Rod Serling (1924-1975) was one of the most creative and
uncompromising writers for television, earning accolades in the 1950s for such teleplays
as "Requiem for a Heavyweight," "Patterns," and " "A
Town Has Turned to Dust."
But his enduring fame can be attributed to his classic TV
series, "The Twilight Zone" (1959-1964), in which tales of suspense, science
fiction and the paranormal (many written by Serling, and all introduced by him)
evoked themes of prejudice, love, war, and the tensions of contemporary society. The show's classic twist endings made the stories all the more memorable.
Click though this gallery for a selection of some
of the most unforgettable episodes of the series.
"Eye of the Beholder"
Written by Rod Serling Directed by Douglas Heyes Originally broadcast Nov. 11, 1960
A woman, seen with her face bandaged,
has undergone the final surgery to try to make her hideous appearance
more acceptable to the world. The medical staff assures her that, if the operation
is a failure, she will be sent away to a village of outcasts with similar deformities.
But once the bandages are unwrapped and the result of the surgery is seen, we
realize that, yes, beauty IS in the eye of the beholder.
The wonderfully gruesome makeup
effects were by William Tuttle, who created the Morlocks for the sci-fi film, "The Time Machine."
Written by Rod Serling Directed by Alvin Ganzer Originally broadcast Jan. 22, 1960
Adapted from the popular radio play by Lucille Fletcher
(the ex-wife of frequent "Twilight Zone" composer Bernard Herrmann),
"The Hitch-Hiker" starred Inger Stevens as a woman driving cross-country
who repeatedly encounters the same ominous man hitch-hiking along the road.
Richard Matheson Directed by Dougles Heyes Originally
broadcast January 27, 1961
In addition to her work with Orson Welles'
Mercury Theater, Agnes Moorhead gained fame for her radio performance in
"Sorry, Wrong Number" - still vivid, simply due to her tremulous,
pleading voice. Conversely, her TV performance in this scary tale of a solitary
farm woman who encounters strange, miniature beings from outer space was purely
visual - she utters not a word, and doesn't have to, to convey pure terror.
"It's a Good Life"
Written by Rod Serling Directed by James Sheldon Originally broadcast Nov. 3, 1961
Based on the classic short story by Jerome
Bixby, "It's a Good Life" features the most horrifying creature you
can imagine: A cute, six-year-old tyke (Billy Mumy) who can read your thoughts -
and if you're not thinking really good
thoughts, he can magically wish you off to the cornfield, or worse.
The cast of terrified
citizens includes Cloris Leachman, John Larch, Alice Forst and Don Keefer, who
has finally had it - imploring someone, anyone to kill the child and free them
from his tyranny. Alas, the cornfield just gets more populated.
Written by Rod Serling Directed by Jack Smight Originally broadcast Nov. 13, 1959
Jack Warden played Corry, a convict sentenced to a solitary life on an asteroid
millions of miles from Earth. When the crew of the yearly supply ship leaves him
a special package, he finds it contains a life-like robot (Jean Marsh, the future
star of "Upstairs, Downstairs"). Though initially contemptuous of a
mechanical creature that appears to only mimic the emotions of a woman, Corry and
"Alicia" develop a relationship that predates the movie
"Her" by several decades.
"The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street"
Written by Rod Serling Directed by Ron Winston Originally broadcast March 4, 1960
Maple Street is just another bucolic, tree-lined setting,
until the town's lights and power go out. Strange electrical outbursts fuel
panic, fear and recrimination among the street's residents. Talk of alien
invasion, at first deemed crackpot, now take on urgency in the darkness, as
neighbor turns against neighbor.
The most dangerous enemy of mankind is, obviously, mankind's
irrational fear. And, as the real alien forces behind the blackout remind us: "The
world is full of Maple Streets."
"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"
Written by Richard Matheson Directed by Richard Donner First broadcast Oct. 11, 1963
Future Enterprise Captain William Shatner appeared twice on "The Twilight
Zone" - once as a newlywed who becomes too trusting of a fortune-telling
machine ("Nick of Time"), and then in this all-time classic by
Shatner played an airline passenger just recovered from a
nervous breakdown who is convinced he has spotted a bizarre creature tearing
apart the plane. It's a story full of energy anchored by a man desperate to
prove to himself that he is not going crazy.
It's no surprise that the atmosphere of the
episode was so rich - Richard Donner went on to direct "The Omen."
The story was one of three TZ episodes remade in the 1982 theatrical film, then
played by John Lithgow.
"Time Enough at Last"
Written by Rod Serling Directed by John Brahm First broadcast Nov. 20, 1959
Perhaps the most beloved "Twilight Zone" episode, "Time Enough
at Last" starred Burgess Meredith as a bookworm who would much rather
escape into the worlds of Dickens, Shaw and Shakespeare than deal with testy bank
customers or a hen-pecking wife. As he hides out in his bank's vault to read during a lunch break, a
nuclear bomb wipes out said wife, customers, and every other human being,
leaving him alone in a decimated city with his treasured literary classics.
If you think that is bliss, it is -
until the climax that would make O. Henry swoon with delight/agony.
Rod Serling Directed
by Jack Smight Originally
broadcast February 10, 1961
Season 2, a budget shortfall led to six episodes being recorded on videotape
rather than film to cut costs. While those episodes ended up being more stagebound than most
(no exterior or backlot shooting was possible), the claustrophobia of filming
strictly on a set greatly aided this small tale of a woman who repeatedly
dreams that she walks down a long, dark corridor to the morgue, where she is
greeted by a nurse who says, "Room for one more, honey."
it's only a dream, right? But as any "Twilight Zone" fan will tell
you, premonitions are meant to be heeded.
Rod Serling Directed
by Robert Stevens Originally
broadcast Oct. 30, 1959
gave a terrific performance as Martin Sloan, a 36-year-old ad man tired of his
life, who finds himself transported to the hometown of his boyhood. There he not
only basks in the remembered pleasures of carousel rides and chocolate sodas with three scoops, but also encounters himself as a child - and his parents, who understandably question his sanity.
Among the runners-up for our Top 10: "The Odyssey of Flight 33" (left), in
which an airliner travels back in time; "Long-Distance Call," in
which a child communicates with his dead grandmother via a toy telephone; and "Living
Doll," in which the lifelike Talky Tiny says, "I'm going to kill you."
Also: "Where Is Everybody?" the series' pilot, in which Earl Holliman is an
Air Force pilot who discovers everyone in the world has vanished; "The
After Hours," in which a woman discovers strange doings on a department
store floor that doesn't really exist; and "In Praise of Pip,"
starring Jack Klugman as a man who revisits an amusement park with his young
boy, now grown and wounded in Vietnam.