The Twilight Zone: Alternate Dimensions
Updated: Mar 6, 2019
When THE TWILIGHT ZONE debuted on October 2nd, 1959, television viewers had never seen anything like it. Or had they? In truth, if a fanatical television watcher (or radio listener) had been blessed with perfect recall, no fewer than a half-dozen TWILIGHT ZONE episodes would have seemed familiar.
1. “What You Need”
Rod Serling’s first-season adaptation of this short story by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore (under the pseudonym, Lewis Padgett) was first adapted for television seven years earlier on the series TALES OF TOMORROW (to which a young Rod Serling had unsuccessfully pitched a few story ideas). This earlier adaptation has since been included in Blu-ray editions of THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
While the original short story involves a machine with miraculous fortune-telling abilities, Serling’s adaptation gives these powers to an elderly peddler played by Ernest Truex. In an early scene, the peddler gives a train ticket to a washed-up baseball pitcher who does not yet know that he will need this ticket to get to a minor league coaching job he's about to be offered. If our hypothetical television fanatic had truly perfect memory, he might also recognize that this character is an “alternate universe” version of Lefty O’Bannion, the title character of Serling’s earlier script for LUX VIDEO THEATRE, “Welcome Home, Lefty.”
2. “One For the Angels”
Another story concerning a sidewalk peddler, “One For the Angels” starring Ed Wynn as Lew Bookman, also found its way to television much earlier than its incarnation on THE TWILIGHT ZONE. This story began as “The Pitch,” a 1952 episode of a series that Serling wrote for WKRC in Cincinnati called THE STORM. In 1954 he adapted it again, this time for the series DANGER, and this time with the title “One for the Angels.” Though these earlier versions share protagonists with their TWILIGHT ZONE counterpart, neither involves any element of fantasy. THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s version requires Bookman to make a “pitch for the angels” to save the life of a young girl. In these earlier versions, Bookman’s brother, Vinnie, is in danger of being gunned down by mobsters, and so Bookman must make a sales pitch so mesmerizing that a crowd of people will protectively surround his brother throughout the night.
3. “The Hitch-Hiker”
Another first-season entry with much earlier roots, “The Hitch-Hiker” was adapted from a radio script by Lucille Fletcher, which was produced on radio no less than three times, the first as early as 1942. In his adaptation, Serling changed the protagonist from male to female, and named her after his youngest daughter, Nan.
4. “The Incredible World of Horace Ford”
When a discussion turns to the “Golden Age” of television, and the writers who made it so, there is a group of names invariably mentioned alongside Rod Serling's: Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote, Tad Mosel, and Reginald Rose. Of this honored group, only Rose scripted an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. He did not, however, write it for THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
“The Incredible World of Horace Ford,” Rose’s contribution to the fourth season of hour-long TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, first aired as an episode of STUDIO ONE on June 13, 1955.
5. “The Hunt”
Likely the most memorable of eight TWILIGHT ZONE scripts written by Earl Hammer, Jr., “The Hunt” (like “Horace Ford”) was originally written and produced for another series. Under the title, “The Hound of Heaven,” Hamner’s story aired on THE KATE SMITH HOUR, on January 15, 1953. This production included an appearance by a twenty-one-year-old James Dean, who would star in Serling’s “A Long Time Till Dawn” later that year, on KRAFT THEATRE.
6. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
It is commonly known that THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s version of Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was an edited version of a French short film, which had earlier won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Less known is the fact that Bierce’s story had been previously produced as an episode of ALRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS on December 20, 1959.
Rod Serling was a prolific writer. He also frequently recycled his own material. Sometimes this provided a chance to explore a story from a different point of view, to give a story a different spin, or to expand a story from a half-hour to an hour or longer. In addition to recycling, anyone with even a casual knowledge of Serling’s work has likely recognized that there are themes that the writer was particularly fond of exploring dramatically, and that these themes crop up continuously throughout his body of work. For these reasons, TWILIGHT ZONE viewers can find vast resonances throughout Serling’s earlier (and later) work. Concerning earlier “versions” of TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, however, two additional examples stand apart from the rest:
1. “In Praise of Pip”
The first act of “In Praise of Pip,” Serling’s beautifully written story starring Jack Klugman and Billy Mumy, was recycled verbatim from the second act of “Next of Kin,” Serling’s first script to air on KRAFT THEATRE, April 8, 1953. “Next of Kin” told the story of three distinctly different families/people who receive “missing in action” telegrams from the war department. The second of these is Max Phillips, a frequently drunk, small-time bookie, who would later be played brilliantly by Klugman. While KRAFT THEATRE’s version ends with Phillips wielding a switchblade to ward off a mob boss, Moran, THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s version follows Phillips out into the street, where he will soon meet the ghostly image of his dying son, Pip.
2. “The Mighty Casey”
“The Mighty Casey,” Serling’s comedic story about a robotic baseball pitcher, shares several character names and dialogue exchanges with Serling’s earlier baseball-themed play, “Old MacDonald Had a Curve.” In both, Jack Warden plays the role of “Mouth” McGarry, the team’s manager.
Post-cancellation, the following “alternate” versions of TWILIGHT ZONE episodes were produced:
In 1982, Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Electric Grandmother,” was produced with that title as a television movie. It had earlier been adapted as the third season’s “I Sing the Body Electric.”
In 1983, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE remade three original series episodes: “Kick the Can,” “It’s a Good Life,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”
CBS’s 1985 revival of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (and the 1989 syndicated TWILIGHT ZONE, to which it was connected) remade: “Shadow Play,” “The After Hours,” “Night of the Meek,” “A Game of Pool,” and “Dead Man’s Shoes” (as “Dead Woman’s Shoes”).
The most recent TWILIGHT ZONE reboot, 2002-2003, remade “Eye of the Beholder” and “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” (as “The Monsters are on Maple Street”), and also produced a sequel to “It’s a Good Life” titled “It’s Still a Good Life,” again starring Bill Mumy and Cloris Leachman.
In 2000 a bland but enjoyable cable TV movie, FOR ALL TIME, premiered. Starring Mark Harmon, the credits indicate that the film was “Based on The Twilight Zone episode, “A Stop at Willoughby” by Rod Serling."
And in 2011, the Hugh Jackman film, REAL STEEL, acknowledged that it was based on Richard Matheson’s short story (and TWILIGHT ZONE episode), “Steel.”
THE TWILIGHT ZONE universe is truly as vast as space - and as timeless as infinity.