Monday, December 22, 2008

Rod Serling in Radio, Pt. 6

Originally published in the December, 2008, Old Radio Times.

The Radio Career of Rod Serling
by Martin Grams, Jr.

What the Devil?
On June 11, 1963, Arch Oboler wrote a teleplay for the fifth season of Twilight Zone titled, “What the Devil?” Millie and Frank, driving a Jaguar across the desert, witness a hellish hit-and-run that kills the driver of one of the vehicles. In shock, the two start to suspect the fleeing driver may have seen them and now set his sights on the witnesses. Their suspicions are confirmed when, further down the road, the huge truck takes chase. The words “Danger, High Explosives” are on the side of the vehicle, but the driver misses his mark and the couple manages to get away. Frank tells Millie he caught a glimpse of the driver, and she laughs when he tells her it was the Devil. In a game of cat and mouse, they manage to switch vehicles, hoping the driver is looking for the Jaguar and not a station wagon. Millie, meanwhile, discovers that Frank committed a brutal act before leaving on the trip, and the driver may be a form of conscience. Ultimately, the truck catches up and once again, gives chase, hits-and-runs, this time taking the lives of Millie and Frank, the police arrive on the scene to find the car flattened. One of the officers is puzzled when he points out to his partner the hoof prints burned in the pavement, “like something walked around watching them burn!”

From 1942 to 1943, Oboler scripted a total of 52 episodes for a horror program titled Lights Out!, sponsored by Ironized Yeast and broadcast over the CBS. The premiere episode, aired on October 6, 1942, was a radio play titled “What the Devil?” and this Twilight Zone teleplay was a faithful adaptation of the radio version. Gloria Blondell and Wally Maher played the leads for the radio version. Serling insisted the script be purchased from Oboler, and Bert Granet went along with Serling’s decision. (A letter dated October 2, 1963, from Granet to Serling, suggests that this arrangement was a fiasco, and Granet disliked the idea from the start, keeping silent to please Serling for a decision that ultimately never went before the cameras.)

Assigned a production number on June 11, 1963, the television script was clearly intended to be filmed for the fifth season of The Twilight Zone. The attempt was short-lived. An M-G-M work order dated August 13, 1963 announced the cancellation of this production, and most of the copies of the scripts were returned to Oboler. Serling retained at least two copies for his records, and donated one to UCLA. According to tax paperwork and financial records, secretarial and other expenses cost Cayuga Productions a total of $420.47. No paperwork has been found to verify how much Arch Oboler was paid (if he was paid at all) for his teleplay, which would have been an additional expense to Cayuga.

The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas
On March 4, 1965, a variation of the Twilight Zone episode, “A Nice Place to Visit,” aired on the radio program, Theater Five. “The Land of Milk and Honey” was an almost mirrored copy of the same story, right down to the final surprise ending. In March of 1974, Rod Serling was in Houston, in association with Mutual Broadcasting System, during the National Association of Broadcasters Convention. He was promoting his new radio program, Zero Hour, which he was heavily involved with. This short-run program was Serling’s attempt at another anthology program -- and possibly his chance to retain control of his own program without the interference of both the network and the movie studios.

The December 21, 1960 issue of The Hollywood Reporter reported Serling’s sale of a radio program to CBS, suggesting the network wanted to broadcast a radio series adapted from television scripts of The Twilight Zone. This is not a farfetched notion as some might ponder, because the television series Have Gun – Will Travel had been adapted to radio two years previous on the CBS Radio Network. This concept never fleshed into radio dramas until four decades later when producer Carl Amari decided to present new dramatizations based on this classic program. A lifelong fan of old-time radio, Amari decided to revive the series not as a nostalgic recreation of radio as it once was. Instead, Amari commissioned fresh radio adaptations based on the original 156 teleplays along with new story ideas never seen or heard on The Twilight Zone. Among the prolific writers responsible for adapting the teleplays into 160 History of The Twilight Zone feasible radio scripts are World Fantasy Award-winning writer Dennis Etchison. Recorded in digital stereo, narrated by Stacy Keach and starring a remarkable cast of actors, these exciting productions take the art of audio drama to an audience that may not have seen the Twilight Zone productions when they were first telecast from 1959 – 1964.

Among the radio dramas are adaptations of teleplays written by Charles Beaumont and Jerry Sohl that were commissioned but never produced, such as “Free Dirt” and “Who Am I?” The program has been syndicated across the country on XM and Sirius Satellite Radio, as well as a number of local radio stations. They can also be presently heard over the Yesterday USA Network on the internet, and CD box sets are available commercially.

Special thanks to: Terry Salomonson, Earl Hamner, Bill Bragg, Walden Hughes and Carl Amari for their assistance with this article.

- Martin Grams Jr. is the author and co-author of seventeen books about old-time radio and television. His most recent include The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR Publishing, 2008) and The Radio Adventures of Sam Spade (OTR Publishing, 2007).


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