The 60-year legacy of The Twilight Zone

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In October 1959, Rod Serling launched a new TV experience called “The Twilight Zone.” It was black and white, shot on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio lot, and ran for five seasons. The show became a classic of early television, and those episodes have been running in syndication and in “The Twilight Zone” marathons ever since.  

He created it because he didn’t like the fact that sponsors controlled TV in the late 50s, and thus determined what appeared on shows. “The Twilight Zone” was a vehicle to tell stories he wanted to tell -- without upsetting the sponsors.

“The idea was if he could move into allegory, he could have robots and aliens say things that a senator or a sheriff couldn’t say. And that was kind of his way of being able to tell stories of substance, cloaked in the science fiction or fantasy trappings that would let messages (of race relations or politics or McCarthyism) be assimilated a little easier,” says Mark Quigley, film and TV archivist at UCLA.

“The Twilight Zone” was known for its long list of famous actors, from William Shatner to Burgess Meredith to Elizabeth Montgomery.

One of the well-known child actors to take “The Twilight Zone” stage was Veronica Cartwright, who also did many Kellogg’s commercials and played Violet Rutherford on “Leave it to Beaver.” She continues to relive her Twilight Zone fame to this day at conventions devoted to the 20th century sci-fi classic.

She starred in the episode “I Sing the Body Electric.” In it, she and her two siblings picked out a robot grandmother after their mother passed away. “I missed my mother, and I’m not going to have anything to do with this grandmother,” she remembers. “So I run away, and I almost get hit by a bus, and [the robot] of course goes in front of the bus and saves me, and then I fall in love with her.”

Cartwright was also a fan of many other episodes on the show too, particularly “Time Enough at Last.” That one was about an avid reader who was finally able to read all the books he wanted after becoming the only survivor of an atomic bomb explosion. But as he cracked open his first book, his glasses broke.

Her favorite episode was “The Invaders” with Anges Morehead. “There was no dialogue. She was just screaming at these things [robots]. At the end, we realized that she wasn’t human, that the United States had sent up these little astronaut people, and that she was actually wiping out the United States. That one was so fabulous,” Cartwright says.

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