Last Stop: Willoughby

“06880” was asleep at the switch.

How else to explain last Friday’s lack of commemoration of a landmark in cultural history:  the 50th anniversary of the debut of “The Twilight Zone.”

Rod Serling

The seminal series was created and often written by Rod Serling.  For several years in the 1950s — through “Kraft Television Theater” and “Playhouse 90” — Serling was a Westporter.  In fact, he lived just a few houses down from my parents and me, on High Point Road.

Another fact:  My father and Rod Serling knew each other from Antioch College.

Antioch — a very progressive place — informed Serling’s world view.  And “Twilight Zone” grew out of his frustration with network interference and censorship in his live TV drama scripts.  Though classified as “science fiction,” “Twilight Zone” enabled Serling to deliver social messages about race, gender and politics, in a veiled context.

When “Twilight Zone” hit it big, Serling moved to California.  But suburban Westport found its way into several scripts, most notably “A Stop at Willoughby.”  Serling called it his favorite show of the entire 1st season.

In “Last Stop,” an overstressed ad executive naps on the train ride home.  He awakens to find the train stopped in Willoughby — in the year 1888.  He asks about the town, but the conductor tells him there is no such place.

The same thing happens a week later.  He promises himself the next time, he will get off in Willoughby.

He does.  The villagers greet him warmly, by name.  But the scene quickly returns to the present.  The conductor explains that the man “shouted something about Willoughby,” just before jumping off the train.  He was killed instantly.

The show ends as the body is loaded into a hearse.  The back door closes.  It reads:  “Willoughby & Son  Funeral Home.”

The familiar face of Rod Serling reappears.  In his trademark voice, he says:

Willoughby?  Maybe it’s wishful thinking nestled in a hidden part of a man’s mind, or maybe it’s the last stop in the vast design of things, or perhaps, for a man like Mr. Gart Williams, who climbed on a world that went by too fast, it’s a place around the bend where he could jump off.

Willoughby?  Whatever it is, it comes with sunlight and serenity, and is a part of the Twilight Zone.

Like Willoughby, Westport was a part of the Twilight Zone.  Fifty years later, Westporter Rod Serling’s show lives on.  It continues to draw fans, old and new.  It still teaches lessons about life, humanity — and a dimension of sound, sight and mind.

DEE-DEE dee-dee DEE-DEE dee-dee…

12 responses to “Last Stop: Willoughby

  1. Dan what is the count of either movies or TV shows that have “taken place” in our fair land….. I know that we were ripped off of the film “DEATHTRAP” but the play was set in Westport, as was “I LOVE LUCY”….. and Of course the sort of cult classic “STEPFORD WIVES” was filmed all around town.

    • Can’t forget “Manny’s Orphans” (greatest soccer movie ever made) and “Here Come the Tigers” (“Bad News Bears” ripoff) — both filmed in Westport and directed by Sean Cunningham, just before he hit it big with “Spring Break” and “Friday the 13th.”

  2. Elisabeth Keane

    I have heard that “Bewtiched” was supposed to have been set in Westport but I do not know if that is so. I always thought it was New Rochelle. I’ll bet someone knows.

  3. jeffrey crowne

    trivia – i think the train station before willoughby on that episode was saugatuck….

  4. “The Swimmer,” starring Burt Lancaster, was filmed in Westport — a brilliant film. He crossed the County, swimming pool by swimming pool. Rent it!

  5. My father-in-law, Theodore Newton, was an actor — during his TV years he appeared in a number of Twilight Zones. While in the theater in the ’30s and ’40s, he often performed at the Westport Country Playhouse. David likes to say he was “born in a trunk” there.

  6. I always thought The Man In the Grey Flannel Suit was about Westport, but Wikipedia says it was Southport. And Max Shulman’s Rally Round the Flag, Boys, was definitely Westport (and the Nike site, where we now have the landfill, was prominently mentioned).

    Author Ira Levin said that the town of “Stepford” was based on Wilton, thankfully. I would hate to think that Westport wives were the inspiration of The Stepford Wives.

    And the infamous book/movie “Gentleman’s Agreement” was based on Darien, not Westport, thankfully.

    Hope other readers of can come up with some more movies inspired by Westport.

  7. Willoughby was my favorite episode! We were just discussing this last month.

    The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit was filmed in part on the street I grew up on.

  8. Come see the small tribute to Rod Sterling and The Twilight Zone in the Westport Library’s Audio-Visual room on the lower level by the riverwalk entrance.

  9. The Stepford Wives has lots of Westport scenery and is well worth a revisit. A really funny reaction to the women’s lib explosion of the early 70s.

  10. Wendy Crowther

    In The Stepford Wives, the “factory/laboratory/corporation” where the wives were converted into husband-pleasing robots was the then-new Norwalk High School. A house on Weston Road was used for the exterior shots of the main character’s house. That house was located not too far south of the Singing Oaks Day Camp (now subdivided and filled with houses).

    Also, The Ice Storm portrayed hip suburban couples swapping spouses by throwing their car keys into a bowl and choosing another set to determine who’d they partner with. I think the setting was supposed to be New Canaan but lots of locals have told me that the same sort of parties took place in good ol’ Westport.

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