[If you live in Southern California, you can see the Journey LIVE at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego, 2 p.m. on February 17!]
by Victoria Lucas
Now that the Traveler has treated you to a review of the first four episodes of the new season of Twilight Zone, I thought you would like to hear about the secret fifth episode that aired last month, but not on Friday at 9:00 PM…
Most evenings I’m out, doing little theatre, or in, typing to supplement my income, but on January 15th, I had just finished a thesis and the drama season hadn’t recovered from the holidays yet, so I twiddled the dial on the television and there he was, “Old Blue Eyes.” Also known as Jack Benny, a fellow who has been on TV for more than a decade.
A brief intro from the University of Arizona’s biography stacks: this graduate of vaudeville, like my mother, found his way onto radio in the 1930s and (unlike my mother), then into television. Born Benny Kubelski and trained on the violin since age 6, Benny pretends to play badly, won’t reveal his age (which is perpetually 39), and stares his way through the fourth wall on every show.
I have a feeling that SFF-lovers likely know Rod Serling and his “Twilight Zone” better than they know Benny and his menage of characters that include his wife, Mary Livingston, and vaudeville comedian Eddie Anderson (“Rochester”). Of course, I could be wrong. I am discovering that fans are a diverse lot.
Anyway, the plot of the January 15 show involves Benny pretending to try to hire Serling to add some culture to his uncouth “writers,” one of whom Serling says “can type with his toes.” Although they don’t know about Twilight Zone, they do know about “Wreck of a Heavyweight” (Requiem for a Heavyweight, which earned Serling his second Emmy).
When (predictably) Serling emerges disheveled a second time from the writers’ den, he and Benny decide to call it quits on the idea of making Benny’s scripts better, and he and Serling part friends. However, Benny isn’t satisfied with Serling’s explanation of what the “Twilight Zone” is. After Serling leaves and as Benny gets ready to leave his office, he opines to himself, “I can’t get over it. An intelligent fella like him trying to tell me that there’s a Twilight Zone, a thing, a place! Oh, well.”
As Benny walks home in the dark, a Twilight Zone-like fog envelops him and the music takes off on a Twilight Zone-like theme. Before long he runs into a sign reading, “Welcome to Twilight Zone. Population unlimited. [an arrow left] Subconscious 27 Mi./ [an arrow right] Reality 35 Mi.” (It gets a laugh, if only canned.) Benny finally sees his house across the street and goes and rings the bell. Rochester answers but doesn’t recognize Benny. Rochester calls on his employer, “Mr. Zone” (Serling) to deal with the situation, and Serling explains that the town is named after him (“You can call me Twi”), and he is the mayor.
Benny accuses Serling, Rochester, and tenor Dennis Day from his show of gaslighting him (credit to Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 film Gaslight). But Serling has the last word within the teleplay: “Anybody who claims to be 39 as long as he has is a permanent resident of the Twilight Zone.”
I love it. I hope you get a chance to see this episode in the summer reruns . Benny is silly, funny, and one of the architects of my sense of humor, which runs to the dry and ironic. I listened to his show when I was a little girl playing in the dirt with my two-inch-long toy cars a few feet from my father’s workshop, where he always had the radio comedy shows playing on the long summer nights: Benny, Edgar Bergen (whom I saw in Tucson!), Fibber McGee and Molly, Burns and Allen, Fred Allen, Duffy’s Tavern. They will always make me laugh. Unlike Twilight Zone, which I also watch — but not for the humor.
[P.S. If you registered for WorldCon this year, please consider nominating Galactic Journey for the “Best Fanzine” Hugo. Check your mail for instructions…]