March 31 in Twilight Zone History: Celebrating the 1961 premiere of 'Long Distance Call'

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Mar 31, 2018

Today, March 31, This Day in Twilight Zone History and The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia celebrate the 1961 premiere of "Long Distance Call."

Billy Mumy, age 6, makes his TZ debut as Billy Bayles, who has a warm relationship with his loving grandmother (Lili Darvas). However, when she passes, Billy's parents (Patricia Smith, Philip Abbott) begin to freak when their son claims that Grandma is calling him on his little toy telephone – and she wants some company on the other side.

Little Billy Bayles (Billy Mumy, right) has a very special relationship with his Grandma (Lili Darvas, left), which extends into the afterlife in "Long Distance Call."

This episode sits squarely in the realm of the macabre, so it's not surprising that writer Charles Beaumont has his fingerprints on it (co-writing with William Idelson). Unlike Rod Serling, who focused on issues and unusual science fiction situations, Beaumont's specialty was the supernatural – and his stories always have a creepiness that lingers long after the credits roll.

Philip Abbott, who played Billy's father, returned to the Zone as space program commander General Stanley Eaton in "The Parallel." Earlier in his career he had played a computer scientist opposite Robby the Robot in The Invisible Boy, a semi-spinoff of Forbidden Planet.

Actor Philip Abbott portrayed Billy's father Chris in "Long Distance Call." He would later co-star opposite Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in the long-running Quinn Martin-produced series, The FBI.

Oh, if the physical quality of this episode looks a little rough, it's because this is another of the second season's videotaped episodes (forced on the production because network programming exec James "The Smiling Cobra" Aubrey wanted budget cuts).

So, on this anniversary of the premiere of "Long Distance Call," let us toast the writing team of Beaumont and Idelson, the TZ debut of Mr. Mumy, and the oddness of stretching "phone lines" into the afterlife – a concept that only works when your feet are firmly planted in The Twilight Zone.