Monday, July 16, 2012

"The Mighty Casey"

Dr. Stillman (Abraham Sofaer) tells coach Mouth McGarry (Jack Warden)
all about his new star pitcher.


"The Mighty Casey"
Season One, Episode 35
Original Air Date: June 17, 1960

Cast:
Mouth McGarry: Jack Warden
Casey: Robert Sorrells
Dr. Stillman: Abraham Sofaer
Monk: Don O'Kelly
Doctor: Jonathan Hole
Beasley: Alan Dexter
Commissioner: Rusty Lane

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Directors: Robert Parrish and Alvin Ganzer
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Merrill Pye
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and Keogh Gleason
Assistant Director: Don Klune and Edward Denault
Editor: Joseph Gluck
Sound: Franklin Milton and Philip Mitchell
Music: stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
"This locker and liniment emporium houses a major league baseball team known as the Hoboken Zephyrs, all of which by way of introduction to next week's show, a wild and wooly yarn about the great American pastime. It's called 'The Mighty Casey' and it's all about a left-hander who pitches like nothing human simply because he isn't. Mr. Jack Warden takes us into the stadium next week for nine fast innings on The Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"What you're looking at is a ghost, once alive but now deceased. Once upon a time it was a baseball stadium that housed a major league ball club known as the Hoboken Zephyrs. Now it houses nothing but memories and a wind that stirs in the high grass of what was once an outfield, a wind that sometimes bears a faint, ghostly resemblance to the roar of a crowd that once sat here. We're back in time now when the Hoboken Zephyrs were still a part of the National League and this mausoleum of memories was an honest-to-Pete stadium. But since this is strictly a story of make-believe, it has to start this way: One upon a time in Hoboken, New Jersey, it was tryout day. And though he's not yet on the field, you're about to meet a most unusual fella, a left-handed pitcher named Casey."

Summary:
            A scientist and inventor, Dr. Stillman, invents a robot named Casey. In an attempt to test Casey's skills, Stillman strikes a deal with Mouth McGarry, the manager of the Hoboken Zephyrs, a dreadful team on a tremendous losing streak. Stillman discloses to McGarry the true nature of Casey and after seeing what Casey can do from the pitching mound McGarry, as desperate as he is, agrees to put him on the team.
            Casey is an instant sensation. He pitches shutout after shutout and nobody from any opposing team can figure out how to hit his impossible pitches. The Hoboken Zephyrs zoom into fourth place and make national headlines. Then tragedy strikes and Casey is hit in the head with the baseball, landing him in the hospital where it is quickly discovered by the team doctor that Casey has no heartbeat. He has, in fact, no heart. The commissioner of baseball is brought into the situation and he consults the rules, which state that a team is made up of nine men. It seems that without a heartbeat Casey isn't a man and is disqualified from any further play.
            McGarry appeals to Stillman and the inventor agrees that he can give Casey a heart. Soon after, Casey returns to the team fully healed and with a new beating heart that members of the team can hear pounding away in his chest. Casey is reinstated with the league and put back on the mound for the Zephrys. Unfortunately, there is a side effect involved in giving a Casey a heart and it quickly becomes apparent. Casey no longer strikes out opponents but throws easy pitches that batters hammer away at, sending the Zephyrs right back on the path of a losing streak. Stillman explains to McGarry and the rest of the team that Casey's newly installed heart has built a great deal of compassion within the robot and that Casey no longer can bear to strike out opposing batters. With his baseball career effectively washed out, Casey states that he intends to go into social work where he can help people.
            As a consolation gift, Stillman gives to McGarry the blueprints to Casey and it doesn't take long for it to dawn on McGarry that there is a very real possibility of creating an entire team of incredible robots.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Once upon a time there was a major league baseball team called the Hoboken Zephyrs, who during the last year of their existence wound up in last place and shortly thereafter wound up in oblivion. There is a rumor, unsubstantiated of course, that a manager named McGarry took them to the West Coast and wound up with several pennants and a couple of World Championships. This team had a pitching staff that made history. Of course, none of them smiled very much but it happens to be a fact that they pitched like nothing human. And if you are interested as to where these gentlemen come from you might check under "B" for baseball, in the Twilight Zone."

Commentary:

"It was try-out day for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Mouth McGarry, the manager of the club, stood in the dugout, one foot on the parapet, both hands shoved deep into his hip pockets, his jaw hanging several inches below his upper lip."
                          -"The Mighty Casey," Stories from the Twilight Zone 

        
            "The Mighty Casey" is an episode marred by a series of unfortunate events. To begin with, the episode is a slapstick comedy and this type of episode came across as patently unfunny on the series. Rod Serling and the other writers for the series would continue their attempts to bring comedy to the series and they would more often fail in these attempts as the screwball style of comedy had trouble finding traction on the show. More subtle forms of fantasy/comedy, as displayed in episodes such as Richard Matheson's "A World of His Own" or George Clayton Johnson's "A Penny For Your Thoughts," were much more effective on the series.
           "The Mighty Casey" also suffered from the fact that the episode had to be filmed twice. Little or no footage exists from the initial filming of the episode and none is known to have made it into the episode seen today. The reason for the re-shoot was the death of actor Paul Douglas, who portrayed Mouth McGarry in the first version, directed by Alvin Ganzer. Douglas, who had little experience in comedic roles and who also found the script unfunny, took the job due to a personal invitation from Rod Serling to appear on the series. Serling and Douglas were acquaintances from their days on the live anthology show Playhouse 90. Serling's only major reservation about hiring Paul Douglas was the aging actor's propensity for heavy drinking. Serling contacted Douglas's agent about this and was assured that Douglas no longer had a drinking problem. Satisfied, Serling and producer Buck Hougton went ahead with production.
            When Serling viewed the daily rushes from shooting, he suspected that he'd been lied to about Paul Douglas's drinking. The actor appeared haggard, mottled, and high in color on film. Douglas also had trouble delivering his lines, even brief passages, without running out of breath. When Serling contacted Douglas's agent to complain, the agent again guaranteed that Douglas was not drinking. The truth turned out to be much more tragic. Only a handful of days after the completion of photography for the episode, Paul Douglas died. The symptoms that Serling viewed on the daily rushes were those of heart failure and not excessive drinking. As Serling morbidly stated, "we were watching him literally die in front of us."
            Devastated, Serling vowed that he wasn't going to send out this knuckleball comedy of an episode with a well respected actor slowly dying on camera. Still, he was obligated to show CBS something and, after screening the completed episode, told the network executives that this could not air as is and would have to be entirely re-shot. CBS agreed that the episode was unfunny but, oddly enough, appeared to have no problem with the fact that Paul Douglas died shortly after the shoot and, as a result, were unwilling to part with the additional money required to re-shoot the episode.
            According to Marc Scott Zicree in The Twilight Zone Companion, Serling put $27,000 of his own money on the line to re-cast, re-shoot, and re-edit the episode. Director Robert Parrish was brought in and actor Jack Warden brought on to assume the role of Mouth McGarry. The planned broadcast date of the episode was pushed back from December to the following June with the re-shoot attempting to proceed as efficiently as possible. As a result, little remained on the cutting room floor and nearly all re-shot footage was left in to fill the time length required by the episode.
            Martin Grams, Jr., in his book The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic, reprints several unused or alternate intros, outros, and promos from various episodes that, for one reason or another, went unused in the final cut of the corresponding episodes. Many of these unused passages are of insignificant variation but Rod Serling's unused promo for "The Mighty Casey" is of interest because of the fact that the death of actor Paul Douglas necessitated the change. The unused promo is as follows: "Next week we take you into a state of wonderful confusion. The late Mr. Paul Douglas stars in a play we call 'The Mighty Casey.' Bring your imagination as we recount for you the trials and tribulations of a major league ball club called the Hoboken Zephyrs, a put upon manager, and the most fabulous baseball pitcher you'll ever watch in action. Next week on The Twilight Zone, 'The Mighty Casey.'"
            One result of Serling taking the initiative to fund the re-shoot from his own money was that CBS would forever after have their eyes glued to the financial books and constantly pressure Rod Serling about the budget for the series, a problem Serling often spoke about in a negative way.
            Of additional interest is an early Rod Serling script titled "Old Macdonald Had a Curve." This was one of the earliest sales from Serling to a live drama anthology. The script was performed on August 5, 1953 on Kraft Television Theatre, shortly before Serling rose to prominence with "Patterns" on the same program, a play which brought him the first of six Emmy Awards. "Old Macdonald Had a Curve" appears to have been an early attempt at "The Mighty Casey." "Old Macdonald Had a Curve" is a baseball comedy about a retired major league pitcher (played by Olin Howland) who is wasting away in a nursing home until an accident allows him to throw a wicked curveball. The old man scrambles to join his old team, a team which happens to be in the funk of a long losing streak. Though the old man suffers another accident which takes away his new curveball, he inspires his old team to go on a winning streak. The episode ends with a patent Serling wink, as the old man once again regains his curveball. "Old Macdonald Had a Curve" is also notable for featuring Jack Warden. 
            It would have been difficult for an episode with a fantastic script to come out of the other side of the production of "The Mighty Casey" with any semblance of its initial impact or resonance. By all indications, "The Mighty Casey" was a bad episode with Paul Douglas in the lead role and Alvin Ganzer behind the camera. With an under-budgeted, rushed, and poorly edited re-shoot, the episode comes off as an unfunny, uninteresting blemish on the face of a show generally held to an exacting standard. It is perhaps because of the unfortunate events that characterized its production that "The Mighty Casey" has not simply been forgotten altogether.

Grade: F

Notes:
--Rod Serling apparently found enough fascination in the story of Casey to make it the very first teleplay he adapted into prose form for the three volume short story series he wrote based on the series. "The Mighty Casey" can be found in Stories from the Twilight Zone, originally published by Bantam Books in April, 1960 and reprinted numerous times thereafter.
--Actor Jack Warden also starred in the earlier season one episode, "The Lonely." Warden also appeared in Rod Serling's original drama, "Noon on Doomsday," which appeared on April 25, 1956 on The United States Steel Hour. Serling's script was infamously censored as it originally concerned the murder of black teenager Emmett Till by white men in Mississippi in 1955. Also appearing with Warden were future Zone actors Albert Salmi, Everett Sloane, and Philip Abbott. 
--Director Alvin Ganzer also directed the season one episodes, "The Hitch-Hiker," "What You Need," and "Nightmare as a Child."
--Director Robert Parrish also directed the season one episodes, "One for the Angels" and "A Stop at Willoughby."
--Science fiction fans will recognize Abraham Sofaer from a far more memorable role than that of Dr. Stillman. Sofaer played Arch, the Kyben leader who pursued humanity's immortal guardian, Trent, through time in Harlan Ellison's Outer Limits episode, "Demon With a Glass Hand."
--Twilight Zone actor Fritz Weaver ("Third From the Sun," "The Obsolete Man") performed a reading of Serling's story adaptation of "The Mighty Casey" for Harper Audio in 1992.
--"The Mighty Casey" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Paul Dooley.
--"The Mighty Casey" was adapted into comic book form for the 1979 book Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam; a Skylark Illustrated Book) by Rod Serling, adapted by Horace J. Elias and illustrated by Carl Pfeufer.
--Rod Serling was partially inspired to write "The Mighty Casey" by the famous baseball poem, "Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888" by Ernest Thayer, about a batter whose over-confidence causes him to squander the chance to be a hero at the plate. 

--Jordan Prejean

7 comments:

  1. I agree that it's not funny, but I find it enjoyable. I think "Mr. Bevis" is worse and "Cavender is Coming" is far worse. Nice writeup!

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  2. Yeah, Jack, choosing the most rotten egg sometimes proves futile as all those episodes are really bad and believe me that "Cavender is Coming" will be receiving the same unlofty grade as this episode. I suppose this one just struck me as especially awful for whatever reasons of personal preference. Perhaps I found it somewhat enjoyable when I first viewed it but the episode has certainly not aged well for me; too much overexposure in syndication, maybe. But bad is bad and thankfully we will soon be moving on to season two and some truly great episodes. Thanks for reading and posting!

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  3. Some of the gags made me laugh, admittedly I like hammy jokes in measure. I particularly like the joke about losing to the Hicksville bullets, And when the manager tried to get Casey to shake the hand of the GM. I think Serling sensed that there was something deeper in the story but he struggled to bring it to the surface. There's something about this episode that reminds me of after-hours the episode that immediately precedes about inhuman beings aspiring or becoming human.

    I also kept comparing the episode in my head to a Charles Bukowski story in 'Notes From a dirty old man' Where some version of Jesus Christ makes an appearance on a baseball team

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  4. I agree that Serling probably sensed there was more to this story than he was able to pull off because he kept this story, at least some version of it, in his head for years before bringing it to the show. I don't know if I said this in the post on "After Hours" but I think Serling was influenced by the work of a writer named John Collier, who had one of his stories, "The Chaser," adapted for the show, and in particular a short story titled "Evening Primrose," which was a much darker influence than would be apparent in an episode like "The Mighty Casey." The episode was a mess to shoot as detailed in the post and I think by the end Serling was probably ready to just be done with it. It reminds me of a lot of standard sit-com fair of the day in which shows were willing to go really over the top with broad and sometimes outrageous comedy to get laughs. On its own it's not terrible but in relation to consistent high quality of the show and Serling's best scripts it just doesn't cut it.

    Haven't read the Bukowski but I will seek it out. Thanks for reading.

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  5. Regardless of the negative comments about "The Mighty Casey", the original film of this episode should have been preserved for the sake of Paul Douglas' many fans. His last scene was shot on Thursday, Sept. 10th and he died on Friday, Sept,. 11th. Posterity is the big LOSER on this unreleased episode, just as it was when David Janssen's last day of filming "Father Damien Leper Priest" on Tuesday, February 12th, 1980 was never released for the sake of his many fans.

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  6. While The Mighty Casey is far from my favorite TZ episode I don't rate it as that bad, am always a bit surprised when I read it in "ten worst" type lists of the series, as I think it's about average. My views may be prejudiced by Casey being one my first Zones, and it was one of those kind of shows boys talked about in the schoolyard or when walking home from school (as in "didja see the blankety blank on TV last night...?"). It was sort of one of "those episodes" of the sort kids, and boys especially, like and remember for a long time.

    The story even today plays as kind of larger than life, and it appears that Rod Serling was a baseball fan. Every little bit helps. I think The Hoboken Zephyrs name for the ball club is a sly reference to the much beloved, perenielly hard luck and only recently departed from New York Brooklyn Dodgers. It helped that Jack Warden had a flair for comedy, that he had a "baseball face" (and he played a baseball fan in the movie 12 Angry men). There's an "old American" quality to this episode, and maybe because the era it's set in has long passed into history it fails to resonate as it may have,--and for many probably did--way back when it was first broadcast.

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  7. The Twilight Zone airs on Netflix. The problem is that college kids with no connection to this era are in charge of rating these classic shows, good or bad. This series rates ONE STAR out of five. Rather hard to believe.

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