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January 14 in Twilight Zone History: Remembering actor William Bendix ('The Time Element') on the anniversary of his birth

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Jan 14, 2018

Today, January 14, This Day in Twilight Zone History and The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia remember actor William Bendix on the anniversary of his birth in 1906.

Although you won't find him in the official cast of The Twilight Zone, those in the know will tell you that he starred in "The Time Element," which is considered the unofficial pilot for TZ. In this one-hour segment of the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (hosted by Desi Arnaz himself), Bendix plays New York City bartender Peter Jenson, who goes to sleep each night and dreams he's at Pearl Harbor on the day before the attack. The only problem is that he can't convince anyone that tomorrow's catastrophe is real.

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William Bendix scored big on radio with his Chester Riley character in The Life of Riley, a comedy that made a natural transition to television. 

You don't normally see Bendix (1906-1964) in strictly dramatic roles on TV or film. He made a career of playing befuddled characters, including his signature TV role as the title character in The Life of Riley, a part he originated on radio. And he was goofy Sir Sagramore, a memorable English knight with a New York accent, in Bing Crosby's version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

However, in "The Time Element," Bendix displays a completely different color from his actor's palette of skills. He's focused, intense, and completely determined to warn of the impending attack. And his frustration level forces him to seek out a psychiatrist (played beautifully by Martin Balsam).

So let's raise a Mai Tai to William Bendix, Peter Jenson, and a different route into Rod Serling's mesmerizing fifth dimension.