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, September 8th, This Day in Twilight Zone History wishes happy birthday to beloved character actor William Fawcett, who was born on this day in 1894. Fawcett, who didn’t begin to bring his crusty, cantankerous persona to films until he was already 52, co-starred as Reverend Siddons in “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank,” an episode in which the Reverend presides over the death of one Jeff Myrtlebank (James Best), a rural man who climbs out of his own coffin during his funeral. No one rests on The Twilight Zone, particularly not the dead. Since I had to cut my encyclopedia down during the lengthy editing phase, I, unfortunately, had to lose a number of supporting player bios, including Mr. Fawcett’s. Baby Boomer television audiences will remember him as Pete Wilkey on the Fury series with little Bobby Diamond who later had a role as a grown Vietnam combat infantryman in The Twilight Zone episode “In Praise of Pip.”
I always remember William Fawcett as Will Stockdale’s (Andy Griffith) shotgun toting father in No Time for Sergeants, in which he yells at Dub Taylor’s draft board member, “Are you sayin’ that my son can’t read?” The reason that he started his career so late was because he was previously a college professor of theatre at Michigan State who finally got his chance to act professionally when World War II ended. He went for it – and never looked back. The Twilight Zone loved character actors like William Fawcett because you almost immediately recognized him – you kind of knew what type of character he was going to bring – and you completely believed his performance. He was truly a salt of the earth thespian. A native of High Forest, Minnesota, Fawcett passed in 1974, at age 79.