Tag Archives: Twilight zone

Rod Serling Lives!

The Writers Guild of America recently asked its members to rate the 101 best-written shows in television history.

“The Sopranos” was Number 1. “Seinfeld” was 2nd. No surprises there.

But coming in 3rd: “The Twilight Zone.”

That’s right: a half-century-old black-and-white anthology is still called the 3rd best-written TV series ever.

DEE-DEE dee-dee DEE-DEE dee-dee…

Rod Serling

Those of us who remember creator/writer/host Rod Serling from his Westport days are not the only ones excited to hear the place “Twilight Zone” holds in America’s heart.

Mark Dawidziak of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes:

When you handicap the top three and adjust for short Hollywood attention spans, that’s practically saying “The Twilight Zone” is in a dimension all its own — far beyond the No. 1 spot….Submitted for your approval: the real winner of the Writers Guild poll.

It’s a stirring testament to the heroic influence of Rod Serling that, almost 54 years after “The Twilight Zone” debuted, so many television writers cite him and his “wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination” as inspirations. They couldn’t have better role models.

“The Twilight Zone” was a series with a social conscience and it was fantasy television that believed there was intelligent life on the other side of the television screen. It would be difficult to find a writer on any current fantasy, horror or science-fiction series who doesn’t count himself or herself as a proud descendant of the creator, host and principal writer of “The Twilight Zone.”

Westport has other connections to the Top 101:

  • In the final season of “I Love Lucy” — the #12 series –the Ricardos and Mertzes moved to Westport. (Hilarity of course ensued — click here.)
Lucy Ricardo reads a poster to Ethel Mertz in "Westport." It says: "Yankee Doodle Day Celebration -- Statue Dedication at Jessup (sic) Green."

Lucy Ricardo reads a poster to Ethel Mertz in “Westport.” It says: “Yankee Doodle Day Celebration — Statue Dedication at Jessup (sic) Green.”

  • 1985 Staples grad Paul Lieberstein is an “Office” (#50) writer/producer/actor (Toby Flenderson).
  • Rod Serling pops up again at #65, as a “Playhouse 90” writer.
  • Longtime resident Jack Klugman starred for a long time as Oscar Madison on “The Odd Couple” (#78).

I’m sure I’ve missed plenty more. I’m not looking for something as tangential as the fact that “All in the Family’s” (#4) Jean Stapleton’s cousin is Westport artist Alberta Cifolelli.

But click here for the full list. And if you’ve got a good Top 101/Westport connection, hit “Comments.”

A Stop At Mario’s

Mario’s can seem like a place from another era.

With its brontosaurus-size steaks and overflowing pitchers of martinis, it evokes a “Mad Men” vibe.

Even the place mats offer a chance to travel back in time.

The other day, an alert Mario’s place mat reader noticed a Cohen’s Fashion Optical ad for Dr. Susan Westrup. Yet the eye doctor hasn’t been there since the store changed hands a while ago.

There was also an ad for S.Z. Manufacturing. That elicited fond memories of Yekutiel “Kuti” Zeevi, who owned what had become Y.Z. Jewelry Manufacturing when he was killed last December, in a robbery.

And more:  The warm welcome from the owners told diners, “should you find anything less than perfect, please tell Frank or Mario — one or the other is sure to be on hand.”

Unfortunately, no. Mario Sacco died in July 2009.

The alert reader asked what was up with all the retro stuff.

She was told that someone had found a few boxes of old place mats, and decided to use them up.

Maybe they thought no one actually read the place mats. Or perhaps service was slower than usual than night.

And about the headline on this story: Mario’s is, of course, located directly opposite the train station.

A stop at Willoughby? Westport? Mario's?

One of the most famous “Twilight Zone” episodes of all — “A Stop at Willoughby” — involves a harried 1960’s ad executive whose train ride home to Westport keeps stopping in a bucolic town called Willoughby. In the year 1888.

Like the train station at Westport/Willoughby, Mario’s has transported us all back in time.

Last Stop: Minnybus

Near the corner of North Avenue and Easton Road — right by Coleytown Elementary School — stands this little wisp of Westport weirdness:

In “A Stop at Willoughby” — one of Rod Serling’s most famous “Twilight Zone” episodes ever — a New York advertising executive on the train home to Westport finds himself transported to an idyllic town called Willoughby. In the year 1888.

This sign reminds me of that. Perhaps if I stand there long enough, a diesel-powered Mercedes minnybus will lumber by.

I’ll climb on board, ride it all over town, and suddenly it will be the 1970s all over again.

The Cold War’s Hot Exhibit

The 1950s: McCarthyism. The Cold War. Nike Sites, fallout shelters and elementary school “duck and cover” drills.

Those were the days!

Well, yeah. In many ways they were — especially around here. We had a real-live Main Street, with actual grocery stores, hardware stores, and merchants who knew your name. Kids romped in the woods free from parental worries.

And Westport was growing rapidly. Every day, it seemed, another family moved in. Many were arts-types: novelists, TV writers, playwrights, admen. They were drawn by the town’s reputations as an “artists’ colony” — and as each one arrived, more followed.

Starting this Sunday (January 29), you can revisit those days. The Westport Historical Society presents 2 exhibits looking back on that golden/scary era.

“Next Stop: Westport, The Inspiration for 1950’s TV & Film Writers” takes its title from “A Stop at Willoughby,” one of “Twilight Zone”‘s most memorable episodes. In it, an ad executive on his way home to suburban Westport repeatedly finds himself in a pastoral town called Willoughby — in 1888.

Westport’s role in “The Twilight Zone” was no coincidence. Rod Serling wrote the episode when he lived in Westport.

Fellow residents included novelist Max Shulman, whose Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! satirized life in a suburban town when the Army selects it for a missile base. (Which actually happened here; the subsequent film led Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward to move to Westport.)

It was quite a time. There were so many creative types, says Linda Gramatky Smith — the daughter of “Little Toot” creator Hardie Gramatky — that there were regular writer-vs.-artist basketball and softball games.

The Historical Society exhibit features all that, and more — like Sloan Wilson’s novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, which was set here (the subsequent movie, starring Gregory Peck, was filmed here), and the final year of “I Love Lucy,” when the Ricardos and Mertzes move to town.

Video of a different kind will be shown at the WHS too. “The Cold War in Our Backyard” — a fascinating, chilling (and at times laughable) film compilation by Lisa Seidenberg, including everything from instructions on removing radiation from food to the still-frightening “Twilight Zone” episode on barbarism in a fallout shelter — will play in a continuous loop. (You can also click here to see it.)

Nearby, images and artifacts will recreate the fears that filled that “golden” era.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens wrote.

He didn’t live in Westport.

But so many other famous writers did. Starting Sunday, the Westport Historical Society shares their stories with the world.

(The exhibit’s opening reception is this Sunday, January 29, 3-5 p.m. Click here for more information, or call 203-222-1424.)

Well, I’ll Be Witched

Everyone knows — or should — that in their last TV season, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo moved to Westport.  The “I Love Lucy” episode in which the hapless redhead accidentally destroyed a Minuteman-like statue is part of town lore.

Samantha "Sam" Stephens

But who knew that Samantha “Sam” Stephens — the blonde witch from the popular “Bewitched” show — was also a Westporter?

Alert “06880” reader John Suggs spotted this character bio on TVAcres.com:

Samantha is a homemaker.  She is blond, beautiful, and a witch.  Born on June 6th on the eve of the Galactic Rejuvenation and Dinner Dance, Samantha’s fate was to fall in love with a mortal human named Darrin Stephens who works as an advertising executive for McMann and Tate ad agency in Manhattan.

Above the entry was her TV address:  1164 Morning Glory Circle, Westport, CT.  The name sounds like a Westport road — even though it’s not — but the street number doesn’t.  The Post Road is the only place we go above the hundreds.

The website listed her “phone numbers”:  555-7328 (or 2134, 2368, 6161).  Except for the “555” — the one used in every TV show and movie, so folks don’t start calling actual numbers — it sounds legit.  Back in the 1960s and early ’70s, it was a special Westport status symbol to have more than 1 phone line.

And, of course, back in the day every man in Westport worked for an ad agency.

The Ricardos and Sam are not the only Westport TV characters, of course.  Rod Serling sometimes worked his hometown into “Twilight Zone” scripts.

We’re on the lookout for more local television connections.  “Bonanza” is probably out, but if “Bewitched” could be set here, everything else seems game.

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…

Communication Twilight Zones

If you’ve got any kind of soundwave-operated device, you know what happens.

At certain areas in town — King’s Highway South; South Compo near the Post Road;  Green’s Farms Road between Hillspoint and the Connector; Hillspoint near the old elementary school — all communication vanishes.

Cell phones (no matter what your carrier); Sirius XM satellite — it’s all the same.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.

“They’re voodoo dead spots,” one Westporter says.  “I don’t think any other town has as many as Westport.  It’s creepy.”

Rod Serling once lived here.  If he still did — heck, if he still lived, period — he’d recognize Westport’s Twilight Zone.

Westport's Twilight Zone