His name is Joey Crown. He's a trumpet player whose drunkenness has derailed a promising career. He's at the end of his rope and is looking for an escape. He pawns his horn, gets drunk one last time, and steps out in front of a moving truck... and straight into The Twilight Zone.
"A Passage for Trumpet," which first aired 50 years ago tonight, is the first of four episodes to star character actor Jack Klugman, best known for his roles on TV's The Odd Couple and, later, Quincy. Klugman had a knack --- perhaps more than any other TZ actor --- for capturing the elusive essence of a basically decent guy who's missed the boat in life, the down and (almost) out dreamer. In three of his four TZ outings, he plays variations on this same basic character (the exception, season four's "Death Ship," finds him more focused and intense, but still brilliant). Sure, Crown's to blame for his bad choices. We still feel for the guy nevertheless, and we want things to work out for him. As Joey Crown, Klugman turns in a wistful, self-deprecating performance that absolutely shines. You can't help but root for him.
Crown meets up with Gabe, a fellow trumpeter played by John Anderson. The less I say about him the better (no spoilers here), but Anderson's performance is every bit as solid (if a bit less nuanced) than Klugman's. He also gets to utter my single favorite line of dialogue from the entire series: "You're in the middle, between the two: the real, and the shadow." If that doesn't sum up The Twilight Zone, I don't know what does.
Serling's script is predictably stellar, and the episode benefits greatly from the partnership of director Don Medford and Director of Photography George T. Clemens. Much of the episode takes place in what looks like the backstage area of a theater (scaffolding abounds), and the chiaroscuro lighting is gorgeous to behold. Mention should also be made of Lyn Murray's excellent jazz score. I ranked "A Passage for Trumpet" in my Top 40 back in November, but it didn't quite make my Top 10 (Klugman's other three TZ episodes, however, did). I think it's safe to say that I'm a huge Jack Klugman fan.
Coming up two weeks from tonight: One of the worst Twilight Zone episodes ever made celebrates the big 5-0. I'm dreading it in a HUGE way. In fact, it may be my single least favorite episode in the series' 156 episode run. Tune in to see what makes it so horrible.