There’s an old urban legend that says that Steven Spielberg (in a scene that could have come directly out of Arrested Development) got his first job in film at Universal Studios simply by walking in the gate with a suit and a briefcase and pretending that he already worked there. He supposedly commandeered an unoccupied office, bought plastic letters and put his name up on the building directory, then used this status to sneak onto movie sets and watch directors like Alfred Hitchcock at work1. It’s likely that this legend is a load of bull, as other sources claim the much more believable story that he actually had a legitimate internship at Universal Studios that he got through his father’s friend, Chuck Silvers2. Still, I’d like to imagine that the story of Spielberg just wandering onto the Universal lot like he owned the place was true, because it presents an image of the early Spielberg that I really like: Steven Spielberg the badass.
When you look back at the history of Spielberg’s career, you see that even when he wasn’t actually directing some of the best films of my childhood (Hook, E.T., The Indiana Jones series), he was busy producing some really badass stuff (the Back to the Future trilogy, The Goonies, ‘batteries not included, Who Framed Roger Rabbit). Basically, if you’re a twenty-something like me, you owe a lot of your favorite movies and a few awesome cartoon shows (Tiny Toons, Animaniacs) to Steven Spielberg3. Then he directed The Terminal and started producing Shia LeBeouf films, and it all went to hell. Still: Early Spielberg = Badass.
Rod Serling was a bit of a badass too. In 1959, Serling was writing for a popular dramatic anthology series called Playhouse 90, when he basically decided “Screw this, I’m going to make a science-fiction show.4” So he left Playhouse 90 to create The Twilight Zone, a gamble which I'd say paid off pretty well in the end.5 But it begs the question: why leave such a cushy job? Basically, Serling got tired of battling with networks and sponsors over the controversial nature of his scripts, and he figured he might be able get away with making statements about politics and society if his scripts were steeped in fantasy and metaphor. He was right. However, when CBS decided to cancel The Twilight Zone in 1964 (because basically the whole genre of the anthology series was dead) he still wanted to continue the idea on another network. CBS owned the rights to The Twilight Zone, so he needed a slightly different premise for the show. Throw in some spooky paintings, rename it Night Gallery, and you basically have a new version of The Twilight Zone that nobody can sue you for6. Bad. Ass.
“Eyes” is one of the three segments that made up the pilot for Night Gallery, and if you watch this episode (which I assume you will, since you’re here already), you’ll even notice that it follows pretty much the same formula as Serling’s Twilight Zone: someone’s greed or lack of humanity leads them to an ironic twist of fate at the end.
Then of course, there was the legendary badass herself, Joan Crawford. She wasn't at all happy to be working with a 22 year old director who had just been promoted from intern to TV director based on his short film, Amblin’. Even so, she showed respect for the young director, refusing to call him anything but Mr. Spielberg. When she first met with him, it was at her home, where she answered the door blindfolded in preparation for her part in the show7. Badass. Not to mention extremely, even absurdly professional.
Of course, in the midst of all this badassery, there’s one true badass who is completely overlooked in the history of this show: Tom Bosley. You might remember him as the father on Happy Days, which instantly makes him cool by his proximity to the all-time king of the badasses, The Fonz. Here, Bosley plays a poor gambler, Sidney Resnick, who gives up his eyes to Joan Crawfod’s character, Claudia Menlo (which seems rather superfluous as Resnick seems to have already had the frontal lobe of his brain removed). So this means you have four, awesome, badass people involved in this production: Serling, (early) Spielberg, Joan Crawford, and Mr. Cunningham himself, Tom Bosley.
And so now I'll remind you that this was the pilot. No wonder this episode got Night Gallery picked up for a series on NBC.
1 Powers, Tom. Steven Spielberg. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2000. Print.
2 Chow, Ellesse. "Inspirational Stories VIII : Steven Spielberg, Directing His Story." Goal Setting, Success & Motivation Articles & Resources at Goal Setting College. Goal Setting College. Web. 23 Mar. 2011.
3 "Steven Spielberg." The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Amazon.com. Web. 23 Mar. 2011.
4 Obviously, this is not a real quote. I just put quotation marks around it so you can imagine him saying it.
5 Phillips, Mark, and Frank Garcia. Science Fiction Television Series: Episode Guides, Histories, and Casts and Credits for 62 Prime Time Shows, 1959 Through 1989. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1996.
6 Skelton, Scott, and Jim Benson. Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1999. Print.
Trevor Byrne-Smith has a Masters Degree in Media Studies from Emerson College in Boston. He currently runs the Doctor Who fan blog The Horror of Fan Blog (http://thehorroroffanblog.blogspot.com).