Person or Persons Unknown (Season Three, Episode Twenty-Seven)
Original airdate: March 23rd, 1962
Written by Charles Beaumont
Directed by John Brahm
The Twilight Zone could really delve deeply into some intimately existential fears. In this episode, we meet David Gurney, a man who wakes up after late-night drinking. His wife reacts with horror, claiming she doesn’t recognize him and has no idea who he is. David thinks she’s playing a prank on him and leaves for work. But once he arrives at the bank, he finds his coworkers are in the same boat as his wife. They have never seen or heard of him before. Eventually, David ends up in a mental hospital where his doctor tries to convince him he never had this life; he seems to remember so vividly.
Charles Beaumont is up there with Rod Serling as one of the writers who most shaped how we remember The Twilight Zone. The tragedy of Beaumont’s life is that he passed when he was only 38 years old. At age 34, in 1963, he started having issues with his memory and nervous system. This led to weight loss and chronic headaches. The quality of his work naturally declined because he stopped having a clear head most of the time. His fellow writers begin ghosting for him, putting his name on work so that Beaumont wouldn’t get behind on bills and live comfortably until he passed. Beaumont’s writing showcases a great talent who likely had fantastic things ahead of him. Sadly, we’ll never get those works.
Miniature (Season Four, Episode Eight)
Original airdate: February 21st, 1963
Written by Charles Beaumont
Directed by Walter Grauman
For Season Four, The Twilight Zone was delayed from a fall premiere and made a mid-season replacement in January of 1963. Because it replaced a show that was an hour-long, the episodes had to be doubled in length from the standard 30-minute runtime. Rod Serling did not approve of this change and ended up not being intimately involved in season four production. The season was mostly his writing, Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont.
Miniature is one of the few episodes considered to match the standard set in earlier seasons. Charley Parkes (Robert Duvall) is an introverted man who visits the nearby museum during his lunch breaks. He discovers a Victorian dollhouse that appears to be home to living dolls. Charley becomes infatuated with the woman whose home this is and begins following a narrative of her being preyed upon by a man with ill intent. In his real life, Charley lives with his mother and is seen as too old to still be single, his brother-in-law sets him up on a date that goes terribly. This whole episode feels like something that might be made into a film, definitely reminiscent of Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty but with a magical realist twist. I could easily see this being remade by someone like Michel Gondry.
Living Doll (Season Five, Episode Six)
Original airdate: November 1st, 1963
Written by Jerry Sohl
Directed by Richard C. Sarafian
Little Christie gets a new doll, Talky Tina. Her stepfather, Erich (Telly Savalas), does not approve and believes his wife, Annabelle, is rubbing it in that he’s physically incapable of having children with her. When Erich is alone with Tina, she begins threatening him, vowing to kill him. Erich believes this is some cruel trick at first but then realizes the doll is somehow alive. He goes about trying to destroy it but finds the toy is seemingly indestructible and won’t stop until she gets him. It’s of a much stronger horror bent, pretty much absent any science fiction tropes. It’s still a great half-hour of television, a dark comedy that showcases Savalas’ fantastic acting skills.
Season Five allowed Serling to return to his original 25-minute format. This was thanks to regaining some regular sponsors to ease the network’s business worries. Serling admitted that his quality control became harder to maintain as he had written so much (92 scripts) that it all sort of blurred together at a point. Charles Beaumont was having scripts ghostwritten during this time because of his illness, which hindered production.
Eventually, CBS president Jim Aubrey unceremoniously announced in 1964 that the network would be canceling The Twilight Zone. Aubrey had always leaned more towards sitcoms like Gilligan’s Island or The Beverly Hillbillies than the cerebral fare that Serling was delivering. Serling tried a restart at ABC, but they wanted something more supernatural and horror-oriented, he was not interested. Serling stepped away from this type of content for a few years until 1969’s Night Gallery on NBC, which ended up being that supernatural styled anthology series.
Because of his four-pack a day smoking habit, Serling suffered a heart attack in May 1975 and was hospitalized. A second heart attack followed two weeks later and sent him in for open-heart surgery. During the ten-hour surgery, he had a third heart attack on the table and died two days later at the age of 50. Serling changed the face of television forever with The Twilight Zone, skillfully mixing stories of the fantastic with the most human and vital of issues. He gained a reputation for being an “angry young man” in Hollywood, never satisfied with doing the minimum or hiding his vision from fear of sponsors. The Twilight Zone is still a place people should return to so that they can explore those big questions and remind ourselves that to ignore our weaknesses and prejudices will lead to a dark path.