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 14, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the 1960 premiere of “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room.” This stark Season 2 episode starred Joe Mantell (in a nearly one-man tour de force) as pitiful Jackie Rhodes, a two-bit mob guy who is ordered to murder a stranger. Rhodes has never killed anyone in his life – and his crisis of conscience leads to an unusual confrontation with his own alter ego (a cocky, self-assured Jackie Rhodes – also portrayed by Mantell). There are a number of routes into The Twilight Zone – this turns out to be a little side street through the flotsam of human life. As written by Serling, it’s a riveting look through the magnifying glass at the demons that can possess the human spirit. Serling was a master at getting into the head of characters at the crossroads of life.
Unfortunately, (at least in television), this style of writing was on the way out – and would be for decades. The boob tube was surrendering to light, frothy entertainment (think The Beverly Hillbillies). So savor episodes like “Nervous Man.” It’s not only 30 compelling minutes with Jackie Rhodes, small-time hood, it’s a trip into the amazing creative mind of Rod Serling.