Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone premiered on October 2, 1959, and over the course of its five-year run would churn out 156 episodes and cement itself as a classic of science fiction television. Its influence would be felt in any number of shows and movies that followed, from The Walking Dead to Stranger Things, becoming one of the enduring pop culture staples of its era and beyond.
This Day in Twilight Zone History presents key commemorative facts about the greatest science fiction/fantasy television series of all time, presented by author Steven Jay Rubin, whose latest book is The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia. Whether it's a key performer's birth or death, the date an episode debuted, or any other related fact, This Day in Twilight Zone History presents a unique aspect of the rich history of this television series and the extraordinary team that created it.
Today, October 24, This Day in Twilight Zone History remembers director Lamont Johnson, who passed away on this day in 2010 at the age of 88.
One of the most prolific TZ directors, Johnson helmed eight episodes of the series – "The Shelter," "Five Characters in Search of an Exit," "Nothing in the Dark," "One More Pallbearer," "Kick the Can," "Four O’Clock," "Hocus Pocus and Frisby," and "Passage on the Lady Anne." A former actor, and a natural one, Johnson brought terrific instincts to the other side of the camera, and his episodes were wonderfully acted and engineered.
I got a chance to see Johnson in action in 1982 when he came aboard the 3D science fiction film Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983), shooting on location in Moab, Utah.
I had been assigned to the film as unit publicist, and our director had been canned in the first week of shooting. We wondered if the film would continue, and then Lamont arrived. Like Patton taking over in North Africa, he immediately took command, changing Molly Ringwald's hideous makeup, organizing the shoot, and truly taking the bull by the horns.
Spacehunter was kind of a rip-off of The Road Warrior (its original title was Adventures in the Creep Zone), but Lamont gave it a professional sheen and a bit of dignity as well. I always remember his deep, commanding voice, which served him well when he took an occasional acting role. Serling used his voice as the CONELRAD announcer in "The Shelter." He went on to direct tons of television, including many award-winning television films, winning two Emmys in the process.
Let's hoist a glass to this consummate professional who forged his way to glory on The Twilight Zone.