Friday, January 27, 2012

Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine

First issue, April, 1981
                Though Rod Serling sold syndication rights for The Twilight Zone to CBS for a lump sum at the end of the show's original run, the Serling estate retained marketing and merchandising rights to the show's namesake. In the early 1980s, Carol Serling was approached with an offer to begin a magazine bearing the name of her late husband's most famous creation. At the editorial helm would be T.E.D. Klein, a noted authority on science fiction and horror as well as a strong up-and-coming fiction writer. Impressed by Klein's vision for the publication, Carol Serling agreed to allow The Twilight Zone to appear on the magazine's cover with the stipulation that her husband's name precede the title. Thus, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine was created.
             Backed financially by Montcalm Publishing and retaining copyright under the banner TZ Publications, the first issue arrived mid-spring, cover dated April, 1981. The magazine lasted another eight years, spawned a digest-sized sister publication (Night Cry), went through multiple schedule changes and three additional editors, and finally closed out with the June 1989 issue. In the years between, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine set the standard for genre magazine publishing and offered the most dependable market for established and aspiring writers of horror and dark fantasy fiction, publishing new work by the giants of the genre as well as work by up-and-coming writers, many of whom would go on to highly successful careers. The magazine also published classics of the genre by writers having since fallen into obscurity, and featured editorials on virtually every subject and within every medium encompassed in the classic and contemporary fields of science fiction and fantasy.
                Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine published virtually every important speculative fiction writer of its era. Some of the writers to see their fiction published between the pages of the magazine include: Stephen King, Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, David Morrell, Joe R. Lansdale, Joyce Carol Oates, Dan Simmons, Spider Robinson, Robert Sheckley, Charles L. Grant, Richard Christian Matheson, Fritz Leiber, Steve Rasnic Tem, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Joe Haldeman, Tanith Lee, George R.R. Martin, David J. Schow, Dean Koontz, and Lisa Tuttle. The magazine also published several treatments and short stories written by Rod Serling, as well as the work of past masters such as M.R. James, J. Sheridan LeFanu, and William Hope Hodgson.
                The editorial work for the magazine was superb. Contributions included essays on literary history by Mike Ashley, E.F. Bleiler, and Klein, op-ed essays and artwork by Gahan Wilson, film reviews by Theodore Sturgeon, book reviews by Robert Silverberg, interviews conducted by Stanley Wiater, and anthology television episode guides written by Marc Scott Zicree (The Twilight Zone), David J. Schow (The Outer Limits), and J. Michael Straczynski (with his wife Kathryn M. Drennan) (Rod Serling's Night Gallery). The success of the magazine in its early years was a strong factor when CBS decided to revive the show for television in 1985. The magazine offered the perfect platform for promoting the new incarnation of The Twilight Zone. Each issue typically featured one or more interviews with leading writers and filmmakers that included Richard Matheson, Peter Straub, Robert Bloch, Stephen King, John Saul, Oliver Stone, Dean Koontz, and Harlan Ellison, among others. 

June, 1982 issue, containing Matheson's "The Doll." 
Perhaps the most significant contribution to the magazine was the lost or forgotten ephemora from the original series of The Twilight Zone.  Each issue printed a complete teleplay for an original series episode (the first two years being devoted almost exclusively to the teleplays of Rod Serling). In later issues, the magazine would print story treatments and teleplays that were initially rejected or left unused, many by the original series's final producer, William Froug, who rejected several teleplays from the show's most accomplished creators, including Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, and George Clayton Johnson. Among the most interesting items to first see print in the pages of the magazine was George Clayton Johnson's short story "Sea Change" about a sailor whose hand is cut off in an accident and from whose amputated hand grows a malevolent doppelganger intent on destroying its mirror image. Johnson originally offered the story treatment as a potential episode but the treatment was rejected on the grounds that its subject matter, especially the cutting off of the hand, was beyond the acceptable grounds for the show's subject matter (read: the sponsor, a food vendor, didn't want its potential audience to be put off eating its product). Another interesting item was Richard Matheson's teleplay, "The Doll." Initially rejected for production by William Froug (under the pretense that it was too many "doll" episodes between Charles Beaumont's fourth season episode "Miniature" and Jerry Sohl's fifth season episode "Living Doll"), Matheson's teleplay was published in the June, 1982 issue of the magazine and was later dramatized on Steven Spielberg's anthology television series Amazing Stories on May 4, 1986. Actor John Lithgow (who turned in a memorable performance in 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie) won an Emmy Award for his performance in the episode.
                T.E.D. Klein relinquished editorial duties of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Magazine with the July/August, 1985 issue, leaving to pursue a career as a full-time ficiton writer (and subsequently producing the highly regarded works The Ceremonies and Dark Gods). Michael Blaine stepped in as editor, concluding his run on the magazine with the August, 1986 issue. Robin Bromley edited a single issue, October, 1986, before Tappan King assumed the editor role for the remainder of the magazine's run. Alan Rodgers was associate editor of the magazine. 
              Each editor favored a different style for the magazine. T.E.D. Klein tailored much of the magazine to feature coverage of the titan horror novelists of the era (King, Straub, Bloch, Saul, etc.) as well as explore the classic period of the genre (roughly the 1890's through the pulps) by including some fine essays on the subject of weird fiction authors as diverse as Arthur Machen and L.P. Hartley. Klein also kept an eye firmly on the magazine's namesake, giving author Marc Scott Zicree space to compile his essential episode guide (later expanded into the seminal Twilight Zone Companion), as well as including teleplays from the series (a feature which would appear and disappear with irregularity under the other editors), and include essays such as George Clayton Johnson's "Writing for the Twilight Zone." Carol Serling also seemed to have had a closer relationship to the magazine during Klein's editorship. 
          Micheal Blaine maintained the show-by-show guides (Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, The Outer Limits, 'Way Out) which became a useful regular feature and continued to focus attention on editorial features such as original essays, reviews, etc., with added attention on current film and television programs. Blaine eschewed the painted covers that characterized Klein's editorship in exchange for images from films and television shows. 
            Tappan King brought back painted covers to the magazine but the space allotted to long-running feature articles and essays began to shrink, with focus deepening on original fiction and film coverage. King did re-focus much of the magazine's content on the original series of the The Twilight Zone, including the excellent final issue. 
             Original fiction and book and film reviews were the constant throughout the magazine.  


          In 1984, a new digest sized magazine arrived on newsstands. TZ Special #1 appeared as a heading,  below that: Night Cry: 20 Tales of Heartstopping Terror from Rod Serling's the Twilight Zone Magazine. This special publication consisted of editor T.E.D. Klein's selection of the best short stories to appear in Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Magazine over the previous three years. It wasn't the first time Klein put out an all-fiction special issue. Klein compiled Great Stories from Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine, a projected annual volume which only ran a single year (it was released in December, 1982 as a 1983 annual), although it did assume numbering with the magazine (volume 2, number 9) despite not being sent to subscribers. Klein's new fiction digest magazine would shorten its title to simply Night Cry and continue as a quarterly periodical that published new fiction from some of the most recognizable names in dark fantasy along with reprints from The Twilight Zone Magazine. Whereas the fiction in Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine encompassed a broad spectrum of horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction, Night Cry devoted itself exclusively to horror fiction. Beginning  with the Summer, 1985 issue, Night Cry saw an additional ten issues published, concluding with the Fall, 1987 issue.  The magazine was edited by T.E.D. Klein until the Winter, 1985 issue when Alan Rodgers took over editorial duties until the magazine's end. "From the editors of Rod Serling's the Twilight Zone Magazine" appeared as a heading on every issue of Night Cry. Artist J.K. Potter provided memorable cover art for several issues. 

Here is a checklist for Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Magazine and Night Cry.
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine:
1981- April, May, June, July, Aug, Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec
1982- Jan, Feb, March, Apr, May, June, July, Aug, Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec
1983- Jan/Feb, Mar/Apr, May/Jun, July/Aug, Sept/Oct, Nov/Dec (+ Annual)
1984- Jan/Feb, Mar/Apr, May/Jun, July/Aug, Sept/Oct, Nov/Dec
1985- Jan/Feb, Mar/Apr, May/Jun, July/Aug, Sept/Oct, Nov/Dec
1986- Feb, Apr, June, Aug, Oct, Dec
1987- Feb, Apr, June, Aug, Oct, Dec
1988- Feb, Apr, June, Aug, Oct, Dec
1989- Feb, Apr, Jun
Night Cry:
1984- Night Cry/ Twilight Zone Special
1985- Summer, Fall, Winter
1986- Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
1987- Spring, Summer, Fall
                Additional information about Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Magazine, including full contents list for each issue and cover artist credits, can be found at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database with the following link: Internet Speculative Fiction Database
                A full cover gallery of both Rod Serling's the Twilight Zone Magazine and Night Cry can be accessed with the following link: TZ Magazine & Night Cry Cover Gallery
                For those interested in going beyond Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Magazine and exploring what other genre periodicals have offered in the way of coverage of the original series, here is a sampling of some magazines which include Zone coverage.

-Fantastic Monsters of the Films, issue #1, 1962:

           
 This criminally underrated and largely forgotten magazine premiered during the boom of monster magazines but took a much more mature approach to genre material than most other publications of the kind. The magazine was developed by special effects technician and artist Paul Blaisdell and film historian and character actor Bob Burns. Ron Haydock was the editor. The first issue featured "Terrors from the Twilight Zone," a short photo feature of Rod Serling's second season episode "Eye of the Beholder" (aka "The Private World of Darkness"). 

-Gamma, issue #1, 1963:
       

Gamma was a short lived science fiction and fantasy magazine edited by Charles E. Fritch and William F. Nolan. If The Twilight Zone had an "official" magazine during the course of the original series, it would have been Gamma. The magazine was broad in scope but essentially functioned as a showcase for "The Group," the collection of southern California writers which included Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Rod Serling, William F. Nolan, John Tomerlin, and their friends and those they admired. Those names should be familiar to Zone fans. The first issue of Gamma featured an interview with Rod Serling. Read the full issue here.


-Starlog, issue #15, August, 1978:

                The first excellent coverage of the original series in a major genre periodical occurred in this issue. An 18-page special was devoted to The Twilight Zone and consisted of a condensed biography of Rod Serling and an exploration of the show's impact on science fiction. A basic but complete episode guide to the original series is provided, as well. The major bonus of the issue is a full-color pull out painting of Rod Serling against a celestial background with the printed transcript of the most famous opening for The Twilight Zone. Starlog would continue to carry the Twilight Zone banner for many years and through dozens of issues, with further coverage of the original series and its creators, examinations of the first Twilight Zone revival series, and interviews with actors, producers, and writers of both series. Read this issue of Starlog.
-Fantastic Films, issue #18, Sept. 1980
                  This magazine was launched as a competitor to Starlog and Cinefantastique. This issue features a retrospective of the series by Jack C. Harris and an episode guide by James Delson. Interestingly, the description of the feature is "a journey into the sixth dimension of the imagination." The show is known for covering the fifth dimension. Rod Serling originally wrote the narration for the pilot episode as the sixth dimension until producer William Self inquired as to what was the fifth dimension. 

-Filmfax, issue # 75-76, Oct./Jan. 2000

                Featuring evocative cover art by Harley Brown, this 40th anniversary celebration of the original series is the single best issue of any periodical devoted to The Twilight Zone. It comes highly recommended. Highlights include interviews conducted by Matthew R. Bradley with original series writers Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, and Jerry Sohl, award-winning author Christopher Conlon's seminal essay "Southern California Sorcerers," which later inspired a collection of short stories, and a reprint of Charles Beaumont's essay "The Seeing I," written for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as a firsthand preview of the original series prior to the airing of the first episode.  
-Rue Morgue Magazine, issue # 35, October, 2003
                This issue of the excellent Canadian genre film magazine is one of the annual Halloween issues with a feature story on The Twilight Zone writer Richard Matheson, the bulk of which is devoted to an examination of his contribution to the seminal science fiction anthology series.
-Filmfax Plus, issue # 119, Winter, 2008
                This issue is notable for another excellent cover painting by artist Harley Brown inspired by the original series episodes "Eye of the Beholder" (a.ka. "The Private World of Darkness"), "Nick of Time," and "The Invaders." This issue also features a lengthy interview with Del Reisman, associate producer for the second season of the original series.  

-Dark Discoveries, issue #14, Summer, 2009 

              This was a special "Fifty Years of the Twilight Zone" issue, edited by James R. Beach and Jason V. Brock. Like the Filmfax special issue, this issue is full of treasures, including stories, teleplays, and essays by Marc Scott Zicree, John Tomerlin, Roger Anker, Earl Hamner, William F. Nolan, Richard Matheson, Tony Albarella, and Christopher Conlon. 

-Fangoria, issue # 301, March, 2011

                With a wonderful cover painting of the Mystic Seer from the original series episode "Nick of Time," the feature story of this issue of the seminal horror entertainment magazine is devoted to stalwart Twilight Zone writer Richard Matheson. Though the feature covers the entirety of Matheson's career, a great amount of the editorial is, of course, devoted to the author's work on The Twilight Zone. 



-The Greatest Sci-Fi Films & TV of All Time, Volume One, 2011
SciFi Now Magazine and its parent company, Imagine Publishing, released this special edition one-off magazine in late 2011. Half of its contents are devoted to science fiction film and the other half to science fiction television. The first television show covered is The Twilight Zone in an eight page feature titled "The Complete Guide to The Twilight Zone." Though the feature is far from a complete guide to the show, it does offer an interesting, if basic, examination of the show. The article gives a brief history of the original series and a brief biography of its creator, Rod Serling. It goes on to provide a top-ten episode list, a list of Twilight Zone spoofs, a brief examination of the two revival series and the feature film, and concludes with a look at some of the actors and actresses that have appeared in Twilight Zone episodes and gone on from there to much more prominent careers.

-Famous Monsters of Filmland, issue # 259, Jan/Feb 2012
                Featuring an outstanding alternate cover depicting the most famous images from The Twilight Zone, this issue of the first ever magazine for monster fans is an impressive tribute to the original series. Highlights include interviews with Carol Serling, Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, and Earl Hamner, Jr., an article on Charles Beaumont and his influence, an examination  of Twilight Zone: The Movie, and the Twilight Zone Radio Dramas. This issue also comes highly recommended.  
--Jordan Prejean

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Elegy"

A long way from home.

"Elegy"
Season One, Episode 20
Original Air Date: February 19, 1960
                                               
Cast:
Jeremy Wickwire: Cecil Kellaway
Captain James Webber: Kevin Hagen
Peter Kirby: Don Dubbins
Kurt Meyers: Jeff Morrow

Crew:
Writer: Charles Beaumont (adapted from his short story).
Director: Douglas Heyes
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and William Ferrari
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and Budd S. Friend
Assistant Director: Edward Denault
Casting: Mildred Gusse
Editor: Joseph Gluck
Sound: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino
Music: Nathan Van Cleave

And now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week on the Twilight Zone we offer you the unbelievable along with an explanation. Three men visit a strange new world with people, cars, houses—the works. But something is wrong on the scene. Something very abnormal amidst the normal. You’ll see what I mean when next week we bring you ‘Elegy’ by Charles Beaumont. It stars Cecil Kellaway. Thank you and good night.”

Rod Serling’s opening narration:
“The time is the day after tomorrow. The place: a far off corner of the universe.  The cast of characters: three men lost among the stars, three men sharing the common urgency of all men lost…they’re looking for home. And in a moment they’ll find home, not a home that is a place to be seen but a strange, unexplainable experience to be felt.”

Summary:
         Two hundred years into the future, three astronauts land on a strange asteroid because their spacecraft is out of fuel. The atmosphere of the asteroid is identical to that of Earth. With no alternative, the men decide to search their new home for supplies.
         They immediately notice that the asteroid seems to be inhabited. They stumble upon a farm house and see a man taking a break from the day’s work.  They approach but find that he stares back at them with a blank expression. They enter a town and find more of the same. A group of gamblers sit motionless around a poker table. Contestants at a beauty pageant stand frozen upon the stage, staring back at a silent, lifeless audience. The sounds of a marching band echo through the town square, yet the band stands immobilized in the lobby of the town hall, prerecorded melodies pouring out of a hidden speaker. The three men toss forward a stockpile of ideas but can’t seem to conceive of a rational reason for why everyone is frozen. Even more alarming is their realization that this place is now their home.
         They walk along, looking at more of the buildings and constructing more theories, when they come to a house with an elderly, white-haired gentleman sitting on the front porch reading a newspaper in a rocking chair. They assume they he is frozen like everyone else. To their amazement they find that he can speak and move quite efficiently. He tells them that his name is Jeremy Wickwire and politely invites them inside. There he pours them a drink and explains the mystery. They have arrived at Happy Glades, a high end mortuary built on a drifting asteroid near the end of the twentieth century. It’s a place where people can posthumously live out their dreams for all eternity. Using an “Eternifying Fluid” which prevents the body from decaying, people can customize how they want to spend eternity. The men ask Wickwire how he has survived over two hundred years and he informs them that he is not a man but an android, designed specifically to be the caretaker of Happy Glades. 
        Wickwire asks the men where they would most like to be precisely at that moment. They all agree that they greatly desire to be on their ship headed home. It’s at this time that they begin to feel the effects of the Eternifying Fluid that is now coursing through their veins. They drop to the floor in agony and stare up at Wickwire in absolute horror, asking him why he would want to kill them. He tells them that Happy Glades is a peaceful place. A place free from war and destruction and all of the atrocities created by man. And as long as there are men there will be no peace.
Cut to a scene of Jeremy Wickwire inside a spaceship. He is feather-dusting and keeping things tidy. Seated at the control boards are our three heroes, staring quietly into forever on their way home.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Kirby, Webber and Meyers, three men lost.  They shared a common wish, a simple one—they wanted to be aboard their ship, headed for home.  And fate, a laughing fate, a practical jokester with a smile that stretched across the stars, saw to it that they got their wish, with just one reservation: the wish came true, but only in the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
       “Elegy” marks the second contribution from Twilight Zone heavyweight Charles Beaumont. A story swimming with imagination that is constantly fluctuating between sparkling humor and anxiety-laced dread. I’ll preface this commentary by saying that “Elegy” was, as far as I can remember, the first episode of The Twilight Zone that I ever saw. I watched it in a high school English class. I remember that I wrote a paper on it, the premise of which was forgotten probably as soon as I handed it in. But it must have left an impression on me. I remember thinking that this was the most aesthetically enjoyable type of fantasy program that I had ever seen, one that managed to grab my attention immediately by placing the fantasy in a familiar situation.
Like many episodes of show, the reason “Elegy” is so vivid is that it’s a reflection of reality, a slideshow of images that are as familiar as parts of the cultural fabric of the twentieth century. It’s genuine, shine-polished Norman Rockwell Americana at its absolute finest--marching bands, beauty pageants and all. Only it’s horribly flawed. It isn’t the America it appears to be. Beaumont was a very socially aware writer that seemed to be deeply interested and concerned with the unspoken weaknesses of the world in which he lived. He was a regular contributor of social commentary to Playboy and several other magazines and he often used his fiction as a platform for social critique. Taken at face value, “Elegy” is a cautionary tale about nuclear annihilation and the inevitable self-destruction of the human race, not dissimilar from hundreds of post- apocalyptic science fiction stories from around the same time. But Beaumont’s cynicism stings more personally than this. There is an underlying current of unbridled satire in this story, and apparently its target is our own narcissism. It seems that Beaumont is attempting to show us how we view ourselves and want others to view us as well.  The entire premise of this episode, the idea that people would build a sprawling customized cemetery on a drifting asteroid in the middle of outer space, is absurd, as one of the astronauts points out. But the absurdity exists for a reason. Beaumont’s trying to draw the viewer’s attention to the fact that most people value their own self-image enough that even after they die they want to be put on display for others to see, like a piece of art in a museum.
Misleading android Jeremy Wickwire is played by the great Cecil Kellaway. It was a smart choice for Beaumont to leave Wickwire’s intentions ambiguous. He is shrouded in mystery for the entire episode. Even by the end of it we are still not sure who he is exactly or what purpose he serves at this strange place, or if this is in fact an actual mortuary. The audience witnesses Wickwire explaining to the three befuddled astronauts that he’s an android serving as a caretaker in this bizarre, wax museum of a mortuary. But this is Wickwire’s explanation, not Beaumont’s. And the audience is unable to depend on Wickwire’s explanation because he proves himself to be an unreliable character when he invites these three astronauts into his home, assuring them that everything is alright and that they have no cause to worry, and then proceeds to murder them without provocation, his tone abruptly changing from whimsical, elderly gentleman to a much darker character. And in the final scene he is back to his smiling, genteel self, going on about his business in an increasingly unsettling manner. So the audience is mostly left to form their own opinion about Jeremy Wickwire. He could be a refined, morally conscious, two hundred year-old android faithfully trying to protect this very sacred place or he could be an utterly insane kind of unregulated taxidermist, running wild through his own personal museum of collectable human beings.
Unlike Richard Matheson, whose adapted Twilight Zone scripts usually stuck very closely to his original short stories, Beaumont often took many liberties with his own source material. It’s curious that Beaumont would choose “Elegy” as his second script for the series.  It had not appeared in any of his three original short story collections and for the most part hasn’t had an extensive publishing history. It was originally published in the February, 1953 issue of Imagination but according to close friend William F. Nolan in his anthology A Sea of Space it was written several years earlier under the guidance and influence of Beaumont’s literary mentor, Ray Bradbury. The original story, while still quite enjoyable, is really more of a sketch than a fully imagined story and is probably no more than a thousand words. In the original story there is an entire crew of Astronauts instead of just three, and the tableaux they witness seem grimmer and more unsettling than the ones that end up on screen. For instance, one of the men walks into a butcher shop but it’s pitch dark inside and he has to feel his way around the store, eventually running into cuts of raw meat, mistaking it for human flesh. Another walks into an operating room in which a woman lies naked on a table with motionless doctors and nurses stationed all around her holding scalpels and needles and saws in their hands. These scenes were no doubt changed because the producers felt they were too suggestively morbid for primetime television. In Beaumont’s original script there was a scene where one of the astronauts wandered by a tableau of a race track, probably inspired by Beaumont’s interest in auto racing. But, as Marc Scott Zicree points out in The Twilight Zone Companion, director Douglas Heyes wanted to scrap this scene because he knew that the cars would not appear to be frozen in motion, they would simply look like parked cars. Beaumont was reportedly irritated at this suggestion and reluctantly wrote the beauty pageant scene in its place.
The biggest technical hang-up with this episode was the fact that real actors were hired to portray the human statues in the mortuary. No matter how skilled the actor, it is physically impossible for a person to stand totally motionless. To shoot the tableau scenes director Douglas Heyes knew that he would have to keep the camera moving at all times so that the viewer would never be able to see the actors moving. For the most part this is done successfully, but there are several scenes where the actors movements are quite noticeable (check out the scene where the couple is slow dancing to a violin quartet, both of them holding glasses of champagne; the actors are quite still but the champagne is clearly not. There is also the lengthy scene in the crowded town hall where several of the actors can be seen blinking profusely). Again, this isn’t a major blunder and only works against the episode conceptually. Over time I have found that these nuances are part of the episode’s charm as they give the impression that Happy Glades is all a fa├žade, which makes it even more frightening, the same way that no attempt was made to mask the fact that these men are clearly not in any kind of town at all but on a Hollywood backlot.  Everything in this place seems quite obviously phony. There is also another interesting shot where two of the astronauts are seen standing on a bridge. Instead of a filmed shot Heyes, or possibly film editor Joseph Gluck, inserted a noticeably grainy still photograph instead. This may have been a technical oversight never intended to make the final cut.
Although it has its shortcomings and may not be an episode which will suit everyone’s tastes, “Elegy” is a highly atmospheric episode with its own kind of charm and is one of my personal favorites from the first season.

Grade: B

Notes:
--Director Douglas Heyes directed several additional episodes of the series, including the classic episodes "The After Hours," "The Howling Man," "Eye of the Beholder," and "The Invaders." Heyes wrote three episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, "The Dead Man" (based on the story by Fritz Leiber and which Heyes also directed), "The Housekeeper," and "Brenda" (based on the story by Margaret St. Clair), the latter two being written under the pseudonym Matthew Howard.
--“Elegy" was originally published in the February, 1953 issue of Imagination: Stories of Science and Fantasy. It was also published in William F. Nolan’s science fiction anthology A Sea of Space (Bantam, 1970) as well as The Twilight Zone: the Original Stories (Greenberg, Matheson, Waugh, eds.  Avon, 1985; MJF, 1997).
--Cecil Kellaway appears in another episode written by Charles Beaumont, season four’s “Passage on the Lady Anne."
--"Elegy" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Blair Underwood.


--Brian Durant

Monday, January 9, 2012

"The Purple Testament"

William Reynolds as the doomed Lt. Fitzgerald sees death in his own reflection.
"The Purple Testament"
Season One, Episode 19
Original Air Date: February 12, 1960

Cast:
Lt. Fitzgerald: William Reynolds
Capt. Riker: Dick York
Capt. Gunther: Barney Phillips
Colonel: S. John Launer
Smitty: Michael Vandever
Sergeant: William Phipps
Driver of Jeep: Warren Oates
Orderly: Paul Mazursky
Freeman: Marc Cavell
Harmonica Player: Ron Masak

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Richard L. Bare
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and William Ferrari
Set Decoration: Rudy Butler and Henry Grace
Assistant Director: Edward Denault
Casting: Mildred Gusse
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino 
Music: Lucien Morawack (composer) & Lud Gluskin (conductor)

And now, Mr. Serling:
"Next week we show you the face of war, but the kind of portrait we venture to say you've never seen before. Dick York and William Reynolds star in 'The Purple Testament,' the story of a man who can forecast death. That's next week on The Twilight Zone, 'The Purple Testament.' We hope you'll join us. Thank you and goodnight."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Infantry platoon, U.S. Army, Philippine Islands, 1945. These are the faces of the young men who fight; as if some omniscient painter had mixed a tube of oils that were at one time earth brown, dust gray, blood red, beard black, and fear yellow-white. And these men were the models. For this is the province of combat and these are the faces of war."

Summary:
                Lt. Fitzgerald returns with an American platoon to base camp with a list of those soldiers injured and those dead after a mission. Capt. Riker, Fitzgerald's direct superior and close friend, notices that "Fitz," as Lt. Fitzgerald is known, has taken the casualties of the latest mission much harder than he'd taken those from previous missions. When pressed about the issue, Fitz reveals a scrap of paper upon which are written four names, the exact four names of the soldiers lost in the current mission. When pressed further, Fitz reveals that he'd written those names down a day before the mission, that he'd had the foresight of who would die the following day. Riker initially scoffs at the idea that Fitz has inexplicably developed the hellish talent to foretell an individual's death. Fitz is unable to explain where the ability came from or what exactly it entails (though he generally describes it as a telling light on the face of man marked for death), seems to be in torment both at his newfound curse and Riker's disbelief. He dreads looking into the faces of the men in the platoon.
                Fearing that his lieutenant and close friend may be cracking under the strain of the war, Riker confides the situation to the chief medical officer, Captain Gunther. Gunther is as skeptical as Riker about the true nature of Fitz's ability but believes that Fitz should be taken off active duty to undergo observation.
                While Riker and Gunther talk, Fitz is in the same hospital visiting an injured member of the platoon named Smitty. Before leaving the young man's bedside, Fitz sees the telling light in the Smitty's face. This causes Fitz to temporarily black out. When he is awakened by an orderly, both men discover that Smitty has died.
                A confrontation ensues when Fitz goes downstairs and meets Riker and Gunther. Fitz, now obviously under terrible strain, tells the men that he saw the warning of death on Smitty's face moments before the young soldier died. He implores the two skeptical men to believe him and storms off after sarcastically suggesting that his eyes be taped closed or plucked from his skull so that he won't have to look into any more faces.
                Fitz is allowed to remain on command for the following mission. Moments before departing a meeting with Riker, Fitz sees the death light on his superior's face. Though he tries to warn his friend, Riker won't hear any of it and insist that when they return from the mission Fitz will see that it has all been a coincidence. Fitz departs hastily. Riker, in a moment of doubt about his own future, takes a moment to leave behind his wedding band along with pictures of his wife and children before departing. In a tense seen outside, Fitz is nervously watched by the members of the platoon while he looks into their faces. One soldier can't bear it and begs Fitz to tell who will make it and who won't. Riker intervenes and attempts to dispel all rumors of Fitz's ability to foretell death. He puts it to Fitz to dispell the rumors and, after a moment of contemplation, Fitz goes along with Riker and says that it's all a misunderstanding.
                The platoon returns a couple of hours later with only one casualty, Captain Riker. Fitz is notified that he has been granted a medical leave of stay and is to pack his bags to report to headquarters. A Jeep has been sent to drive him the four hours away from base camp. While gathering his gear, Fitz peers into a shaving mirror and sees the death light on his own face. At first terrified, Fitz accepts his fate and climbs into the Jeep with a young soldier. They are warned that the road is booby-trapped with mines. When the young driver tells Fitz that they have a four hour trip ahead of them, Fitz tells him that he doesn't think it will be that long.
                A short time later, while the men of the camp are getting some much needed rest and relaxation, they hear a thunderous explosion in the distance. Knowing it to be an explosion, such as the detonation of a mine, the men instead convince themselves that it is only thunder and go back to what they were doing.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"From William Shakespeare, Richard the Third, a small excerpt. The line reads, 'He has come to open the purple testament of bleeding war.' And for Lieutenant Fitzgerald, A Company, First Platoon, the testament is closed. Lieutenant Fitzgerald has found The Twilight Zone."


The ghost light marks Smitty (Michael Vandever) for death.
Commentary:
                Rod Serling used his harrowing experiences with the 11th Airborne Division during WWII to center much of his writings on the theme of war, a theme thus very prevalent on The Twilight Zone. Though writer Richard Matheson penned the first war episode, "The Last Flight," and other series writers would provide memorable war episodes (notably Montgomery Pittman's "Two"), the majority of the war-related episodes would be penned by Rod Serling. Serling would use war as a backdrop upon which to drop an element of fantasy to bring across the general point that war is hell and if it doesn't outright take a character's life, it will drastically damage it. Serling's war episodes are always character driven, sometimes with little to none of the action set-pieces common to war films. The battleground was simply a stage upon which the characters could act out the particular aspects of human drama that Serling wanted to explore. Though it is poorly paced and certainly a predictable episode, "The Purple Testament" is a powerful meditation on the relationship between war and death, and would be the first of many war episodes in which Serling would display some of his strongest, character-driven writing.
                William Reynolds gives an effective, melancholy performance in the lead as the tortured and doomed Lieutenant Fitzgerald. Twilight Zone repeat performers Dick York and Barney Phillips give serviceable acting support, though, it must be said, York's innate quirkiness feels out of place in a military setting, despite the actor's attempt at a gruff countenance. The episode suffers from a very thin premise and is mainly a collection of circular dialogue leading to an inevitable climax. Still, the dialogue, always the strongest aspect of Serling's scripts, is certainly evocative of character and provides verisimilitude to the setting of jungle combat. Serling's dialogue elicits a strong emotional performance from his actors and, fortunately, the cast for this episode have the skill to bring it off. The simplicity of the premise actually works in the episode's favor as The Twilight Zone was always more interested in the effects of a fantasy element upon the characters than with overwrought explanations or scientific explorations of that fantasy element. It is one of the charms of the show that the viewer is not burdened with a stricture of scientific rationalism in which is explored some extraordinary person or event. In this way, The Twilight Zone functions in the exact opposite manner of an anthology series it is often (unfairly) compared with, The Outer Limits. The latter series dealt largely with the effect of extraordinary people upon the ordinary reality. The Twilight Zone was far more comfortable exploring the effect of something extraordinary upon an ordinary individual. The viewer is given a character they can relate to and a convincing reality to watch both unravel in an enlightening and often terrifying, way.
                Despite the occasional use of stock footage for the brief battle sequences, Richard L. Bare's direction is peppered with some superb camera shots, notably a 360 degree moving shot of Fitzgerald's point of view as he looks over the members of his platoon, and another of Fitzgerald gazing down at the broken remnants of his shaving mirror, each jagged shard reflecting his terrified reflection after seeing the sign of his own impending doom.
                Serling would improve overall with his scripts for other WW-II themed episodes ("King Nine Will Not Return" and especially with the similarly-themed "A Quality of Mercy") and he would also tackle the Civil War ("The Passersby" and "Still Valley") and several times explore the drama of a man-made doomsday ("Time Enough At Last," "The Shelter," and "The Old Man in the Cave"). It is interesting to note here that actor Dean Stockwell was originally cast as Lieutenant Fitzgerald but pulled out of the episode, leaving the role open for William Reynolds. Stockwell would return to the show and put in an excellent performance in the third season episode "A Quality of Mercy," another WWII-themed character study scripted by Serling.
               An interesting story connected with this episode is that William Reynolds and director Richard L. Bare were involved in a plane crash on February 12, 1960, the original air date of "The Purple Testament." Flying back to Miami after filming the series pilot The Islander for MGM, the engines failed on a small passenger plane carrying five people. One passenger was killed while Bare, with two broken legs, and Reynolds, with a broken ankle and several broken ribs, swam on their backs four miles to safety. Reynolds later recounted that although Cayuga Productions agreed not to air the episode upon hearing of the plane crash, out of respect for Reynolds and Bare, as there was no word on survivors at that point, the episode aired as scheduled. The terrible irony had Reynolds not survived the crash would have been airing an episode in which he featured as a man that foresees his own death on the day of his actual death. As it happened, both Reynolds and Bare made a full recovery from their injuries.
                With "The Purple Testament," we begin to see Serling finding a clear thematic niche for his scripts, something the show in general struggled with during a first season in which the series attempted virtually every type of fantasy story. As said before, others attempted the war-themed episode but this type of story on The Twilight Zone was truly the province of veteran Rod Serling.

Grade: C

Notes:
-Dick York also starred in the second season episode "A Penny For Your Thoughts."
-Warren Oates also starred in the fifth season episode "The 7th is Made Up of Phantoms."
-Barney Phillips appeared in supporting roles for three additional episodes, the second season's "A Thing About Machines" and "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" as well as the fourth season episode "Miniature."
-Serling erroneously attributes the line of Shakespeare in his closing narration to the play Richard III when it is actually taken from Richard II.
-“The Purple Testament” was adapted into a short story by Walter B. Gibson for Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Revisited (Grosset & Dunlap, 1964). 
-"The Purple Testament" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Michael Rooker. 

--Jordan Prejean