March 12 in Twilight Zone History: Celebrating the birth of actor Frank Overton ('Walking Distance,' 'Mute')

Contributed by
Mar 12, 2018

Today, March 12th, This Day in Twilight Zone History and The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia celebrate the birth of character actor Frank Overton, who was born on this day in 1918.

Overton (1918-1967) co-starred as Martin Sloan's (Gig Young) sympathetic father Robert in "Walking Distance" and returned in the Season 4 one-hour episode "Mute" as Sheriff Harry Wheeler, the guardian of a telepathic girl (Ann Jillian) who can't speak.

As you will recall in "Walking Distance," Sloan, a burnt-out advertising man, travels back in time when he visits his hometown and re-connects with his parents and his young self. When characters in The Twilight Zone travel back in time, they're rarely met with kindness – Frank Overton's father character was a major exception, projecting warmth, understanding and compassion. He eventually believes that Martin is the older version of his son and sends him back to the present with advice to find the optimism of his youth.

Barbara Baxley and Frank Overton play the guardians of a young telepath in "Mute."  

In "Mute," Overton's Sheriff Wheeler offers more compassion to the little girl whose parents died in a terrifying fire. It's his wife Cora (Barbara Baxley) who's determined to discover the reasons for Ilse's lack of speech – her obsession perhaps colored because the Wheelers previously lost their daughter in a drowning accident. Once again, Overton projects steady authority and compassion.

Frank Overton also played the town sheriff opposite Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird."

It's interesting that the day before yesterday, we toasted Dean Jagger’s "Static" and I mentioned his Academy Award-winning performance in Twelve O'Clock High, because Frank Overton played that same Major Stovall character on the Quinn Martin-produced television series. Tragically, he died of a heart attack in 1967 at age 49.

So let's toast the timeless performances of this wonderful character actor, particularly his Robert Sloan in "Walking Distance," a character that Serling wrote beautifully in one of the warmer colors ever featured on The Twilight Zone.