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, August 29th, This Day in Twilight Zone History remembers tough guy actor Lee Marvin, who died on this day at age 63 in 1987. How do you begin to describe the power of Lee Marvin? I won’t try, but I will tell you that, before he did excellent feature film work in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Dirty Dozen, The Professionals, and Cat Ballou (for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor), and many others, he was a staple on television, and appeared in two truly terrific TZ episodes: “The Grave” and “Steel.” In the former, he’s Connie Miller, a discredited bounty hunter in the Old West who returns to his town and discovers that his nemesis – the dangerous outlaw Pinto Sykes – has been gunned down by a town posse.
Now, a trio of town folk (James Best, Strother Martin, and Lee Van Cleef) are goading him into visiting Sykes’ grave.
In “Steel,” Marvin is perfectly cast as Sam “Steel” Kelly, a down-on-his-luck robot fight manager, whose only fighter is a broken-down, obsolete pile of bolts named Battling Maxo (Tip McClure). Steel and his partner (Marty’s Joe Mantell) aren’t even sure if Maxo can make it through his next fight – and they need that fight, desperately. Marvin, in many ways, was the most manly man in Hollywood. An ex-U.S. Marine, he was quite comfortable in military garb and western wear – and he brought his enormous acting cred and that signature deep voice to the Zone.
Like Robert Redford, Charles Bronson, and others, Marvin soon took the jump permanently to the big screen, but, in the meantime, The Twilight Zone was fortunate to have him as a player, and made good use of his many gifts.