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May 31, 2005

"Marc Zicree knows more about 'The Twilight Zone' than anyone living or deceased"


Pretty strong words, especially since they're coming from Paul Brownstein, DVD producer for the "Definitive Edition" DVD sets being released season–by–season this year.

But that's exactly what he said in Matt Hurwitz's Washington Post story about Zicree, which appeared on the front page of this past Sunday's Washington Post Arts section.

Zicree's book, "The Twilight Zone Companion," came out in 1982 and it's become the definitive reference for all things "Twilight Zone."

Here's the Post story.

    Shadows & Delight: Serling's Lingering 'Twilight'

    Submitted for your approval: Mr. Marc Scott Zicree, author of the best-selling "Twilight Zone Companion" episode guide, and a man who has never actually left the Zone.

    Two walls in his West Hollywood apartment are filled with rare sci-fi and fantasy books -- first editions of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, titles by Ray Bradbury (now a close friend) and others.

    And buried somewhere in the stacks are files and files on "The Twilight Zone."

    Zicree is renowned as the expert on "Twilight Zone," Rod Serling's fantasy anthology series that has fascinated millions of TV fans since its debut on CBS in 1959.

    "Marc knows more about 'The Twilight Zone' than anyone living or deceased," says Paul Brownstein, DVD producer for the new "Definitive Edition" DVD sets being released season-by-season this year.


    "I was just lucky enough to get involved after he already was, so I didn't have to run around trying to find a Marc Zicree."

    The "Companion" has been in continuous publication since its first printing in 1982, and has become the definitive reference for all things "Zone."

    "It's the 'Twilight Zone' bible," says Carol Serling, Rod's widow.

    "If somebody wants to know something about a specific script, or how an episode evolved, or who worked on it, we run to this book. I use it, we all use it."

    Image Entertainment even went to the trouble of having a reprint made for inclusion with its Season 1 "Twilight Zone" set, in case someone wants the name of the guy in the furry suit that William Shatner swears he sees outside his airplane window ("Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"), or whether that's really Elly May underneath all those bandages ("Eye of the Beholder") or another actress.

    Though Zicree, a Southern California native, did catch two episodes in first run on CBS as a small boy, he got stuck on "Twilight Zone" while watching reruns in syndication after school.

    He studied art at UCLA, but that wasn't the direction Zicree wanted to go.

    "I knew I didn't want to be an artist, I wanted to be a writer," he says.

    He continued his studies at the Clarion Writers Workshop at Michigan State University, a well-known science-fiction writing school.

    He hoped to get a job in television.

    "I thought the way you learn how to make great TV is you learn how great TV is made," Zicree says.

    While there had been a few books on television series, there was none on his favorite, "Twilight Zone."

    "When I got out of college, I found there was almost nothing written about it. So I thought, 'I'm going to have to write the book that I want to read.' "

    Zicree began researching the series in 1977, two years after Rod Serling's death.

    Knowing that Serling's widow had already turned down major journalists seeking a story on the writer, Zicree decided to build credibility through the back door.

    "I knew one of the show's writers, George Clayton Johnson, so I asked him who he knew, and he connected me with two other people, whom I interviewed, and they connected me with a few more and so on," Zicree says.

    "So over three months, I interviewed 30 people who'd worked on the show."

    His research lasted three years and 100 interviewees.

    "During the period I did the research, everyone except Rod Serling and writer Charles Beaumont was still alive. And it was only about 15 years after the show went off the air" -- 1964 -- "so their memories were still good."

    Among those interviewed was actor Burgess Meredith, who recalled his work on the episode "Time Enough at Last," about a henpecked, bespectacled bookworm who just wants some peace and quiet to enjoy his favorite pastime, only to find himself the sole survivor of a nuclear holocaust -- with his glasses broken.

    "He invited me to his house in Malibu, and we sat on the beach, and he told me about the four episodes he had done," Zicree recalls.

    "He said that they had a few different pairs of glasses for him to wear: those big, thick ones for close shots, through which he couldn't really see anything, and then others with clear glass for long shots."

    Zicree also tracked down actress Maxine Stuart, the unseen star of "Eye of the Beholder" -- a favorite of many "Twilight Zone" fans.

    A bandage-wrapped woman awaits the result of one last operation, her last chance to look "normal," in a world where, as revealed at the end of the episode, pig-nosed ugliness is the norm, and beauty is the freak.

    For most of the episode, Stuart plays the patient whose sultry voice we hear but whose face we never glimpse.

    But in the final scene, when the bandages come off, the patient is played by future "Beverly Hillbillies" star Donna Douglas ("Elly May"), who is seen running down the hospital corridors.

    Also interviewed were behind-the-camera personnel including producer Buck Houghton, cinematographer George Clements, and Douglas Heyes, who directed "Beholder" and a number of other classic episodes.

    "These people often had much better memories of the episodes than the actors, who worked their episodes for just three or four days," Zicree says.

    "The directors and writers spent quite a bit more time, writing, prepping and planning each show."

    Once he had a few interviews under his belt, the 22-year-old Zicree finally approached Carol Serling, who agreed to give him access to her late husband's files.

    "I was crawling through Rod Serling's attic, looking through file boxes, et cetera," says the writer.

    "I felt like he lived at my house!" Mrs. Serling recalls.

    Rod Serling not only had 16mm prints of nearly every episode, which Zicree screened on a projector purchased for just this purpose, but scripts, memos and file notes.

    "What was amazing to see was Rod's great facility of language.

    He would write these scripts lounging around his Olympic-size swimming pool, dictating into a tape recorder.

    He would describe the characters, the precise looks of each shot, every detail.

    And the directors and cinematographers would pull off the image exactly as he had envisioned it in the script."

    One of the greatest finds, he says, was an unmarked box filled with scripts that, for one reason or another, were never filmed.

    "There were scripts by Serling, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, and even two by Ray Bradbury."

    One of the latter, "A Miracle of Rare Device," was about two vagrants who come across a desert mirage.

    "The mirage becomes any city the visitor wants it to be, allowing him to walk around and experience it," Zicree says.

    Many of these artifacts, including scripts, censor's memos and Serling TV appearances, as well as Zicree's original interview recordings, appear as bonus materials on Image's "Definitive Edition" DVD sets, Season 3 of which is due for release June 28.

    "For Season 3, we even got Jonathan Winters to record a new voice-over reading of an alternate ending originally written for an episode in which he appeared with Jack Klugman, called 'A Game of Pool,' " says Brownstein, the DVD producer.

    The image quality is immaculate, with new high-definition transfers taken from either original negatives or fine-grained prints kept in CBS's vaults.

    Included in the Season 2 set are the six episodes originally shot on videotape, instead of film.

    "They had only been available before from poor-quality kinescopes. These were the original two-inch tapes. You could see the splices go by as they played on the machine," says Brownstein.

    Zicree's own research for "The Twilight Zone Companion" enabled him to achieve his goal of writing and producing sci-fi television.

    By the time the book was published, Zicree was already writing for television, initially in animation for "Smurfs" and "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe," and later on shows including "Friday the 13th: The Series," "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Sliders."

    "I was able to apply much of what I had learned from how 'Twilight Zone' was produced to my current work, both in terms of production needs, as well as how to stay original with my stories," Zicree says.

    "Serling once said, about his writing, 'It's just the truth as I know it, or, better yet, as I feel it,' and that's what I try to follow."

    He is also the author of a series of best-selling novels, "Magic Time," the latest of which hit the Los Angeles Times bestseller list.

    "The idea behind them is, what if all the machines in the world stopped running and magic came back? Most people stay human, but a few people get magical abilities," Zicree says.

    "The story follows a young man who's raising his orphan sister, who, after a certain event, changes into something that's no longer human. She gets abducted, spirited away, and he sets off on this quest to find her and save her, and see if he can change the world back."

    Despite his various successes, "The Twilight Zone Companion" is what he is known for.

    He says it's the thing that taught him about quality television production.

    It also inspired others.

    "When I was 16, I used to lock myself in my room and watch 'Twilight Zone,' " recalls Brannon Braga, writer-producer for "Star Trek" series including "The Next Generation," "Voyager" and "Enterprise."

    "I had Marc's book and read everything I could about each episode. It was a formative experience for me."

    "Serling (below) was an American master," he continues.


    "He had a huge influence on so many people, on two generations of writers. That show had a spirit of imagination that has remained unsurpassed."

May 31, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink


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