October 4 in Twilight Zone History: Celebrating 'Steel,' the futuristic boxing episode

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Mar 26, 2021, 12:00 AM EDT (Updated)

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 would follow -- from The Walking Dead to Stranger Things -- and beyond, becoming one of the enduring pop culture staples of its era. 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 (arriving this October). 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 4th, This Day in Twilight Zone History toasts “Steel,” the futuristic boxing episode that debuted on this day in 1963. 

Macho Lee Marvin makes his second and last appearance on The Twiilght Zone, playing down-on-his-luck robot boxing manager Sam “Steel” Kelly, who, with his partner, Pole (Joe Mantell, also making his second appearance in the Zone), arrives at a boxing match only to discover that their prize robot boxer – the sadly obsolete Battling Maxo (Tip McClure) - is falling apart.


A less than confident Pole (Joe Mantell) and his broken down robot boxer Battling Maxo (Tip McClure)

They need this match, but Maxo’s pathetic state isn’t their own problem - their opponent is Maynard Flash (Chuck Hicks) the latest model boxing robot, who is virtually unbeatable.  Rod Serling was truly fascinated by the future and what events might transpire. He was particularly excited about this Richard Matheson script, which predicted that boxing between humans might someday be outlawed.  This is another TZ idea that inspired a number of future projects – and it was remade as Real Steel, a Hugh Jackman feature, in 2011. 

Boxing is also one of those story arenas that just looks good in black and white – and “Steel” is no exception. Between Marvin and Mantell’s gritty performances and the shabby setting (this is about as far from Madison Square Garden as the Moon), the atmosphere is thick.


Like their obsolete robot boxer, the relationship between fight managers Pole (Joe Mantell, left) and Kelly (Lee Marvin, right) is beginning to come apart at the seams. 

“Steel” is a powerful episode. Let us toast Lee Marvin and Joe Mantell’s final performance in The Twilight Zone, which turned into a classic slugfest.