February 2 in Twilight Zone History: Remembering actors Barry Morse and Donald Pleasence

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Feb 2, 2018

Today, February 2nd, This Day in Twilight Zone History and The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia remember two actors, both of whom passed on this day: Barry Morse (1918-2008) and Donald Pleasence (1919-1995).

In "A Piano in the House," Morse joined The Twilight Zone's rogues gallery of villainous characters, portraying Fitzgerald 'Jerry' Fortune, an acid-tongued theatre critic who treats everyone around him, including his wife (Joan Hackett), like a bad play. However, a piano gift for his wife's birthday turns out to be the truth serum that's badly needed. Earl Hamner, Jr. wrote the terrific script and director David Greene nicely sets up the classic comeuppance scene.

 Actor Donald Pleasence was new to American audiences when he starred in "The Changing of the Guard." Thanks to his role in The Great Escape, he would soon be a major character actor on the big screen. 

Taking an entirely different tack, beloved British character actor Donald Pleasence starred in "The Changing of the Guard," playing sweet boarding school professor Ellis Fowler, a man who is released from service and truly believes that his life has been a total waste. Fortunately, before he can put a bullet in his head, the school bell rings, he's summoned to his classroom, and meets the ghosts of students past – a startling experience that points Fowler in the right direction.

Actor Barry Morse seemed to enjoy his role as villainous Fitzgerald Fortune in "A Piano in the House.' He would soon be spending the majority of his time chasing down convicted murderer Richard Kimble (David Janssen) in The Fugitive. 

Both Morse and Pleasence gave yeoman performances in other arenas. Morse portrayed the relentless police lieutenant Philip Gerard on The Fugitive television series. Pleasence was a steady presence in a number of terrific feature films, including my favorite: The Great Escape, where he played flying officer Colin Blythe, the camp forger who is slowly going blind. He could play villains, too: just see Fantastic Voyage and The Eagle Has Landed.

So let's toast two more legendary thespians who crossed over into modern fantasy and landed pole positions on the race course we call The Twilight Zone.