Walter Mencken 11 a.m., June 22
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What's YOUR Favorite Twilight Zone?
When interviewing local musicos, one of my favorite questions to ask is "What's your favorite Twilight Zone?"
It's amazing how almost everybody I've ever asked comes right back with an enthusiastic reply. Even if they don't know the episode title, their eyes will mist over with nostalgia, as they recall their most memorable encounters with Rod Serling's timeless TV show --
JON KANIS: "If I had to pick only one of the 156, I'd probably say 'The Dummy' starring San Diegan Cliff Robertson and written by Rod Serling, a contemporary master of the morality play if ever there was one. Honorable mentions to 'Shadow Play,' 'Time Enough At Last,' 'A Game of Pool,' 'To Serve Man,' 'Person or Persons Unknown,' and 'The Masks.'"
RICHARD VAUGHAN of Silver Sunshine/Astra: “The one where there is a human-looking Martian hiding out in a diner from the police [Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?]. When all of the humans finally leave, the Martian brags to the cook about his species' plans to invade Earth. However, the cook then reveals that HE is in fact from Venus and his species has intercepted the Martian fleet.”
CONOR RILEY of Silver Sunshine/Astra: “The episode where a lady is living on Earth and it’s heading towards the sun [The Midnight Sun]. It turns out to be a dream and, when she wakes up, the earth is moving farther away from the sun.”
JD BOUCHARDE: “Living Doll. ‘My name is Talky Tina, and I think I hate you.’ Dolls that kill. Yowch.”
DYLAN MARTINEZ of Rookie Card: “Either the one where the state is going to execute a librarian for being obsolete [The Obsolete Man] or the one where the man opens a jail cell and ends up letting the Devil loose on the world [The Howling Man].”
JASON BANG: "The one where the guy is in charge of keeping the Devil locked up [The Howling Man], but since the Prince of Darkness is such a smooth talker, he's able to convince his captor to release him."
BART MENDOZA: "For me, it was It's a Good Life, with Billy Mumy as the monster - there are scenes in that where nondescript things are happening in the background. I saw the original and that was creepy enough, but when I read the story the show was based on - yikes! The TV show nailed it, yet kept the gore quotient zero. That one and The Howling Man, which not only gave us the devil, but also a Ron Silva fronted band."
MARCIA CLAIRE: " 'The Eye of the Beholder,' a.k.a. the 'Everybody Has a Pig Snout Except Me' episode."
GREG LASWELL: “The one where masked surgeons unwrapped a beautiful woman from her bandages, and they all shrieked at how ugly she was, and then the camera cut to shots of them without their masks on, to reveal that they were the deformed ones.” [Eye of the Beholder]
HANK EASTON: “The episode where everyone has a disgusting pig face and they all feel sorry for the beautiful lady ‘cause they think she’s hideous.” [Eye of the Beholder]
JENN GRINELS: “Time Enough at Last, the one where some sort of nuclear devastation leaves a lone man on the planet. All he wants to do is read. He finds a library, and he's in heaven! And then he promptly breaks his glasses. Oh, Hell.”
ERIC NIELSEN of High Mountain Tempel: “Time Enough at Last. Burgess Meredith’s wife finds his reading a waste of time. She asks him to read her some poetry, and he finds out she has blacked out all of the pages. He escapes to the bank vault to read a little at work, when he hears atomic bombs falling. He’s the last survivor on earth and is ready to commit suicide, when he stumbles onto a library and realizes he has all the time in the world to read. And, thus, he wants to live.”
JAMIE RENO: “The one in which airline passenger William Shatner is completely freaked out by a gremlin on the wing of the airplane [Nightmare At 20,000 Feet]. This one was remade effectively with John Lithgow in the Twilight Zone movie. This is probably why I still never want a wing seat.”
CASEY GEE: "I love the one with the little gremlin guy who lands on the plane wing, but only one passenger can see him [Nightmare at 20,000 Feet]. Probably because whenever I catch an episode, that's the one that comes on."
BILL FARKAS: “The one about the big-mouthed guy who never stopped talking as a member of that private men’s club, and a seemingly rich dude bets him ten grand that he can’t keep quiet for a year [The Silence]. Then, after the guy did it, you found out the rich dude was really a phony and couldn’t afford to pay the bet. The O-Henry ending was the guy had his vocal chords severed, just to win the bet.”
JOHN MEARS of Crash Carter: "The one with the astronaut who lands on a planet inhabited by tiny people that treat him like a god [The Little People]. He has the ability to leave but stays to rule over the people as he's now drunk with power, only to have another space traveler land moments later. Of course, the new visitor is thousands of feet larger than him."
PETE BAYARD: “A Little Peace And Quiet [1985 series], where some girl can stop time. At the end, she stops it seconds before Russian bombs impact her town and you can see the missiles hovering over the houses. She’s all alone wandering around with everyone else frozen and it’s her task to decide when she’s bored enough to release the missiles and thus kill her entire town.”
JAY ALLEN SANFORD: "I'm really partial to George Clayton Johnson's stories - especially Game of Pool, which can effectively be staged without even needing set walls, just two good actors and a pool table. Both Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters give the best performances of their careers, which is really saying something!"
GAYLE SKIDMORE: “My favorite is the one where they try to give the guy plastic surgery because he’s so ugly. He ends up being a regular looking bloke while everyone else looks like pigs. Genius.”
JON BISHOP: “When I was a kid, the whole theme song and Rod Serling narration freaked me out too much, so I changed the channel.”
JEFF BOWMAN of Tower 7: "Impossible to answer. I like them all."
MOLLY JENSON: “I'm not sure I've ever seen a whole episode all the way through, and if I did, I don't remember it. Ask me which Punky Brewster episode was my favorite and I could answer that in a flash.”
In the early ‘90s, I wrote and edited a comic book series called The Deepest Dimension Terror Anthology, the brainchild of original Twilight Zone writer George Clayton Johnson. It was published by Hillcrest-based Revolutionary Comics, best known for Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics.
George had already long been one of my mentors. Among his many Zone triumphs:
Kick the Can (old folks turning young again, remade for the Zone movie)…
…A Penny For Your Thoughts (Dick York hears thoughts after flipping a coin on its side)…
…The Prime Mover (Buddy Ebsen uses telekinesis in Vegas)…
…Nothing in the Dark (Robert Redford as Mr. Death)…
…A Game of Pool (Jack Klugman VS Jonathan Winters)…
(George Clayton Johnson on the set of Nothing in the Dark)
Each Deepest Dimension comic adapted a story by George, as well as tales by friends and contemporaries of his like Psycho creator Robert Bloch, sci-fi legend Larry Niven, horror author Dennis Etchison, I Am Legend author Richard Matheson, and others.
Art was by Vampire Lestat comic painter Daerick Gross, Matthew Alice artist Rick Geary, Zap Comix co-founder Spain Rodriguez, Dr. Bang creator Lyndal Ferguson, DepositMan artist Larry Nadolsky, and other high profile, in-demand and ultimately EXPENSIVE artists, whose salaries made the Deepest Dimension three times as expensive to produce as any of the other dozen or so titles we were publishing at the time.
The SECOND issue was where the Twilight Zone connections really unfolded. George’s story “Sea Change” was purchased by Rod Serling for the original Twilight Zone series. However, the show was cancelled just before a sixth season went into production.
It was a huge thrill for me, a devotional Zone fan, to work on the comic version of this (terrific!) Lost Twilight Zone episode.
(George promoting DD at Comic-Con, along with publisher Herb Shapiro – we came across a Zone pinball game, decorated with images from a bunch of George’s episodes! He’d never seen it before - I couldn’t resist taking some pics as he played it!)
Another Zone story was chosen for the next issue…George’s “Execution,” which WAS filmed for a Zone episode, albeit one radically different from the original story George wrote and submitted to Serling….
“Execution” was the one starring Gilligan’s Professor, Russell Johnson, as a scientist whose time machine accidentally brings into the future a western outlaw who was in the process of being hanged for his crimes when plucked from the past. One of the memorable scenes is when the hombre is shocked by the sight and sound of a jukebox, so he shoots it.
For the Zone episode, George’s story was adapted by Serling himself. And changed. A bunch. George has expressed displeasure over the televised result, tho he’s too gentle and diplomatic a man to rant and rail. During our conversations, we talked about the very different story he’d wanted to tell, and he ended up lending me an old typewritten draft of his original story, with pages affixed by a rusty old paper clip.
It was my job to adapt GEORGE’s version, for the Deepest Dimension! To re-envision a classic Twilight Zone, as the original author intended it to be...man, I’ve lucked into some amazing gigs….
Sadly, the “Execution” comic story never made it beyond the script phase, as the series was cancelled after two issues, in part due to that aforementioned cost factor. Here's a sample of the script (I may someday post the whole script online, but note it was done the old fashioned way, like George's original story - on a typewriter! There's no electronic version...):
Presented for your perusal…a selection of rarities from the Deepest Dimension archive, including unpublished artwork, alternate versions of the Zone-inspired logo, actual script pages, behind-the-scenes photos, and a few other goodies I dug up just for this blog …
It was through Deepest Dimension that I first met the legendary and mercurial author Harlan Ellison. I’ll retell a tale I shared in an earlier blog on this…
Ellison and I were both booked to sign autographs at a 1994 Atlanta comic book convention. Seated near each other behind a conference table, I was mostly signing copies of Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics while Ellison promoted his upcoming Dream Corridor comic book. During one lull, I showed him a Deepest Dimension issue, featuring an illustrated adaptation of a short story which Ellison had published in his own “Dangerous Visions” anthology book -- "A Toy For Juliette” by famed "Psycho" author Robert Bloch.
Ellison's mood visibly darkened as he thumbed through the comic. "Nobody told me about this," he growled (and I do mean growled – think Schwarzenegger finding a parking ticket on his Humvee). He made the line of autograph seekers wait while he carefully read the comic (illustrated by Matthew Alice's own Rick Geary) from cover to cover.
I could almost see the thunderclouds forming over his head as he got to a brief scene that hadn't appeared in the original text story from “Dangerous Visions.”
"Who the f--k gave a no-name son of a b--ch like you the right to rewrite Robert Bloch?" he fairly shouted, so loud that people in line visibly flinched. "You put his f--king name on the cover, every g-d-mned word of this story should be by Robert f--king Bloch."
Ellison went on berating me without pause for another half minute (so I’m told – I was sure it was a half hour), his voice and gorge rising in tandem as he eloquently, if profanely, defended the sacrosanct nature of Robert Bloch’s storytelling.
Finally, running out of oxygen - if not epithets - he paused for breath, and I was able to tell him "I spoke with Robert Bloch about the comic script and he's the one who suggested the change and the new dialogue."
In a bipolar rush of reversal, Ellison’s scowl was replaced by an unctuous smile as he closed the comic book and handed it back to me with feigned grace. "Oh, well, why didn't you say so? In that case, I love it. Good work."
Ellison turned to the crowd of onlookers, bowed with Shakespearean theatricality and said "Every one of you should buy this Deepest Dimension comic. I highly recommend it."
Here’s the never-published pencil rough of a Toy For Juliette scene: the middle page NOT written by Bloch is what so-incensed Mr. Ellison (art by Matthew Alice/Heavy Metal/National Lampoon cartoonist Rick Geary) -----
Note the post-it from Robert Bloch himself, SIGNED, approving of the adaptation! Below is pencil version of the “Juliette” title page...
...and a printed copy from my collection, signed by Bloch.
Unpublished Deepest Dimension art by Daerick Gross, intended for a comic adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Vengeance of Nitocris.
Unpublished art for adaptation of George Clayton Johnson’s original Twilight Zone story, “Execution”:
Ad for unpublished issue.
REJECTED LOGOS: Top illo is what we ended up using for the comic. The other versions were ultimately rejected ----
More like this:
- RIP Reader cover artist and underground comix legend Spain Rodriguez — Nov. 28, 2012
- Painting Rock Stars, plus Behind the Scenes: Overheard in San Diego & Famous Former Neighbors — May 8, 2008
- 25 Local Musicians Reveal “My Favorite Twilight Zone,” plus Local-Produced Zone Comic Books — April 3, 2008
- Secrets of Overheard in San Diego & Famous Former Neighbors, Mojo & Zappa Comix, [Paint]Brushes With Fame — April 2, 2008
- "What's Your Favorite Twilight Zone?" 25 Local Musicos Talk Twilight, plus ShatFest — Dec. 18, 2007