The Twilight Zone Revisited
Posted by Andrew Szym on Oct 1, 2002 - 11:40:00 PM
NORTH HOLLYWOOD—Fans, followers and worshipers of Rod Serling and his greatest achievement, the black and white series "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1964), convened at The Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in North Hollywood on August 24 and 25. Coordinated by Andrew Szym of Portland, Ore. and Bill DeVoe of Arlington, Texas, and hosted by Hollywood Collectors Show, Inc., this was the first-ever "Twilight Zone" Convention, awaited for by fans for nearly 40 years.
Courtesy of Ruta Lee's personal website
The featured event of the Convention was an autograph show, similar to the popular ones conducted four times per year at Beverly's Hotel. The key exception: this "Stars of the Zone Convention" was a 'themed' autograph show. Fifty-six stars, co-stars, bit players and writers who appeared in various episodes of "The Twilight Zone" sat at tables and sold autographed photos, signed movie posters and fan memorabilia and chatted with loyal fans. Some of the stars brought spouses or friends to help them manage their earnings.
The most noteworthy guest stars were Julie Newmar, Mickey Rooney and Cliff Robertson. All three enjoyed long lines of fans who kept them busy from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Both Rooney and Robertson had other engagements scheduled for Sunday, so they only appeared on Saturday.
The enthusiasm from the more than 2000 attendees was overwhelming. While distance prevented a large number of out-of-area "Twilight Zone" fans from attending, we counted four from Hawaii, two from England, several from Finland, two from Japan and one from Australia. We also counted approximately 20 who had come from somewhere on the east coast.
"When I walked in the door and saw all those stars from 'Twilight Zone', whom I'd been watching for 20 years, all sitting in one room before my eyes, my jaw dropped," said one fan. "It was nice to see that so many of them are alive and well, and look not so much different than they did 40 years ago!"
Legendary character actresses Ruta Lee, Barbara Stuart and Beverly Garland occupied the main stretch of tables as fans walked in the main door. Jovial and friendly, readily engaging in conversation and picture-taking, Ruta was a favorite of many fans.
Also occupying table space in the room were many local dealers of Hollywood memorabilia. Carl Amari and Roger Wolski, co-producers of the new "Twilight Zone Radio Dramas," were also on hand to promote and sell the CD version of their new radio series, hosted by Stacy Keach, which will premiere in October.
Stewart Stanyard, curator of "The Twilight Zone" Archives,
had an expansive display of authentic production photos from "Twilight Zone," as well as items owned by Rod Serling, which included a monogrammed briefcase and Serling's paratrooper jacket from World War II.
At 2 p.m., nearly 200 folks broke away from the convention
fervor and headed over to the Beverly Garland Theater for a cast panel discussion led by "Twilight Zone authority" Tony Albarella of New Jersey. Anne Francis, Jonathan Harris, Jean Carson, Kevin McCarthy, Cliff Robertson, Suzanne Lloyd, Wright King and James Best all generously took an hour away from their photo sales to participate.
Carson, best known for her roles on "The Andy Griffith Show" (Daphne, the 'fun girl' from Mt. Pilot, and Naomi, an escaped convict) discussed how Rod Serling wrote the "Twilight Zone" episode "A Most Unusual Camera" for her, in which she co-starred. Anne Francis shared a horrifying story about how she and James Best had to work with a live leopard in the episode "Jess Belle." Jonathan Harris ("Lost in Space" and star of two "Twilight Zone" episodes) had everyone in hysterics with his humorous high-jinks.
Courtesy of Jean Carson's official website
From 3 to 4 p.m., writer Christopher Conlon hosted a panel consisting of "Twilight Zone" writers George Clayton Johnson, Earl Hamner, Jr., John Tomerlin and Marc Scott Zicree (author of the "Twilight Zone Companion"). From 4 to 5 p.m., Gary Shusett, who runs the LA-based Sherwood Oaks School for Screenwriting and Acting, led a panel consisting of "Twilight Zone" directors James Sheldon, Robert Ellis Miller and Elliot Silverstein. Sheldon recalled his casting of a young lad named Bill Mumy in the horrifying episode "It's a Good Life" back in 1961, and how Mumy's performance has continued to impact audiences even today.
The day's festivities were capped off by a VIP Celebration Dinner in the hotel's Father Serra Room. A delicious buffet dinner preceded a phenomenal 35-minute oral presentation by George Clayton Johnson. Johnson remarked at how "Twilight Zone" raised the level of social consciousness in a number of areas and with a number of issues that Serling tackled in the series - prejudice, fear of the unknown, death, interracial relations. Johnson also made a point of acknowledging the actors, who made the writers' visions come to life, that they were primarily responsible for Twilight Zone's status as perhaps the greatest TV series of all time. "We, the writers, laid the foundation; you, the actors, built the temple."
For those of you not familiar with Johnson's work, he shares co-authorship of the novels "Ocean's 11" and "Logan's Run" and he wrote the premiere episode of "Star Trek," eight episodes of "The Twilight Zone," and one segment of "Twilight Zone: The Movie" from 1983. He also wrote numerous episodes of TV series in the 1960's.
Johnson casually mentioned that his own first TV on-screen writing credit came on January 1, 1960, with his story "The Four of Us Are Dying" and that "Twilight Zone" led off the tumultous decade of the sixties. Coincidentally, or not, Beverly Garland just happened to be cast in that particular episode as Maggie, a sultry torch singer, in a scene she shared with the late actor Ross Martin. Coordinator Andrew Szym followed Johnson by thanking the attending actors individually; all were acknowledged individually with thunderous applause. Never one to leave a microphone hot, the legendary Shelley Berman immediately took the podium and thanked everyone involved for one of the most fun days he'd had in 30 years.