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Behind the Scenes of the Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man"

Continued from here

Another change needed was the Kanamit’s voice. After a initial rough cut was made and Richard Kiel’s voice was synced with the soundtrack, Serling and Houghton viewed the film and both agreed a major re-haul was needed. So plans were made to add footage, rewrite the Kanamit’s dialogue, rerecord the alien’s voice, incorporate stock footage and film additional scenes. The original cut ended abruptly as Pat shouts: “To Serve Man . . . it’s a cookbook!” And for a moment, Chambers looked stunned. A zoom into a close-up of his face as the horror takes hold. Slowly a huge hand comes into the frame to touch Chamber’s cheek, pinches it lightly as if feeling for tenderness, then the hand gently – but very firmly – turns Chambers around and propels him up the stairs as they slowly close. During the process of this closing, we hear Serling’s voice in closing narration:

“The very explicit and very specific differences in points of view. To the wee ones . . . the little folk called man . . . it’s a marvelous adventure, a voyage to another planet. An exciting sojourn in another section of the galaxy. But to the very large, granite faced inhabitants known as Kanamits . . . it’s nothing more than a cattle car, a very comfortable provisions ship bringing food from the other end of the universe. Like I say . . . it’s all in the point of view.”

Richard L. Bare directed a number of revised scenes as the script called for them, as revealed in the M-G-M filming schedule. The ending with Chambers being escorted into the spaceship was deleted. Footage of a montage sequence of the Kanamit giving gifts superimposed over the shots of the various newspaper headlines was also deleted, replaced with the delegates offering a token of thanks for the gifts that were bestowed on them. Stock footage of power plants for force fields and crops and deserts was inserted. Serling also composed two additional scenes for the opening and closing of the episode, so the film already shot in the can would become the flashback scenes.

Seeking only perfection, Serling realized the rough cut was not acceptable. Part of the problem was the adaptation in script form. Serling decided to have the entire story told in flashback format and wrote additional script pages for the opening and closing scenes of the episode. James Sheldon came in to direct the conference room scene on June 17. On October 23, the interior of the spaceship with Kiel and Bochner (composing the opening and closing scenes of the episode) was filmed, as well as a revised scene where Chambers is pushed back onto the stairs as the door to the spaceship closes (which is why Brody and Chambers are not on the screen together in the closing moments). These additional scenes were filmed on Stage 9. Serling also rewrote his narrations and had them rerecorded for this episode.

Serling left for five weeks of vacation, leaving the filming of additional scenes and new cut in the capable hands of Houghton. “Just so long as you know, Buck,” Serling wrote before leaving, “how deeply appreciative I am of all your back-breaking labor, your tremendous loyalty and your contributions which consistently and constantly made me look good.”

To serve man

Lloyd Bochner’s narrations for the retakes were recorded on January 11, 1962, in Sync Room “B” from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. By this time, the recordings of Kiel’s voice had been tossed aside because of the revision, which required the dialogue to be recorded again. Since Kiel wasn’t available, Joseph Ruskin, who played the role of the genie in “The Man in the Bottle,” supplied the new voice of the Kanamits. Ruskin’s name remained uncredited in the episode.

“I had been told that M-G-M and the producers had the right to use someone else to dub in my lines and that they probably would do that,” Kiel recalled in his book, Making it Big in the Movies (2002). “I remember driving in directly from Palm Springs and reporting to M-G-M for hours of make-up before beginning the long day of shooting. I was so tired from driving right from one job to another and going through hours of brutal make-up that when they gave me a chance to do the lines myself, I was not prepared and did not do a very good job when I read the lines of the ‘Kanamit.’ Ultimately, they did use someone else to dub the voice of the Kanamit, and I wasn’t surprised, just disappointed in myself.”

When he came back from his trip, Serling viewed the revised film and admitted it was much better than before. A number of former insert scenes were deleted. The scene where a group of people boarded the spacecraft (with actor Theodore Marcuse as Citizen Gregori talking about a peaceful coalition) was in editor Jason Bernie’s original rough cut, after Chambers was put into the spaceship, so the audience would realize that the Earthlings were unaware of what went on across the airfield. Serling favored switching the order of the scenes. *

* Among the deleted scenes were inserts of a push panel button, a salesman’s hand, gum in a woman’s hand, insert of a piano, and young children who received gifts from the Kanamit. Extras who were filmed for the scenes that ultimately got deleted: Bob McCord, Jim Turley, and Shirley Swedsen.

The flashing light above the door in Chambers’ room in the spaceship is the same featured on the chest of the two-headed Martian in “Mr. Dingle, the Strong.” The television camera at the U.N. was the same lens installed on Wordsworth’s wall in “The Obsolete Man.” The private quarters featured in the opening and closing scene inside the spaceship was the same as in “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby,” with a different door frame and the addition of lights and drawers.

With the drastic re-edit of this film, an original music score was not recommended by Scott Perry, Jr., the music editor, who decided in favor of using cues from the CBS stock music library. Some of the music is easily recognizable – lifted from the compositions used in previous Twilight Zone episodes such as “Back There” and “The Invaders.” The footage of New York Times Square was stock footage from 1949. The movie My Dream is Yours with Doris Day, Jack Carson and Lee Bowman is advertised at The Strand, and Champion with Kirk Douglas is advertised at another movie theater.

Television critic Leonard Hoff man of The Tucson Daily Citizen reviewed this episode referring to the story as “mediocre,” adding that “the program is saved by television’s sometimes unusual ability to reincarnate and even rejuvenate has-been tales and make them enjoyable fare.”

On March 9, Damon Knight wrote to Serling, “You have made me a big man around here, and I would hate to try to estimate what your Trendex was in Milford the night you did ‘To Serve Man.’ My kids thought there ought to have been more to the story, but I thought it was a dandy show; I loved your monster and I treasure your line, ‘dust to dessert.’ I hear the series has not been renewed, which is a great pity if true, but I trust you are busy and happy. May your tribe increase.”

Serling replied on March 13, thanking Knight for the gracious note. “I’m not at all sure we did justice to your exceptional story but the effort was there and the try was a manly one. Actually, the reactions to the show have been quite incredible. The mail pull, for our show anyway, has been quite phenomenal – and the word of mouth unusually positive and extensive. Actually, I think I piddled around with the U.N. too much and was unable to sustain this properly with legitimate production values. If we’d done this as a motion picture, and had a few more dollar bills accessible, it could have been dressed up far more handsomely. But as it is, we’ve done far worse with fewer results. Apologize to your kids for me, and explain to them what are the pitfalls of novice science fiction writers who run their ham fists all over the works of the legitimate ones. I hope we have a chance to do it again.”

Among the television spoofs is The Simpsons’ annual “Treehouse of Horror” from October of 1990 when elements of “To Serve Man” were implemented with Lisa discovering a book titled “How to Cook Humans.” The aliens, however, calm her fears when it is revealed that the book was really titled “How to Cook for Forty Humans.” On an episode of Futurama, the character of Bender wears an apron that says “To Serve Man.”

Lloyd Bochner made his only appearance on The Twilight Zone in this episode (though he was offered a lead in “Number 12 Looks Just Like You”), but the actor assisted in what has become probably one of the best spoofs of this classic episode. In the 1991 motion picture, The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear, Bochner runs across the screen holding a book, screaming “it’s a cookbook!”

In the episode “Sofa So Good,” on Married . . . With Children, initially telecast January 16, 1994, Al screams off screen “Peg! To Serve Man! It’s a cookbook!” In the episode “Space,” on Newsradio, initially telecast on May 21, 1997, a comical look of the future involves Jimmy distributing copies of a book titled “To Serve Man.” The printing is a result of a publishing company he bought out. When someone asks about the title, Jimmy sarcastically comments, “Yeah, it’s a cookbook.” In the episode “Lessons,” on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, initially telecast September 24, 2002, a verbal reference is made about this episode. In the episode “Peace,” on Angel, initially telecast April 30, 2003, the cast discovers a creature that eats people to sustain life. One of the members, upon learning the news, comments, “It’s ‘To Serve Man’ all over again.”

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