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January 24 in Twilight Zone History: Celebrating the 1963 premiere of 'He's Alive'

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Jan 24, 2018

Today, January 24th, This Day in Twilight Zone History and The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia celebrate the 1963 premiere of "He's Alive."

Young Dennis Hopper plays edgy neo-Nazi Peter Vollmer, whom Rod Serling describes as a "bush-league fuehrer." Volmer stands on street corners in New York City and preaches the usual standards in the Nazi canon: unadulterated hate and racial superiority. But Vollmer is fumbling: he and his team of bargain-basement brown shirts get beaten up and dispersed; he has trouble raising money; and his constituency is anemic.

Enter a mysterious man with a foreign accent who remains in the shadows and starts to instruct young Peter in the proper approach to National Socialism... and he brings a lot of experience with him.

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Bargain-basement neo-Nazi Peter Vollmer (Dennis Hopper) tries to raise a crowd on a New York City corner.

This was the kind of subject matter that television networks stayed away from – many ad executives believed that Nazis and selling laundry detergent and Corn Flakes did not mix well. Serling couldn't have cared less what ad execs thought and, because of his extraordinary contract with CBS, he had total creative control of the show. If he wanted to put Nazis in prime time, he could – and he did.

Dennis Hopper, meanwhile, made a career of playing slightly off-kilter young men, and later on he made for effective villains in films like Blue Velvet, Speed and Waterworld.

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Concentration camp survivor Ernst Ganz (Ludwig Donath) proves to be an odd father figure for a neo-Nazi in "He's Alive."

Stuart Rosenberg did a terrific job of directing this one-hour episode and character actor Ludwig Donath lends able support as Vollmer’s friend and neighbor. The fact that Volmer had befriended a Jewish concentration camp survivor and looked upon him as a father figure was one of the odd elements of this fascinating piece.

So let's hoist one to Rod Serling and his fearlessness in creating stories like "He's Alive," stories that awakened America to real-life issues that weren't going to go away any time soon – not even in The Twilight Zone.