One of my lasting childhood memories, is that of staying home from school when I was sick. I would typically stay in bed through the morning, sleeping off whatever bug I had. Some time close to Noon, I would gather my blankets and migrate to the couch. It was there I would spend the next few hours, sipping 7 UP, eating soup, and watching The Twilight Zone. The television station was KTLA, a local Los Angeles area station owned by the singing cowboy Gene Autry from 1964 through 1995 (the station was also home to Autry's professional baseball team the California Angels, who were our team in those suburban days). If memory serves me correct, The Twilight Zone was aired weekdays at Noon - possibly with 2 episodes back-to-back, obviously well into syndication as this was the late-1970s and early-1980s. Between this and KTLA's annual Fourth of July Twilight Zone marathon, it was ensured that I saw nearly all 156 of the original episodes at least a couple of times. So it was with these memories at the back of my mind that I embarked upon the first season of The Twilight Zone last month when I had the flu.
Rod Serling, CBS Television Studios, New York, 1955, photo by Loomis Dean
The Twilight Zone, Season One introduction, second variation
Seeing these early episodes again, thirty years since I first experienced them, I was not only pleasantly surprised by the longevity of writing but enjoyed discovering the many Mid-century modern Easter eggs that I know understand helped shaped my young consciousness. The overall mood and style is still arresting. If modern jazz captured the psychosis of post-war years in sound (as has often been argued), I can think of no single television program that managed to do the same on dramatic terms. There is an over-arching anxiety the permeates every episode. Not the manufactured fright of the Red Scare, but the rather palatable fear of modern life in the shadow of the mushroom cloud. There is the anxiety that society is not what it thought it was. And there is the dissolution of the American Dream, an idea upon which the counterculture of the late-1960s would hinge itself. Sure, not every episode hits the mark, particularly over the course of the first few months over which principle writer Serling finds his footing. But when it is good it is good in a way the resonates in a manner of the some of the best art of our time. Did television ever really get any better?
Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Hermann on the set of Psycho, c.1959-1960
In parting, above is the Mike Wallace September 22, 1959 television interview that I referenced earlier in today's weblog. Clocking in at just over 20 minutes, it provides great context to this cornerstone of popular American culture at it's birth.