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The Twilight Zone is a classic science fiction show that ran for five seasons on CBS, beginning in October 1959. The series was an unexpected hit. It did flounder in its later seasons, partly due to the network not knowing how to handle it. The show has given us some classic stories like "Eye of the Beholder," "The Invaders," and "I Sing the Body Electric." Sometimes it gave us stories that were just weird or silly as well. The show also introduced us to some great actors. And sometimes those great actors got stuck in the those weird and silly episodes. Here are some actors who had a brief stay in The Twilight Zone.
1. Burgess Meredith
Best known for his roles as the Penguin in the campy Batman show in the 60s and as Rocky's trainer, Mick, in Stallone's boxing franchise, Burgess Meredith made four appearances in The Twilight Zone. His most famous appearance is probably in "Time Enough at Last," where he plays a bookworm that everyone loves to pick on for his reading obsession. He manages to be the only survivor of a nuclear holocaust and celebrates that he now has time to read as much as he wants. He then breaks his glasses and we leave him mourning his poor eyesight and rotten luck. But hey, on the bright side, he would have likely died of radiation poisoning long before he got to finish even one stack of books. In "Printer's Devil," Meredith plays the Devil, who strikes a deal with a suicidal newspaper man. He also portrays the librarian who is slated for death in the heavy-handed Cold War episode "The Obsolete Man."
"Mr. Dingle, the Strong" is the highlight here though. In this episode, Meredith plays a vacuum cleaner salesman and all-around loser named Luther Dingle. A two-headed Martian sees Mr. Dingle and decides that he would be the perfect subject for an experiment. The Martian gives Dingle incredible strength. Dingle uses his new powers to get the attention of the world. Just as he is about to get his big moment in the sun on live television, the Martian strips him of his powers, making him look like a fool. Not all is lost though, as a couple of Venusians show up and grant Dingle increased intelligence before the show comes to a close. Insult comedian Don Rickles also makes an appearance in this episode. Besides the four episodes mentioned here, Meredith has another tie to the series. He serves as the narrator for the 1983 movie, which remade several classic episodes.
2. Half the Cast of 'Star Trek'
Of course nearly everyone knows about William Shatner's classic episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." If you haven't seen it, the Shat plays a man who recently had a nervous breakdown while flying and is on his way home after recovering. On the flight, the plane passes through a storm and Shatner keeps seeing a gremlin out through the window who is tearing up the wing and engine. This episode was remade in the movie with John Lithgow in the role. This in turn led to one of the funnier moments in the television show 3rd Rock from the Sun. When Shatner guest starred on that show, he meets Lithgow at the airport, who asks him how his flight was. Shatner replies that he kept seeing something on the wing, to which Lithgow exclaims, "The same thing happened to me!" Less well known is Shatner's first appearance on The Twilight Zone, where he plays a man on his honeymoon who becomes obsessed with a fortune telling machine in a small town diner that always seems to be right.
Two of the Enterprise's officers have had small parts in the show. Leonard Nimoy was in the episode "A Quality of Mercy," in which a ruthless officer at the end of World War 2 is made to see things from the Japanese point of view. James Doohan is in the episode "Valley of the Shadow" in which a reporter becomes trapped in a town that has the benefits of advanced technology given to them by an alien. George Takei had a major role in an episode and it's probably the most interesting one of the soon to be Trekkers. He is in "The Encounter" where he plays a Japanese-American who is looking to score some work and ends up in the attic of a WWII veteran named Fenton. Fenton has a samurai sword that he took off an enemy soldier that he killed. Takei holds the sword and it fills him with the knowledge of Fenton's dark secret. He also gains the desire to kill Fenton in revenge. The show does a good job of showing that both characters have their own personal shame and both also have their good sides.
3. Robby the Robot
The Twilight Zone filmed a lot at the same studio where Forbidden Planet was made. Because of this, they had access to the leftover props from that movie and they made good use of them. One of the props they loved to use was Robby the Robot. In "Uncle Simon," an old man lives with his niece, who he is constantly berating. He spends a lot of time in his basement but won't tell her what he is doing. When she tries to sneak a peek, Simon catches her and tries to hit her with his cane. When she defends herself, she accidentally kills the old man. She thinks she is finally free. She then learns that to receive her inheritance, she must look after Simon's robot, who begins to act and sound just like him. In "The Brain Center at Whipple's," Robby takes the place of a factory owner who has replaced all of his employees with machines.
There are a couple of other Robby appearances in the show, sort of. In "One for the Angels," a slick salesman tries to outsmart Death. There is a toy Robby in the episode. It has nothing to do with the plot really, but this is still an episode worth checking out. Some sources claim that one of Robby's heads was used as a prop in the episode "The Little People," which was about an astronaut who gains a god complex after discovering a race of microscopic people on an alien planet.
4. Jack Klugman
One half of the Odd Couple, Jack Klugman is tied with Burgess Meredith for most appearances on The Twilight Zone. In "Death Ship," Klugman is the captain of a spaceship that is looking for planets to colonize for Earth. The crew finds the wreckage of a ship just like theirs. They discover that it is in fact their ship and they died in the crash. This episode doesn't make a lot of sense and is, in my opinion, the worst Klugman episode of the show. He gets a better story in "A Passage for Trumpet," but only slightly. In this episode, he plays a down and out trumpet player who decides to end it all after being forced to pawn his instrument. After stepping in front of a truck, Klugman finds himself stuck in limbo with another trumpet player who convinces him to give life another go. We find out that the other player is the angel Gabriel.
In "A Game of Pool," Klugman plays a pool player who bemoans the fact that he never got a chance to try to beat the greatest player who ever lived, "Fats" Brown. Fats shows up from the afterlife to meet the challenge. The character is played by comedian Jonathan Winters. After Klugman beats Winters, he is finally acknowledged as the greatest pool player ever. However, he finds that this means spending eternity dropping in on little pool halls defending his title. In the episode "In Praise of Pip," Klugman plays a bookie who is hit with remorse after his son is mortally wounded in Vietnam. He tries to help a young gambler and ends up getting shot for his troubles. He sees his son in a vision and makes a deal with God to trade his life for his son's. Somehow this is effective, even though Klugman's character was already dying. The striking thing about this story is that a character was mortally wounded in Vietnam. Television was notoriously skittish about talking about Vietnam, to the point where MASH was set in Korea. Not only did this series not shy away from it, they did so in 1963, before the U.S. had ramped up involvement under President Johnson.
5. Elizabeth Montgomery and Charles Bronson
The episode "Two" features not one but two future stars, although their careers involved very different kinds of work. Charles Bronson became an action star in movies like The Dirty Dozen, The Magnificent Seven, and The Thrilling Three. Okay, I made that last one up. He really did go on to star in Death Wish, which kicked off a notoriously violent action movie franchise. Elizabeth Montgomery is of course best known for playing the lovely witch and wife Samantha on the television sitcom Bewitched. But back in 1961, both actors did a turn as enemy combatants after a war has wiped out most of humanity.
Charles Bronson plays what is obviously supposed to be an American soldier. In a deserted city, he runs into Elizabeth, who is obviously a Russian soldier. He attempts to befriend her, trying to convince her there is no reason to continue fighting the war. After several tense moments, it seems like they have come to terms, until she decides to shoot at him. He is mistrustful of her, but she changes out of her uniform and into a dress. This convinces him that she has now changed her ways. Elizabeth Montgomery's future television husband Dick York also appeared on the show once, gaining the ability to hear people's thoughts in "A Penny for Your Thoughts."
6. Future T.V. Detectives
Two great T.V. detectives made early appearances in The Twilight Zone. Peter Falk would go on to play Columbo, the rumpled and absent minded detective who would somehow manage to ferret out the facts behind puzzling murders. (On a side note, the first episode of Columbo was directed by a young Stephen Spielberg.) In the episode "The Mirror," Falk plays a Central American dictator who is obviously based on Castro. During a meeting with his four closest advisors, he sees a vision in his mirror that shows all four of them plan to kill him in different ways. He takes them all out one by one, and then meets with a priest. After refusing to end mass executions at the priest's urging, the holy man tells him that he has only one real enemy, himself. When Falk looks in the mirror and sees himself, he kills himself. This episode is a slightly heavy-handed piece of Cold War propaganda, but it's still entertaining.
Telly Savalas is known to the world as Kojak, the bald, lollipop-loving detective who has the memorable catchphrase of "Who loves ya baby." Before all of that though, he played a man who married a woman with a daughter from a previous relationship in this series. Savalas didn't like the little girl, as she was a constant reminder that he could not have children of his own. The little girl gets a talking doll which soon becomes an object of horror for Savalas. It taunts him, telling him it hates him and that it's going to kill him. He tries unsuccessfully to get rid of the doll. He finally trips over it and falls down the stairs to his death. Of course, this episode has spawned several imitators, including a classic Simpsons Halloween episode.
7. Lee Marvin
Lee Marvin starred in many big movies in his day, including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Cat Ballou, and The Big Red One. (I'm pretty sure that last one is not an adult movie movie, though I wouldn't swear to it.) He was also in The Dirty Dozen with Charles Bronson, who we've already talked about. Marvin starred in two episodes of The Twilight Zone. In "The Grave," Marvin plays a bounty hunter who has been hired to track down an outlaw named Sykes. The people of his hometown ambush Sykes and take him out before Marvin gets a chance. When Marvin shows up in town, he is told that Sykes claimed he was a coward and promised that if Marvin visited his grave, he'd reach up and grab him. Marvin goes to the grave on a dare and sticks his knife in the ground as proof. But as he tries to leave, he is yanked back down. The next morning, he is found to have pinned his coat to the ground with his knife and then died of fright. At the very end, someone points out that the wind would have been blowing his coat away from the grave, not toward it.
In "Steel." Marvin plays an ex-boxer. Boxing has been found to be too dangerous for humans, so robots have taken their place in the sport. Marvin and his partner have an old model that is falling apart, and they really need money to fix him. Before a slated fight, the robot breaks down beyond the point of being able to compete. Marvin decides to take the robot's place and proceeds to get his ass handed to him by a robot boxer. His performance is so lousy that the promoter only pays him half the money due. Marvin doesn't protest since he can't let anyone figure out that he was the one boxing the robot. Personally, I think Hugh Jackman's movie Real Steel should have used this story instead of the story from the Stallone stinker, Over the Top.
8. Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett might seem like she would be out of place since her main claim to fame is her sketch comedy show. However, her episode in this series is the only one to have been originally broadcast with a laugh track. "Cavender Is Coming" was supposed to be a backdoor pilot for a show about a bumbling guardian angel. He tries to help a poor human (Burnett) by giving her everything she wants. Although none of his attempts work, she does end up figuring out that she was happy with the way her life was before. So the angel does end up helping her, just not in the way he was trying to. This is the same plot of an earlier episode of the show titled "Mr. Bevis." The pilot didn't get any traction, and the laugh track was removed from later showings of the episode.
9. Robert Redford
Robert Redford is one of the great actors in American film. He has been in movies as diverse as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, and Captain America: Winter Soldier. In "Nothing in the Dark," he plays a police officer who is shot outside of an old woman's apartment. This woman has not left her apartment in years because she is afraid of being caught by Mr. Death. At first she is suspicious of Redford, but then decides to help him. She brings him in to her apartment. A construction worker shows up and tells the old woman that he has to demolish the building because it has been condemned. He says he will involve the police if needed. She appeals to Redford to intervene, but the worker cannot see or hear him. At this point she realizes that he is Mr. Death after all. He convinces her to die peacefully and she walks off with him after looking down at her own dead body.
10. Dennis Hopper
Most people I know tend to associate Dennis Hopper with Easy Rider, as well as the many crazy roles he has played since then. We often forget that he was on the screen with James Dean in two different movies. He also showed up in The Twilight Zone. Hopper plays a neo-nazi who is struggling to build up his political party. For some reason, even though he espouses anti-semitism, he lives with and has grown close to an old Jewish man who is a Holocaust survivor. A mysterious man in shadows shows up and begins instructing Hopper on how to grow his political power. He has him arrange the death of one of his followers. After the old Jewish man confronts Hopper, the shadowy man tells him that he must kill him. The shadow man reveals himself to be none other than Adolf Hitler, who has actually survived the war. Hopper kills his old friend on Hitler's orders, but is then killed by the police when they come to arrest him for the death of his follower. Hitler's shadow can be seen moving on to find another hatemonger to groom.