Rod Serling began working at radio stations such as WJEL in Springfield, Ohio, and WMRN in Marion, Ohio. Months later, in the spring of 1950, he graduated from college, and his first job was at WLW in Cincinnati, the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship station. The college radio work had paid $45 to $50 a week, but WLW was offering $75 weekly and the young playwright accepted the job. Members of the program’s casts were students of the radio department at the College of Music in Cincinnati, and he often found himself playing a role or two for some of the broadcasts.
It should be noted that among the leaders of the entertainment industry who began their careers at WLW were Rosemary Clooney, Betty Clooney, Red Skelton, Red Barber, Jane Froman, The Mills Brothers, Virginia Payne, Doris Day, Durward Kirby, Eddie Albert, and Janette Davis.
The Crosley Broadcasting Corporation, founded by radio manufacturing pioneer Powel Crosley, Jr., was an early operator of radio stations in the U.S. During World War II, it operated as many as five shortwave stations, using the call signs WLWK, WLWL, WLWO, WLWR and WLWS. In 1945, the Crosley interests were purchased by the Aviation Corporation. The radio and appliance manufacturing arm changed its name to Avco, but the broadcast operations continued to operate under the Crosley name. From the 1950s through the 1970s, Crosley (or Avco) operated a small television network in which programs were produced at one of its stations and broadcast on the other Crosley stations in the Midwest, and occasionally by non-Crosley stations.
Sometime in 1950 or 1951, Serling sold Crosley a number of scripts for dramatization on both radio and television. It is not clear whether the dramas made it to the airwaves, but he did revise the scripts slightly and sold them to various television anthologies. Among the scripts were “Grady Everett for the People,” “Law Nine Concerning Christmas,” “The Sands of Tom,” “The Time Element,” “The Carlson Legend,” “The Face of Autumn,” “The Hill,” “A Time for Heroes,” “The Keeper of the Chair,” “Aftermath” and “The Steel Casket.”
Serling also composed a number of radio scripts for a proposed radio series titled It Happens to You. Among the scripts for this series were “Mr. Finchley Versus the Bomb” and “You Be the Bad Guy” (both of which were later dramatized on The Lux Video Theater); “And Then Came Jones,” about the mishaps of Wendell Jones, who had papers claiming ownership to all the area within six and a half miles of Times Square; “The Gallant Breed of Men,” about Captain Peter Bruce, an ex-captain in the Merchant Marine with a conscience; and “Law Nine Concerning Christmas,” details of which can be found under the episode entry for “The Obsolete Man.”
From October 14, 1950 to February 17, 1951, Serling authored a weekly program titled Adventure Express, which dramatized the exciting travels of Billy, Betty and their Uncle Jim, who traveled by train across the country seeking high adventure. Each week they stopped at a different town and got involved with the locals. One episode, for example, took place in the wooded countryside of Kansas, and another took place in the state of Florida.
When Serling first proposed this to the station manager, his proposal was titled Conducted Tour Through America, described as “a radio fantasy-drama.” The initial concept was about a little boy named Stephen Crane and a little girl named Loretta Dijon who join the ethereal express operated by an old man named Abraham Goldschmidt. The kids died from the war, and were now looking across America from the train windows, giving their opinions of human character as witnessed through the eyes of a child.
From July 23, 1951 to August 23, 1951, he wrote a number of scripts for a weekly program titled Leave it to Kathy. From September to October of 1951, Our America presented historical biographies of American historical figures such as Jefferson Davis, General Custer and Lewis and Clark. From November 24, 1951 to December 8, 1951, a similar radio program titled Builders of Destiny gave him the opportunity to dramatize biographies of Zane Grey and General Philip Sheridan.
Author Note: The dates of broadcast are accurate in the above paragraph, but may not necessarily be the exact premiere and concluding airdates. A complete set of scripts was not available during research and it was determined to list the earliest and latest known dates of broadcast featured on surviving scripts for those particular series.
Among the cast of the Cincinnati radio broadcasts was Jay Overholts, who headed a large number of radio scripts penned by Serling. The two became good friends and in 1959, Serling arranged for Overholts to come to California as a stock actor for a number of Twilight Zone episodes -- including the pilot episode, “Where is Everybody?”
On November 25, 1949, John Driscoll, story editor for The Cavalcade of America, rejected Serling’s plot outline titled “Father of the Common School,” which he would later rewrite for an episode of the short-run historical dramas broadcast over WLW. “From a writing point of view, radio ate up ideas that might have put food on the table for weeks at a future freelancing date,” he later said. “The minute you tie yourself down to a radio or TV station, you write around the clock. You rip out ideas, many of them irreplaceable. They go on and consequently can never go on again. And you’ve sold them for $50 a week. You can’t afford to give away ideas – they’re too damn hard to come by. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t staff-write at all. I’d find some other way to support myself while getting a start as a writer.”
“No Christmas This Year” was an unproduced radio script (written circa 1949-1951), and told the tale of a civilization that dispenses with Christmas. No one knew exactly why this was so, they just knew it was happening, and the mayor of the town claims someone high up was responsible for the decision. Santa, up at the North Pole, has his own problems. The elves are on strike. The factory no longer manufactures toys – they produce crying gas, heavy bombs, fire bombs, and atomic bombs. Worse, he’s been shot at when he flies over Palestine and China, and one of his elves got hit by shrapnel over Greece.
Another of Serling’s unsold scripts included “The Scene of Lilaces,” a half-hour play about Jackie Evans who was the victim of a murder.
On August 23, 1950, Rod Serling created a radio serial titled The Jekins Clan, which he proposed to radio station WLW. The series never came to be -- or at least, no documented evidence has been brought to light to verify such a show was broadcast. According to Serling’s proposal to the station manager, the series would be designed for either ‘cross-the-board, five-day-a-week stint, or possibly three times a week, The Jenkins Clan could be fitted for either. In the case of the former, the show would involve a weekly episode - using the five shows to tell one complete story. For a 3-times-a-week stint, a complete episode might be possible for each 15-minute sequence. In either case, The Jenkins Clan is primarily a situation comedy using the husband and wife combination (Harry and Alice Jenkins) with occasional inclusion of other characters.
Serling’s proposal suggested the minimum use of two actors, keeping the budget low for the network. Beginning with the second season of The Twilight Zone and especially during the final season, Serling would be subjected to a number of request by the CBS Television Network to write scripts requiring less actors -- strictly for budgetary purposes.
On July 31, 1950, through the advice of friends and rejection letters, Rod Serling wrote to Blanche Gaines in New York – an agent who specialized in handling about two dozen clients attempting to sell scripts to both radio and television. Blanche was the widow of Charles Gaines, who had died in 1947. He was vice president of the World Broadcasting System, a pioneer in the production of recorded radio series. Among her clients were Frank Gilroy, Jerome Ross, Nelson Bond and Helen Cotton. He included a few scripts (“Vertical Deep,” “The Air is Free,” and “Look to the Sky”), as samples of his work and a résumé of successful sales to Dr. Christian and Grand Central Station. Gaines reviewed the material and gave her opinion regarding the plots and the prose, suggesting a variety of programs for which to submit them, most notably television’s Lights Out! and the radio anthology, Suspense. She agreed to handle his material on a 15 percent commission basis. “It is more difficult to work with a writer who is living so far away from New York,” she explained, “but I think your stuff has merit and am willing to try and see what I can do with it.”
Serling wrote back saying that he was concerned about the 15 percent fee, but Gaines assured him that it was not permanent. After the tenth sale by the same writer, she reduced her commission to 10 percent, explaining that earliest efforts often brought about more rejections, and the 5 percent difference offset the costs involved. In the meantime, she submitted scripts such as “Temptation,” “The Air is Free,” “Look to the Sky” and “Vertical Deep” to television’s Suspense, which were all promptly rejected for various reasons. Formerly radio scripts, Serling began adapting the unsold scripts into feasible teleplays.
On April 21, 1951, the radio program Stars Over Hollywood featured “Curtain Call for Carol” with Phyllis Thaxter in the title role. When Carol Adams appears in a Broadway show backed by her father, she was unmercifully panned by Bill Grant, temporary drama critic for a large metropolitan newspaper. Her anger was further increased when the same Grant offered to teach her how to act, despite the fact that his real specialty was as a sports writer.
The year 1952 promoted Serling to a level of success that he failed to achieve the previous year. The major reason was Blanche Gaines. For every script he finished, she sent a formal submission to story editors and producers of radio and television programs that were on her lists. Every script that was rejected by one program was resubmitted to a different program. No effort was wasted and sales started growing.
On January 2, 1952, the Dr. Christian radio program presented “The Long Black Night,” which was a major rewrite of Serling’s earlier prize-winning script, “To Live a Dream.”
The Keeper of the Chair
While these were some of Serling’s earliest attempts at fantasy and science fiction for television, they would not be his last. His love for this kind of stories was evident in a number of early teleplays. In his unsold “The Keeper of the Chair,” he told the tale of a condemned man named Paul, who spends his last moments on death row talking to his executioner, George Frank, about how many people Paul had put to death, and how many Paul felt were guilty of murder and deserved to die. However, a murder has occurred, the result of a prank, and when the warden talks to a guard, looking over the dead body, he questions why Paul shouted out “George Frank” before he died. They had no guard named George Frank. There was a convict by that name executed in 1942, and new evidence presented in 1943 proved his innocence. Paul was the state executioner, whose mind snapped over the years, having been unable to cope with sending a man to the chair for a crime he never committed, and he spent his remaining moments hallucinating – a guilt complex in the form of his own execution.
In late 1949, when Serling was still at Antioch College, he submitted his radio play of the same name to John Meston, the story editor for radio’s Suspense. On December 1, 1949, Meston returned the script, explaining, “After careful consideration, the Script Committee has decided that the story is not suitable for Suspense.” On April 27, 1950, John Meston sent another rejection letter to Serling regarding the same script, as he had submitted it for radio’s Escape. By November of 1950, Rod Serling was living (at 5016 Sidney Road) in Cincinnati, Ohio, and had adapted his radio script into a teleplay, for television’s Lights Out! program. The script editor sent a rejection stating, “This is not well written and does not sufficiently get around its basic fallacy that the executioner, rather than the jury, is responsible for the death of an innocent man.”
Radio Scripts Proposed for The Twilight Zone
“The Cold Equations” was first published in Astounding Magazine in 1954. Written by Tom Godwin, the short story tells of a starship making the rounds of Earth colonies, delivering much needed medical supplies to a frontier planet. When the pilot discovers a stowaway on board, an 18-year-old named Marilyn, who wants to see her brother at the colony, he realizes a bigger problem ahead for them. The ship only has enough fuel for the pilot and the cargo. Marilyn’s weight and mass will prevent the starship from reaching its destination. Marilyn accepts the consequences of her mistake, writes a farewell letter to her parents, talks to her brother by radio, and then enters the airlock – ready to be jettisoned into space.
While this story was never used on the original series, the 1985-89 revival of The Twilight Zone featured an adaptation of this short story. On March 24, 1959, Sylvia Hirsch of the William Morris Agency submitted an hour-long teleplay titled “Tomorrow is Here” by Whitfield Cook. On March 25, Fred Engel proposed “The Black Hound of Bailundu” by Paul I. Wellman. Serling rejected both of these.
On April 7, 1959, the radio play “Return to Dust” was considered for inclusion in the Twilight Zone series. Originally broadcast on Suspense, the George Bamber story concerned a biologist’s efforts to decrease cancer cells, and through an accident in the lab, found himself slowly shrinking in size. The majority of the drama (making the most effective use for the medium of radio) was the biologist’s effort to leave a recorded message explaining his situation and where his lab associates could find him, should they play back the recording. In the end, however, the scientist is down to the size of a bug and still shrinking, though he never gets to microscopic size because a bird mistakes him for an insect and makes a feast of him.
On June 29, 1959, Jack Stewart & Associates, representatives of William N. Robson, wrote to Rod Serling, in care of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios:
Dear Mr. Serling:
William Robson, who is director-producer and sometime writer for CBS’s Suspense, has a backlog of science stories which he owns. You probably know Bill by reputation. He, along with Norman Corwin and Arch Oboler, changed the whole technique of radio with their wonderful shows. Recently Bill won the Mystery Writers of America – Special Award – for “Best Suspense Series.” Will you please let me know when it would be convenient for you to talk to him?
Very cordially yours,
On July 8, 1959, Rod Serling replied, acknowledging Robson’s reputation and confessed that he was a fan of the producer/director. Unfortunately, at the moment, he had over purchased the number of story materials beyond the actual production commitments. He explained that it would be a waste of time for the two to talk on what would be a very problematical level, but offered a sympathetic and interested ear. “Should our situation change and we are once more in the market for material, I’d consider it a privilege to meet Robson because I recognize it as a fact that he was doing wonderful things when I was just still hoping.”
In mid-late August of 1959, Russell Stoneham at CBS Television forwarded to Bill Self a copy of a radio script penned by Irving Reis, titled “Man of Tomorrow.” Self liked the story, and passed it on to Serling for review. The script has been performed twice on CBS Radio – the Escape broadcast of August 23, 1953, and on Suspense on September 1, 1957. Serling rejected the idea and had the script sent back to CBS. The story concerned an Air Force pilot who returns from Korea and agrees to an immoral experiment that ultimately surpasses his five senses, granting him the opportunity of experiencing a sixth sense.
“The Devil and Sam Shay” had been dramatized for Buckingham Theatre in 1950, one of the most prestigious coast-to-coast Canadian radio programs. Scripted by Robert Arthur of The Mysterious Traveler fame, the short story was originally published as “Satan and Sam Shay,” in the August 1942 issue of The Elks Magazine. Arthur sold the rights for his radio script and short story to Cayuga Productions for a possible third season entry on The Twilight Zone. The episode never came to be, but when Serling began considering stories for a sixth season, he returned to the short story as a possibility. Since The Twilight Zone only ran five seasons, the story was never adapted for the program.
To promote The Twilight Zone’s premiere on television, Rod Serling appeared before the radio microphone to promote the television series. On a publicity tour in September of 1959, Serling was a guest on a number of talk shows: Tony Weitzel’s radio program (Weitzel is a columnist for The Chicago Daily News); Jack Eigan’s radio program on WMAQ-NBC Radio; eight-minute interview with Don McNeill of The Breakfast Club on ABC radio network; and an interview with Jack Remington on WKRC.
Old-Time Radio Influences
Serling was a frequent listener of a number of radio programs, especially of the fantasy and horror genre. Arch Oboler and Norman Corwin were among the many playwrights who’s craft Serling admired (he even named the protagonist of “Night of the Meek” after Corwin). Many of Serling’s Twilight Zone episodes resembled plots from radio thrillers, of which he was an ardent listener, suggesting yet another link to radio dramas as being an influence for this television series.
In “Escape Clause,” a man signs his soul to the devil in exchange for immortality. After a few weeks, he becomes bored with life. Poison tastes like lemonade and the thrill of jumping in front of the subway trains only secures him payments from the insurance companies. After going to trial for the murder of his wife, hoping to give the electric chair a whirl, he discovers that his sentence is life imprisonment.
The premise of a man becoming immortal and then being sentenced to life imprisonment was done previous on Inner Sanctum Mystery, a radio crime thriller broadcast from 1941 to 1952. On the evening of February 12, 1946, a script by Emile C. Tepperman titled “Elixir Number Four,” was dramatized with Richard Widmark as a young man who murders a brilliant chemist, so he can steal and drink an experimental elixir that grants immortality. His plan goes afoul, however, when the murder is uncovered, and the young man is sentenced to life imprisonment.
In “The Hitch-Hiker,” a woman driving cross-country is terrorized by the sight of a little man who continues to appear off the side of the road in front of her. Days without sleep come to a conclusion when she discovers that she is dead -- the result of a blowout on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And the mysterious figure that continues to haunt her is Death himself.
The original radio script, as chilling as the Twilight Zone screen adaptation, was dramatized on three separate occasions with Orson Welles playing the lead for each performance. The first time was on a summer filler called Suspense, broadcast on September 2, 1942. The popularity of that particular Suspense broadcast demanded a repeat performance, so Welles obliged a month later on The Philip Morris Playhouse, on October 15, 1942. Four years later, Orson Welles re-staged the same radio play for The Mercury Summer Theater on the Air on June 21, 1946.
It is not clear which of the broadcasts exposed Rod Serling to the chilling story, but he certainly remembered it and wanted to adapt it for The Twilight Zone. Lucille Fletcher was represented by the William Morris office, so Buck Houghton made arrangements to negotiate the price. “In view of the prominence of this particular play, I think it unlikely that we will get it for under $1,000,” Houghton wrote. “May I suggest that we start at $750 and move to $1,000, if we must.”
One week later, the offer was rejected and Houghton wrote to Rod Serling, asking how desperate he wanted the story. “Lucille Fletcher has turned down $2,000 for ‘The Hitch-Hiker,’ when Alfred Hitchcock offered it,” Houghton explained. “I don’t know how much further we would have to go to get the property, but I think it is too high for us to explore.” Leo Lefcourt, the attorney for Cayuga Productions, however, was able to secure a firm price for the story through the William Morris Agency, and completed the purchase for The Twilight Zone. The price was $2,000 and a standard W.G.A. percentage rerun pattern based on $1,100. The story had not been done on television, either live or on film, giving The Twilight Zone an exclusive.
The main protagonist of the radio play was a man, but Serling changed the sex to a woman, “because it’s pertinent and it’s dramatic to make it a woman,” he explained. “Nan” was a nickname of one of his daughters, Anne. If a press release from early January 1960 is accurate, Serling wrote the teleplay under six hours.
When Richard Matheson submitted the story proposal for “The Last Flight,” a tale of a WWI fighter pilot who lands on a modern-day airfield and finds himself displaced out of time. When Serling learned of Matheson’s proposal, he brought to light a radio anthology titled Quiet, Please, scripted by Wyllis Cooper. On November 21, 1948, the program offered a similar story titled “One for the Book,” about an Air Force major who hit Mach 12 in an experimental rocket plane in 1957 and found himself as an Air Force sergeant in 1937. Serling remarked that Matheson’s story “was down-the-line almost a twin,” and the two considered tracking down Wyllis Cooper to purchase the rights and cover their bases, but unable to do so, the teleplay went into production without further consideration. The fact was the stories were similar, but not exactly the same. But to purchase the rights of Cooper’s script was to prevent a possible infringement. No rights were ever purchased and no lawsuit ever came from the broadcast.
In “A Passage for Trumpet,” a trumpet player named Joey drowns his sorrows with a bottle, and commits suicide when he fails to get a job playing the trumpet. Soon discovering that he is in limbo, between life and death, it takes a bit of spiritual guidance to intervene and reveal just what Joey has been missing in life. The script was an adaptation of a number of teleplays, which in turn were revisions of a 1949 radio script titled, “The Local is a Very Slow Train.” Serling submitted the idea to the producers of the radio anthology, Grand Central Station, who purchased the script and re-titled it “Hop Off the Express and Grab a Local.” The story concerned two young men of the slums, Joey and Steve, who get involved in a murder. Joey comments not once, but twice, about how depressed he became when he was reminded of the social group in which he grew up, having been raised in the slums of the big city. The episode was broadcast over the CBS Radio Network on September 10, 1949.
|Screen capture from "A Town Has Turned to Dust."|
In 1950, Serling wrote a radio script titled “The Dust By Any Other Name,” concerninga character named Abner Bodner, who attempts to build a chemical plant that would produce a magic dust. When breathed, the dust would make mortal enemies forget their hatred. As a result of his efforts, Bodner has an accident that costs him his life, proving to everyone in town that a man who dies in his belief of peace leaves a larger mark on society. He believed in his dream – not the dust. The radio script was rejected weeks after being submitted to the Dr. Christian radio program.
On June 19, 1958, CBS presented an episode of Playhouse 90, titled “A Town Has Turned to Dust,” scripted by Serling. This version told the story of the lynching of a 19-year-old Mexican boy by a mob spurred on by a young merchant, whose hatred of the victim stemmed both from his wife accepting the affection of the doomed boy and from a deep-rooted prejudice against Mexicans. It was also the story of the town sheriff, who gives in feebly to the lynching mob, but stands firm when it comes to hanging the victim’s brother after he defies the Jim Crow standards of the town. The brother is saved by the sheriff who, after killing the merchant and also is dying from the merchant’s bullet, tells of the time, years ago, when he had led a mob in the ugly lawless murder of another man.
In July of 1960, Serling took the Playhouse 90 script and shortened the length (and the title), making a number of revisions. In combining both the Dr. Christian and Playhouse 90 scripts, he explored the motivation of the mob and eliminated any reference to a prior hanging for an episode of The Twilight Zone titled “Dust.”
The plot of a man going back in time to 1865 and given the opportunity to prevent the course of events leading to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln has been explored not once – but twice – on radio. The first attempt was on Mutual’s The Mysterious Traveler. On the evening of February 7, 1950, “The Man Who Tried to Save Lincoln” dramatized the story of a scientist who figures how to transfer a man’s thoughts back into time and occupy another man’s body. In this version, the time traveler finds himself in the body of John Wilkes Booth. Booth, managing to get the better of the voice in his head, makes a successful effort to assassinate Lincoln. This same script was dramatized again years later for Suspense. This same theme was explored on The Twilight Zone in the episode, “Back There.”
In “Static,” Ed Lindsay, one of the tenants at Vinnie’s boarding house, longs for the days when radio was a medium of entertainment. He tires of watching everyone else stay fixated to the television programs that insult his intelligence. Digging out the old radio from the basement, Vinnie carries the unit up to his room and plugs it in. He soon discovers that broadcasts of the past are coming through the speakers. Every time he tries to get someone else to listen with him, however, all that comes through the speakers is static. Vinnie, his old flame, believes Ed is getting sentimental for the past, during their romantic days. But 20 years later, they apparently missed their chance. Avoiding the rest of the tenants, Ed retires every day to the radio to listen to Let’s Pretend and Kay Kyser, but is heartbroken when he returns from the grocery store one afternoon to find the radio had been sold to a junk dealer. Ed sets out to find the radio and buy it back. He succeeds and, returning the radio to his bedroom and turning it on, finds himself transported back to 1940 where he is 20 years younger – and so is Vinnie.
While not a Serling script, this Twilight Zone episode was the brain child of Ocee Ritch and his short story, “Tune in Yesterday.” The story certainly appealed to Serling, who was responsible for the final decision regarding story selection, and felt the nostalgic chance to go back to the by-gone days was perfect hunting ground for The Twilight Zone. Days before the episode went before the cameras, he wrote to Ed Wynn, explaining they were doing a show called “Static,” which involved the use of famous radio programs of the past. “Since ‘The Fire Chief ’ is an integral as well as beloved part of the memorabilia of the time, it is essential that it be included. So in addition to your permission, I wonder if you could give us or tell us where we might obtain records or transcriptions of any of your old radio shows.”
|Ed Wynn at the microphone.|
Wynn replied by phone, explaining to Serling that while he had no problem of The Twilight Zone featuring sound clips from existing recordings, he himself had none in his possession. He recommended Serling contact Texaco, the sponsor of the series. Buck Houghton, upon learning the sad news, explained to Serling that time was of the essence, and instead, used a recording of The Fred Allen Show in its place. The F.D.R. address to the nation, heard in the soundtrack of this episode, was a recording from his fireside chat of April 28, 1935. The Fred Allen Show segment with Fred and Portland arriving at “Allen’s Alley,” was a broadcast from January 6, 1946. Radio Station WPDA, heard over the radio from one of the recordings was referencing radio station WPDA in Cedarburg, New Jersey.
For custom recordings for this production, the role of the real estate salesman on the television set is played by Eddie Marr, a veteran of numerous radio broadcasts from the ‘40s and ‘50s. According to a production report dated November 18, the voice of the radio disc jockey is that of Bob Crane, who would later play the starring role of television’s Hogan’s Heroes. Though Crane is heard and not seen, this episode technically marks his television debut. Crane was a local morning disc jockey on a Los Angeles radio station at the time, and he was offered the proposal of supplying the voice needed in the soundtrack.
The episode “The Obsolete Man” explored a future society in which the State regulated the occupations of man and those deemed unworthy of advancement are classified “obsolete” and promptly executed. When a librarian faces off against the Chancellor regarding the usefulness of books (banned by the State as nonsense), he devises a way to reveal to the State just who should the judge - God himself. This episode of The Twilight Zone may just have been Serling’s attempt to dramatize the foolishness of a state under dictatorship. The script was a combination of two previously written scripts. he earliest dates back to the early 1950s, when Serling was writing scripts for radio station WLW in Ohio, where he proposed an anthology series titled It Happens to You, featuring stories the radio listeners would become engrossed in, whimsical tales not too dissimilar to The Twilight Zone. Episode 7 titled “Law Nine Concerning Christmas,” explored the notion of a future society in which an unnamed town had a law passed which abolished Christmas, a law against Christ. The church was declared off-limits to the entire village. The mayor, acting much like the chancellor in this Twilight Zone episode, tries to explain why such a law has been put into effect. The state did not recognize any such deity, and therefore, neither should the people. Yet, he faced resistance when a crowd gathered at the front door of the church for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. After judging them each for their crimes against the State, he attempts to pass sentence – until a little girl named Pat reminds the mayor that Christ died for a principle, too.
“Well, Rod and I were residents of Ohio. We both wrote for the Dr. Christian program and when I left a job in Cincinnati, he took the position,” recalled Earl Hamner. “Years later, I went to Hollywood and Rod introduced me at a party once as the man who gave him his first job. [laughs] That really wasn’t how it was, but I let it go at that. He had success with The Twilight Zone and I had a problem getting into television,” recalled Hamner. “I had written for radio, I had written for live television, and I wrote a few novels. But I could not sell anything for television.”
In a 1977 issue of Writer’s Yearbook with columnist and interviewer Ted Allrich, Hamner remembered, “I had known Rod Serling slightly in New York. One day I called Rod and said I would like to submit some stories for his Twilight Zone series. He said that it was an awfully hard market to crack, but to give it a try. He promised that all the right people would read my ideas. His producer called back a few days after I submitted some, a nice guy named Buck Houghton. Buck had read the stories and liked them. But he also said, ‘I understand you don’t write film. Would you like to write these up as little plays?’
“I said, ‘No. I’d like to write them up as little television shows.’ And I did, and I have not been out of work since.”
In the Twilight Zone episode “In Praise of Pip,” a dying man strikes a deal with God -- to exchange his life for that of his son, who was dying from wounds inflicted at Vietnam. On December 24, 1950, Serling’s radio script, “Choose One Gift,” was broadcast over radio station WLW in Ohio and explored the same theme later used for “In Praise of Pip.” The holiday story concerned a soldier named Rierden, who suffered life-threatening wounds while stationed overseas during the Korean War. The doctors and nurses do not have much hope for the soldier, but their primary concern is the number of wounded that continues to grow every day. Their emotions are stretched to the breaking point, and they pray to God for relief. Towards the end of the drama, it appears a little Divine intervention prevails as the wounded soldier recovers and brings them a most welcome gift for Christmas – the gift of hope.
What the Devil?
On June 11, 1963, Arch Oboler wrote a teleplay for the fifth season of Twilight Zone titled, “What the Devil?” Millie and Frank, driving a Jaguar across the desert, witness a hellish hit-and-run that kills the driver of one of the vehicles. In shock, the two start to suspect the fleeing driver may have seen them and now set his sights on the witnesses. Their suspicions are confirmed when, further down the road, the huge truck takes chase. The words “Danger, High Explosives” are on the side of the vehicle, but the driver misses his mark and the couple manages to get away. Frank tells Millie he caught a glimpse of the driver, and she laughs when he tells her it was the Devil. In a game of cat and mouse, they manage to switch vehicles, hoping the driver is looking for the Jaguar and not a station wagon. Millie, meanwhile, discovers that Frank committed a brutal act before leaving on the trip, and the driver may be a form of conscience. Ultimately, the truck catches up and once again, gives chase, hits-and-runs, this time taking the lives of Millie and Frank, the police arrive on the scene to find the car flattened. One of the officers is puzzled when he points out to his partner the hoof prints burned in the pavement, “like something walked around watching them burn!”
From 1942 to 1943, Oboler scripted a total of 52 episodes for a horror program titled Lights Out!, sponsored by Ironized Yeast and broadcast over the CBS. The premiere episode, aired on October 6, 1942, was a radio play titled “What the Devil?” and this Twilight Zone teleplay was a faithful adaptation of the radio version. Gloria Blondell and Wally Maher played the leads for the radio version. (The commercial release of this recording is available from www.RadioSpirits.com.) Serling insisted the script be purchased from Oboler, and Bert Granet went along with Serling’s decision. (A letter dated October 2, 1963, from Granet to Serling, suggests that this arrangement was a fiasco, and Granet disliked the idea from the start, keeping silent to please Serling for a decision that ultimately never went before the cameras.)
Assigned a production number on June 11, 1963, the television script was clearly intended to be filmed for the fifth season of The Twilight Zone. The attempt was short-lived. An M-G-M work order dated August 13, 1963 announced the cancellation of this production, and most of the copies of the scripts were returned to Oboler. Serling retained at least two copies for his records, and donated one to UCLA. According to tax paperwork and financial records, secretarial and other expenses cost Cayuga Productions a total of $420.47. No paperwork has been found to verify how much Arch Oboler was paid (if he was paid at all) for his teleplay, which would have been an additional expense to Cayuga.
For more info about Serling's radio career and Twilight Zone cross-over references, click here.
Special thanks to: Terry Salomonson, Earl Hamner, Bill Bragg, Walden Hughes and Carl Amari for their assistance with this article.
Selected excerpts from the book, The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic, was reprinted with permission.