Friday, November 2, 2012

The Twilight Zone: Princess Twilight

To help publicize the fifth and final season of The Twilight Zone, the advertising agency of Rogers & Cowan designed a publicity campaign to run September 1, 1963 through January 31, 1964. Divided chronologically with a number of different steps, the campaign included a traveling exhibit and a “Princess Twilight” scheme known as “Miss Twilight Zone.”

“Take one accurately designed woman of tomorrow, conjured up five hundred years before her time; outfit her, decorate her and equip her for her future times as authentically as the best informed minds of today can predict; send her to key markets across the country and the result is infinite possibility for interviews not only with television editors, but women editors, food editors, automotive editors and science editors, as well as visually exciting material for up to thirty minutes of interview on local and national television and radio shows.” 

That’s how a publicity campaign proposal read and not even Rod Serling would have conceived that such a notion be seriously considered – but it was. In early July, the idea was suggested to him. He gave it some thought and had multiple discussions with Dick Isreal at CBS press relations. “We talked at length of this ‘Miss Twilight Zone’ idea where a six-foot-six broad will traipse around the country pushing the show in as literate a fashion as possible,” Serling wrote. “After these few hours of perusal, I think the idea is a bum one. First of all, it creates a carnival atmosphere which at the very best is somewhat demeaning to the show. The audience we seek and the audience we’ll ultimately get are not the kind of people who respond to this kind of publicity goose. Also, you’re not pushing for a motion picture now. You’re trying to create a sustaining audience for a television show week after week. Though I have no statistics to back this up, I seriously doubt if the presence of even the most bizarre and beautiful young woman will create sufficient lasting interest to compensate for her cost and the cost of the tour. In short, I think the whole idea is an expensive one and one of very questionable virtue.”

Publicity agenst at Rogers & Cowan were responsible for creating the idea of the tour. While Serling had reasonable doubts, Betty O’Hara of Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, Inc. worked with Henry C. Rogers to create the necessary details and plans for the “Miss Twilight Zone” tour. “This idea for creating a Princess Twilight, the first woman of tomorrow, to tour nationally to promote The Twilight Zone, is a realistic possibility,” according to the proposal. “We have researched the idea and found that, with further research and authentication, we actually can provide a young lady with all of the information, apparel and accoutrements which would make her a close approximation of the probable woman of tomorrow.”

The tour was proposed for October and November of 1963 to fasten attention on Twilight Zone at the crucial point of the year when viewers stop experimenting in their selections and finalize their viewing habits for the winter months. The famed Edith Head was approached, and she provided designs for the probable attire of the woman of 500 years later, complete with details for revolutionary fabrics. Wally Westmore projected the trends in makeup and devised the likely makeup design of the period. George Masters was approached to design the coiffure of the future. An architect was asked to design a futuristic house, projecting the appliances and other miracles that would ease and compliment the life of a future woman.

The contents of a woman’s handbag, the promoters agreed, would evoke interest, including the handbag itself. Food pills would be displayed as her daily diet, tiny electronic devices were packed into the handbag, including radios and other tools of thumbnail-sized packages, and the handbag itself utilized a recently developed lock opened only by a special electronic wavelength.

It was intended to furnish the house of the future with furniture designed by a manufacturer, Charles Eames, but the company never had time to design a working model of a transportable futuristic chair in which Princess Twilight would sit during interviews.

“An essential aspect of the promotion would be the establishing of Princess Twilight’s raison d’etre and her close association with Twilight Zone,” wrote Henry C. Rogers of Rogers & Cowan. “It would be given a role in one of the shows and it would be presented that her national tour as a visitor from the future derived from a chance conversation she had with Rod Serling.” Serling, they proposed, would write all of the material she would speak during interviews. But with his insistence the idea reamined a “bum one,” and the proposal was debated. Betty O’Hara wrote a reply to Serling: “If I were only a phone call away, I think I could allay any misgivings you might have that we were going only for the bizarre in our Twilight Zone girl promotion.”

Nineteen-year-old Virginia Trimble, a UCLA astrophysics major, was selected to play the lead. I tracked her down and asked her to share her memories of what it was like being Princess Twilight. “Rogers & Cowan asked the UCLA dean of students (or some such) to find a possible person,” Trimble recalled. “The then head of student counseling thought of me because of the Life Magazine article the previous year – so she knew I photographed reasonably well, and because I was part of the gifted students’ program I could probably be trusted not to say anything terribly stupid that would embarrass UCLA. The one thing I remember doing badly was an attempt to defend the folks who were fighting to keep their own homes in Vietnam against U.S. invaders.”
Dr. Paula Tallal and Dr. Robert P. Rich talks to Dr. Trimble (Left to Right).
“By the time I was on board, the ‘princess’ title concept had completely disappeared, as had any thought of 500 years in future. The focus was science of today and how Twilight Zone interfaced with it,” Trimble continued. “I was 5 feet 7 ½ inches, not 6 feet tall (and did not wear more than modestly high heels). All the words I spoke were my own (and I was not scolded for attempting to defend the Viet Cong’s fight to keep their homes, perhaps because I didn’t do it as well as I would now!)”

Serling’s insistence on avoiding the far-out, futuristic approach was taken into consideration. There was no futuristic furniture and no far-out handbags. Virginia Trimble carried her own, a plain black leather one with lots of compartments. She wore no fancy hair style or makeup. She wore her everyday cosmetics – Max Factor Pancake in Tan No. 2, Maybelline eyebrow pencil and mascara; sometimes eye shadow in a color matching her dress. Her hairstyle was of a daily style and the clothing was her own – standard UCLA co-ed – mostly sheath-style dresses, some princess seamed, some with waistlines, in bright colors and black, plus a green Scot’s plaid dress with pleated skirt to wear on airplanes.

Virginia Trimble in Virginia in 1986.
“What we did was a sweep through all the Nielsen cities, two-to-three days each, in a slightly odd order (Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New York, Boston, Washington, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles),” continued Trimble, who participated in newspaper interviews for women, society and entertainment sections. She appeared on morning wake-up shows on radio and local television stations.

“R&C made all the arrangements and sent me with a ‘bringer’ whose job was to see that I arrived on time for everything, looking the way R&C thought I should. One of the bringers introduced me to Black Russians and Brandy Alexanders (yeah, I was underage), and his battle cry ‘stand tall’ still echoes in my ears when I go out on a stage to give a public lecture! I spent one afternoon with Serling at his home. Something of a ladies’ man, but a couple of inches shorter than I. Luckily, it was a problem the photographer had dealt with before, and we posed, for instance, with me looking over his shoulder while he sat at a desk, pointing to some script item or other. I actually read quite a few scripts, made a few suggestions (sorting out the difference between a galaxy and a solar system for instance) and a few were taken.”

“I have no idea whether the project did what it was supposed to for ratings (one cannot, after all, do a controlled experiment with such things), but they paid me enough for a few weeks work to cover the next couple of semesters of fees and books at UCLA.”

Now a Professor of astronomy, history of science and scientometrics, Virginia Trimble received her B.A. from UCLA in 1964 and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the California Institute of Technology in 1965 and 1968 respectively. She joined the UCI faculty in 1971, after a year’s teaching at Smith College and two postdoctoral fellowship years at Cambridge University (M.A. 1969).

She received the 1986 National Academy of Sciences Award for scientific reviewing and currently serves as vice president of the International Astronomical Union; vice president of the American Astronomical Society and Chair of its Historical Astronomy Division; and member of the Executive Board of the American Physical Society and chair-elect of its Division of Astrophysics.