Monday, May 1, 2017

"Little Girl Lost"


“Little Girl Lost”
Season Three, Episode 91
Original Air Date: March 16, 1962

Cast:
Ruth Miller: Sarah Marshall
Chris Miller: Robert Sampson
Bill: Charles Aidman
Bettina (Tina) Miller: Tracy Stratford
Voice of Tina: Rhoda Williams

Crew:
Writer: Richard Matheson (based on his short story)
Director: Paul Stewart
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Merrill Pye
Set Decoration: Keough Gleason
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Robert Walker
Editor: Jason H. Bernie
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Bernard Herrmann

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week an excursion into a strange and totally different dimension. We’ll bring you a story by Richard Matheson called ‘Little Girl Lost.’ And this one we guarantee is not the kind found on a police docket or in a Missing Persons Bureau. When this little girl is lost, we’re talking about out of this world. I hope you can join us next week and find out precisely where she’s gone.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“Missing: one frightened little girl. Name: Bettina Miller. Description: six years of age, average height and build, light brown hair, quite pretty. Last seen being tucked in bed by her mother a few hours ago. Last heard: ‘ay, there’s the rub,’ as Hamlet put it. For Bettina Miller can be heard quite clearly, despite the rather curious fact that she can’t be seen at all. Present location? Let’s say for the moment, in The Twilight Zone.”

Summary:

           “Here, in the tense prose of Dick Matheson, is a new kind of trouble. You are an ordinary young husband living in a nice bungalow in an average town. You have a medium-priced car, an undistinguished dog, and a very special little daughter. The scene is set. Now – you wake up in the middle of an ordinary night and hear your daughter crying. You go to her room. You can still hear her. But she isn’t there! Yet, she cries to you for aid. A perilous situation. We can only hope you get her back.” -from the introduction to the original magazine appearance of "Little Girl Lost" in the Oct/Nov, 1953 issue of Amazing Stories.


          Chris and Ruth Miller awaken in the middle of the night to the sound of their young daughter, Tina, crying from the next room. Chris gets out of bed to check on the child. He finds Tina’s bed empty and begins to search under and around her bed. Panic flares within him when he cannot find his daughter anywhere in the room, despite the fact that she can clearly be heard crying out to her parents. Not knowing what to do, Chris calls his friend and neighbor, Bill, who works as a physicist. Chris then lets the family dog into the house and the dog immediately runs into Tina’s room and disappears into the opening through which Tina vanished.

          Bill arrives a short time later and begins an examination of the room, all the while explaining that Tina may have fallen into another dimension. Tina’s bed is moved and Bill begins to search the area for the opening. He discovers it when his hand passes through a section of the wall. Bill marks the boundaries of the opening.
          The three adults attempt to follow the voice of the child throughout the house but struggle to pinpoint Tina’s location. Bill tells Ruth to instruct Tina to follow the dog, whose heightened senses could lead the child back through the opening.
          The dog finds Tina and begins to lead her out. Chris reaches into the opening and calls the dog but reaches too far and falls through. There he discovers the disorienting nature of the other dimension. Bill urges Chris to hurry. Chris calls out to the dog, who leads Tina to her father. Bill quickly pulls all three of them back through the opening.
          As Ruth carries Tina away, Bill informs Chris that, despite Chris’s perception, only half of him had fallen through the opening. Worse yet, the opening was slowly closing the entire time. Bill slaps the wall to show that the opening is now completely closed off. Bill tells Chris, “Another few seconds and half of you would have been here and the other half . . .”

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“The other half where? The fourth dimension? The fifth? Perhaps. They never found the answer, despite a battery of research physicists equipped with every device known to man, electronic and otherwise. No result was ever achieved, except perhaps a little more respect for and uncertainty about the mechanisms of The Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:

          “Little Girl Lost” marks the first time writer Richard Matheson adapted one of his own short stories for the series. Though Matheson sold series creator Rod Serling two stories early in the first season (“Third from the Sun” and “Disappearing Act” (filmed as “And When the Sky Was Opened”)), he was intent on creating original material for the series, unlike his friend and fellow writer Charles Beaumont, who immediately set out with adaptations of his short fiction for the first season episodes “Perchance to Dream” and “Elegy.”
It is important to note the transition marked by “Little Girl Lost” as Matheson would begin to heavily rely upon his considerable body of short fiction going forward. After crafting six original teleplays for the series, six of the following eight Matheson scripts would be adaptations of previously published material.
“Little Girl Lost” was first published in the October/November, 1953 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. Matheson included the story in his 1957 collection, The Shores of Space (Bantam) and it is also included in The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories (ed. Richard Matheson, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh; Avon, 1985). The story is most readily found in Matheson’s 2003 retrospective volume, Duel: Terror Stories (Tor).
2nd edition paperback, art by Mitchell Hooks
The idea derived from a real-life experience, the story of which Matheson told many times throughout the years, most accessibly in his interview for the Archive of American Television (available on YouTube). Matheson used the real names of his wife and daughter, Ruth and Tina, for the story. Matheson awakened one night to the sound of Tina crying. He entered her room and found her bed empty. Assuming she had fallen to the floor, Matheson knelt down and looked under the bed. At first, he could not locate the crying girl. He soon discovered that the child had fallen to the floor and rolled against the far wall. The incident unnerved the young writer and set his imaginative wheels turning.
          Matheson frequently used real-life incidents as springboards for his memorable short fiction. Something as simple as sitting in a window seat on an airplane flight and imagining a man skiing across the sky as though the clouds were snow could result in his classic 1962 story, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” memorably filmed by Richard Donner for the fifth season of The Twilight Zone. On the day President Kennedy was assassinated, Matheson was playing golf with friend and fellow Zone writer Jerry Sohl. The men cut their game short due to the terrible news and headed home. They were soon tailgated by an aggressive eighteen-wheeler. Matheson was effected by the experience enough to write down the initial idea which became his classic 1971 novella, “Duel,” filmed that same year by Steven Spielberg.
           “Little Girl Lost” also serves as an excellent representation of two essential aspects of Matheson’s short fiction output, his use of children as a conduit between the real and the uncanny, and a mode of storytelling best described as Domestic Gothic. Although the child Tina barely appears in the episode, and then only in distorted or obstructed imagery, director Paul Stewart does a commendable job of reminding the audience of the child’s presence through the use of sound and repeated shots of the child’s framed portrait. She thus remains the focal point of the narrative.
          Matheson’s use of children in his fantasy stories began with his first professionally published story, the now-classic “Born of Man and Woman” (1950), which concerns a “normal” couple who keep their mutant child confined in the basement. Matheson typically uses children as innocent travelers between the world of the real and of the unreal. In stories such as “Drink My Red Blood . . . (“Blood Son”) (1951), “Through Channels” (1951), “Dress of White Silk” (1951), and “Big Surprise” (1959) (later adapted by Matheson for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery), naïve children are darkly influenced by a supernatural force. Matheson continued to use children as a lens through which to view domestic strife in stories such as “The Doll that Does Everything” (1954) and “A Visit to Santa Claus” (1957). He did not approach the subject in a novel-length work and largely abandoned writing short fiction after 1972.
          Each of the stories listed above also stands as representative of Matheson’s Domestic Gothic mode of storytelling. Matheson, along with Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Shirley Jackson, Charles Beaumont, Roald Dahl, and a few others, is largely responsible for applying the traditional elements of Gothic fiction (romanticized elements of fear, horror, death, and gloom, combined with the heightened emotions of fear and suspense) to a modern domestic setting. Matheson used the Gothic mode to examine such unpleasant elements of modern society as murder, child abuse, failed marriages, sexual perversion, infidelity, personal failures, urban paranoia, and financial stress.
          Matheson was initially hesitant to use this style of storytelling on The Twilight Zone. “A World of Difference” and “Nick of Time” are marginally stories of the type but, again, “Little Girl Lost” would mark the transition after which Matheson would further align his efforts for the series with the characteristics of his prose output. Subsequent efforts for the series such as “Young Man’s Fancy,” “Mute,” and “Night Call” are far more representative of the Domestic Gothic style pioneered by Matheson.
          Matheson also typically resisted the use of children as a purely malevolent force. Though Matheson’s approach to children in fiction is often similar to that of his literary mentor, Ray Bradbury, who consistently used children in his fiction and approached similar material as Matheson in stories such as “The Man Upstairs” (1947), “The Black Ferris” (1948), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), Matheson diverged with his mentor’s occasional use of children as catalysts of fear, violence, and aggression. Bradbury used children as such in “The Small Assassin” (1946), “Let’s Play ‘Poison’” (1946), “Zero Hour” (1947), and “The World the Children Made” (“The Veldt”) (1950), to name a few. Interestingly, after having two of his script submissions rejected by the series, Bradbury broke through with a near-future domestic fantasy, “I Sing the Body Electric,” which examined death and grief through the perspective of a child.
          “Little Girl Lost” is an immediately engaging episode due to its familiar setting, recognizable situation (the disappearance of a child), the curiously outré aspect of the fantasy element, and the intrinsically suspenseful nature of the “ticking clock” narrative style. The relatively small scale of character and setting also work in favor of the episode. The story does require a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief from the viewing audience, most noticeably in the fact that Chris (Robert Sampson) decides to call his friend and neighbor, Bill (Charles Aidman), instead of the police. Bill also just happens to be a theoretical physicist who quickly comes to the (correct) conclusion that little Tina has fallen into another dimension. The characterizations (especially that of Charles Aidman as Bill) and the engaging narrative are such that these unlikely elements are quickly forgiven by the viewer.
          One aspect which is perhaps not so easily forgiven by the viewer is the use of an adult voice actress, Rhoda Williams, as the voice of Tina, played in the episode by Tracy Stratford (both actresses are uncredited). Although Williams was a very talented voice actress, the effect does not come off convincingly. The reason for this substitution remains unclear. Stratford can briefly be heard in the episode once she is pulled from the other dimension. Rhoda Williams was a radio, film, and television actress fondly remembered today for her association with the Walt Disney Company. Williams voiced the evil stepsister, Drizella Tremaine, in Cinderella (1950), and also leant her voice to attractions at Disneyland, including The Carousel of Progress, reported to be Walt Disney’s favorite attraction in the theme park. Tracy Stratford, who later appears as Christie, new owner of Talky Tina, in the fifth season episode, “Living Doll,” is also remembered for her voice work, as she voiced Lucy Van Pelt in A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).

          “Little Girl Lost” is notable for the use of then-current theories in physics as catalyst for the fantasy element. Charles Aidman is to be further commended for bringing a memorable characterization to a character whose job is essentially to deliver long passages of exposition detailing theories of parallel dimensions. The special effects needed to bring off the episode proved challenging for the production team and were, by and large, achieved using in-camera effects. The centerpiece of the episode is the opening in Tina’s bedroom wall. This effect was achieved by moving the “opening” section of the wall back a foot and then using strong light to blur the missing space. Thus, when the characters pass through the opening, they are moving through a missing section of the wall.
          Matheson gives little indication in his script what appearance the fourth dimension should assume. The production team decided to create as unusual a set as possible and to further enhance the disorienting effects in post-production. Oil covered glass globes, blinking lights, spinning fan blades, and heavy fog are enhanced with post-production effects such as distorted photography, rotating camera angles, and an echoing soundtrack.
          Of course, the most effective aspect of the soundtrack is the haunting musical score composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann, arguably the greatest of all composers of film music, was uniquely attuned to the musical demands of The Twilight Zone. Herrmann composed the subtle and effective opening title theme music for the first season, and when he graced an episode of the series with an original composition, it always resulted in something special. Portions of Herrmann’s music were frequently recycled on the series but his primary works, the scores for “Walking Distance,” “Eye of the Beholder,” “Little Girl Lost,” “Living Doll,” and “Ninety Years Without Slumbering,” remain some of the most memorable selections of television music of the era. His score for “Little Girl Lost,” an otherworldly blend of the bass clarinet accompanied by Herrmann’s trademark harp and violin, may be his finest achievement on the series. Many home video packages of the episode contain an option for hearing the isolated music score for “Little Girl Lost” and it is highly recommended that the viewer do so in order to observe Herrmann’s ability to compose music which is both atmospheric and narrative. Such was Herrmann’s prestige at the time that the composer is given top billing above all except writer Richard Matheson.
          Herrmann receives billing above even director Paul Stewart, who was a long-time acquaintance of the composer due to their shared association with Orson Welles and The Mercury Theatre. Herrmann composed the music for The Mercury Theatre on the Air radio program as well as for many of Welles’s appearances on other programs. For several years, Herrmann was married to prolific radio dramatist Lucille Fletcher, author of “The Hitch-Hiker.” Additionally, Herrmann followed Welles into feature films and composed the scores for Welles’s RKO films, Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) before the dissolution of The Mercury Theatre.
              Director Paul Stewart first achieved recognition as a talented character actor on stage, radio, and film. Stewart’s hardened, gaunt features secured him many shifty or villainous roles throughout his acting career. Stewart was also a founding member of The Mercury Theatre when it was established by Welles and producer John Houseman. Stewart acted as associate producer for The Mercury Theatre on the Air when the troupe moved to radio, producing, writing, and acting in such renowned projects as The Mercury Theatre’s radio productions of War of the Worlds and Dracula. 
Paul Stewart in Citizen Kane (via Wikipedia)
          A native New Yorker, born in Manhattan on March 13, 1908, Stewart began his stage career as a young man after leaving the Columbia law program without a degree. By 1930, he was on Broadway. Stewart moved into radio production in 1932, securing a job writing, acting, producing, and occasionally directing productions at WLW in Cincinnati, the same radio station which would later employ both Rod Serling and Earl Hamner, Jr. Stewart is reportedly responsible for securing Orson Welles’s first job in radio when Stewart introduced the young actor to radio director Knowles Entrikin. Stewart and Welles grew very close and remained life-long friends. They worked together in direct collaboration on many stage and radio productions, notable among which is their work on The March of Time, a program narrated by Westbrook Van Voorhis, the original narrator of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone pilot production, “Where is Everybody?” Stewart’s own extensive radio work benefited him later when he secured regular work narrating various documentaries and new reels, including acting as host and narrator of the syndicated series Deadline from 1959-1961.
          Stewart appeared alongside Welles as Raymond the valet in Citizen Kane and continued to find acting work in such film productions as Twelve O’Clock High (1949), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), In Cold Blood (1967), and The Day of the Locust (1975), but acting had largely lost its luster for Stewart by the early 1950’s. He greatly enjoyed his time working with producer David O. Selznick at Paramount during the immediate post-war era when Stewart wrote, produced, and directed second unit material. In an attempt to rejuvenate himself creatively, he moved into television directing with an episode of the syndicated series Top Secret in 1954. Television continued to provide Stewart with a steady medium by which to apply his acting and directing skills until his death from heart failure on February 17, 1986 in Los Angeles. Stewart can be seen in episodes of Climax!, Panic!, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, among many, many others.   
          Charles Aidman provides the most effective performance in the episode as Bill, the friend and neighbor who quickly gets to the bottom of the mystery. Aidman is familiar to regular Twilight Zone viewers from his equally effective performance in the first season episode “And When the Sky Was Opened,” adapted by Rod Serling from Richard Matheson’s 1953 short story “Disappearing Act.” Aidman was later chosen to narrate the first revival Twilight Zone series for CBS. He exited the production after two seasons of work when the network series was canceled and moved into production for syndication. Born in Indianapolis on January 21, 1925, Aidman began participating in drama workshops after the war. Although Aidman was noted for his stage production of Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology and appeared in some minor film work, he is best known today for his appearances in genre television fare, particularly western programs. Aidman briefly secured a regular role on the fourth season of The Wild Wild West when series regular, and Twilight Zone alumni, Ross Martin grew ill. Aidman can be seen in episodes of The Web, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, Thriller, The Invaders, The Wide World of Mystery, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. He died from cancer in Beverley Hills on November 7, 1993, aged 68.
          In a serviceable performance as the father, Chris, is prolific film and television actor Robert Sampson. A Los Angeles native born on May 10, 1933, Sampson remained active in the profession until his retirement in 2008. He began his television career in 1954 and can be seen in genre fare such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Thriller, The Outer Limits, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Star Trek, and Wonder Woman. Later in his career, Sampson found work in a memorable slate of B-grade horror films such as Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (aka Gates of Hell) (1980), The Dark Side of the Moon (1990), The Arrival (1991), Netherworld (1992) and two Stuart Gordon films, Re-Animator (1985) and Robot Jox (1989), the latter co-written by award-winning science fiction author Joe Haldeman.
          Less serviceable is Sarah Marshall’s manic performance as the mother, Ruth, a character admittedly under-developed in the script. Born in London to highly regarded actors Herbert Marshall and Edna Best, Marshall found work on stage as a young woman, often opposite her mother, and was on Broadway by 1951. She began work in American television in 1954. Her genre credits include Dow Hour of Great Mysteries, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Thriller, Star Trek, and Great Mysteries. Marshall died of cancer in Los Angeles on January 18, 2014, aged 80.
          A final aspect of “Little Girl Lost” which is often discussed is the episode’s relation to the 1982 supernatural horror film Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper and produced and co-written by Steven Spielberg. Many sources suggest that, despite Hooper’s presence in the director’s chair, Spielberg was the true creative force behind the popular and successful production (the film spawned two sequels). Poltergeist also concerns a young girl, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), who vanishes into another dimension through an opening in her bedroom closet. The family of the young girl communicate with her through the static on a television set. In an interview with Matthew R. Bradley (a portion of which is reprinted in Martin Grams, Jr.’s The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic) Matheson states that Spielberg requested a videotape copy of “Little Girl Lost” shortly before production began on Poltergeist. One can easily see how “Little Girl Lost” may have influenced Spielberg, consciously or not, when he created Poltergeist. One aspect not often mentioned in discussions of the similarities between the productions is that Matheson also wrote a short story about a television which serves as a conduit between worlds, in the aforementioned “Through Channels” (1951), which concerns a boy who discovers his parents have been consumed by their television set. What is certain is that Spielberg was an avid fan of both Matheson and The Twilight Zone. Spielberg later hired Matheson as a creative consultant on his high quality but short-lived anthology television series Amazing Stories, a series which was, for all purposes, a revival of The Twilight Zone, a property name which Spielberg was unlikely to desire a continued relationship with due to the disaster that was Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). Spielberg’s early feature-length effort, Duel (1971) was based on Richard Matheson’s 1971 novella of the same name and Spielberg had previously directed the “Eyes” segment of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery pilot film.
          “Little Girl Lost” remains an engaging, effective, and chillingly relatable story with a great script, an excellent musical score, capable direction, and a strong central performance from Charles Aidman. It displays all the hallmarks of Richard Matheson’s unique skills as a storyteller and stands as his finest episode of the third season. It comes recommended.

Grade: B

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org), the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), The Archive of American Television interview series, Marc Scott Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion (Silman-James, 1992), Martin Grams, Jr’s The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR, 2008), and The Twilight Zone Scripts of Richard Matheson, Volume One (ed. Stanley Wiater; Gauntlet Press, 2001).

Notes:
Illustration for "Little Girl Lost"
by Ray Houlihan for
Amazing Stories, Oct/Nov, 1953
--Writer Richard Matheson was one of the key contributors to the series and wrote many of the most well-regarded episodes, including “Nick of Time,” “The Invaders,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” “Little Girl Lost” marks the first time on the series that Matheson adapted one of his previously published short stories. Rod Serling previously adapted two of Matheson’s short stories for the first season, “Third from the Sun” and “Disappearing Act” (filmed as “And When the Sky Was Opened”).
--Charles Aidman also appears in the aforementioned first season episode, “And When the Sky Was Opened.”
--Tracy Stratford also appears in the fifth season episode, “Living Doll.”
--“Little Girl Lost” is an episode which presents the family dog as able to rescue its owner from the clutches of the supernatural, similar to that presented in the previous season three episode, “The Hunt.”
--Here you can view the portion of Richard Matheson’s interview with the Archive of American Television in which he discusses the origin of “Little Girl Lost." The clip begins with Matheson discussing the origin of his idea for the classic fifth season episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." 
--Rod Serling is given a memorable lead-in to present his opening narration. The third season represents the apex of Serling interacting with the set to deliver his opening narrations. It is an element that will be noticeably absent in the fourth season, when Serling recorded his hosting appearances in blocks against a plain studio background.
--"Little Girl Lost" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Stephen Tobolowsky.


-JP

4 comments:

  1. Great post! I'm working on a Hitchcock hour right now where the stock music includes bits from one of Herrmann's original scores, and for a day or two I couldn't get the darn thing out of my head.I saw that Varese Sarabande cut the price for their CD of Herrmann's scores for the Hictchcok show to $20.

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  2. Thanks, Jack. Looking forward to what you have to say about the use of Herrmann's music on the Hitchcock show. His music seemed to be everywhere at this time and some of his music, like that for The Day the Earth Stood Still and Psycho, came to be musical shorthand for entire genres. The Zone had some great musical contributors like Van Cleave and Goldsmith but I think Herrmann understood better than any other the particular musical needs of the show.

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  3. Nice review and pretty close to my take on the episode. It's premise intrigued me a great deal the first time I saw it, however upon repeat viewings my interest wanes. There's a listlessness, a lack of narrative drive in the way the story is told that slows it down. Good special effects and decent acting from Charles Aidman help.

    One could almost call Little Girl Lost a solid, generic episode of the TZ but for its being somewhat atypical in its presentation. For good or ill TZ eps tend to be remembered by one thing,--a hook?--whether "it's a cookbook!" or the counterman with the third eye, the "one with the masks at Mardi Gras time" or the gremlin on the airplane wing. Little Girl Lost doesn't really have one.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, John. I agree that there isn't much to the narrative after the initial hook and as you say that slows the episode down for some viewers. If Richard Matheson has a flaw as a writer, it's that he often struggles to fill in the necessary exposition between idea and ending. I do feel like Paul Stewart does a nice job with the pacing, considering the constricted nature of the setting, characters, and narrative. You're absolutely right that episodes tend to be remembered for a single element, typically a twist ending, which "Little Girl Lost" does not have. I tend to think that's for ill, as it often masks much of the artistry which goes into the best episodes. I do think the originality of concept, the special effects, and Herrmann's score set this one above the average Zone offering. Thanks for reading!

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