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 followed, from The Walking Dead to Stranger Things, becoming one of the enduring pop culture staples of its era and beyond.
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. 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 19th, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the 1963 premiere of Mickey Rooney's tour de force, "The Last Night of a Jockey."
A perfect companion episode to the equally claustrophobic "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room," this compelling episode introduces Rooney as disgraced jockey Michael Grady, nailed for doping a horse and facing a lifetime ban from the only profession he ever mastered. What's particularly fascinating about this episode is the casting of Rooney -- it's hard to believe that this is the same actor who was likable Andy Hardy in all those MGM films and used to dance and sing with Judy Garland.
But that's a testament to Rooney, who was a very underrated actor. If you look through his filmography, he's played angry before. Check him out in The Last Mile (1959) as convict 'Killer' Mears, see his desperation in the seldom-seen World War II film The Bold and the Brave (1956), or go way back and re-watch Boys Town (1938) and see how he stacks up against Spencer Tracy.
By 1963, The Twilight Zone had a huge reputation in Hollywood, and actors were thrilled to get the call to be on the show. Rooney got that call and hit this one out of the park. A special nod to the set decorator, who made sure this was the ugliest room (or prison cell) you've ever seen, and director Joseph M. Newman, who made this such a memorable episode.