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.

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19 Comments

Wiseguy70005 7 months ago
Technically Rod Serling narrated the first season and hosted the other seasons.
Wiseguy70005 7 months ago
Westbrook Van Voorhis did narrate one episode, the original version of the pilot of "Twilight Zone" (without the "The") "Where Is Everybody?" The opening can be found online.
JeffPaul76 7 months ago
"The Great One", was none other than Jackie Gleason, NOT Orson Welles!
ColorTVisapassingfad 7 months ago
Mel Brooks paid Welles $10k for was intended as a week's work narrating "History of the World Part 1". Mel said he got it on the first take and was done in a day.
Bapa1 7 months ago
But did they have wide-screen TVs back then?
cperrynaples 7 months ago
Orson Welles does have a strange connection to TZ! One of the best remembered first season episodes was The Hitchhiker with Inger Stevens! It was actually a remake of a radio play which starred Welles!
Avie 7 months ago
"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.'”

For an anthology like "The Twilight Zone," with new characters, situations and locales each week, there was rally no choice. All the major anthologies, from "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" to "One Step Beyond" and "Playhouse 90" had hosts or narrators, and it was especially critical for a half-hour series like "The Twilight Zone": the narrator could and did give key elements of exposition that would be difficult and awkward to crame into a 25-minute teleplay via dialogue and/or images. The fact is that whatever money they saves using Rod Serling as narrator over Orson Welles wouold have been spent in shooting a narrative heavier in exposition.

With Serling, then, they got the best of both worlds. Lucky for all involved that Rod was a natural at it.
LalaLucy 7 months ago
Whereas Orson was definitely talented, I much prefer that Rod ended up doing it. I am a little afraid Orson might have made it too showy, whereas Rod had his own pared back, earnest style that lent itself well to the atmosphere of the show. It's a little like hearing a songwriter sing their own song. The intent comes through so much more.
WGH 7 months ago
Orson Welles was the first choice to be the voice of Darth Vader.

Again, he wanted too much money.
Snickers 7 months ago
It would have been interesting to say the least.
AgingDisgracefully 7 months ago
Not long after being considered, Orson disappeared into Fat Air.
WordsmithWorks 7 months ago
Although I respect Welles' work and who knows how he would have done, I cannot imagine anyone as the Twilight Zone narrator other that Serling.
tootsieg WordsmithWorks 7 months ago
I agree. I can’t imagine anyone. Rod Serling was perfect.
Bapa1 WordsmithWorks 7 months ago
It would have been funny if they had used Mel Blanc.
Moverfan Bapa1 7 months ago
"That's what happens in the Twilight Zone, Doc."
Jerryfan Bapa1 7 months ago
Ah yes and Classic TZ episodes like Duck Season Rabbit Season.
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