Friday, August 12, 2011

The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street

The year was 1951. Rod Serling wrote a radio script titled “The Button Pushers,” a futuristic science fiction drama set in a future Earth, 1970. Huge television screens substituted for advertising billboards in Times Square, air-way rocket trains carried commuters overhead, and the fear of rival nations separated by a large ocean covered the front page headlines. A bloodthirsty general urges a brilliant scientist to complete the development of a new weapon, best described as a “doomsday bomb.” The enemy overseas, reportedly, has already developed a similar weapon. The general asks the scientist to complete the weapon so that it could be fired with the push of a single button – no secondary protocols required. The scientist, fearing his weapon could start a war that would erase the existence of mankind on the entire planet, contemplated the centuries of progress – ancient civilizations that built the pyramids, the deserted Mayan temples and the skyscrapers of today. After 15 minutes contemplating the beauty and wonder Earth had to offer, he completes the weapon and the Army takes over. Against his warnings, the button is pushed. The enemy does the same, and the countdown for contact begins.

The ending featured a series of explosions on the surface of planet Earth, and two aliens on another planet across the universe start the following discussion:

VOICE 1: Ah, Verus . . . Have you see the little planet – Earth?
VOICE 2: Why no . . . come to think of it, Felovius I haven’t seen it . . . In a few hundred light years. Seems to have just disappeared all of a sudden.
VOICE 1: Ah . . . Then I win my bet.
VOICE 2: Bet?
VOICE 1: Yes, I bet the keeper of the North Star that the little Earth would destroy itself before the next billion years had gone by . . . and she has. She seems to have just blown herself up . . . disintegrated . . . she no longer exists. Tch, tch . . . Pity . . . she was a lovely little planet. Wonder what caused it?
VOICE 2: That is a question . . .
VOICE 1: Oh, what am I thinking of . . . I know what destroyed it. It had human beings on it. I’d forgotten.
VOICE 2: Well then, that explains it . . . Those pesky little things can’t live side by side very long. Shall we go back and tell the others?
VOICE 1: Why take the trouble? As if anyone cared about tiny Earth . . . So unimportant a speck . . . so insignificant a dot in the universe. Who cares?
VOICE 2: I guess you’re right. (sighs) Nice night . . . So quiet . . . So uneventful.

It appears that while The Twilight Zone was clearly ahead of its time, Rod Serling recycled the  closing scenes from his 1951 radio play for "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," considered today by fans as one of the top ten episodes of the series. 

The Twilight Zone I have, with varying degrees of success or failure, attempted to touch upon moral themes utilizing the device of the parable,” Serling concluded. “In other words, I have tried to insert subtly what I hope to be a message, but couched it in such a manner that it becomes almost an unconscious effect. Hence, I will tell a story about an invasion from outer space, but tell it with an implicit suggestion that human beings are prone to inordinate suspicions and prejudices about things that are ‘different.’”

Shortly before the premiere of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling assured columnist John P. Shanley of The New York Times that, “I’m not writing any material that lies in the danger zone. There won’t be anything controversial in the new series.” This episode, however, left a commentary that could have been considered “controversial” by a percentage of the viewers. Serling indicated that he was no longer inclined to battle the forces that had drawn his fire in the past. “Now we’re petulant aging men. It no longer behooves us to bite the hand that feeds us. Not a meek conformist but a tired nonconformist. The facts of life are these: the creative person is not in control in a creative medium nor shall he ever be, except possibly in the legitimate theatre.”

“You can spend half your life fighting points instead of writing points,” he continued. “I think you can get adult drama without controversy. In the past when I was doing something even remotely controversial, I’ve been knocked for it. They said I vitiated it, diluted it. My attitude now is – rather something than nothing.”

About the time this episode aired, when asked early in the series what kind of program The Twilight Zone was, Serling replied, “they’re not vehicles of social criticism. One story, ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,’ is a strange oblique commentary on prejudice. The minorities always need a scapegoat to explain their own weaknesses.”

The entire episode was filmed on the New England Street on Lot 2 at M-G-M. Two outside prop rentals were required for this episode – a vending bike and a power mower, which cost Cayuga $50. Set designs including the “Maple Street” sign for the sign post, landscapes, automobiles and other props cost a total of $750. The exterior of the spaceship was filmed on the evening of the third day. Electronic instruments, garden tools and the illusion of the scenic view of Maple Street and the inhabitants in a panic, cost $1,000.

Serling intended to use the following for the trailer, but it was considered too lengthy, and needed to be trimmed down. Here's the complete rundown:

“Next week on ‘The Twilight Zone’ we put you in a glider on a warm summer evening, front porch, tree lined street, typical small town. We let you look at ice cream salesman, listen to kids laugh and play, listen to housewives gossip over porch railings. And then . . . then we pull the rug out from under your feet and we throw a nightmare at you that we venture to say will not be easily set aside. Next week Claude Akens, Jack Weston and Barry Atwater are your neighbors just at the moment when ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.’ Don’t chicken out. See you next week.” 

According to a letter dated November 28, 1959, “Along with schedule changes, ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street’ has been delayed until a February or March date because of production problems.” This may explain why revised pages are dated November 12, weeks after filming was completed. It is possible that insert shots and revised scenes were re-filmed before the final film was put together.

On March 5, 1960, Earl Kemp of the Chicago Science Fiction League wrote to Serling as an “unashamed fan letter.” In the letter, Kemp regarded The Twilight Zone as “a piece of rare magnificence, combining integrity and taste in the right proportions for relaxing enjoyment. . . . You have always dealt completely honestly with the field of science fiction and fantasy, adding to the prestige of the genre rather than detracting from it. Of course, I do have complaints, too. I’m pretty damn tired of seeing M-G-M’s overworked Forbidden Planet saucer, and the same astronomicals. I am extremely tired of the odd-angle and screw-ball shots that add not one single thing to the photography but a desire that it should cease.”

Serling defended, “While I don’t think the camera on it was exceptionally good, I cannot defend the M-G-M saucer. Unfortunately, with budget problems, you have to fall back on standard overworked devices too often.”

The Waterloo Daily Courier described the episode being an “excellent production.” Other television critics raved about the telecast, but viewers of education took note, and began writing in their praises. Joseph Janovsky, principal of a school in Brooklyn, New York, felt that the program contained the essence of a “Human Relations” course and requested in writing to Serling and Oscar Katz (vice president in charge of programming in New York) that he acquire a 16mm print of the episode for future courses and classes. Janovsky was not the only person to request a copy of the episode. John Bauer, Ph.D., a professor at City College of New York, felt that his classes would benefit greatly with an opportunity to review the production. 

“One of the outstanding frustrations in my attempt to further the education of my students is the solidly encased ‘It can’t happen here’ attitude which prevails among today’s college youth,” Bauer wrote. “Your play might help to break through the unrealistic complacency which marks their thoughts regarding most psycho-social disruptive forces.” Serling referred Bauer to Guy Della Cioppa of CBS at Television City in Hollywood, suggesting this might help Bauer avoid any red tape and acquire a print.

By April 14, 1960, Serling was getting tired of the numerous requests from viewers asking for a copy of the script or a 16mm print of the film. In a letter addressed to Miss Pat Thomas of the WAC Department at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, in response to a request from the chaplain at the U.S. Army, dated that same day, Serling explained to his sorrow: “CBS is no longer allowing films from the series to be shown to public or private groups for whatever reason. We’ve had so many requests for ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street’ and found out along the way that there were more requests than there were films. So they’ve just taken a blanket position of no films to anyone. If he wants to pursue this further, have him write to Guy Della Cioppa, CBS Television City, Hollywood, and explain the situation.”

In September of 1960, Gregory Guroff of Decision Magazine at Princeton University wrote to Serling, asking for a complimentary copy of the script, for use as the basis of either a story or parable. Serling obliged, explaining that, “since this is a fi le copy and one of only two in my possession, I would greatly appreciate its return to me after your perusal.” 

When this script was adapted into a short story for Stories from the Twilight Zone by Bantam Books, Serling made one noticeable change at the conclusion. He described how the sunrise revealed the remains of dead bodies draped about the streets and porches, and how, hours later, new residents had arrived to move in – with two heads for each new resident. The script itself has become a textbook standard, having been reprinted in a number of scholastic books over the years, so children of various ages could be exposed to the moral Serling emphasized. The pattern of conflict in a street when contact with the rest of the world is cut off closely resembled that of a teenage science fiction book titled The Year When Stardust Fell (1958), written by Raymond F. Jones and published by the John C. Winston Company. When a viewer brought this to Serling’s attention, he confessed that he was unaware of the book and sought out a copy to check its contents and settle his curiosity. 

The book concerned a mysterious comet that appears in the sky and is apparently the cause of all car engines, worldwide, to mysteriously overheat. By the next day, airplanes, trains, generators and other machinery does not function. Nearly in a state of panic, hysteria and superstition, the people of the Earth resort to mob rule in a fight for survival. In 1962, a book reviewer for Show magazine reviewed the book, and claimed it mirrored too much like Serling’s teleplay, unaware that the initial publication year pre-dated the Twilight Zone production.

The premise of power shutting off all machinery to make a point was also explored in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), which may have been a brief inspiration for this episode. In the episode “Boom Boom Out Goes the Ed” of the animated television series Ed, Edd n’ Eddy, initially telecast November 11, 2005, the lead characters start to panic when the power goes out, and Ed claims the blackout is a result of evil mole people. As the neighbors start to panic, á la spoof of this Twilight Zone, the children soon discover that the only way to stop the escalating panic is to take matters into their own hands.

Cold War hysteria at its best was paid a second visit on the evening of February 19, 2003, when a remake of this same teleplay was telecast on a newer rendition of The Twilight Zone. One notable difference between the remake and the original was the driving force behind the hysteria. Instead of visitors from outer space, employees from a special branch of the U.S. government were responsible for the power blackouts. The government was conducting tests to see how small town America would react in the face of foreign terrorism.

Recurring Product Placement
Three automobiles are featured in this episode: a 1959 Ford Sedan and a 1959 Ford Station Wagon. The station wagon was the same one the mechanic was working on in “Walking Distance” (verified by registration numbers).

(Initial telecast: March 4, 1960)
© Cayuga Productions, Inc., March 3, 1960, LP16337 (in notice: 1959)
Date of Rehearsal: September 28, 1959
Dates of Filming: September 29, 30, October 1 and 2, 1959 
Script #20 dated: September 8, 1959, with revised pages dated September 24 and November 12, 1959.

Producer and Secretary: $660.00 
Story and Secretary: $2,395.00
Director: $840.00 
Cast: $8,459.50
Unit Manager and Secretary: $520.00 
Production Fee: $750.00
Agents Commission: $5,185.55 
Legal and Accounting: $250.00
Below the line charges (M-G-M): $32,135.73 
Below the line charges (other): $5,692.99
Total Production Costs: $56,888.77

Cast: Claude Akins (Steve Brand); Sheldon Allman (Space Alien #1); Barry Atwater (Mr. Goodman); Anne Barton (Mrs. Brand); Joan Boston (silent bit part); Paul Denton (silent bit part); Ben Erway (Pete Van Horn); Mary Gregory (Tommy’s Mother); Lyn Guild (Charlie’s Wife); Jan Handzlik (young Tommy); Jim Jacobs (silent bit part); Jason Johnson (man one); Diane Livesey (silent bit part); Bob McCord (the ice cream vendor); Beryl McCutcheon (silent bit part); Burt Metcalfe (Don); William Moran (silent bit part); Vinita Murdock (silent bit part); Amzie Strickland (first woman); Joan Sudlow (woman next door); Lea Waggner (Mrs. Goodman); William Walsh (Space Alien #2); George Washburn (silent bit part); and Jack Weston (Charlie).

Original Music Score Composed by Rene Garriguenc and Conducted by Lud Gluskin (Score No. CPN5882): Main Title (by Bernard Herrmann, :40); Maple Street (:30); What Was It? (:21); The Power’s Off (1:01); Tommy’s Outer Space Story (2:02); Uneasyness on Maple Street (1:15); Reaction (:08); A Kind of Madness (:07); Ruminating Suspicion (1:44); The Needling (1:01); Footsteps (:07); Lights and Suspicion (:57); Lights and Hysteria (1:30); One to the Other (:47); and End Title (by Herrmann, :39).

Director of Photography: George T. Clemens, a.s.c. 
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Film Editor: Bill Mosher
Art Directors: George W. Davis and William Ferrari
Assistant Director: Edward Denault
Casting Director: Mildred Gusse
Set Decorations: Henry Grace and Rudy Butler 
Sound: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino
Directed by Ronald Winston 
Teleplay by Rod Serling.

“Maple Street, U.S.A., late summer. A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbeques, the laughter of children, and the bell of an ice-cream vendor. At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely six-forty-three PM on Maple Street . . . This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon. Maple Street – in the last calm and reflective moment . . . before the monsters came!”

Plot: Shortly after a mysterious flash of light hovers over Maple Street, late one afternoon, the power goes out – appliances, power tools, radios, even automobiles. Before Charlie and Steve can walk into the next town to learn the source of the power failure, young Tommy warns the citizens of Maple Street that aliens from outer space are responsible. The young boy suggests that a few of them might already be living among their community. As the hours pass, suspicion grows as Les Goodman’s automobile starts up automatically, the lights in Charlie’s house come on, and everyone starts pointing accusatory fingers at each other. Charlie is quick to point a finger and ends up shooting Pete Van Horn in the streets, mistaking him for an alien. Charlie blames young Tommy for the comic book scare and the inhabitants become a mob. Stones are thrown and gun shots ring through the streets while the entire neighborhood turns into a murderous frenzy. High above on top of a grassy hillside, two aliens observe the massacre. One being explains to the other that if they turn off the power and throw the humans into darkness for a short while, they will find their own worst enemy – themselves. Having seen the results first-hand, the alien race plans to go from one Maple Street to the other until all of mankind has killed itself off.

“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fall-out. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices – to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children . . . and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is . . . that these things cannot be confined to . . . The Twilight Zone.”

Talent Fees For This Episode:
Minimum film residuals and minimum theatrical reruns applied.
Claude Akins ($500) as Steve 
Jack Weston ($850) as Charlie
Anne Barton ($500) as Mrs. Brand 
Amzie Strickland ($500) as Woman One
Jason Johnson ($500) as Man One 
Burt Metcalfe ($500) as Don
Jan Handzlik ($500) as Tommy 
Remaining members of the cast varied from $75 to $100 per day.

Orchestra Music Featured
 1 Piccolo, 1 Flute, 1 Alto Flute, 1 Oboe, 1 English Horn, 2 Clarinets, 2 Bass Clarinets, 1 Bassoon, 1 Euphonium, 3 Horns, 1 Harp, 1 Tympani, 1 Vibraphone and Bass.

All of the above are excerpts from The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic, by Martin Grams. This 800 page book was a recent winner of the Rondo Awards for "Best Book of the Year." Martin also provided audio commentary for the BluRay release of The Twilight Zone. Excerpts reprinted with permission from both the author and the publisher.

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