Today, May 17th, This Day in Twilight Zone History and The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia celebrate the 1936 birth of actor, director and photographer Dennis Hopper ("He's Alive").
In a deliciously unsettling Season 4 one-hour, Hopper excels as street corner neo-Nazi Peter Vollmer, who spews forth his white supremacist BS and usually gets beaten up for it. He barely holds on to his constituency and a few sycophants until a source of finance and inspiration, with a distinct German accent, suddenly appears in the shadows.
How difficult was it to present episodes like this on prime time television in the 1960s? To begin with, Serling was unable to use the swastika symbol on the armbands of Vollmer and his gang, as CBS didn't want to rattle the sponsors. Despite this, Serling made his point and Hopper was given one of his most effective roles — a perfect fit for the Dodge City, Kansas native who made his big screen debut supporting James Dean and Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).
Given his birthplace, it's interesting that Hopper would later play Billy Clanton opposite ex-Dodge City marshal Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) in director John Sturges' terrific western, Gunfight at the OK Corral. He later received his first Oscar nomination for co-writing Easy Rider and his second for his performance as Shooter in Hoosiers.
So let's raise an imported beer to the true talent of Dennis Hopper, the true genius of Rod Serling, and the ability to stoke controversy on the show that seldom shied away from it: The Twilight Zone.