December 22 in Twilight Zone History: Celebrating the 1961 premiere of 'Five Characters in Search of an Exit'

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Dec 22, 2017

Today, December 22nd, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the 1961 premiere of "Five Characters in Search of an Exit." 

A stand-out episode on many levels, this beautifully acted and directed teleplay by Rod Serling introduces five people stuck in some kind of cylinder with no visible exit path. The characters include an angry, frustrated army major (William Windom), a pretty ballerina (Susan Harrison), a stoic hobo (Kelton Garwood), a whimsical clown (Murray Matheson), and a low-key bagpipe player (Clark Allen). The spark plug of the group, the major rallies them into a cohesive team intent on escape.

The Major (William Windom, center) tries to rally his odd troop for an escape attempt from a cylinder in "Five Characters in Search of an Exit."

"Five Characters in Search of an Exit" was directed by one of Serling's favorite helmers, Lamont Johnson. A former radio and theatre actor, Johnson became one of the most successful television directors of his era. I got a chance to work with him in 1982 when he came aboard the 3D space adventure Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. They had fired the original director on location in Moab, Utah, and Johnson came on board with his booming voice and took charge.

Command and whimsy collide as the Major (William Windom, right) tries to recruit the Clown (Murray Matheson, left) for an escape in "Five Characters in Search of an Exit."

Johnson knew actors to a T, and "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" is truly an actor's piece. So let's toast one of the highlights of the series, and to that stunning force of will that we all possess – a will that can move mountains and achieve an impossible escape, even in The Twilight Zone.