9 little details you never noticed in the Twilight Zone episode ''It's a Good Life''
This timeless tale featured recycled dinosaurs, ham radio legends and the longest opening narration.
Rod Serling introduced one of his most unforgettable "monsters" in 1961. The twist. "This is the monster. His name is Anthony Fremont," Serling explained, "He's six years old, with a cute little-boy face and blue, guileless eyes."
"It's A Good Life" had remained seared in our memories ever since. This story about an immature narcissist who bends society to his will — with help of psionic powers — has not only been rated one of the greatest episodes of The Twilight Zone, it has been ranked as one of the greatest television episodes in history. Full stop.
Let's take a closer look at this episode, which starred Billy Mumy (Lost in Space) as the mind-reading child Anthony Fremont.
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1. It has the longest opening narrative in Twilight Zone history.
Rod Serling sets the stage for the tale, telling viewers about the small town of Peaksville and its inhabitants. His 343-word spiel runs for about the first two minutes of the episode — nearly 10% of the screen time. The first bit of his speech — "Tonight's story on The Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a m…" — was later used in the Disney Parks ride The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Only, they had him say "this is a maintenance elevator" instead of "this is a map."
2. Rod Serling was working on a feature film adaptation when he died.
Marvel Comics launched its Planet of the Apes Magazine in the summer of 1974. The first issue featured an interview with Rod Serling, who co-wrote the screenplay to the classic 1968 Planet of the Apes film. At the end of the chat, the journalist asks Serling what he is currently working on. Serling reveals, "I"m on my third draft of a feature film based on Jerome Bixby's short story, 'It's a Good Life.' We did it originally on Twilight Zone, but now we're doing a full-length version." Alas, Serling would die a year later, and this feature film never came to fruition — though Joe Dante did direct a short remake that was one of four segments in 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie.
3. This actor never appeared on screen again.
The first timid adult we see dealing with Anthony Fremont is a bicycle delivery man named Bill Soames. Sporting a bowtie and beads of sweat on his nervous face, Soames immediately establishes the eerie authority wielded by this seemingly innocent boy. Tom Hatcher plays the character. It was just his fourth appearance on television — and it would be his last. Hatcher was managing a clothing store in Beverly Hills when discovered by Gore Vidal. He later became a real estate developer on Long Island, New York.
4. This actor went on to become a ham radio legend.
Outside of her small role in "It's a Good Life," Lenore Kingston could be spotted in episodes of Leave It to Beaver, My Three Sons, The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction. But her biggest claim to fame might be in the world of amateur radio. The ham radio operator went by the call sign W6NAZ. During wartime, she helped soldiers communicate with family back home. She continued to aide with emergency communications in her later years, becoming vice president of Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters.
5. The dinosaur footage came from the 1951 film 'Lost Continent'.
Anthony forces the Peaksville adults to watch his favorite thing on television — dinosaur battles. We see two Triceratops going at it in stop-motion. That Cretaceous clash comes from the science-fiction film Lost Continent, a low-budget production from a decade earlier featuring familiar television faces such as Cesar Romero (The Joker of Batman) and Hugh Beaumont (Ward Cleaver of Leave It to Beaver).
6. It was adapted from a short story by Jerome Bixby.
As mentioned in our second factoid, "It's a Good Life" was originally a short story by Jerome Bixby. The tale originally appeared in the collection Star Science Fiction Stories No. 2 in 1953.
Image: Ballantine Books
7. Bixby also wrote some classic Star Trek episodes.
Bixby contributed to another 1960s sci-fi TV classic — Star Trek. He wrote four episodes of The Original Series: "Mirror, Mirror," "Day of the Dove," "Requiem for Methuselah," and "By Any Other Name." So, yes, you can thank him for Spock in a goatee, too.
8. They made a sequel in 2003.
To understand the popularity of "It's a Good Life," you need only look at how many times Twilight Zone has returned to Peaksville. We mentioned the Joe Dante remake in 1983 that was part of Twilight Zone: The Movie. In the overlooked 2002 (second) reboot of the franchise, the one on the UPN hosted by Forest Whitaker, Cloris Leachman and Bill Mumy reprised their roles for "It's Still a Good Life." Not to mention the fact it was spoofed by The Simpsons in "Treehouse of Horror II" in 1991.
Image: New Line Television / UPN
9. Cloris Leachman played Bill Mumy's mommy four times.
"It's a Good Life" was the second of four times that Leachman portrayed the onscreen mother of Mumy. A year prior, they were parent and child in "My Own Master," an episode of The Loretta Young Show about an imaginary friend. In 1962, the pair were once again family in "Keep an Eye on Santa Claus," an installment of the series Going My Way. The fourth time would have to wait 40 years, in the aforementioned "It's Still a Good Life."
"The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they allow disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children now are tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
attributed to Socrates by Plato