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February 16 in Twilight Zone History: Celebrating the 1962 premiere of 'A Piano in the House'

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Feb 16, 2018

Today, February 16, This Day in Twilight Zone History and The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia celebrate the 1962 premiere of "A Piano in the House."

Future pursuer of The Fugitive, Barry Morse stars as acid-tongued theatre critic Fitzgerald Fortune, a truly despicable human being who uses his mouth and pen to humiliate those around him. Shopping for a birthday gift for his wife Esther (Joan Hackett) – although it seems out of character for this twerp to buy anything for anybody – he’s sold a player piano from the fifth dimension. Like the old Model A from "The Whole Truth," the mechanical keyboard turns music into truth serum.

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How the lovely Esther Fortune (Joan Hackett) ever decided to marry acid-tongued Fitzgerald Fortune (Barry Morse) is one of the true mysteries of "A Piano in the House."

Written by Earl Hamner Jr. – taking a break from his country tales of the macabre – this episode leads to a dramatic confrontation with the guests at Esther's birthday party, including life of the party Marge Moore (Muriel Landers) and Gregory Walker (Don Durant), who turns out to be Esther's lover. But Hamner saves his best for Fortune, who gets his just deserts and then some.

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Don Durant and Muriel Landers lend able support to Barry Morse (center) in "A Piano in the House."

Joan Hackett was both an Emmy and Oscar nominee but would later lose a battle with ovarian cancer at 49. Muriel Landers (1921-1977), a Chicago native, made her feature debut in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, and Don Durant had previously portrayed the title character in 38 episodes of Johnny Ringo.

So let’s celebrate Esther's birthday, Hamner's cleverness and Fitzgerald Fortune's fall from grace into the outer dimensions of The Twilight Zone.

 

And those of you in New England, please join me tonight at The Boston Science Fiction Film Festival, where I will be speaking on our favorite subject: The Twilight Zone.