I’ve done audio commentaries before, both on my live-action and animated work (including REAL GHOSTBUSTERS and STAR TREK “World Enough and Time”) and on TWILIGHT ZONE. It’s a challenging but exciting task. The main thing to always remember is to be interesting and informative. It’s very easy to fall into simply describing what’s happening onscreen (“Now he’s sitting down…”) or going off on weird tangents (check out Kurt Russell and John Carpenter on the audio commentary for BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA).
First up, I teamed with Gary Gerani, author of FANTASTIC TELEVISION, to talk about the THRILLER episode “The Hungry Glass,” written and directed by my good friend Douglas Heyes, who also helmed phenomenal episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, including “The Howling Man,” “The Invaders” and “Eye of the Beholder.” Doug is no longer with us but years ago he’d told me about his experiences shooting THRILLER and we’d actually watched this episode together.
Over the course of his career Doug directed fifteen pilots, all of which went to series, and was often brought in to fix shows that weren’t going well. He did this with MAVERICK — setting the tone for James Garner’s anti-cowboy cowardly gambler character — and with THRILLER.
When THRILLER premiered the episodes were crime stories, about bank heists and murders – and the show was tanking. They invited Doug in and screened the episodes for his opinion. “If this were Richard Widmark’s THRILLER these would be the kind of stories the audience would expect,” Doug told them. “But this is Boris Karloff’s THRILLER and so you need haunted houses, clanking chains, spooky winds, the works.”
They told him to make one like that, and he wrote and directed “The Purple Room,” which set the template from then on. The series went on to success. Doug then wrote and directed “The Hungry Glass” for them, which starred his talented wife Joanna Heyes (known to all of us as J.P.), his friend William Shatner, Russell Johnson (later the Professor on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND) and Elizabeth Allen (whom Doug has previously cast in TWILIGHT ZONE’s “The After Hours”).
I volunteered to do the commentary on “The Hungry Glass” because I wanted everyone to be aware of Doug’s important contribution to this series and knew if I didn’t tell the tale no one else would know of it.
Doug also told me a wonderful sidenote about William Shatner. He’d always wanted Shatner to star in his pilots but he always refused, saying he didn’t want to be tied down to a series. Then Doug heard he was shooting the STAR TREK pilot. When he confronted him about this, Shatner replied, “Oh, that will never last.”
Following the THRILLER commentary, I recorded five TWILIGHT ZONEs in quick succession — after writing THE TWILIGHT ZONE COMPANION it’s hardwired into my brain. They were all from the first season (I’ll be recording five per season, plus sessions with those who worked on the show and more), were written by Serling and were first-rate: “Walking Distance” (Gig Young finds himself in the home town of his youth), “Time Enough at Last” (bookworm Burgess Meredith as the Last Man on Earth), “The Hitch-Hiker” (lovely Inger Stevens menaced by a hitch-hiker on a cross-country drive), “The Lonely” (convict Jack Warden, sentenced to solitary confinement on an asteroid, falls in love with a lady robot) and “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (aliens manipulate neighbors to mob hysteria).
I think the sessions came out well and I made it a point to provide a lot of information not in the TWILIGHT ZONE COMPANION – such as the fact that, although the robot Alicia, played by British actress Jean Marsh, was dressed and made up to look relatively plain, the publicity shots for the episode posed her poolside in a bikini at the hotel in Death Valley.
Many of these episodes – and “The Hungry Glass” in particular – were horror stories. I’ve long been a fan of subtle, elegant horror. When I story-edited the first season of FRIDAY THE 13TH – THE SERIES I made it a point to decorate my office with posters and lobby cards from films that were tonally of this stripe, including such classics as THE UNINVITED, CURSE OF THE DEMON and THE HAUNTING, so that the writers coming in to pitch would know what sort of stories I liked. Naturally, I’m pleased by the success of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, which is a throwback to the subtle, suggestive style of horror I like best.
By the way, when I mention THE HAUNTING I’m talking about the classic film directed by Robert Wise and starring the incomparable Julie Harris, not the later travesty with Liam Neeson and Owen Wilson.
THE HAUNTING was based on THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson, which I think is one of the finest works of literature written in the 20th Century. If you haven’t read it, I urge you to check it out.
Right now, I’m listening again to the wonderful unabridged audiobook of the novel read by David Warner, who played Jack the Ripper in Nick Meyer’s TIME AFTER TIME. The audiobook is undoubtedly out of print, but you can no doubt find it at Amazon.com or ebay.
So… another week of adventure and thrills. More to come.
All good thoughts your way,