), and John Williams’ Shakespeare are perhaps the most effective comedic exchanges on the entire series. It would be interesting to know what Serling thought of the works of Tennessee Williams as Serling’s script leans hard into lampooning not only method acting but also the works of Williams, with particular mention made of A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This was likely just a playful jest on Serling’s part as Williams’ work would seem to appeal to Serling’s sensibilities. Burt Reynolds appeared in the Playhouse 90 production of Serling’s “The Velvet Alley” (1959), which also covered much of the thematic material behind “The Bard.” Reynolds also appeared in the fifth season Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “Escape to Sonoita.” A string of appearances in critically and commercially successful films, beginning with director John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), catapulted the actor to international film stardom.

Director David Butler (1894-1979) steps behind the camera for his first and only time on The Twilight Zone for “The Bard.” A native of San Francisco, Butler began his career as a stage manager in his native city for theater producer Oliver Morosco. Butler moved into acting in 1910, appearing in films for such directors as John Ford, D.W. Griffith, and Thomas Ince. Butler enjoyed a prolific acting career throughout the silent era before turning his attention to directing in 1927. Over the course of his career, Butler directed some of the biggest stars at 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers, including Shirley Temple, Will Rogers, Bob Hope, and Doris Day. Butler did very little genre work but is notable for having directed (as well as produced and co-wrote) You’ll Find Out (1940), a comedic mystery film from RKO featuring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Peter Lorre. Butler specialized in family films, light comedy, and musicals which made him a sensible choice to helm a lighter episode like “The Bard.” Butler moved almost exclusively into directing television in 1955 with an episode of Studio 57. After “The Bard” Butler spent an extended time on Leave It to Beaver. He retired from directing in 1967.

If responses on social media are broadly indicative, “The Bard” is a fiercely disliked episode. However, “The Bard” is, in my view, the most enjoyable of the broadly humorous episodes, due to Jack Weston’s energetic performance, its juxtaposition to John Williams’ sedately sarcastic Shakespeare, a marvelous cameo from Burt Reynolds, and the satire at the center of Rod Serling’s script. Despite the (ironic) difficulties Serling faced in bringing “The Bard” to the series, he clearly relished taking aim at the television industry and that energy feels infectious among the excellent cast. “The Bard” is also very well-paced, especially in relation to less successful fourth season episodes, due not only to Serling’s script but also to the veteran hand of director David Butler. Nearly all regular viewers of The Twilight Zone have one or more episodes which, objectively, they know is not among the show’s best offerings but which they still enjoy. “The Bard” is one such episode for me. 

            “The Bard” also marks the conclusion of the penultimate season of The Twilight Zone, a season where the show emerged from a challenging situation in which it was cancelled, brought back as a mid-season replacement in a new time slot and with a new time format, with its longtime producer gone, and its creator geographically separated from the production. In many ways, the series was irreparably damaged by the chaos of this rapid death and rebirth. The creative collective which anchored the first three seasons was eroding, and the final two seasons of the series are characterized by an inconsistence in quality.
Despite facing enormous odds, the fourth season provided a number of pleasures. Bittersweet among these was the work of writer Charles Beaumont. Beaumont produced perhaps his best season of work, and the best work of any writer during the season, shortly before the effects of early-onset Alzheimer’s robbed him of the ability to write. Bert Granet and Herbert Hirschman were excellent producers on the series, capable not only of occupying the vacancy left by the departure of Buck Houghton but also of managing a production in which Rod Serling was largely absent. The fourth season also showcased the excellent cinematography of Robert Pittack, who photographed the late third season episode “Person or Persons Unknown” before alternating duties on the fourth season with Emmy Award-winning cinematographer George T. Clemens. Pittack remained on the series into the fifth season, photographing such memorable episodes as “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “Living Doll,” “Night Call,” and “Stopover in a Quiet Town.”
The fourth season featured memorable performances from notable newcomers to the series, such as Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall, Dana Andrews, Pat Hingle, James Whitmore, and Burt Reynolds, as well as a score of familiar faces from the series, highlighted by George Grizzard in “In His Image,” Jack Klugman and Ross Martin in “Death Ship,” Anne Francis and James Best in “Jess-Belle,” Burgess Meredith in “Printer’s Devil,” Martin Balsam in “The New Exhibit,” and the wonderful collective of “Passage on the Lady Anne.”
For some viewers, the fourth season will always remain an anomaly which produced little if any quality material. For these viewers I suspect the hour-long format is simply too large a hurdle to clear. A half hour and a twist ending are paramount to some viewers’ enjoyment of the series. The Twilight Zone, however, was far more than a stock formula and its writers too talented to collapse beneath a change in format. Aided by the steadying presence of a veteran crew and a bevy of quality performers, the fourth season remains an underrated gem which showcased the versatility of the series and the talents of its creators.

Grade: C

Grateful acknowledgement to:
-The Internet Movie Database (
-The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (
-Grams, Martin Jr., The Twilight Zone: Unlocking a Door to a Television Classic (OTR, 2008)

--Jack Weston also appeared in the first season episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” He appears in "The Bard" alongside Marge Redmond, his wife at the time. 
--John McGiver also appeared in the fifth season episode “Sounds and Silences.”
--John Williams also appeared in two of the most memorable segments of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: “The Doll” and “The Caterpillar.”
--Howard McNear also appeared in the third season episode “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby.”
--Clegg Hoyt also appeared in the second season episode “Static.”
--“The Bard” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring John Ratzenberger and Stacy Keach, the latter of whom also hosted the series.
--The final sequence in the episode in which Julius arrives at Mr. Hugo’s office with an entourage of historical figures will perhaps remind some viewers of the 1989 film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, in which two high school losers, who are worshipped like gods in the far future, use a time machine to gather historical figures in order to pass a history class which will determine their futures. Several viewers have pointed out that it is odd that Julius selected historical figures rather than writers from earlier in history to assist him. As Marc Scott Zicree points out, in The Twilight Zone Companion, it is not research but writing that is Julius’ problem.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Wednesday Comics

The Twilight Zone #16 (July, 1966)
"Nightmare for an Astronaut"
Script: Dick Wood
Pencils & Inks: Joe Orlando 
Letters: Ben Oda
Cover: George Wilson 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Reading Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, Part 22

In which we take a closer look at each issue. For our capsule history of the magazine, go here.

Volume 2, Number 11 (January/February, 1983)
Christmas issue
Cover art: Walter Velez
Note: TZ Magazine moves to a bi-monthly publication schedule.

TZ Publications, Inc.
President & Chairman: S. Edward Orenstein
Secretary/Treasurer: Sidney Z. Gellman
Executive Vice-Presidents: Leon Garry, Eric Protter
Executive Publisher: S. Edward Orenstein
Publisher: Eric Protter
Associate Publisher and Consulting Editor: Carol Serling
Editor: T.E.D. Klein
Managing Editor: Jane Bayer
Associate Editor: Robert Sabat
Contributing Editors: Thomas M. Disch, Gahan Wilson, Marc Scott Zicree
Design Director: Michael Monte
Art Director: Pat E. McQueen
Art Production: Susan Lindeman, Carol Sun
Typesetting: Marianna Turselli
Production Director: Stephen J. Fallon
Controller: Thomas Schiff
Ass’t to the Publisher: Judy Linden
Public Relations Manager: Jeffrey Nickora
Accounting Mgr.: Chris Grossman
Accounting Ass’t: Annemarie Pistilli
Office Ass’t: Miriam Wolf
Circulation Director: William D. Smith
Circulation Mgr.: Carole A. Harley
Circulation Ass’t: Karen Martorano
Newsstand Sales Manager: Karen Marks Goldberg
Eastern Circ. Mgr.: Hank Rosen
West Coast Circ. Mgr.: Gary Judy
Advertising Manager: Rachel Britapaja
Adv. Production Manager: Marina Despotakis
Advertising Representatives: Barney O’Hara & Associates

--In the Twilight Zone: “Dahl’s house . . .” by T.E.D. Klein
--Other Dimensions: Books by Thomas M. Disch
--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
--Other Dimensions: Etc.
--Dice-Wielding Warriors by Lawrence Schick
--“Crossing Over” by Jack McDevitt
--Optoshock! (photomontage) by Christopher Hoffman
--“Personality Problem” by Joe R. Lansdale
--“Tommy’s Christmas” by John R. Little
--“Recollections of Annie” by Charles L. Grant
--“There’s a Man Goin’ Round Takin’ Names” by Robert S. Reiser
--Fantasy Films ’82: A Critical Guide by TZ Magazine Staff
--“Below Zero” by John Kessel
--“Echoes” by Lawrence C. Connolly
--“A Chance Affair” by Mignon Glass
--TZ Interview: Roald Dahl by Lisa Tuttle
--Required Reading: “Royal Jelly” by Roald Dahl
--Other Dimensions: The ‘So Saying, He Vanished’ Quiz Revisited by Chet Williamson
--Rod Serling’s Lost ‘Christmas Carol’ by Sam Frank
--Show-By-Show Guide: TV’s Twilight Zone, Part Twenty-Two by Marc Scott Zicree
--TZ Classic Teleplay: “One for the Angels” by Rod Serling
--Looking Ahead: In April’s Anniversary Issue

--In the Twilight Zone: “Dahl’s house . . .” by T.E.D. Klein
-Klein highlights the issue’s interview with and story by Roald Dahl by presenting an excerpt from an article Dahl wrote for Architectural Digest which illustrates the ways in which Dahl mines his own life and interests to create his stories. The column is rounded out in the usual way, with capsule biographical information on the issue’s contributors along with thumbnail portraits. Klein attaches an addendum to the column explaining the magazine’s move to a bi-monthly schedule while also announcing an aggressive, national subscription drive. Klein laments a further shrinking of the genre fiction market but concludes: “it’s good to look forward to the expanded circulation, and to know that we’re going to be around for years to come, doing what we do best: publishing a magazine that’s right out of the Twilight Zone.”  

Max Ernst
--Other Dimensions: Books by Thomas M. Disch
-Thomas M. Disch returns after a month off to suggest buying books for those on your Christmas list. Disch begins his column by defining the types of books which are acceptable to purchase as Christmas gifts and those which are not (such as bestsellers, remainders, and books which are part of a trilogy). He proceeds to provide a list of Disch-approved titles with commentary. On Disch’s list are the following titles:

-Poetry Comics: A Cartooniverse of Poems by Dave Morice (Disch earlier praised Morice’s works in the July, 1982 issue of TZ)
-A Visit from St. Alphabet by Dave Morice
-A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil by Max Ernst
-Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Barry Moser
-Collected Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer (Singer will later be featured in the February, 1984 issue of TZ Magazine with a profile, interview, and story)
-Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme
-Collected Fantasies by Avram Davidson
-Science Fiction Writers edited by E.F. Bleiler
-World Folktales by Atelia Clarkson and Gilbert B. Cross

-Disch points out that someone has to get coal for Christmas so he recommends Writing Science Fiction that Sells by Harvey L. Bilker and Audrey L. Bilker as the perfect lump of coal for the deserving person on your list.

--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
-Wilson discusses what he views as the growing trend toward pessimism in science fiction films, tracing the trend from classic films such as Metropolis and Things to Come through Planet of the Apes, Alien, Outland, Escape from New York, Blade Runner, and The Road Warrior, the latter four of which were reviewed in the pages of TZ. Although Wilson acknowledges that science fiction films are generally highly moralistic and tend to view mankind’s folly through dark lenses, he finds that modern films are uniformly bleak in their view of the future of the human race. Still, he admits that this pessimistic view has likely not been taken as far as it could, predicting that the “Grapes of Wrath of absolute despair is still to come.”

--Other Dimensions: Etc.
-The miscellany column this issue provides a meaty update on Twilight Zone: The Movie, detailing the film’s format, directors, and stories, plus the spate of TZ cameos slated for director Joe Dante’s version of “It’s a Good Life.”  The column also looks at the rousing reception for Steven Spielberg’s E.T. when the film was shown at a special U.N. event.

--Dice-Wielding Warriors by Lawrence Schick
-Lawrence Schick, a game designer, provides a thorough look at the newly-burgeoning industry of tabletop role-playing games, focusing primarily on Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu but also listing, and examining, several additional titles. Schick begins by providing a detailed, in-game scenario based on Call of Cthulhu before moving on to further detailed information about the history of role-playing games, the functional aspects of various game elements, and the place of role-playing games in the larger culture. Schick provides a list of suggested titles based on genre, game-play, and player experience. Schick also briefly comments on the “Satanic Panic” movement in the culture, which pulled some role-playing games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons, into its sphere and attempted to depict role-playing games and its players as unhealthy, dangerous, or outright evil. Schick concludes his article this way: “Will role-playing games fade, and be remembered only as a college fad of the early ‘80s? I don’t think so; for those of us who’ve grown adept at them, they’re just too much fun. Their exact future is anybody’s guess, but my bet is that they’re going to be with us for a long time.” Schick was correct in his prediction. The popularity of role-playing games exploded in the years after he wrote this article, successfully moving into video games, LARPing (live action role-playing), and streaming movies. The influence of role-playing games can be seen in films, music, art, and literature. Numerous books have been written on the subject, ranging from player’s guides to comic books to sociological texts to history to art books to memoirs.

--“Crossing Over” by Jack McDevitt
Illustrated by Harry Pincus
“She was going to remain with him till the end . . . and beyond. But what if there was nothing on the other side?”

-A woman with a gift (curse) for connecting with the minds of others is paid a large amount of money by a spiritual association to connect with a dying man and definitively discover whether or not there is life after death. The woman is left emotionally damaged by the experience but is later allowed to heal when a tragic accident grants her the opportunity to comfort a close friend at the point of dying.

-McDevitt returns to the pages of TZ after he appeared with his first published story, “The Emerson Effect,” in the December, 1981 issue. “Crossing Over” is a moody and emotionally resonant take on a familiar theme which, like McDevitt’s earlier contribution to the magazine, is rich in character and incident.

--Optoschock! by Christopher Hoffman
“Some have transformed the world with a sword, some with a pen, one New Yorker has transformed it with scissors, a jar of glue, and a bunch of photos rescued from the trash can. Some might call the resulting vision ‘twisted’ or ‘surreal.’ He calls it simply . . .”

-Hoffman curates a personal journey through his particular art form: grotesque collage photography. Hoffman gives some personal background on how he came to first create his unique photographs and provides humorous captions for several selected images.

--“Personality Problem” by Joe R. Lansdale
Illustrated by Yvonne Buchanan
“Just ‘cause a guy’s got bolts in his neck, don’t mean he ain’t got feelings.”

-Frankenstein’s Monster lies on the psychiatrist’s couch for a session in which he explains his never-ending battle with being misunderstood and attacked by people. The doctor listens quietly until he interrupts the session to try and light the Monster on fire.

-This humorous short-short marks Lansdale’s fourth appearance in the pages of TZ, preceded by the similarly humorous shorts “The Dump” in the July, 1981 issue, “The Pasture” in the December, 1981 issue, and “Chompers” in the July, 1982 issue. “Personality Problem” was collected in Bumper Crop (2004).

--“Tommy’s Christmas” by John R. Little
Illustrated by Randy Jones
“The stranger wasn’t very jolly – and he stuffed things in his bad instead of taking them out.”

-Santa Claus is interrupted while robbing a home on Christmas Eve by little Tommy, who wants to know why Santa is taking things rather than leaving gifts. When Tommy’s older brother also awakens and enters the room, Santa decides to kidnap Tommy as an apprentice (he’s getting too old for this job, anyway). He only hopes Prancer and Vixen get used to the boy.

-This humorous short Christmas tale was reprinted in 100 Great Fantasy Short Short Stories (1984), which reprinted several tales from the pages of TZ Magazine, including Joe Lansdale’s “Personality Problem” and Lawrence C. Connolly’s “Echoes” from this issue. “Tommy’s Christmas” was collected in Little Things (2010).

--“Recollections of Annie” by Charles L. Grant
Illustrated by David Klein
“There were two strong women in his life – and one of them was dead.”

-A talented carpenter and family man finds himself falling under the spell of his dead sister, Annie, who was a dominating influence over him when alive. On the suggestion of his son, he decides to build a snow sculpture of Annie rather than something more traditional. The closer he comes to finishing the snow sculpture, the more Annie’s negative influence takes over his life, altering his behavior and alienating his family.

-Charles L. Grant, a master of the suggestive horror story, returns to the pages of TZ with this stark, haunting meditation on the influence of the dead. The story is told in Grant’s typically economical style with a pleasantly downbeat ending. The story was reprinted in the limited-edition anthology Black Wine, edited by Douglas E. Winter (Dark Harvest, 1986) and posthumously collected in Scream Quietly: The Best of Charles L. Grant (2012).

-Grant previously appeared in the pages of TZ with “Silver” in the July, 1981 issue, and “Essence of Charlotte” in the February, 1982 issue. Grant also interviewed Stephen King for the April, 1981 issue.

--“There’s a Man Goin’ Round Takin’ Names” by Robert S. Reiser
Illustrated by Richard Basil Mock
“In what was left of Los Angeles, a census wasn’t quite the same as a head-count.”

-A census taker in the far future travels to a sparsely populated Los Angeles to try and record an accurate account of the city’s inhabitants. In this post-nuclear world mutants are the norm and the census taker must also record all the various mutations in each household.

-This was a light, enjoyable story with a neat twist in the tale. Reiser is described by T.E.D. Klein as the “writer of the off-Broadway comedy hit El Grande de Coca-Cola and a contributor to Fridays and other tv shows.”

--Fantasy Films ’82: A Critical Guide
-The TZ Magazine staff looks back at the major fantasy films of 1982. Accompanied by several color photographs from various movies, the feature is presented in two-column form, with the first column including what the TZ Magazine staff liked about the film and the accompanying column displaying what they did not like about the film. The films examined include: E.T., Star Trek II, Tron, The Thing, Cat People, Blade Runner, The Road Warrior, Quest for Fire, The Beast Within, Swamp Thing, Conan, and Poltergeist. Additional films, such as The Dark Crystal, Creepshow, and Halloween III are given snippet reviews in the color section. Although the TZ Magazine staff is particularly hard on many of the films, they were surprisingly down on John Carpenter’s The Thing and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, two films which were not particularly successful upon initial release but have since come to be considered classics. Several of the reviews contradict one another, as well. For instance, The Thing is criticized for its downbeat ending while Poltergeist is criticized for its happy ending. 

--“Below Zero” by John Kessel
Illustrated by D.W. Miller
“The chill was growing worse – and winter had nothing to do with it.”

-In an undisclosed time in the future, the world is extremely cold. Jennifer is a poor office worker whose life is a constant battle against the cold and the bureaucracy of her job. Her troubled coworker, Eleanor, arrives uninvited to Jennifer’s small apartment and complains that the cold she, Eleanor, constantly feels is not a result of the weather outside but something that follows her like a shadow. Jennifer gives Eleanor a place to sleep but in the morning finds that Eleanor has left the apartment and frozen to death in her car. Jennifer then begins to feel cold all the time, no matter how much she covers herself.

-This was an enjoyably bleak, downbeat story which reminded me a bit of the ending sequence in Rod Serling’s “The Midnight Sun.” Kessel does a great job creating the necessary atmosphere, which begins to creep up on the reader as the story moves towards its disturbing climax.

--“Echoes” by Lawrence C. Connolly
Illustrated by E.T. Steadman
“Billy’s mother understood exactly how he felt: when you missed someone, you conjured up a ghost and called it real.”

-A mother attempts to cope with her young son’s struggle to accept the death of his brother. Her husband’s return home from work reveals a larger picture of life in the house where both sons are revealed to be gone.

-This twisty short-short was reprinted in 100 Great Fantasy Short Short Stories (1984) as well as in Karl Edward Wagner’s The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series XII (1984). It was collected in Visions: Short Fantasy & SF (2009). Connolly previously appeared in the pages of TZ with “Mrs. Halfbooger’s Basement” in the June, 1982 issue.

--“A Chance Affair” by Mignon Glass
Illustrated by Peter Kuper
“There were only a few things you could say about him: he was fat, overfriendly . . . and oddly forgettable.”

-A woman is forced to listen to a fat man’s babble in a cafĂ© in which he subtly reveals his growing appetite for living things. The man exerts a strange effect on the woman’s mind, making her forget certain things about their encounter. Later that night, the woman looks out of her apartment window and sees the fat man standing in the street looking up at her.

-This strange, atmospheric story was reprinted in the first issue of Night Cry. Oddly, no biographical information on Mignon Glass is offered in T.E.D. Klein’s editorial at the front of the issue.

--TZ Interview: Roald Dahl: ‘It’s got to be bloody good!’ by Lisa Tuttle
His style is witty, his imagination’s nasty . . . and he also writes for children.”

-Lisa Tuttle, who previously appeared in the pages of TZ with the excellent story “A Friend in Need” (August, 1981 issue) conducts this interview with the celebrated short story writer and children’s author Roald Dahl. Tuttle begins with a concise essay on Dahl’s writing career and the ways in which his personal life has intersected with his writing. Tuttle focuses much of the interview on Dahl’s short stories for adults, written over the course of twenty-five years and mainly published in The New Yorker. These humorous and macabre stories, such as “The Landlady,” “Lamb to the Slaughter,” “William and Mary,” and “Man from the South,” were collected in Someone Like You (1953) and Kiss Kiss (1960) and have been adapted on such television programs as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the Dahl-hosted ‘Way Out and Tales of the Unexpected.

-Dahl discusses his early writing career selling stories about his experiences as an RAF pilot as well as what prompted him to write short fiction and why he stuck to short stories for so long. He spends time on some of his favorite writers while lamenting the current state of the short story in English. Dahl reveals his level of participation in the television series Tales of the Unexpected (almost none) and his generally unpleasant experiences working on films, with the exception of the James Bond thriller You Only Live Twice. Dahl reveals the challenges he faced when moving from adult fiction to children’s fiction and discusses the challenges he currently faces putting together a collection of ghost stories, which appeared as Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories in October, 1983.  

--Required Reading: “Royal Jelly” by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Frances Jetter
“A classic horror tale about the care and feeding of infants”

-A mother worries that her baby is not eating enough. She expresses her fears to the father, who assures her that he has the solution. He is an avid amateur entomologist and begins mixing royal jelly from bees in with the baby’s milk. Soon, the baby and the father, who has been ingesting royal jelly himself, begin to strangely resemble insects.

-“Royal Jelly” is one of Dahl’s most oft-reprinted tales and is one of the author’s few tales which uses strong elements of fantasy. Dahl’s stories for adults typically feature human cruelty or ironic twists of fate. He seldom used so bold an element as a father and child transforming into insects. “Royal Jelly” is taken from Dahl’s 1960 collection Kiss Kiss. The story has been reprinted in several anthologies, beginning with Edmund Crispin’s Best Tales of Terror (1962). It was adapted for television on Tales of the Unexpected by writer Robin Chapman and director Herbert Wise, broadcast March 1, 1980.

--Other Dimensions: The ‘So Saying, He Vanished’ Quiz Revisited by Chet Williamson
-This is a new collection of final lines from notable works of weird fiction, with the reader challenged to match the final lines with the story title and author. The quiz and answers are below. 

--Rod Serling’s Lost ‘Christmas Carol’ by Sam Frank
“Written by Serling for the United Nations, Carol for Another Christmas aired in 1964 amid controversy and outrage, then vanished forever. Now, at last, the program has been rescued from oblivion – and so has the story behind it.”

-Sam Frank definitively documents the genesis, production, and reception of Rod Serling’s television play, “Carol for Another Christmas,” which aired on ABC on December 28, 1964. The play was a modern take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with the characters and events updated for the Cold War era. It concerns a militant, right-wing millionaire played by Sterling Hayden who is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve, played by Steve Lawrence, Pat Hingle, and Robert Shaw, who show the stone-hearted millionaire the devastation wrought by unchecked military aggression.

-Sam Frank details the events which led a newly-created production company, in partnership with the U.N., to develop television programs aimed at illustrating the U.N.’s peacekeeping goals. Frank details Rod Serling’s involvement with the program near the end of The Twilight Zone, the struggle to find a network willing to air the plays, the continuous effort to get approval from the U.N., the trouble caused by far-right groups who wrote thousands of letters in an attempt to get the network to back out, and describes the production troubles association with the ambitious project. Frank provides details on the all-star cast and crews who participated in the project, discusses the other plays created for the project, examines the critical reception of the play, and gives an honest and balanced assessment of Serling’s script. Lastly, Frank reports on the recent finding of a print of “Carol for Another Christmas,” which had not been seen since its original broadcast.

-This article is a highly detailed account of the creation and reception of “Carol for Another Christmas” and a brief summation here does not do justice to the amount of information Sam Frank includes in his article. The article contains quotes from the play and from interviews with Serling as well as several photographs. Although it was difficult to view the play for many years, “Carol for Another Christmas” is now widely available to own on DVD and occasionally appears on television. It remains a hidden gem in Rod Serling’s career and a testament to the type of positive social change Serling was constantly striving to create with his writings.

--Show-By-Show Guide: TV’s Twilight Zone, Part Twenty-Two by Marc Scott Zicree
-Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion (now in a 3rd edition), continues his guide to the original series by including cast and crew information, a summary, and Rod Serling’s opening and closing narrations for the fifth season episodes “Black Leather Jackets,” “Night Call,” and “From Agnes – with Love.”

--TZ Classic Teleplay: “One for the Angels” by Rod Serling
-Presented here is Rod Serling’s script for the second episode of The Twilight Zone, which featured Ed Wynn as Lew Bookman, a genial sidewalk salesman who must outwit Mr. Death (Murray Hamilton) to save the life of a young girl. This heartwarming fan favorite first aired on October 9, 1959 as the second episode of the first season. It was directed by Robert Parrish. For more information on the episode, see our review here.

--Looking Ahead: In April’s Anniversary Issue
-Next issue marks the second anniversary of the magazine. Behind a Rod Serling cover lies an issue full of interesting stories and articles. Highlights include Rod Serling’s notes for a Twilight Zone movie, an update on Twilight Zone: The Movie, the winning stories from the magazine’s annual story contest, an interview with Colin Wilson, Richard Matheson’s story which inspired his first season episode “A World of His Own” (also included), and much more. See you next month!