Orson Welles was originally the first choice to narrate The Twilight Zone
Picture Orson Welles with a big cigar telling you there's a fifth dimension.
If you’re a Twilight Zone trivia aficionado, you might already know that Rod Serling was not the original choice for the narrator of the show. According to Anne Serling, daughter of Rod Serling, CBS had a voice in mind that might be more than a little familiar.
In her book about her father, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling, she wrote that for CBS, the ideal man for the job was none other than The Great One himself, Orson Welles. Serling wrote, “Everyone at the network, the sponsors, their ad agency, and the talent agency representing my dad, want Orson Welles, who, they think, would add just the right note of drama, flair, and prestige to the show.”
At the time production began on The Twilight Zone, Welles was not only well known in film but in radio as well, where he had, in addition to directing and producing, lent his voice to a series of productions. So, it’s no wonder that so many people knew how great Welles was. However, there was one part of Welles that wasn’t so appealing: His price. Serling wrote, “Welles’s quoted fee [was] higher than the sponsors want to pay. They all scramble to come up with other names.”
Originally, the plan was to use Westbrook Van Voorhis to provide the narration, but decided that he sounded too pompous, and attempted to look for other options. They could have aired the series and scrapped the narrator idea altogether, though they never considered it. CBS executive William Self told Marc Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, “It was from the outset decided that there would be a narrator, someone who would set the stage or wrap it up.”
So much so was no one considering Rod Serling as the narrator that he had to throw his name on the list of potential narrators. Even then, it wasn’t a simple decision. Self explained, “Finally, Rod himself made the suggestion that maybe he should do it. It was received with skepticism. None of us knew Rod except as a writer.”
However, Serling was allowed to serve as the narrator who, at least for the first season, was the disembodied narrator of the show. It wasn’t until the second season that Serling appeared in person, and after that, he became the well-known star he is today.