Monday, May 6, 2013

And When the Sky Was Opened. . . They Were Gone

Twilight Zone specialized in tales of the supernatural, of nightmares that haunt the waking hours, and of time travel. But now that the show is more than 50 years old, watching any episode puts the viewer in the Twilight Zone as the dead are brought to life on film.

“And When the Sky Was Opened,” the episode that Me TV is repeating on May 14, opens in a military hospital where two astronauts are recovering after their experimental spacecraft crash-landed in the desert. One lies in bed, while the other nervously paces the room, insisting to his colleague that there was a third man aboard the ship who has mysteriously vanished. Indeed, he did, and before the show ends the other two will also disappear with no evidence remaining that they ever existed.

The episode features a superb performance from Rod Taylor, a very popular actor in the 1960s (The Time Machine, The Birds) who is still alive, occasionally working (he played Winston Churchill in Inglorious Bastards) and presumably kicking in his 80s. There’s also Charles Aidman as the first of the astronauts to disappear. He passed on in 1993 at age 68, too young, perhaps, to die, but not exactly young either.

But there’s also Jim Hutton, young and unaware, as this viewer in 2013 is not, that his would be a short life. On June 2, 1979, less than twenty years after this episode first aired (on December 11, 1959), Hutton died of liver cancer at age 45. The boyish looking actor’s best role was probably as Ellery Queen which had a one season run on NBC in 1975-76. None of his movies could be considered classics, but he has some notable credits. He was the co-star in Cary Grant’s final film, 1966’s Walk, Don’t Run, and he made two movies back-to-back with John Wayne (1968’s The Green Berets and 1969’s Hellfighters. Ironically, Wayne, 17 years his senior, died at age 72 only 11 days after Hutton. (Hutton's son, Timothy, would win an Oscar almost two years later for his supporting role in Ordinary People.

Then there’s Sue Randall who has a small role as a nurse. She’s more familiar from her recurring role as a young teacher on Leave It to Beaver. Back then who would have guessed that this lovely actress would die of lung cancer at age 49?

Let’s not overlook Rod Serling, our tour guide to the Twilight Zone and the man who created the series and wrote many of its episodes. Serling was only 50 when he died in 1975. I was 18 at the time, and though 50 seemed young to me then, it seems even younger now that I’ve passed it myself. I realize now just how brief was Serling’s time on earth.

There they were, alive and well - and young - on the TV screen. And now, they’re gone, not unlike the astronauts in the Twilight Zone teleplay. As Rod Serling intones in the closing narration:

“They used to exist, but they don’t any longer. Someone – or something – took them somewhere.”


© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


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