Thursday, March 25, 2010

TZ Promo: "People Are Alike All Over" (3/25/1960)

Fifty years ago tonight, The Twilight Zone took viewers to Mars for the first and only time in its five-year run. Oh, we’ll see Martians in future episodes, but we’ll find them here on earth, either visiting (“Mr. Dingle, the Strong”) or invading (“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”). Tonight, we get to see the Red Planet in all its Forbidden Planet-recycled glory.

In Rod Serling’s “People Are Alike All Over" (adapted from a short story by Paul W. Fairman), two astronauts from earth crash-land on Mars. One is thrilled at the prospect of meeting the Martians… whoever (or whatever) they may be. His co-pilot, meanwhile, isn’t thrilled at all. He’s terrified.

Roddy McDowall is perfect as Sam Conrad, a man whose fear of the unknown is both profound and perplexing (what the hell is he doing going to Mars in the first place?). His fear is amplified when Marcusson, his co-pilot (played by Sam Comi), dies of injuries sustained in the crash. As the story progresses, Conrad will (somewhat) overcome his fear and meet the Martians, who seem surprisingly similar to Earthlings. One Martian of note is Teenya, played by the impossibly gorgeous Susan Oliver.


Genre fans know Ms. Oliver better as Vina, the green-skinned Orion slave girl from Star Trek’s original pilot episode “The Cage.”

Susan Oliver, going green way before it was the P.C. thing to do.

The fairly flat direction by Mitchell Leisen won’t win any awards (especially when compared to some of the more elaborate season one productions), but it gets the job done. The end of act one, in which McDowell cowers in the shadows, gun in hand, as the spacecraft door opens (seemingly of its own accord), is sufficiently tense. And while I strive to avoid spoilers in these episode promos, the surprise ending…. well, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Less than ten years after this episode aired, McDowell would land a pivotal role in Planet of the Apes, a film that plays very much like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone… likely because Serling worked on the screenplay! In fact, the film is essentially an expansion of this very episode (with sentient apes standing in for the Martians), crossed with TZ's earlier “I Shot an Arrow into the Air.”

Roddy McDowall in full makeup. That damn dirty ape.

While the flying saucer from Forbidden Planet is (surprisingly) nowhere to be found here, the “Pac-Man wall lights” from the film’s Krell laboratory can be seen inside the wrecked earth ship. The backdrop paintings that comprise the Martian exteriors are leftovers from the film as well.

Who wouldn't kill to have this thing hanging on their wall?

You know, one could almost devise a drinking game here: every time you see something from Forbidden Planet in a Twilight Zone episode, you have to down a shot. Try it next time SyFy or KTLA does a marathon. You might just end up hammered.

Next week: A down-and-dirty outlaw is about to hang for murder. At the last possible moment… he vanishes into thin air. Where he went isn’t nearly as interesting as when. Drop in and hang around for it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

TZ Promo: "Long Live Walter Jameson" (3/18/1960)

I’ve been waiting for this day since I first embarked on my five-year Twilight Zone anniversary celebration. Tonight marks the 50th anniversary of my all-time favorite episode, “Long Live Walter Jameson.”

Walter Jameson (Kevin McCarthy) and Samuel Kittridge (Edgar Stehli) are college professors, the best of friends. They're so close, in fact, that Jameson is engaged to marry Kittridge’s daughter Susanna. But as the years have passed, Kittridge has noticed something disturbing: as he himself grows older, his friend never seems to age. One evening during a game of chess, Kittridge corners Jameson on the issue. The truth, at once amazing and devastating, is revealed.

“Long Live Walter Jameson” is essentially a two-character drama (which would translate quite nicely to the stage, come to think of it). The script by Charles Beaumont is flawless, and the performances by McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and Stehli are top notch, refined and nuanced, utterly believable. In their hands, the fantastic nature of the tale never seems… well, fantastic. Director Tony M. Leder (Children of the Damned) wisely stays out of the way for the most part, allowing the actors to sell the story without much visual flourish, save for the finale, a brilliant technical feat of lighting and makeup (special mention must be made of William Tuttle’s work here; he’d go on do more elaborate work in TZ’s “Eye of the Beholder,” not to mention George Pal's The Time Machine).

The script contains one of my favorite dialogue passages in the entire series, eloquently spoken by Kevin McCarthy as the tragic Walter Jameson:

I was like you, Sam: afraid of death. I thought of all the things that there were to know, and the miserable few years a man had to know them, and it seemed senseless. Every night I dreamed as you dream, of immortality....only if a man lived forever, I thought, would there be any point in living at all...

"Last stop on a long journey, as yet another human being returns to the vast nothingness that is the beginning and into the dust that is always the end."

Several years back, my friend Bill Huelbig met Kevin McCarthy at a convention. He obtained the following for me, which I still display proudly in my office to this day. Thanks Bill!

McCarthy recorded an audio commentary for this episode for the (wonderful) Definitive Edition DVD, in which he states that, aside from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the bulk of his fan mail concerns this episode. He celebrated his 94th (!) birthday last month, and has joked in interviews that he just might be immortal after all. Time will tell....

Next week: Roddy McDowell crash-lands on Mars. He cowers inside his wrecked ship, afraid of who (or what) is awaiting him outside. Are they people? And if they are, are they just like him...?

Monday, March 15, 2010

TZ Spotlight: Hallmark Valentine's Day Card (2005)

I spotted this little oddity on eBay a few weeks back, and snagged it without thinking twice. As I waited for it to arrive, I found myself questioning the validity of the item, since my internet searches turned up virtually no information on it. I half-suspected it to be a homemade custom job (a variation on the existing Hallmark TZ card, reviewed here), but when it showed up in the mail, I was quite pleased. It's the real deal.

The copyright year is 2005 and, as far as I know, the card only appeared that year. It contains the exact same sound chip as Hallmark's TZ birthday card (which can be customized on their website), which plays the familiar Marius Constant theme in its entirety when the card is opened. Although I typically eschew the color red, I can't deny that it really pops against the deep glossy black on the card's front. And I must admit, the actual greeting is kinda cute (albeit highly feminine). But my favorite aspect of this little gem can be found on the back of the card: it's our friend The Invader, holding a box of chocolates! Brilliant! If he'd shown up at Agnes Moorehead's house bearing chocolates instead of his laser gun, things between them might have ended on a much more romantic note.

Here's hoping Hallmark makes more Twilight Zone-themed greeting cards. I'll happily snatch them up for my ever-growing TZ scrapbook.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

TZ Promo: "A World of Difference" (3/11/1960)

"You're looking at a tableau of reality..."

Tonight's episode, celebrating its 50th anniversary, is a true gem of the series (it's in my top 40, but not in my top 10.... Hmmm.... that might change after tonight's viewing).  One of the recurring themes of The Twilight Zone is the question of identity, and our relative place in what we believe to be reality.  "A World of Difference," written by Richard Matheson and directed by Ted Post, features one of the greatest shock moments in the entire series (hell, in the history of television).

Arthur Curtis (well played by Howard Duff, one-time husband of TZ alum Ida Lupino) is a businessman about to embark on a vacation with his wife.  Just a few last-minute items to take care of at the office... when a voice suddenly yells "Cut!" and turns his world (quite literally) upside-down.  His office has inexplicably become a movie set.  His identity --- his name, his memories, his life --- is actually that of a fictional character that he's playing in a movie!

What's truly amazing is that the transition from fantasy to reality is handled with an uninterrupted shot, accomplished with a moving wall built on rails.  It's visually perfect, and goes a long way toward sustaining the suspension of disbelief.

The whole thing is ultra-high concept, even for a series notorious for being high-concept.  Imagine yourself in this poor bastard's shoes.  You can immediately identify with his plight, as impossible as it seems.  You aren't who you think you are.  You're an actor PLAYING who you think you are.  Wait, you mean you actually believe that you're that guy?  What are you, crazy?

That's a question we hear frequently on The Twilight Zone, isn't it?  What are you, crazy?

Mention must be made of the wonderful score by Nathan Van Cleave.  It's reminiscent of his score for the earlier "Perchance To Dream," and achieves a similar dizzying effect (only this time without the Theramin).  The protagonist's roller-coaster ride through an existential hell is imbibed with considerably more weight thanks to the music.  I've been a Bernard Herrmann fanatic for at least 20 years, but as I revisit each episode of The Twilight Zone, I'm finding that Van Cleave's contributions to the aural personality of the show are every bit as meaningful.

"Please don't leave me here."

On a side note, I REALLY like Arthur Curtis' office (real or fake).  If I could work in an office like that (instead of a tiny soul-crushing cubicle), I'd probably enjoy my job a lot more.

Next week:  Well, speaking of favorites!  My favorite episode of all time celebrates its 50th anniversary.  It involves another high concept:  immortality, though not in the comedic fashion we saw in "Escape Clause."  No, this is something deeper, darker, more tragic.  Not to be missed.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

TZ Profile: Arlen Schumer (Part 2 of 2)

October 2, 2009. A crowd has gathered outside The Times Center in New York City, having purchased tickets to what promises to be a fascinating evening. Arlen Schumer has come to town, you see, and he’s brought The Twilight Zone with him.

It’s the 50th anniversary of the series, and Schumer’s celebrating it by presenting Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Forever: A Celebration of the Father of American Pop Culture on its 50th Anniversary, a “Multimedia VisuaLecture” that promises to explore both the recurrent themes of the series and the staggering imprint it continues to leave on American pop culture. Sounds like something tailor-made for a TZ nut like me, right?  Unfortunately, I live clear across the country in the Pacific Northwest. I’m raising four kids and a dog. There’s no way in hell I can go. Fortunately, my friend Bill Huelbig lives in Jersey, and he loves The Twilight Zone as much as I do. So he buys a ticket, attends the event, then reports back:

I work in Manhattan and live about two miles from Times Square, but I knew nothing about the Arlen Schumer Twilight Zone 50th Anniversary celebration being held there on October 2, 2009 until Craig, who lives 3000 miles away, told me about it. It really pays to have a friend who loves "The Twilight Zone" as much as he does. Without him I would have missed an amazing evening.

Even before it started it was worth the ticket price: an excellent sound montage of Twilight Zone dialogue and music played before showtime for what must have been a half-hour, but I lost all track of the time. Near the end of it, Arlen Schumer came into the audience and shook my hand like I was an old friend. Then he took the stage and began his multimedia lecture, and I learned things about the show I never knew in all my 50 years of being a fan. He showed the famous episode "The Eye of the Beholder", which was fun to see as part of an audience, and I was reminded that it was the program that probably got the strongest reaction out of me and my older sister when we first saw it back in 1960, more than anything else I'd ever seen on television before or since.

The highlight of the evening was a screening of "Where Is Everybody?", the Twilight Zone pilot which aired on CBS 50 years ago that very night, and almost that very minute. The second half of the show got off to a late start because of the free snacks given out at intermission so it didn't begin at exactly 10 PM as planned, but it was close enough. Weeks earlier I'd originally intended to watch this episode at home on October 2nd, but thanks to Twilight Zone superfans Craig and Arlen I got to be a part of a real Twilight Zone event, one I will not forget. 

Bill's ticket.  Note the all-too-common "Sterling" error (certainly not Arlen's fault!)

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this profile, Mr. Schumer (oh hell, let’s call him Arlen from here on) was kind enough to send me a DVD of the presentation. I’ve watched it twice, all 90+ minutes of it, and one thing is crystal clear to me: I missed something indescribably special that night (click here to read the sad tale of how I celebrated the show’s anniversary... alone). Arlen’s DVD, thankfully is the next best thing.

First and foremost, Arlen knows what the hell he’s talking about. He’s divided the series up into recurring themes and motifs. He draws numerous parallels between the visuals from specific episodes to various works of surrealist art. He illustrates just how deeply the series has permeated American popular culture, and how many television series and films have borrowed from it. Even I, who presume to know a thing or two about such matters, was stunned by the keenness of his eye and the depth of his knowledge. In other words, Arlen taught me a thing or two. He’s articulate, too, and a genuine pleasure to listen to. His enthusiasm is infectious; his passion, evident. The whole affair is like a college course, compressed into 90 dizzying minutes. I imagine the heads of those lucky enough to attend were buzzing for the rest of the night.

My single favorite passage is as follows:

“(T)here was only one Rod Serling. The delivery, the look, the style, that cigarette (by the way, that’s what killed him, of course), but that whole kind of aura that makes Serling one of the greatest broadcast voices of the twentieth century… he had the whole kind of CBS kind of broadcaster Edward R. Murrow type of respect, the same sort of dark Humphrey Bogart savoir faire… the whole quality: Walter Cronkite, CBS, Serling had that. Serling had that authority that makes him one of the three coolest guys of the early ‘60s. Him, John F. Kennedy… and there was something about Serling, he had that sort of Frank Sinatra, that swanky, sophisticated look, but he had that dark charm of Bond, James Bond. Serling premieres two years before Connery debuts as Bond, so in many ways, even though we saw a Who’s Who of Hollywood with The Twilight Zone, there’s really only one star, and that’s Serling.”

A highlight of the presentation (Christ, the whole thing is a highlight!) is a “live performance,” as it were, of his Sight, Sound & Mind DVD, which is essentially a multimedia translation of his brilliant Visions From The Twilight Zone book (both were covered in Part 1). As with most live performances, the energy is amped up a bit here; Arlen takes on the air of a Lutheran minister when he intones that classic Serling phrase: “Clocks are made by men. God creates time.” The Twilight Zone, filtered through Arlen, is as much religion as popular entertainment.

And then later, he cracks the joint up with the following: “Clocks are made by men. God creates The New York Times.” The guy’s a gem.

The Twilight Zone Forever, as presented on DVD, is an absolute must-have for Twilight Zone collectors. It’s imminently rewatchable (I’ve already partaken of it twice, and foresee many further viewings). Like his Visions book (and the companion DVD), this is an absolute MUST HAVE. Even if you were lucky enough to attend the event, it’s worth revisiting in the comfort of your own home. Are you tantalized yet? Contact Arlen directly at for more info.

Incidentally, a print version of the presentation is archived and viewable at It’s a bit more academic (and certainly less spontaneous) than the live VisuaLecture, but it makes for great reading.  Frankly, it would make a great book.

One other item to note: Arlen has also assembled a 45-minute audio collage of music and dialogue/narration from the series, entitled Sound & Vision: The Words & Music of The Twilight Zone (I suspect this is the montage that Bill heard playing before the Times Center presentation).  Drop it in your CD player, put on some headphones, turn out the lights, and prepare for a Serling-sponsored head trip. Hit Arlen up at for more details.

If it hasn’t been made evident by now, I’m a big fan of Arlen’s work. If you aren’t… well, you will be. Poke around his website: As you’ll see, The Twilight Zone isn’t the only trick in his bag.

TZ Promo: "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" (3/04/1960)

Fifty years ago tonight, Twilight Zone viewers got a look at an angry, ugly mob. They weren't medeivel townspeople chasing a Frankenstein-like creature through the forest. They weren't Gold Rush-era prospectors trying to beat one another to a new claim. They weren't even ecstatic teenagers racing to get a first look at The Beatles.

These were normal, everyday people, denizens of a normal, everyday neighborhood. Lawns were being mowed. Kids were playing. A typical summer Saturday in Anytown, USA. And then....

It's The Twilight Zone. There's always an "And then....," isn't there?

Rod Serling crafts a gripping tale illustrating just how off-kilter things can get when something unexplainable gives rise to fear and paranoia. The cast is pitch-perfect, particularly the trio of male leads: Claude Akins as the by-default voice of reason, Barry Atwater is the unfortunate neighbor who falls under suspicion (and who reacts defensively enough to make him seem... well, suspicious), and Jack Weston as the loud-mouthed, obnoxious goon (doesn't every neighborhood have one?). As directed by Ron Winston and shot by George T. Clemens, Maple Street starts as an idyllic environment and devolves into utter, brutal chaos.

"The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" also marks the second appearance of the flying saucer from Forbidden Planet. Get used to it, folks. We're gonna see it again and again as the series progresses. This time, the footage was shown upside-down and in reverse. Like we wouldn't notice.

Next up: Another of my Top 40 favorites. Like last week's "Mirror Image," we'll be challenged again on the subject of identity. Who are we, really? Arthur Curtis thinks he's a normal businessman on his way out the door for a vacation with his wife. A voice yells "Cut!" Suddenly, all bets are off. Do check it out.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

TZ Profile: Arlen Schumer (Part 1 of 2)

The subject of today’s spotlight needs no introduction, especially not to Twilight Zone fans operating at an obsessive fan level approximating mine. But since this blog is available to the entire world via this marvelous thing called the internet, I’ll pretend that those reading have never heard of the guy.

I first became aware of Arlen Schumer in 1991. Lisa, my first wife, who was well aware of my preoccupation with all things Twilight Zone (having purchased the first two Varese Sarabande soundtracks on cassette for me the previous Christmas), held up a book that she’d spotted as we browsed the shelves at Powell’s Books in downtown Portland.

I eagerly snatched it out of her hands and gazed lovingly at it. It wasn’t a work of fiction, like the Original Stories collection I’d purchased back in 1985. It wasn’t a work of nonfiction, like Zicree’s Twilight Zone Companion (which I’d beaten the hell out of since I’d first bought it in 1983). No, this was something else entirely. The title said it all: Visions from The Twilight Zone, by Arlen Schumer. And visions they were. We generally refer to this type of publication as a "coffee table" book. This was so much more. This was art. This was my favorite television series, in all its visual splendor, distilled and compressed into a 10" x 9" x .75" package. I had to have it, but at the time I was dead broke. Lisa, in her infinite generosity, bought it for me. No wonder I married her.

I took it home and devoured it with my eyes, my trembling fingers turning each page as I read the words aloud, snatches of dialogue married to stark, compelling images The words frequently didn’t match the specific episode shown, but the themes rhymed. This was poetry. No, it was something beyond poetry. There was something post-modern in Schumer’s approach, something akin to sampling, a practice that had only recently began to take over popular music, in which short musical riffs or drum loops were taken from one song and looped into another. The words and images from The Twilight Zone had been extracted, remixed, re-purposed, and presented as something wholly different, wholly original, yet still in keeping with the series’ recurring themes and ideas. This guy Schumer, whoever the hell he was, was an absolute genius.

...a sample page. Image from "Shadow Play" overlaid with text from "Escape Clause."

The images in the book stem from actual photographs of a black and white television screen, the resolution of which was a scant 250 scan lines. The result is a convincing approximation of what viewers of the show back in the early 60’s must have seen, and it adds to the visual mystique of the book immensely. All the text in the book is set in Bernard Modern, which just happens to be the very same font used in the series’ opening and closing credits. If that’s not attention to detail, I don’t know what is. The book also includes the classic episode “The Eye of the Beholder” in its entirety (in words and images), as well as insightful essays by J. Hoberman, Carol Serling (Rod's widow), and Schumer himself. Icing on the proverbial cake comes in the form of a piece culled from the private notes of series producer Buck Houghton, bestowed upon Schumer by Houghton himself.

…Our man Schumer, 20 years ago, rocking the bow tie.

The bio on Schumer in the book is pretty skimpy… graphic designer, graduated from the Rhode Island school of design, comic book artist, student of popular culture. The intervening 20 years have added some new credentials… but we’ll get to that, in Part 2.

The book, as books often do, went out of print several years ago. I remember spotting a hardcover copy at some point at a Barnes & Noble, clearance-priced at $5.00, and passing it up (d’oh!). If you don’t have this book, FIND IT. There are copies on eBay. There are second-hand copies on Amazon. Seek it out. Of all the Twilight Zone books in my collection, this is by far the most beautiful, the most exciting, the most moving. I had the rare joy of buying a copy for my friend Bill Huelbig, who resides on the other side of the country in New Jersey, this past Christmas. He’s just as big a Twilight Zone fan as I am, so I’m not sure how this particular work of art has eluded him all these years. I was happy to rectify the situation, and I’m prepared to do it again, should some other deserving TZ fan come forward, empty hands desperately outstretched. This book needs to be experienced. Hell, it needs to be BACK IN PRINT. Chronicle Books, are you listening? Do you even still exist?

Fast forward twenty years, give or take. Mr. Schumer presents The Twilight Zone Forever, a “multimedia visualecture” at The Times Center in New York City on 10/02/09, the show’s 50th anniversary. My aforementioned friend Bill buys a ticket and attends, much to his delight (and my internal dismay, since there’s no way in hell I can afford to make the trip). Bill reports back with a positive review (which will appear in Part 2 of this spotlight). A few weeks later, I take a chance and email Mr. Schumer, having only recently discovered his website, wondering if perhaps the presentation was videotaped. Turns out it was. And Mr. Schumer, out of an immeasurable kindness, sends me a DVD of the presentation. But we’ll get to that, in Part 2.

It doesn’t stop there. The magnanimous Mr. Schumer proceeds to send me an assortment of TZ-related gifts, one of which I’ll address right now, since it’s germane to the topic at hand.

Sight, Sound & Mind: A Montage of The Twilight Zone’s Words, Images & Music is a 12-minute DVD that mirrors Schumer’s Visions book, page by page (one dissolves into the next, with that 250-lines of resolution look gloriously intact), augmented by musical cues from various episodes, with all of the text read by the author himself. This alone makes the disc essential (honestly, can you imagine anybody but Anthony Bourdain reading Kitchen Confidential out loud? I like to think that if my novel Diminished Returns ever gets published, I’ll get to do the audio version). The Visions book is Schumer’s baby, and his voice brings it to vibrant, shimmering life.

I can’t stress enough what a treat this DVD is to behold. As I’ve already stated, the book needs to be back in print or, better yet, back in print with a copy of the DVD included. Until that happens, however, something of a guerrilla approach will be necessary for interested parties to attain the full experience. Get the book, then contact Mr. Schumer directly at to inquire about the DVD. Or inquire about the DVD first, then get the book. Either way, they’re two great tastes that taste great together.

My marriage to Lisa lasted nine years. The Twilight Zone, on the other hand, is forever. Arlen Schumer agrees, as you’ll see in Part 2 of our profile. Stay tuned, won’t you?