Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone premiered on October 2, 1959, and over the course of its five-year run would churn out 156 episodes and cement itself as a classic of science fiction television. Its influence would be felt in any number of shows and movies that would follow -- from The Walking Dead to Stranger Things -- and beyond, becoming one of the enduring pop culture staples of its era. This Day in Twilight Zone History presents key commemorative facts about the greatest science fiction/fantasy television series of all time, presented by author Steven Jay Rubin, whose latest book is The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia (arriving this October). Whether it’s a key performer’s birth or death, the date an episode debuted, or any other related fact, This Day in Twilight Zone History presents a unique aspect of the rich history of this television series and the extraordinary team that created it.
Today, October 13th, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the 1961 premiere of “A Game of Pool,” in which Jack Klugman’s pool shark, Jesse Cardiff, squares off against Jonathan Winters’ cue-master “Fats’ Brown. For Cardiff, it is literally a life and death match.
One of the really cool aspects of The Twilight Zone was the fact that it tapped into story material from all walks of life. One week, it was aliens from outer space; the next, it was a pool parlor battle royale. You literally never knew what to expect – which wasn’t necessarily a plus for network heads like CBS's Jim Aubrey, who kept preaching the concept of continuing characters.
Ever the master chameleon, Klugman dove into characters like Jesse, outfitting him with that signature hat and sweater and handling a cue like Steve McQueen handled his Mare’s Leg in Wanted: Dead or Alive.
Winters – better known as a comedian for the ages – was absolutely terrific as Jesse’s larger-than-life nemesis. You wonder if Jackie Gleason saw an early cut of this episode before he played Minnesota Fats in The Hustler (also 1961). An additional nod to composer Jerry Goldsmith, who supplied the so appropriate music cues.
Let’s hoist a cold one to this pool table gem and the two marvelous thespians who shot their way into the history of The Twilight Zone.