Today, January 10th, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the birth of actor Nick Cravat, who was born on this day in 1912. Although he was disguised by makeup and a huge costume, Cravat played the gremlin on the wing in the classic William Shatner episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."
It was not surprising that director Richard Donner chose Cravat (1912-1994) to play the physically imposing creature in this Richard Matheson-scripted episode, as Cravat was one of Hollywood's most acrobatic actors and an ex-circus performer. Thanks to a close relationship he developed with equally acrobatic actor Burt Lancaster when both were U.S. Army veterans serving in Italy during World War II, Cravat joined Lancaster in a number of key early roles that propelled his career. These included the seminal 1950s action films The Crimson Pirate and The Flame and the Arrow, which featured Lancaster and Cravat as buddies battling tyranny in Europe and on the high seas.
As good as his TZ episode was, Cravat was underserved by the costume department, which simply supplied him with what was undoubtedly some kind of giant bear costume. His makeup wasn't much better. When this episode was remade for Twilight Zone: The Movie, director George Miller was given the A-team of effects artists, so his gremlin – played by actor Larry Cedar, and augmented by effects – was actually scary/creepy.
Since he played a mute character in the early Burt Lancaster films and because his creature on TZ didn't speak, some people thought Nick Cravat was a real life mute, which wasn't true. You can hear him speak – just watch any number of TV shows and movies, including another Burt Lancaster film, Run Silent Run Deep (you'll hear him as the cook).
So let's raise a glass of gremlin rum to one of the most memorable characters in the timeless universe of faces we call The Twilight Zone.