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This Iconic Twilight Zone Villain Was Even More Terrifying in The Original Short Story

You better think only good thoughts or he'll send you straight to the cornfield!

By Josh Weiss
Anthony Fremont (Bill Mumy) points a finger in The Twilight Zone Episode 308.

Who is the best Twilight Zone villain of all time? Is it the plane-wrecking gremlin from "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet," the shadowy agitators in "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," or the murderous Talky Tina of "Living Doll" fame? No? Perhaps you fancy the big-headed Kanamits of "To Serve Man" or Barney Phillips' three-eyed soda jerk from "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"

The classic anthology series created by Rod Serling is chock full of memorable antagonists, who have embedded themselves deep within our cultural psyche. Even if you've never seen an episode of the show (regularly airing on SYFY), you're probably familiar with its enduring characters and patented twist endings. Among The Twilight Zone's pantheon of memorable baddies, few inspire more fear than young Anthony Fremont in the super-iconic Season 3 episode, "It's a Good Life."

For More on The Twilight Zone:
The One Word That Only Rod Serling Could Write in Twilight Zone Scripts
How the Twilight Zone Created A Nuclear Apocalypse for "Time Enough at Last"
Submitted For Your Approval: Rod Serling's Daughters Reveal Their Favorite Episodes of The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone's Anthony Fremont Explained

Famously portrayed by Bill Mumy (also known for playing Will Robinson on the original Lost in Space), Anthony Fremont is a 6-year-old boy with reality-shaping abilities that have made him the de facto ruler of his hometown of Peaksville, which was mysteriously cut off from the rest of the world at the time of his birth. Did he wipe out all of existence or simply move Peaksville to some sort of pocket dimension? One can only guess.

Given the fact that Anthony can also read minds, everyone in town — the boy's parents included — must think happy thoughts and reiterate the same words of positive affirmation that bely the abject terror reflected in their eyes and quavering voices. One wrong move, one stray thought against him, and Anthony will transform them into something horrific before wishing them away into a nearby cornfield.

The subtle and mercurial menace lying just below the surface of Mumy's mostly-innocent performance, coupled with the adult actors selling the hell out of their unspoken fear, makes for one dynamite episode of television that helped lay the groundwork for The Omen's Damien over a decade later. You genuinely feel the strain and anxiety these poor people are forced to endure on a daily basis. With all of that said, Serling's script only captures a small fraction of the existential terror contained within the short story from which it was adapted.

The Twilight Zone's Anthony Fremont Was Even Scarier in the Original Short Story

Like several famous episodes of The Twilight Zone, "It's a Good Life" was based on existing IP. In this case, Serling bought the rights to a 1953 short story written by Jerome Bixby. "At this late date, I don't remember how the idea ... came to me," Bixby admits in Marc Scott Zicree's Twilight Zone Companion. "I wrote it over a weekend in 1953, with no sleep Saturday night. Oddly, Serling did the screenplay, then bought the rights to the story a few days later."

Retroactively nominated for a Hugo Award half a century after its publication, the original tale is a lot darker, with Anthony (only 3-years-old in the source material) described with an almost Lovecraftian vagueness. He has a "bright, wet, purple gaze," casts an "odd shadow," and curls himself "into an unlikely shape" when taking a nap.

He's clearly not something of this Earth and yet, we never get the full picture. The ambiguity works to Bixby's benefit, forcing the reader's mind to enter what Mr. Serling would call "a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination." All the author gives up for certain is that Anthony is so grotesque in appearance, the family obstetrician tried to kill him on the day he was born. Of course, Serling needed "something more specific than that" for a budget-conscious visual medium, writes Zicree, hence the casting of Mumy.

And then there's the matter of the boy's behavior, which is flat-out sociopathic in the short story (most children don't develop empathy until the age of 4). When we're first introduced to him, Anthony amuses himself by making a rat eat its own body until it dies from pain. In the climax, he punishes the inebriated Dan Hollis by turning the man "into something like nothing anyone would have believed possible."

The Twilight Zone adaptation feels rather tame in comparison, with Dan (Don Keefer) being transformed into a jack-in-the-box with a human head. Once again, the limitations of TV, especially of that era, precluded Serling from delivering an overly unsettling visual, lest he upset the all-powerful network sponsors, which were ready and willing to send him to the cornfield if he disobeyed them. Even stripped of the original story's scarier elements, the episode remains an indelible classic. In fact, it's good you made those changes, Rod. Real good!

Classic episodes of The Twilight Zone air regularly on SYFY. Click here for complete scheduling info!

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