Monday, January 15, 2018

"Cavender Is Coming"

Carol Burnett as the hopeless klutz Agnes Grep
“Cavender Is Coming”
Season Three, Episode 101
Original Air Date: May 25, 1962

Cast:
Harmon Cavender: Jesse White
Agnes Grep: Carol Burnett
Polk: Howard Smith
Stout: Frank Behrens
Woman #1: Sandra Gould
Frenchman: Albert Carrier
Matron: Barbara Morrison
Debutante: Donna Douglas
Child: Danny Kulick
Truck Driver: Jack Younger
Field Rep #3: John Fiedler

Uncredited Cast:
Man: Maurice Dallimore
Field Rep #2: Pitt Herbert
Field Rep #4: Stan Jones
Woman #2: Adrienne Marden
Waiter: Robert McCord
Little Boy: Rory O’Brien
Field Rep #1: William O’Connell
Little Girl: Norma Shattue
Bus Driver: Roy N. Sickner

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Christian Nyby
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Merrill Pye
Set Decoration: Keogh Gleason
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Robert Walker
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: stock
Mr. Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Optical Effects: Pacific Title
Filmed at MGM Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week on The Twilight Zone two incredibly talented people join forces, to show us what happens when an accident prone, discombooberated lady with six thumbs and two left feet meets a hapless guardian angel who knows more about martinis than miracles. Miss Carol Burnett and Mr. Jesse White, they’re the chief ingredients to a very funny stew. Next week, ‘Cavender Is Coming.’”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“Small message of reassurance to that horizontal young lady: don’t despair. Help is en route. It’s coming in an odd form from a very distant place but it’s nonetheless coming.

“Submitted for your approval, the case of one Miss Agnes Grep, put on Earth with two left feet, an overabundance of thumbs, and a propensity for falling down manholes. In a moment she will be up to her jaw in miracles, wrought by apprentice angel Harmon Cavender, intent on winning his wings. And though it’s a fact that both of them should have stood* in bed, they will tempt all the fates by moving into the cold, gray dawn of The Twilight Zone.”

Summary:

            Agnes Grep is a klutz who struggles to hold down a job. Her latest effort, as an usherette at a movie theater, turns into disaster when she struggles to understand the boss’s complicated hand signals. After accidentally crashing through a mirror and into the boss’s office, Agnes is promptly fired.
            It is obvious to the angels that Agnes needs a little help. It just so happens that there is an apprentice angel, Harmon Cavender, who is as hopeless as Agnes in his own occupations. Together, perhaps, they can help each other out. Cavender can improve Agnes’s lot in life and in the process earn his angel wings.
            Agnes may struggle to hold down a job but she is happy at home among the residents of her apartment building and the surrounding neighborhood. When Cavender arrives, he decides that Agnes must live in a fancier place among a high-class crowd. Cavender gives Agnes an expensive apartment and throws her a lavish party. But the apartment doesn’t feel like home and the party is too crowded and too loud.
            Agnes tries to sneak back to her old apartment building only to find that Cavender changed it so that she isn’t recognized by her friends anymore. She pleads with him to change it back to the way it was before. Cavender relents and changes it back.
            Cavender is certain he will never receive his wings but when the boss angel sees how happy Agnes is, he determines that Cavender’s work was a success. He has a new mission for Cavender, however, to continue on and help the many other unfortunate souls whose lives are in shambles.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“A word to the wise now to any and all who might suddenly feel the presence of a cigar-smoking helpmate who takes bankbooks out of thin air. If you’re suddenly aware of any such celestial aids, it means that you’re under the beneficent care of one Harmon Cavender, guardian angel, and this message from The Twilight Zone: lotsa luck!

Commentary:

            Rod Serling met Carol Burnett in a chance encounter on the second version of the television variety series The Garry Moore Show. In the spring of 1961, Serling visited the set of Moore’s CBS series to view a rehearsal and discovered that Moore was developing a comedy sketch based on The Twilight Zone for his next broadcast. Cast member Jack Carter was slated to perform the role of Rod Serling as host but Moore asked if Serling would be willing to deliver the humorous introduction himself. Serling agreed to do so.  
On The Garry Moore Show for May 9, 1961, Serling materialized from a suffocating cloud of stage fog to a roar of approval from the audience. Struggling to look into the camera due to the thick fog, Serling intoned: “Good evening. I am Rod Serling. This is The Twi-night Zone, that area in man’s imagination that borders stark reality and the fuzzy nowhere when you’re loaded. Tonight we deal with the commonplace, a story of the ordinary, everyday problems that confront a man who suddenly finds that he’s been turned into a mosquito. And now, won’t you come with me into The Twi-night Zone.”
Serling on the Garry Moore Show
            The very funny segment which followed was titled “The Mosquito” and featured Carol Burnett as the wife of a scientist who transplants his brain into the body of a mosquito. Burnett featured regularly on Moore’s series after first appearing as a guest. When cast member Martha Raye became ill with bronchitis Burnett was contacted about stepping in for Raye. This opportunity resulted in a regular place on the series and, as Burnett later said, the opportunity to get off unemployment. Burnett’s experience on The Garry Moore Show would later inspire her when she developed her own popular variety series The Carol Burnett Show, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in a highly rated television special.
            When Burnett expressed interest in appearing on The Twilight Zone, Serling jumped at the chance to create an episode for the talented comedienne. A problem arose when Serling held no original content to fit Burnett’s skillset and very little time to create any. Add to this the fact that CBS expressed interest in putting more money and a longer shooting schedule into the production on the chance that it could serve as the pilot episode of a continuing series. Serling’s solution was to revisit material he previously created for a similar situation.
            Serling restructured his teleplay from the first season episode “Mr. Bevis” to suit the talents of Burnett. “Mr. Bevis,” about an eccentric man’s interactions with his guardian angel, also began life as a potential pilot episode for an ongoing series but the disappointing result was passed on by the network. Serling had already recycled some material intended for the “Mr. Bevis” series with his second season episode “The Whole Truth.” Given the fact that both “Mr. Bevis” and “The Whole Truth” are considered among The Twilight Zone’s worst offerings, it is puzzling that Serling had the confidence to revisit the material that created those two disappointing episodes and expect a greater result. Serling’s approach was to switch the focus of the potential series. For “Mr. Bevis,” the series was intended to follow the continuing adventures of Bevis with the guardian angel to feature only in the premier episode. For “Cavender Is Coming,” Serling focused instead on the continuing adventures of the guardian angel, indicated by the episode’s concluding dialogue, delivered by Cavender’s boss (Howard Smith): “It occurs to me that there are other deserving subjects down there who might require a little angelic assistance from time to time. Each one of them will be your project.”
In November, 1961, six months after appearing on The Garry Moore Show, Serling completed the teleplay which became “Cavender Is Coming.” The episode began production under the working series title The Side of the Angels and was filmed with a laugh track. Jesse White, who previously appeared on The Twilight Zone alongside Buster Keaton in Richard Matheson’s ode to silent films, “Once Upon a Time,” was cast as apprentice angel Harmon Cavender, a boozy cut-up who tried to get his angel wings through fumbling attempts to assist a revolving door of clumsy humans. Burnett was cast as Agnes Grep, Cavender’s first clumsy human project.
Serling changed little else in the transition from “Mr. Bevis” to “Cavender Is Coming,” adding more physical comedy, including two ludicrous scenes of characters jumping through panes of glass, and some personal touches for Burnett. Burnett’s first job during her time attending drama classes at UCLA was as an usherette at the Iris Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Burnett told Serling about the complicated hand signals instituted by her boss and Serling wrote a humorous recreation of Burnett’s time as an usherette into the opening segment of the episode. This segment is easily the funniest portion of the episode. Serling even named another of the usherettes in the sequence “Burnett” as a wink to the actress.
One would not know by viewing the episode that it cost more than a regular episode of the series. The angel costumes appear cheap and uninspired, the sets are dull and stereotypical, and the few camera tricks used were some of the most economical effects available at the time. Most of the extra production money must have gone into the cast and the extras required to fill such scenes as Agnes’s apartment building and the lavish party Cavender throws for Agnes.
The result is a largely unfunny and uninspired episode. Rod Serling expressed his disappointment in the overall product, particularly since it was created as a vehicle for an actress he greatly admired. Serling lamented the direction by Christian Nyby, who had previously directed Serling’s comedy episode “Showdown with Rance McGrew.” Although Nyby’s direction is flat, the principal faults of the episode lie in Serling’s recycled script. Carol Burnett is given very little to do and is left to try and create comedy in the little opportunities afforded her. The brunt of the episode falls upon the shoulders of Jesse White, who is simply not given enough material to develop a comedic rhythm. Comedy appears to have been a genre Serling was intent on featuring on The Twilight Zone but very few of the comedic episodes are successful, and “Cavender Is Coming” is no exception.
The network viewed the episode and passed on developing the idea any further. The segment was retitled “Cavender Is Coming” and repurposed for The Twilight Zone. The laugh track which was initially featured with the episode has been dropped in subsequent showings of the episode. Unfortunately, the whimsical and tiresome musical score, more attuned to a situation comedy, has been retained.
 “Cavender Is Coming” brought about yet another call of plagiarism aimed at Rod Serling. A film industry worker named Ray Williford claimed to have given Serling the idea for the episode while working on the 1958 film Saddle the Wind, which Serling scripted. Serling denied knowing or ever meeting Williford and only visited the set of Saddle the Wind for very brief periods of time. It became clear that the charge was a naked attempt to cash in on Serling’s vulnerable position as the showrunner to a series which required a new story every episode, and nothing occurred as a result.
            “Cavender Is Coming” was adapted as an episode of The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas starring Andrea Evans as Agnes Grep. Evans also appeared in the radio adaptation of “Twenty Two.” The adaptation retains much of the plot but, due to the need for time expansion, provides a bit more background on Cavender, such as the fact that he is in sole charge of Earth, is the oldest angel in his sector, and is responsible both for the invention of gin and for the repeal of Prohibition.
            “Cavender Is Coming” is a recycled version of an uninspired episode with a result that is nowhere near as funny or engaging as Rod Serling intended. Though she has very little to do in the episode, Carol Burnett is the saving grace of the production and the only reason the episode endures.

Grade: D

Grateful acknowledgement to:

-The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic by Martin Grams, Jr. (OTR, 2008)

-“Carol Burnett discusses working with Garry Moore,” video interview by the Television Academy Foundation, YouTube, published August 14, 2012

*Modern viewers may want to silently correct this ungrammatical phrase to “stayed in bed” but “stood in bed” was an American colloquialism familiar during the time this episode was broadcast. It was coined by renowned boxing manager Joe Jacobs. According to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, Jacobs left his sickbed in New York to go to Detroit in October, 1935 in order to attend the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs. Jacobs bet on Chicago, who lost 4 games to 2, and, when he was interviewed upon his return to New York, Jacobs told the sportswriter: “I should have stood in bed.” Bergen Evans’ Dictionary of Quotations confirms the origin of the phrase. Joe Jacobs is also responsible for the ungrammatical phrase “We wuz robbed!” in reference to Jack Sharkey defeating Max Schmeling in a 15 round bout on June 21, 1932 for the heavyweight title. Special thanks to the Jewish Virtual Library and “Who Said It First and How Did He Really Say It?” by Jack Smith, Los Angeles Times (11/09/1989).

Notes:

--Christian Nyby also directed the episode “Showdown with Rance McGrew.”
--Jesse White also appeared in “The Time Element” and “Once Upon a Time.”
--Howard Smith also appeared in “A Stop at Willoughby.”
--Sandra Gould also appeared in “What’s in the Box.”
--Donna Douglas also appeared in “The Eye of the Beholder” and the Night Gallery episode “Last Rites for a Dead Druid.”
--Danny Kulick also appeared in “On Thursday We Leave For Home.”
--John Fiedler also appeared in “The Night of the Meek.”
--Adrienne Marden also appears, uncredited, in “To Serve Man.”
--Robert McCord appeared in 32 episodes of the series, frequently in uncredited roles, ranging from the first season’s “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” to the fifth season’s “Mr. Garrity and the Graves.”
--“Cavender Is Coming” was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Andrea Evans.

-JP 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Reading Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine, Part 6

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


Volume 1, number 6 (September, 1981)


Editor: T.E.D. Klein
Cover Art: Ralph Mercer

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: Leon Garry
Associate Publisher/Consulting Editor: Carol Serling
Editorial Director: Eric Protter
Editor: T.E.D. Klein
Managing Editor: Jane Bayer
Contributing Editors: Gahan Wilson & Theodore Sturgeon
Editorial Assistant: Marc Stecker
Design Director: Derek Burton
Art and Studio Production: Georg the Design Group
Production Director: Edward Ernest
Controller: Thomas Schiff
Administrative Assistant: Eve Grammatas
Public Relations Manager: Melissa Blanck-Grammatas
Public Relations Asst: Jeffrey Nickora
Accounting Manager: Chris Grossman
Circulation Director: Denise Kelly
Circulation Asst: Karen Wiss
Circulation Marketing: Jerry Alexander
Western Newsstand Consultant: Harry Sommer
Advertising Manager: Rachel Britapaja
Advertising Production Manager: Marina Despotakis

Contents:

--In the Twilight Zone: "Rationalists and Rogues" by T.E.D. Klein
--Other Dimensions: Books by Theodore Sturgeon
--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
--"Matinee at the Flame" by Christopher Fahy
--"Premonition" by Jack Wodhams
--Forerunners of 'The Twilight Zone' by Allan Asherman
--"Stroke of Mercy" by Parke Godwin
--Richard Matheson on 'The Honorable Tradition of Writing' by James H. Burns
--TZ Profile: Matheson in the Movies by Robert Martin
--"When the Cat's Away. . ." by John Alfred Taylor
--"Roderick Goes to School" by John Sladek
--Dr. Van Helsing's Handy Guide to Ghost Stories, Part II by Kurt Van Helsing (T.E.D. Klein)
--"The Loaner" by Gary Brandner
--"Chameleon Junction" by Hal Hill
--Show-by-Show Guide: TV's Twilight Zone: Part Six by Marc Scott Zicree
--TZ Classic Teleplay: "Time Enough at Last" by Rod Serling
--Looking Ahead: In October's TZ

--In the Twilight Zone: “Rationalists and Rogues. . .” by T.E.D. Klein
-Klein’s usual editorial column devotes a large amount of space to introducing the excerpt from John Sladek’s novel, Roderick, or, The Education of a Young Machine, titled “Roderick Goes to School,” contained within the issue. Klein also gives brief information on the issue’s contributors accompanied by thumbnail images.

-On the opposite page is an advertisement for the magazine’s $2,000 story contest, which offers a first prize of $1,000, a second prize of $600, and a third prize of $400 to the best tales of supernatural horror, fantasy, or suspense by a previously unpublished writer, the winning stories to be published in the magazine’s first anniversary issue, April, 1982. The panel of judges is impressive: Carol Serling, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, and Peter Straub. The advertisement is accompanied by this description: “Rod Serling’s first break as a young writer came in 1949, when he won a cash prize in a New York radio station’s writing contest – and thereby launched what proved to be a distinguished and highly celebrated career. Later, as a teacher and lecturer on and off the campus, he devoted his energies to helping other young writers, providing needed advice and, most of all, encouragement.”  

--Other Dimensions: Books by Theodore Sturgeon
-As usual, Sturgeon provides pithy opinions on a wide array of science fiction and fantasy book offerings. For this issue, he divides his selections into subcategories.

Fascinations – Collaterals, Provocateurs, and Collectibles:
-Critical Path by Buckminster Fuller
“. . . the chronicle of the achievements of one of the most remarkable men who has ever lived.”

-Star Trek Compendium by Allan Asherman
“Lots of pictures, excellent organization.” Asherman writes an excellent article for this issue, as well, “Forerunners of ‘The Twilight Zone’.”

-Writing for the Twilight Zone by George Clayton Johnson
“. . . highly recommended for two things: as beautiful a wraparound cover painting as you’ve ever seen (by Judy King Rieniets) and the four Twilight Zone scripts, reproduced as they came from the author’s typewriter.”

-A History of the Hugo, Nebula, and International Fantasy Awards by Donald Franson and Howard De Vore
“. . . a really complete reference containing not only listings of all the winners through the years, but all the successive ballots as well.”

-Pulpsmith magazine
“Looks like fun.”

Collections and Anthologies:
-Fireflood and Other Stories by Vonda N. McIntyre
“Her clean narrative sense, her profound compassion, and the sense of real conviction shine out from this book.”

-Fantasy Annual III edited by Terry Carr
“. . . the product of one of the very best editors this field has ever seen.”

-Binary Star #5 edited by James Frenkel; contains “Nightflyers” by George R.R. Martin and “True Names” by Vernor Vinge
“. . . a gratifying package.”

-They Came from Outer Space edited by Jim Wynorski, with an introduction by Ray Bradbury
“. . . it’s a study in what happens to fiction when it becomes film.”

-New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos edited by Ramsey Campbell
Campbell “has guided his writers admirably in their expressions of the tone and careful pacing of the Lovecraft idiom.”

Novels:
-Time Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick
“It is not always easy to understand what it is that Dick reveres, but you know it is unequivocally there.”

-Masks of the Illuminati by Robert Anton Wilson
“. . . has his reverence trapped between his tongue and cheek, but by the funny way he talks, you know it’s there.”

-Golem 100 by Alfred Bester
“I found the book both flashy and ugly, and I truly mourn the substance and fury of the two great Bester masterpieces, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination.”

-Windsound by Doris Vallejo
“There is a depth and degree of tenderness in this remarkable novel, a depth and degree of sensitivity that I, all my life an ardent feminist, find most mysterious and most wonderful about women.”

-The Northern Girl by Elizabeth A. Lynn
“Lynn has created a world I have to believe in, and people I know and love.”

-The Humanoid Touch by Jack Williamson
“If you want to sample the sense of wonder as it was when sf was ignited into the so-called Golden Age, you’ll find it here.”

-The Beasts of Hades by Graham Diamond
“It is easy to forget that a lifelong involvement with fantasy and science fiction, magic and adventure, can begin with books like this.”

-Elidor by Alan Garner
“It’s a tumble-ahead, marvel-upon-marvel narrative firmly locked in the contemporary scene. . .”

--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
-Wilson looks at two films, the epic fantasy film Excalibur (1981) and the horror film The Hand (1981)

-Excalibur was a personal project for John Boorman, an Academy Award nominated English director best known for films such as Point Blank (1967) and Deliverance (1972), who directed, produced, and co-wrote the film. It attempts to examine the King Arthur myth through a highly realistic lens, cleansing the tale of much of the magic and wonder found in most renditions to present a gritty and violent tale of war and political maneuvering. This is the aspect of the film which Wilson, an avowed aficionado of the tales of King Arthur, dislikes about the film. He feels that Boorman went too far toward realism and destroyed the wonder and imagination of the tale. Wilson laments the uninspired staging of such memorable scenes as Arthur removing the sword from the stone.

 -The Hand was directed by Oliver Stone and contributed admirably to that small but celebrated horror subgenre concerning detached limbs returning to terrorize and kill. Wilson enjoyed the film, particularly since it concerns a cartoonist, which is Wilson’s primary occupation, but much of his review feels redundant since a feature article was previously devoted to the film in the May, 1981 issue.

--“Matinee at the Flame” by Christopher Fahy

Illustration by E.T. Steadman
“All the world’s a stage, he knew – but was his life just a series of gags?”

-An old man receives a job to clean out an abandoned theater but is startled to find the theater still in operation. He is forced onto the stage to deliver a confessional monologue about how his life went wrong, a performance which brings gales of laughter from the ghostly audience, who heckle and taunt the old man. The old man, now an emotional wreck, finds his way out of the theater and into the past, where he is given another chance to correct the mistakes of his life.  Grade: A

-This early story from Fahy was an enjoyable piece which perfectly captured the unique fantasy of The Twilight Zone. With its relatable emotional center, its meditation on regret and aging, and its timeslip ending, it would have made an excellent episode of the revival television series. Fahy used the story and title as the centerpiece of his 2006 collection, Matinee at the Flame, from Overlook Connection Press, with a cover by Glen Chadbourne (pictured above).

-T.E.D. Klein describes Fahy this way: “. . . a native of Philadelphia, where the bizarre events of ‘Matinee at the Flame’ are enacted, but he now lives on the rocky coast of Maine.”

--“Premonition” by Jack Wodhams

Illustration by Gregory Cannone
“Was fate giving him a sign – or just playing him for a fool?”

-A recurring nightmare in which his mother comes to a horrible end sends a man on a cross-world trip to connect with her only to discover that he is the cause of her demise. Grade: C

-This short mood piece is effective enough but lacks any sort of depth or complexity which would have graded it higher. Also, readers familiar with this sort of story will have no trouble seeing the ending from a mile away. Some of Wodhams’s numerous short fiction was collected in Future War (1982) and he has also written three science fiction novels and a handful of fantasy poetry.

-Klein describes Wodhams this way: “. . . the Down Under that Jack Wodhams hails from is merely Queensland, Australia, where he’s one of that country’s most widely published sf writers – and probably its best-known representative in such American magazines as Analog, Amazing, and Quest/Star.”

--“Forerunners of ‘The Twilight Zone’” by Allan Asherman
-Television historian Asherman, author of Star Trek Compendium, offers a fascinating and informative essay on the science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthology television programs which preceded The Twilight Zone. Tracing the evolution of the television anthology back to the radio anthology, Asherman proceeds to explore, in detail, the production histories and memorable episodes of such shows as Lights Out, Tales of Tomorrow, Out There, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Science Fiction Theatre, and Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond. Asherman also explores mainstream dramatic anthologies which occasionally presented tales of horror, suspense, and fantasy, and provides a list of virtually every memorable anthology series of the time. The essay is filled with little-known history and trivia, much of it relating back to The Twilight Zone, and comes highly recommended.

--“Stroke of Mercy” by Parke Godwin

Illustrated by José Reyes
“In tomorrow morning’s duel more than just one man would die. A world would die with him.”

-A duel in Paris between an aristocrat and a commoner in the early part of the 19th century signifies an unending battle between the two that will resonate throughout modern history’s most memorable conflicts. Grade: C

-This overly long tale of history and fantasy does not quite satisfy and begins to feel repetitive due to the narrative structure and length of the tale. Godwin was a prolific fantasy writer who wrote multiple series of novels and the occasional short story. Godwin’s most well-known story, “Influencing the Hell Out of Time and Teresa Golowitz,” was first published in the January, 1982 issue of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine and was adapted by Alan Brennert as “Time and Teresa Golowitz,” a second season episode of the first Twilight Zone revival television series, originally broadcast on July 10, 1987. “Stroke of Mercy” was collected in Godwin’s The Fire When It Comes (1985) and reprinted in Marvin Kaye’s anthology Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural (1985). Kaye was a personal friend and champion of Godwin’s work, collaborating with Godwin on a series of novels, writing the introduction to Godwin’s short fiction collection, and including Godwin’s work in several anthologies.

-Klein describes Godwin this way: “. . . came to writing after a career in the military . . . and a career on the stage; he draws upon the former in ‘Stroke of Mercy,’ the powerful tale with which he makes his Twilight Zone debut.”

--Richard Matheson on “The Honorable Tradition of Writing,” interview by James H. Burns
Pictures of Matheson provided by Marc Scott Zicree, Ithaca College, and Hollywood Book and Poster

-This is the first part of a long, in-depth, and satisfying interview with one of the principal writers of The Twilight Zone and the writer responsible for such memorable episodes as “Nick of Time,” “The Invaders,” “Death Ship,” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “Night Call,” and eight more. James H. Burns gives a biographical sketch of Matheson and begins the interview with a discussion of the film Somewhere in Time, released the previous year and adapted by Matheson from his 1975 novel Bid Time Return. Somewhere in Time features a cameo by Matheson and was directed by Jennot Szwarc, at the helm for many memorable episodes of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. The interview continues by discussing Matheson’s literary influences, breaking into film and television, working with Rod Serling, and the inspirations for some of his Twilight Zone episodes. Matheson also gives his opinion on the various film adaptations of his work. It is must reading for fans of Matheson and The Twilight Zone.

--TZ Profile: Matheson in the Movies by Robert Martin
Accompanied by images from films based on the works of Richard Matheson

-This is a thorough examination of Matheson’s contribution to the theatrical and television film dating from his first Hollywood assignment, The Incredible Shrinking Man, which Matheson adapted from his novel, The Shrinking Man, and continuing on through Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films, adaptations of Matheson works by others, Matheson’s work with Hammer Films, and his work with Producer/Director Dan Curtis. Some of the films examined include The Last Man on Earth, The Devil’s Bride, Burn, Witch, Burn (written with Charles Beaumont), House of Usher, Trilogy of Terror, The Night Stalker, and Somewhere in Time.

--“When the Cat’s Away . . .” by John Alfred Taylor

Illustration by Brad Hamann
“It’s time to watch out for the other animals.”

-A disbelieving book critic discovers that some ancient myths are real, and dangerous. Grade: B

-This is a short and moody horror piece in which an unlikable character gets his comeuppance in a disturbing manner. The imagery is the most powerful aspect of the tale and in its slowly creeping dread it reminds the reader of the work of Ramsey Campbell. T.E.D. Klein included the story in the first issue of Night Cry and it was included in Taylor’s collection, Hell is Murky: Twenty Strange Tales, in 2008 from Ash Tree Press. Taylor began publishing short fantasy and horror fiction in 1977 and chose to work exclusively in the short story form, publishing in many of the leading science fiction and fantasy magazines in the ensuing decades. He has published the occasional poem and wrote an essay, “’If I’m Not Careful’: Innocents and Not-So-Innocents in the Stories of M.R. James” for the 2007 volumes Warnings to the Curious: A Sheaf of Criticism on M.R. James, edited by Rosemary Pardoe and S.T. Joshi. “When the Cat’s Away . . .” is certainly in the tradition of M.R. James in the way in which a bookish character is confronted with devils from the distant past.

-Klein’s description of Taylor: “. . . a professor of English at Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania. A skilled and subtle horror writer, he’s also turned his hand to poetry and opera libretti, and is now working on a film adaptation of Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown’.” The Hawthorne film never came to pass, at least from Taylor’s pen. 

--“Roderick Goes to School” by John Sladek

Illustration by Randy Jones
“In this excerpt from Roderick, or, The Education of a Young Machine, our pint-sized robot hero, raised on TV and adopted by human parents, prepares to take on the American school system.”

-Roderick, a young robot, is sent to elementary school and suffers harassment, abuse, and neglect from his fellow students and the self-obsessed faculty. Grade: B

-This is a long excerpt from John Sladek’s 1980 novel, which was first published in England and subsequently nominated for a National Book Award, a Locus Award, a Ditmar Award, and a Philip K. Dick Award. The story is a highly satirical commentary on life in 1980s America, in which Americans and their children are portrayed as ignorant, vicious, sociopathic, neurotic, self-absorbed, and obsessed with sex. The excerpt is humorous and alarming by turns, not only for the way in which Sladek portrays the American education system but also for the conviction of the satire and its clear belief that the story does not so much exaggerate larger issues in American society but rather drags them out for examination. The story does feels a bit out of place in a Twilight Zone magazine, as the series never attempted this sort of dark satire. Violence, sex, and neuroses are the three triangular points of Sladek’s vision, and they are repeated endlessly in order to be driven home to the reader. Sladek wrote a sequel, Roderick at Random, or, The Further Education of a Young Machine, in 1983. Sladek began writing in the late 1960s, winning a BSFA Award for Best Novel for his 1983 novel Tik-Tok. He continued writing prolifically until the early 1990s, when his production waned. Sladek died in 2000.

-T.E.D. Klein describes Sladek this way: “Author of some wittily inventive science fiction (including Pocket Books’ recent The Best of John Sladek and, with Thomas Disch, the disturbing novel Black Alice), he’s also written The New Apocrypha, a skeptical look at ESP, UFOs, astrology, and the like, and in which he makes short work of such cult figures as Cayce, Von Daniken, and Velikovsky. For the past decade he’s made his home in England.”

--Dr. Van Helsing’s Handy Guide to Ghost Stories Part II by Kurt Van Helsing (T.E.D. Klein)
“The good doctor reconvenes his class and asks a few hard questions: must the ghost-story writer believe in ghosts? Must the reader?”

-In this second part of Klein’s examination of the ghost-story as fiction, he takes a sociological approach and bases the essay on the aforementioned questions. Klein quotes from an impressive list of writers, psychologists, and social commentators, ranging from the early 19th century to current studies of the supernatural. He examines how a belief or disbelief in the actual existence of spirits can affect the reader and the writer of ghostly fiction. If there is a disappointment to be had it is that Klein would rather examine the sociological aspects of the belief/disbelief in spirits than offer a pointed examination of the ghost-story as fiction, singling out certain high points and superlative examples of the form, an expectation which is reasonable given the title of the essay. Perhaps in a future installment of the series Klein will focus on these points. The essay is accompanied by several appealing vintage illustrations. 

--“The Loaner” by Gary Brandner

Illustration by Backhaus
“He was just a hack . . . but the chance to be a genius was right there at his fingertips.”

-A hack writer who specializes in sensationalized paperback fiction is given an old typewriter to use while his electric typewriter is being repaired. He finds out too late that everything he writes on the old typewriter is of extraordinarily high quality. Grade: B

-Brandner makes an appearance in the magazine after The Howling, the film made from his novel, has been given multiple features within the pages of previous issues. The result is a very short and enjoyable fantasy which, though derivative and predictable, perfectly captures the lighter aspects of The Twilight Zone. Brandner produced the occasional short story beginning in the early 1970s but his short fiction has not been collected. He is best known for The Howling and its two sequels as well as for the novelization of the remake of Cat People. He died in 2013.

-Klein describes Brandner as “best known as author of The Howling, the novel which spawned the first – and surely the cleverest – of this year’s werewolf films. In the past twelve years, however, he has turned out fourteen other novels, fifty short stories, and a couple of screenplays. His most recent novel, Hellborn, has just been published by Fawcett. Brandner works within the classic Twilight Zone mode in this issue’s ‘The Loaner,’ which, he assures us, was actually written on a loaned typewriter much like the one in the story.”

--“Chameleon Junction” by Hal Hill

Illustrated by Bob Neubecker
“One was a hippie, the other a good old boy – but they shared a rather strange secret.”

-A driver stops and picks up another man with car trouble on the side of the highway in the Mojave Desert after hearing a news report of an unidentified flying object spotted nearby. The driver quickly comes to the realization that his passenger may be from another world. But there is a more shocking realization hidden from the driver. Grade: D

-This story sets up a predictable premise then attempts to subvert expectations by throwing in one plot twist after another, most of which is verbally explained in the final portion of the story, weakening the overall effectiveness of the setup. Hill wrote a handful of short stories in the 1980s, publishing in magazines such as Amazing Stories and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He placed an additional story, “The Chili Connection,” with Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine for the August, 1982 issue. Klein describes him as “a Californian – writes quirkily colorful fiction when not working as a groundskeeper at a state school for learning-disabled children.”

--Show-By-Show Guide: TV’s Twilight Zone, Part Six by Marc Scott Zicree
-Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, continues his guide to the original series and closes out the second season by offering a summary, along with Rod Serling’s opening and closing narrations, of the following episodes, all of which we have covered here in the Vortex: “The Prime Mover,” “Long Distance Call,” “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” “The Rip Van Winkle Caper,” “The Silence,” “Shadow Play,” “The Mind and the Matter,” “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and “The Obsolete Man.” An interesting aspect of Zicree’s guide is that the accompanying photo from each episode is a publicity shot and not an image from the filmed episode.

--TZ Classic Teleplay: “Time Enough At Last” by Rod Serling
-Presented in its entirety is Serling’s adaptation of Lyn Venable’s short story, which was originally published in the January, 1953 issue of IF: Worlds of Science Fiction magazine. The story’s heartbreaking and memorable twist ending, brought to life by Burgess Meredith, along with the memorable production design of a post-nuclear landscape, has ensured the episode a place among The Twilight Zone’s most famous segments. “Time Enough at Last,” the eighth episode of the series, was the first episode aired which was not an original creation of Rod Serling. Serling, of course, would supplement his own original teleplays from the first season with adaptations of stories by such writers as Richard Matheson, Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore, George Clayton Johnson, and Paul W. Fairman. Go here for our review of “Time Enough At Last.”

--Looking Ahead: In October’s TZ
-Next issue features the second part of James H. Burns’s interview with Richard Matheson as well as the first publication of George Clayton Johnson’s short story “Sea Change,” which he sold to The Twilight Zone for production on the second season only to have the story rejected by the show’s sponsor due to the grisly nature of the tale. It is an exceptionally creepy story that would have made a very memorable Zone. Though it is disappointing that it did not see production on the series, it reads very well as a short story. There are also stories by Robert Sheckley, Chet Williamson, Pamela Sargent, Donald Olson (with a story later adapted for Tales from the Darkside), Mick Farren, Timothy Robert Sullivan, Jay Rothbell, and Gene O’Neill. There are also regular features from Theodore Sturgeon, Gahan Wilson, Robert Martin, and Marc Scott Zicree, along with the classic TZ teleplay for Rod Serling’s “The Big Tall Wish.”

See you back soon.

-JP