Today, November 11, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the 1960 premiere of perhaps the most creatively produced episode of the show, "Eye of the Beholder."
It is well known that Rod Serling was fed up with network and sponsor interference with his morality plays that were produced for live television back in the 1950s – it was his primary motivation for creating The Twilight Zone. And he had always wanted to deal with the poison of racism in the U.S. In "Eye of the Beholder," he was able to make a strong comment on the divisiveness of conformity in a totalitarian society. In this story, a woman literally has to go through surgery to change her looks to conform. Only, in this case, she’s a human beauty (Donna Douglas, pre-Elly May Clampett) on a planet of pig-faced humanoids.
To film this episode, director Douglas Heyes – a brilliant talent – decided not to show the pig faces until the very end, so he used all sorts of staging tricks to disguise their features. This contributed to the total shock when the bandages come off the woman – we see her perfect looks ... and then we see the pig-faced doctors and nurses.
Audiences may not have realized they were watching a commentary on racism, but the message is there all the same. Serling disguised his messages many times in episodes dealing with child endangerment, the Holocaust, Vietnam, automation, totalitarianism ... and "Eye of the Beholder" stands out as one of the best.
Let us toast Serling, Heyes, Douglas, Maxine Stuart (who played the woman under the bandages), and the rest of the creative team that made this episode a timeless one.
Note: To those TZ fans in the Chicago area, I will be speaking at Volumes Books on Milwaukee Avenue on Monday from 7-9, where I will also be autographing my book. A native and lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, I am coming home!