Monday, May 31, 2010

TZ Spotlight: Maya the Cat Girl

As previously discussed, one of my ten favorite TZ episodes of all time is “Perchance to Dream,” which celebrated its 50th anniversary on 11/27/09 (the same day I celebrated my 40th birthday). The episode is notable for many things: the brilliant teleplay by Charles Beaumont… the breathless and intense performance of Richard Conte in the lead… the visual treat of the nightmare carnival… the eerie, swirling musical score by Van Cleave… but without a doubt, the single most memorable element of this episode is none other than this beautiful and talented individual:

Actress Suzanne Lloyd, in the role of Maya the Cat Girl, has haunted my dreams since I first saw this episode in the 7th grade. I told her as much in a recent letter to her, which accompanied a purchase order for autographed 8x10s (which she offers on her website). In my letter, I asked her to inscribe the picture with the following: “To Craig, Meow. Suzanne Lloyd.” I thought it might be cute. Her written response, which accompanied the signed 8x10s, suggests that perhaps cuteness wasn’t really appropriate:

“Maya is not a ‘meow’ character. I patterned her after a panther. But (I) will write what you requested.”

You know, she’s absolutely right. I think time had blurred my memory, causing me to confuse her interpretation of Maya with Julie Newmar’s Catwoman on TV’s Batman. Further study of Lloyd’s performance proved just how wrong I was. Maya would purr. Maya would growl. Maya would even shriek like a banshee… but she’d never, ever meow. I stand humbly corrected. Thanks to Ms. Lloyd for setting me straight.

The beautiful Ms. Lloyd as she appears today, no less bewitching.

I’m REALLY hoping Bif Bang Pow! releases either a bobblehead or an action figure (or both) of Maya at some point. A well-done action figure of Maya might just displace my all-time favorite female action figure:

I’m still waiting on Vera Miles to sign and return an 8x10 I sent to her a few months back… If she comes through, I’ll post a similar spotlight.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

TZ Newsflash: SDCC Exclusive TZ Action Figures Available for Pre-Order!

Here comes yet another San Diego Comic Con exclusive from Bif Bang Pow!, but this time it's not a bobblehead. No, dear readers, it's something even more exciting: ACTION FIGURES!

$39.99, limit two 2-packs per order
SDCC Exclusive

These two figures comprise series 3 of Bif Bang Pow!'s Twilight Zone action figure collection (series 1 and 2 are expected to be available in August, and series 4 and 5 should appear later in the year). Interestingly, they both stand 8 inches tall (matching the other figures), despite their diminutive size in their respective episodes ("Living Doll" and "The Dummy"). So if you were hoping to set up some bizarre diorama in which The Gremlin is playing with a Talky Tina Doll, or The Kanamit is doing a ventriloquism act in Vegas using Willie the Dummy... well, you're outta luck. Plus, if you're actually playing with these figures... well, never mind. I guess I'm in no position to judge. However, for the record, mine will be displayed tastefully on a shelf. In any case, these look amazing. Must... have... them...

Anyway, if you can't make it to San Diego for Comic Con, here's your chance to get these exclusive gems shipped straight to your door.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Jason Labowitz at Bif Bang Bow! reports that these two figures are in fact smaller in scale than the other Twilight Zone figures... around 5.5" tall, versus the standard 8", so they'll stand out from the others. Nice! And for a look at the packaging, head over to Mego Museum for a sneak peek. Careful observers will notice the "Coming Soon" blurb on the card back, which lists episode titles rather than specific characters.... however, we can presume/predict what's coming:

"Eye of the Beholder" - Doctor and/or Nurse (hopefully both)
"Time Enough at Last" - Henry Bemis (as portrayed by Burgess Meredith)
"Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" - 3-eyed Venusian and/or 3-armed Venusian
"The Invaders" - The Invader and/or The Woman (as portrayed by Agnes Moorehead)
"Night of the Meek" - Henry Corwin/Santa Clause (as portrayed by Art Carney)

And while I'm not at liberty to reveal planned figures beyond these, I will say... well, some amazing stuff is coming out in 2011.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

TZ Promo: "A Passage for Trumpet" (5/20/1960)

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.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

TZ News Flash: More color bobbleheads Available for Pre-order!

I previously reported that Bif Bang Pow! is releasing (very limited) color versions of their first three Twilight Zone bobbleheads as San Diego Comic Con exclusives. They've now revealed that color versions of their next two bobbleheads (The Gremlin and The Kanamit, the regular versions of which are scheduled for release in June) will also be available --- in similarly limited numbers --- at SDCC. They're also taking pre-orders for folks who can't make it to San Diego over at Entertainment Earth.

$19.99, limited to 504 pieces. Pre-order limit 2.

$14.99, limited to 504 pieces. Pre-order limit 2.

As I stated in my previous report, I have serious doubts that I'll be able to get these, which just breaks my heart. The black-and white non-exclusive versions of these bobbleheads sell out regularly (The first two, The Invader and The Mystic Seer, are currently available again after selling out twice, and Talky Tina is currently unavailable until July), so a low-numbered run of color variants will undoubtedly vanish quickly. 504 pieces??? And since I'm still basically broke after our recent move, I can't pre-order them right now.

When Bif Bang Pow! first announced that they'd be releasing Twilight Zone bobbleheads and action figures, I vowed to collect two of every single item they produced. Unless something changes in my financial picture (and fast)... well, I won't be able to do it. And the irony? By reporting on these limited exclusives, I'm (presumably) helping them sell out even faster. This is my life in the shadow of The Twilight Zone... sometimes irony's blade is soft and pliable, and other times it's razor sharp.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

TZ Promo: "The Chaser" (5/13/1960)

Meet Roger Shackleforth.  A nice guy (if a bit nebbishy), who finds himself hopelessly in love with Leila, a top-shelf beauty who rebuffs him at every turn.  In real life, he'd eventually get the hint and find someone in his own league.  But this isn't real life.  It's The Twilight Zone.  And here, even the lovelorn can find help.

Help in this case comes in the form of Professor A. Daemon, who sells him a sure-fire love potion for a measly buck.  Will the potion work?  And if it does, will the hapless Roger be happy with the results?

"The Chaser," scripted by Robert Presnell Jr. from a short story by John Henry Collier, is essentially a romantic comedy (even in its darker moments, it never feels less than buoyant).  It's a light, simple story with a twist, something of a trifle when lined up next to Zone heavyweights like "Eye of the Beholder" or "The Obsolete Man," but it works well enough.  The direction by Douglas Heyes isn't quite as elaborate as some of his other efforts, save for the massive bookcase that occupies the Professor's office.  Heyes speculated some years later that this set alone probably doubled the episode's budget.

"The Chaser" celebrates its 50th anniversary tonight.  Maybe I'll open a bottle of champagne in its honor....

Next week:  Jack Klugman stars in his first Twilight Zone episode (he'll do a total of four over the show's five year run).  He's a down and out trumpet player who's at the end of his rope.  It's an amazing episode, not to be missed.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

TZ Promo: "A Stop at Willoughby" (5/06/1960)

His name is Gart Williams. Ad man. The Don Draper of his day. Assailed from all sides by the pressure to perform, to succeed, to blaze a path upward to financial and social heights, needled relentlessly by his boss, his peers, his wife... and yes, even himself.

The tension in the opening scene is palpable. A big account is on the line. Willaims sits, tapping his pencil nervously as Mr. Misrell, a boss from hell if there ever was one, stares at him expectantly. Something goes wrong. The account is lost, and the blame rests squarely on Williams' shoulders.

After a verbal tongue-lashing from Misrell, Williams rides the train home. He dozes off while gazing at the November snow falling outside. When he awakens, the car is filled with sunlight. Where is he? More to the point, when? The conductor calls it Willoughby, and it looks a lot like the late 1800s...

Serling's "A Stop at Willoughby," which first aired 50 years ago tonight, is considered one of the finest episodes of the first season, if not the entire series. It's a more bristly affair than its thematic cousin, "Walking Distance," right down to the musical score by Nathan Scott. Where Bernard Herrmann's "Walking Distance" score was soft and wistful, Scott's "Willoughby" score is brassy and intense, the perfect soundtrack to accompany a man born half a century late, and who finds himself coming unhinged because of it. James Daly effectively conveys Williams' growing turmoil and rising need for escape. Mention must also be made of Howard Smith's portrayal of the loathsome Mr. Misrell. I've had less-than-friendly bosses in my day, but nothing like this guy. When Williams finally tells him off (in a manner of speaking), the viewer can't help but wish he'd feed the bastard a knuckle sandwich too. I probably would. But not Williams: he's just a nice guy who's losing his footing in the modern world. As his bitchy wife observes, his "big dream in life is to be Huckleberry Finn."

The stop is Willoughby. Escape? Maybe. But at what cost?

Yeah, I know. This is a total spoiler. But come on, anybody reading this blog has seen this episode a dozen times. This dissolve is just way too cool not to include.

Next week: A love story with a twist. Spray on some perfume and join the party.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Season 1 Opening Sequence (1959-1960)

The opening sequence of a television series is crucial to setting the tone of what's to come. We hear the theme music, we see the main characters, we sometimes see clips from various episodes, showing the characters in action. This applies to dramas and sitcoms, or any series with a recurring cast of characters. A typical opening sequence will run a minute or less in length, but sometimes they can run as long as two or three minutes (Stephen J. Cannell's various series throughout the 80's and 90's, for example).

Anthology series are different, and therefore require a different type of opening sequence We still hear a theme song, but there's no recurring cast of characters, and no clips to suggest the type of show we're about to see. If there's a major name attached to the series, then focus is placed on that individual (Alfred Hitchcock Presents comes to mind), but otherwise the anthology series' opening sequence is designed to do two things: Name the series, and establish the mood.

For The Twilight Zone's first season (well, most of it), the opening sequence (designed by UPA) ran 40 seconds long. It featured haunting music by Bernard Herrmann and narration by creator Rod Serling. There would be a total of six distinct opening sequences throughout the series (which we'll cover, in good time). but this first one is slower, more somber, more mysterious. It's also my personal favorite.

There is a fifth dimension...

...beyond that which is known to man.

It is a dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity.

It is the middle ground between light and shadow....

...between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears...

...and the summit of his knowledge.

This is the dimension of imagination.

It is an area which we call...

...The Twilight Zone.

Here it is in full motion, sadly downrezzed by Blogger limitations:

I probably should've published this entry when I started my weekly coverage of season one, but in all honesty, spotlighting the opening sequences hadn't occurred to me at that point. So from here forward, I'll spotlight each different one as they first appear within the chronology of the series. A new opening sequence was created for the tail end of season one and, since we're almost there (a week or two from now, I believe), you'll be seeing my spotlight on it very soon.

It appears Wikipedia covers EVERYTHING. Case in point: they actually have a fairly extensive article devoted to ---you guessed it --- opening sequences. The Twilight Zone isn't mentioned, but many TV shows are, and it's definitely worth a read. Check it out here.