By John C. Alsedek:
Those of you who grew up prior to the 1990s will understand what I’m talking about here: as a TV-obsessed kid during the pre-Internet era, I’d often find myself pondering the intricacies of television casting—specifically, which of my favorite actors had been on which of my favorite shows. Example: one of my very first TV loves was Star Trek, and as a result I was a big William Shatner fan. So imagine my delight when I discovered that the Shat was not only on my next big TV love, The Twilight Zone, but also the classic Boris Karloff anthology Thriller!
However, finding these shared TV experiences was, for the most part, pure luck. Today, it’s no more difficult than going to IMDB and doing a quick search. But in those dark days before the magic of the Interwebs, pretty much the only way to find out if, say, Leonard Nimoy had done The Outer Limits would be to keep watching until you saw him. So, as my ten-year-old self was watching The Twilight Zone in the wee hours of the morning on WPIX Channel 11, I remember being intrigued to see several very familiar faces from Bewtiched in roles very different from what I was used to seeing from them. The subject of our last column, Agnes Moorehead, was one; her dialogue-free performance as a rough farm woman battling tiny aliens in "The Invaders" was about as far removed from the glamorous snark of Queen Endora as possible without the use of creature makeup. As for the rest . . .
David White (Bewtiched ’s Larry Tate) and Dick Sargent (Dick York’s replacement as Darrin) never turned up on The Twilight Zone, alas, though both did appear in episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents/The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (four total for White, one for Sargent). But Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery more than made up for it. For not only did both star in episodes of The Twilight Zone, they also starred in two of my very favorite episodes of my #2 anthology series, Boris Karloff’s Thriller!
Montgomery’s sole star turn on The Twilight Zone was in the Season 3 opener, "Two," in which she and co-star Charles Bronson play enemy soldiers who also happen to be the only survivors of a catastrophic war between their countries. While the script/subject matter are pretty par-for-the-course for The Twilight Zone, the acting is absolutely first rate, with Montgomery imbuing her character with a bit of a feral quality, and the twist that tough guy icon Bronson is the pacifist while Montgomery is the aggressor is a fun one. Considered more of a beauty queen at the time, Elizabeth Montgomery shows fine dramatic chops (all the more impressive because she has just one line!) and really throws herself into the role—an anecdote from the filming of "Two" talks about how Montgomery wanted to go so haggard with her makeup that the director finally had to reel her in.
If her role in "Two" was very much against type, then playing Rosamond Denham in the Thriller episode "Masquerade" was a bit of a peek at her future on Bewitched. "Masquerade" was a spooky-but-fun haunted house ep in which newlyweds end up stranded in a creepy old house (and not just any creepy old house—it’s the "Psycho House"!) with a rustic family (headed by John Carradine at his scenery-chewing best) they think might be murderers. She’s a joy to watch here—the dialogue between Montgomery and future Newhart star Tom Poston absolutely crackles and rivals the very best of Bewtiched.
Dick York’s two Twilight Zone episodes likewise ran the gamut. In the George Clayton Johnson-penned "A Penny for Your Thoughts," he plays Hector Poole, a mild-mannered bank teller who suddenly finds himself blessed—or cursed—with the ability to read minds. York shows off the comedic touch he’d use to great effect as the constantly befuddled Darrin on Bewtiched, and it’s a fine episode.
But as much as I like "A Penny for Your Thoughts," it’s his supporting role in Season 1’s "The Purple Testament" that really gets me, because it gives York a chance to flex his dramatic muscles (he’s superb in 1960’s Inherit the Wind). In a tale about a WWII lieutenant in the Philippines (played by William Reynolds) who can tell who’s going to die in battle just by looking at them, York plays Captain Riker, the man’s superior officer and friend. For most of the episode, York’s role is to provide Reynolds with a sounding board for his increasingly manic claims. However, when Lt. Fitz sees the "death light" on Riker’s face, York gets a wonderful, wordless scene where he prepares for battle, knowing he’ll die but going anyway.
As for Dick York’s Thriller episode . . . wow. "The Incredible Doktor Markesan" is generally considered one of the most bone-chilling programs ever to air on network television, and Dick York’s "everyman" performance is a big part of why it works. He plays Fred Bancroft, who takes his brand-new wife (played by Carolyn Kearney) to visit his uncle, Dr. Konrad Markesan (as played by Boris Karloff). But Uncle Konrad has changed quite a lot in the decade since Fred last saw him . . . York does a great job of gradually ramping up his discomfort level, and his howl of horror at the end of the episode—eeeek!
Speaking of The Twilight Zone—and I very often am—Jordan Peele is the host of the current incarnation, but who was the very first host? If you said, "Rod Serling," you might be right. Or wrong. Or both. Find out which next time. Until then, thanks for tuning in!
Elizabeth Montgomery in TWO:
Elizabeth Montgomery in MASQUERADE:
Dick York in A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS:
Dick York in THE INCREDIBLE DOKTOR MARKESAN: