Posts Tagged ‘Playhouse 90’

“In 11-12 years of writing I can lay claim to this—I’ve never written beneath myself. I’ve never written anything I didn’t want my name attached to.”
Rod Serling in 1959

“No one could know Serling, or view or read his work, without recognizing his deep affection for humanity … and his determination to enlarge our horizons by giving us a better understanding of ourselves.”
Gene Roddenberry

If I could arrange for a dinner  with special guests in The Twilight Zone I love to sit at a table with Rod Serling, Francis Ford Coppola, Tennessee Williams, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, and Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody. (You can invite who you want to your Twilight Zone dinner, but these are who I invited.)

These all happen to be writers who have written and/or spoken quite well about success, struggles, and spirituality in the context of creativity and culture.

“What I tried to suggest dramatically [in The Velvet Alley] is when you get into the big money—particularly in the detonating, exciting, explosive overnight way that our industry permits—there are certain blandishments that a guy can succumb to and many do. A preoccupation with status, with the symbols of status, with the heated swimming pool that’s ten feet longer than the neighbors.With the big car. With concern about billing. All these things. In a sense really minute things really in context, but that become disproportionately large in a guy’s mind. ”
Rod Serling

When Mike Wallace asked Serling when those preoccupation with the symbolism of status becomes large what becomes small, here’s what Serling said in that 1959 interview:

“I think probably the really valuable things. And I know this sounds corny,  but  things like having a family, being concerned with raising children, being concerned with where they go to school, being concerned with a good martial relationship–all these things I think are the essence. Unfortunately, and what I tried to dramatize in The Velvet Alley was that the guy who makes the success is immediately assailed by everybody. And you suddenly find you have to compromise along the line giving so many hours to work and a disproportionately number fewer number of hours to family. And this is inherent in our business.”

Serling went on to say that he worked on The Twilight Zone 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week.

When you comin’ home dad?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then
Cats in the Craddle lyrics written by Harry Chapin

Below is a opening from The Velvet Alley that first aired in 1959 on Playhouse 90 with a cast that included Art Carney, Leslie Nelson, Jack Klugman, Micky Dolenz, Dyan Cannon, and Burt Renyolds. And directed by Franklin J. Schaffner who won an Oscar for directing Patton. You can rent the whole program on Amazon. (I wonder if you go to clip six on the You Tube link you may wonder if Cameron Crowe saw this scene before he wrote Jerry Maguire.)


Related posts:

“The Catastrophe of Success” (Part 1)
“The Catastrophe of Success” (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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“I don’t think that calling something commercial makes it stink.”
Rod Serling

“A legend doesn’t die, just because the man dies.”
The Twilight Zone episode A Game of Pool

Rod Serling was born in Syracuse, New York and joined the U.S. Army the day after he graduated from Binghamton Central High School where he had worked on the school newspaper. During World War II he fought in the Philippines where he routinely saw the casualties of war that would shape his life and writing. He was injured himself , received the Purple Heart, and was discharged in 1946.

Afterwards he attended Anitoch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio where he got involved in theater and writing radio dramas. He received his BA degree in 1950 and moved to Cincinnati to work in advertising writing for radio and television. In less than ten years he created his signature show, The Twilight Zone.

In a 1959  TV interview with Mike Wallace, Serling told about how in 1951, at a diner in Cincinnati, he decided to leave the security of his advertising job in Ohio to write freelance for television programs.

“The immediate motive at the time, the prodding thing that pushed me in to it, was that I had been writing at the time for a Cincinnati television station as a staff writer—which is a particularly dreamless occupation, composed of doing commercials. Even making up testimonial letters. As I recall there was a liquid drug on the market at the time that could cure everything from arthritis to a fractured pelvis and I actually had to write testimonial letters, and on that particular day I’d just had it. And though I had been freelancing concurrent with the staff job, the best year I’d ever had (freelance-wise)  I think we netted $700 which is hardly even grocery money, and that one night we just decided to sink or swim and go into it.”
Rod Serling

Serling swam. He would have been 27-28 years old at the time and six months after that decision he moved to Connecticut and then New York. Serling kept building his career in TV and one of the first programs to show his genius was Requiem for a Heavyweight for the Playhouse 90 TV series in 1956.  But his greatest success came when he launched the The Twilight Zone on CBS on October 2, 1959.

Despite its enduring popularity, The Twilight Zone didn’t draw large audiences, nor was it a financial success for CBS when it first aired. The show was cancelled in 1964. Serling whose normal workload was 12-14 hour a days, seven days a week was burned out on TV. He wrote well more than half of the 156 episodes, and grew tired of having to fight the corporate sponsors and the censorship imposed on him.

Not thinking The Twilight Zone would have much of a future he sold his rights to the show for $500,000. which would have cost him and his estate tens of millions of dollars. He turned to teaching in his later years and died at the young age of 50.

P.S. A couple of days ago I said that at one time Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise and George Clooney all lived in Kentucky at the same time. Well, just over the Ohio River at one time Rod Serling and Steven Spielberg would have lived in Ohio at the same time. In fact, I’m not sure how long Spielberg lived in Ohio, but he was born in Cincinnati in 1946 so he could have even been in the same city—heck, at the same diner—as Serling when he had his epiphany. Maybe not a big deal, unless you believe in another dimension, a dimension of both shadow and substance, a dimension only found…in The Twilight Zone.

Scott W. Smith

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“I picked a difficult subject, a little lost Texas town no one’s heard of or cares about … But I’m at the mercy of what I write. The subject matter has taken me over.”
                                                                 Horton Foote 

“What Foote knew was Wharton (Texas). By now, he was in New York, but everything he had learned about life had come from Wharton — all the eccentric characters he’d grown up around, the stories his loquacious aunts had told in order to pass the time, the family legends. His memories were and are strings of oral histories born from the triumphs and failings of the Texans he knew.”
                                                                 Becca Hensley
                                                                 American Way 


Writer Horton Foote died a few days ago, but his writings will live a long, long time. And though he was born and raised in a small town in Texas that was never a hindrance— it was his greatest inspiration.

In 1962 he won an Oscar for the screenplay adaptation for To Kill A Mockingbird. That alone is enough to be remembered by. Here are a couple things to consider about that movie:

Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck, was voted the #1 hero in AFI’s Top 50 heroes and top 50 villains 
The film is listed as #34 in AFI’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time

In 1983 Foote won another Oscar, this time for Best Original Screenplay, for Tender Mercies.

Foote was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his play The Young Man from Atlanta (which also was nominated for a Tony).

Foote won an Emmy in 1997 for best writing for a TV miniseries or special for Old Man, (which was based on a novella by William Faulkner).

He also had several plays on Broadway and off-Broadway. Horton Foote was brilliant. Horton Foote was accomplished. But Horton Foote paid his dues. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he says that it takes an artist 10,000 hours to have a firm grip on his craft. (He uses Mozart and the Beatles as examples.) It is talent, but it is also a numbers game. And those numbers are hours and hours, year after year of learning one’s craft.

Foote’s set out to be an actor and studied at the Pasadena Playhouse and in New York. He wrote his first play in 1940 when he was 24 years old. But it would be another 13 years before you’d find a play he wrote that most people today would recognize, A Trip to Bountiful. (And at that point, counting his acting experience he had invested 21 years in theater.) When he started to write for the TV program Playhouse 90 in 1956 Foote was 40 years old. When he won the Academy Award for To Kill a Mockingbird he was 45-years old, and when he won his second Academy Award 67-years old, and 79-years old when awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1995,  and 81-years old when he won his Emmy in 1997.

He continued to write until he died and was quoted not that long ago saying, “I can’t quit (writing) I woke up last night at 1:30 and had to get up and write. It’s compulsive.”                                            

Horton Foote is that tall tree in the forest that didn’t sprout up overnight. Here are some of his quotes:

“But I don’t really write to honor the past. I write to investigate, to try to figure out what happened and why it happened, knowing I’ll never really know. I think all the writers that I admire have this same desire, the desire to bring order out of chaos.” 
                                                               Horton Foote 

“I knew little about adapting or writing for the screen.”
                                                               Horton Foote  

When you’re a writer, you have to write these stories, even if you don’t get paid.”
                                                               Horton Foote 

Related posts: Screenwriting from Texas


Scott W. Smith

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