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, August 31st, This Day in Twilight Zone History wishes happy birthday to two marvelous actors – James Coburn (born in 1928) and Richard Basehart (born in 1914). Coburn starred in a fifth-season episode, “The Old Man in the Cave.” Considering all the good guys he played in his future film roles, it’s surprising to see him play a pompous jerk of a militia soldier in another patented Rod Serling post-apocalyptic world. Like Charles Bronson, who we remembered yesterday, Coburn’s acting career was also boosted by director John Sturges, who wisely cast him in The Magnificent Seven (as Britt, the knife fighter) and The Great Escape (as Sedgwick, the cocky Australian Manufacturer). He passed away in 2002 at age 74.
Basehart, forever remembered as Admiral Nelson in Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea television series (he passed away at 70 in 1984), starred in the fifth season episode “Probe 7, Over and Out” as a downed space jockey named Adam, injured and stranded on an alien world, who finds hope in the companionship of another stranded space traveler. The versatile Basehart was always a commanding presence in his film and television performances. He could be a brilliant ally or a deadly adversary, but he was always believable. A commanding presence was almost a required trait on The Twilight Zone, which featured many military officers, space jockeys, and heroes who needed that skill to survive an uncertain future. One final shout out to my daughter, Jaymie, who turns 22 today, in good company.