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December 7 in Twilight Zone History: Remembering four-time Oscar-nominated set decorator Robert R. Benton

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Dec 7, 2017

Today, December 7th, This Day in Twilight Zone History remembers four-time Academy Award-nominated set decorator Robert R. Benton, who passed away on this day in 2003 at 79.

Benton (1924-2003) decorated the sets of 25 fifth season episodes of the Zone. The fact that he was later nominated for four Oscars (Hud, The Americanization of Emily, The Slender Thread and The Oscar) confirms that he was a master at his craft. And that was another bonus of basing The Twilight Zone at MGM in those days: You had the best of the best craftspeople available to your production.

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The main drag in "The Old Man in the Cave," ever so precisely decorated by Robert R. Benton.

Because they were shot in black and white, the TZ sets take on another dimension – sometimes creepy, sometimes futuristic, sometimes lived-in to the extreme. There was also a preciseness to those sets that just can’t be described. It could be as simple as a debris-strewn street in "The Old Man in the Cave" or the quiet dignity of a slowly ticking grandfather clock in "Ninety Years Without Slumbering" or the seeming normalcy of a suburban neighborhood in "Stopover in a Quiet Town" – everything was just right.

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Set decorator Robert R. Benton's challenge on "Stopover in a Quiet Time" was to decorate a suburban house and neighborhood with appropriately odd items. 

Benton also decorated one of my favorite World War II movies: Hell is for Heroes, which featured three TZ veterans – James Coburn, Mike Kellin and Bill Mullikin ("A Nice Place to Visit").

So let's hoist a precise Staffordshire mug of beer to Benton and the detailed wonder he brought to the 5th dimension of The Twilight Zone. And to the veterans of Pearl Harbor that are still with us, we salute you and thank you for your service to our country on this day of remembrance.

One last note: For TZ fans in the Land of Enchantment, I will be signing my book The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia and giving a talk about TZ in Albuquerque this Saturday, December 9 from 3-4PM at the Barnes and Noble in Coronado Center (6600 Menaul NE Suite 1). Cheers!