Shot in black and white, the 156 episodes were written, narrated, and produced by a man who used ideas inspired from his dreams, and news events from the 1960s to create them. Unique to this series are the genres the episodes were based on. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, suspense, psychological thriller with a little dark comedy sprinkled in. Each thirty- or sixty-minute episode ended with a disturbing turn of event, and usually a moral, or at least something to ponder.
Even though the TV series began airing on CBS in 1959 before I was born, and ended in 1964 when I was a baby, it’s still popular to this day. I can’t think of another series that fascinated yet frightened me like that one. And maybe that was the attraction. If you’re a fan you will recall the chilling music, strange plot twists and turns, and mysterious happenings.
From my journal: November 25, 1993 Rolling Hills Estates, California
“Called Donna to wish her, Bryant and Erin a Happy Thanksgiving…. they were watching The Twilight Zone marathon…fun!”
I’ve enjoyed watching The Twilight Zone marathons that regularly air on New Years, 4th of July, and Thanksgiving weekends. But only recently did I become aware of National Twilight Zone Day celebrated on May 11th. This holiday doesn’t surprise me though. Clever, bizarre and even unearthly, Rod Serling’s stories were unpredictable, and nothing was quite like it seemed.
Still ’til this day, when my sister and I describe a particular scene or recite a specific line from one of the episodes, we laugh and rehash the details. Watching it as kids was such scary good fun!
If you’re familiar with the series, you may remember the one with a most memorable line of dialogue. In “Twenty-Two”, a dancer is in a hospital suffering from exhaustion. Every night she has a nightmare in which she hears a clock ticking, knocks over a glass of water, then she gets up and follows a nurse’s footsteps down a hall. When they get to room 22, where the morgue is located, the nurse says, “Room for one more, honey.” Eventually, the woman is discharged and goes to the airport and notices her Flight is number 22. When she begins to board the plane and the airline attendant says, “Room for one more, honey” she runs back to the terminal and watches as Flight 22 takes off, begins to ascend, then explodes in mid-air! Spooky!
One of the scariest had to be “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”. In this episode, William Shatner plays a gentleman on a flight home. We find out he has just recovered from a nervous breakdown, so when he calls attention to a gremlin on the wing of the plane, neither his wife nor a flight attendant believe him. After repeated attempts to to raise alarm, he steals a sleeping officer’s gun and opens the emergency exit door to shoot the gremlin. When the plane lands, he is deemed insane and is taken away. At the very end, we learn of the damage done to the plane, validating the man’s suspicions. Ha!
As an adult, “A Stop at Willoughby” tops my list of favorites. Early on we see a man napping on a daily commuter train and learn he is overwhelmed at work and in his personal life. After a breakdown at work and his wife’s abandonment, he falls asleep on a train again and wakes to find he’s in a 19th century rail car that has stopped in Willoughby, a peaceful place where a man can take toll of his life. He is welcomed by the people and enjoys an idyllic time there. Later we find out in his “real life”, this man has jumped off a train to his death, while shouting something about Willoughby. In the last scene we see his body being loaded into a hearse and the funeral name etched on the window is Willoughby & Son. Surreal!
Perhaps what’s so brilliant about Rod Serling’s TV series, The Twilight Zone is that each self-contained episode is imaginative, thought-provoking and serves up possibilities beyond our reality.