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...?