A Tasty Twilight Zone TreatBehind the Scenes of the classic episode "To Serve Man".
By Martin Grams, Jr. - Idiom, catch phrase, buzz words. One that comes to mind when someone speaks about Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone is “It’s a cook book!” Recruiting volunteers or seeking a side dish for Thanksgiving dinner, you pick your poison. In the world of The Twilight Zone, anything can happen. “To Serve Man” still ranks among fans as one of the top ten episodes of the series yet it was one of the few episodes (including “I Sing the Body Electric”) that suffered a number of backstage production problems. If it wasn’t for the determination of a playwright named Rod Serling and producer Buck Houghton, “To Serve Man” may never be the episode we remember today.
Serling was contractually obligated to turn in the first draft of this script by May 1, based on a short story of the same name by Damon Knight. Serling’s production company, Cayuga Productions, had purchased a number of literary properties but not all of them made it to the cameras or a first draft for that matter. Energized by the prospect of shocking the television audience, the episode was assigned a production number on June 5, 1961. The short story on which this episode is based was retroactively awarded the 1951 “Retro” Hugo Award for “Best Short Story” in 2001. Damon Knight (who then resided in Milford, Pennsylvania) exchanged correspondence with Serling a number of times from 1960 to 1961. Knight submitted short stories and plot proposals for Twilight Zone, but this marked his only story to be adapted. A three-page plot outline titled “A Meeting of the Board” was submitted to Serling in June of 1961, but Serling contemplated if it was feasible for use on the series, since the story went nowhere until the very end.
Richard Kiel, a few hairs over 7-feet tall, was cast by Lynn Stalmaster in the multiple roles of the Kanamits you see throughout the entire episode. “I was still in the middle of shooting Eegah (1962) when I got a call from Herman about doing The Twilight Zone,” recalled Kiel. “Arch Hall was very nice about it, having been an actor himself, and shot around me during the week it took me to do what turned out to be one of the classic episodes, titled ‘To Serve Man.’” The role of Lloyd Bochner, however, was director Richard L. Bare’s choice, as was actress Jeanne Evans, who played one of the women getting ready to board the ship; she was the real-life wife of director Richard L. Bare.
On June 12, Kiel reported to the men’s third floor wardrobe department at M-G-M Studios for makeup tests and costumes. He reported at the studio at 9 a.m., and as soon as the makeup and costumes were completed, Kiel’s voice was recorded in Sync Room “A” at M-G-M from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. William Tuttle created the look of the Kanamits, attempting to follow Serling’s description from the script: “we are reminded of his size in his relationships to other objects like chairs, tables, ashtrays, etc.” Serling’s facial description of the alien was a bit different from what turned out on film. “While humanoid in general appearance, it is almost as if someone had been sculpturing it and had left the job prematurely. It has two eyes, very wide apart, a small opening that passes for a nose and a tiny, almost imperceptible circular hole that passes for a mouth.”
M-G-M Studios was where most of the Twilight Zone episodes produced. The studio lot offered much in the way of costumes and props including the same Forbidden Planet space ship Bochner enters as he hears the famous punch line. This same ship appears in numerous other Twilight Zone productions such as “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” “On Thursday We Leave for Home” and “Hocus Pocus and Frisby.” It wasn’t until the fifth season episode “Probe 7 - Over and Out” that Twilight Zone began using specially constructed space ships for the television productions and that particular ship was left over from an Outer Limits episode, “Specimen: Unknown” which the producers was relieved to liquidate after production was completed.
After makeup, costumes and recorded voice tracks, Kiel then reported to Stage 4 so director Bare and the crew could shoot preliminaries with Kiel in makeup and costume. All of the scenes where a Kanamit first makes his appearance at the U.N. were shot on that afternoon – but only the scenes where only Kiel is seen, not the dignitaries, delegates, interpreters and cameraman.
After viewing the rough cut, Serling was displeased with the effort. “‘To Serve Man’ turned out piss-poor, a combination of horrible direction and a faithless script bit your back,” Serling told Damon Knight on October 12, 1961. “We’re re-shooting some scenes and it’s my hope that we can at least come within a few hundred yards of your great story.”
Richard L. Bare is credited as director on the screen, but he wasn’t the only one who had a hand in directing. As Serling described in a letter to Buck Houghton, “I have done this in very rough fashion, offering the suggestions perhaps without proper integration. I’m assuming that we can re-tool this so that on occasion we can go out to film clips of mobs, loudspeakers, et al.”
This meant paying for stock footage from other movies. The flying saucer footage featured in the beginning of the episode was borrowed from the 1951 motion picture, The Day the Earth Stood Still. The stop-motion footage of the flying saucer taking off into the atmosphere towards the end of the episode was borrowed from the 1956 motion picture, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. The stop-motion effect is credited to Ray Harryhausen, but the closing credits of this episode never acknowledged the famed effects artist. CONTINUE
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