This man was the original narrator in The Twilight Zone
He was fired for sounding too "pompous."
Image: The Everett Collection
The Twilight Zone is one of those brilliant shows that feels like the work of one visionary. Of course, devilishly clever writers such as Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson contributed to the series, but The Twilight Zone will forever be associated with the name — not to mention face and voice — of creator Rod Serling.
What would The Twilight Zone have been without Serling standing onscreen in his sharp suit and delivering his enticing introductions? Could those twisted tales have been as impactful without his wry closing soliloquies?
It's easy to forget that Serling did not appear in an episode until episode 36, "A World of His Own," the season-one finale. Up to that point, the narrator had been merely an omniscient voice. The crazy thing is, Serling nearly lost that job. On his own show.
In production for the first episode and pilot, "Where Is Everybody?", a different narrator was used. Oh, and a comical error nearly made it into the show's immortal introduction.
Westbrook Van Voorhis (full name Cornelius Westbrook Van Voorhis) was known as "The Voice of Doom." That sounds rather Twilight Zone appropriate, no? The broadcaster and voice-over artist earned the nickname for his work on The March of Time, the newsreel series that covered world events on film. Millions (nearly 25 million) of Americans watched footage of World War II, accompanied by the booming voice of Van Voorhis.
The guy spoke with that perfect midcentury narrator voice, the kind every Boomer imagines in their head when they think of Fifties sci-fi flicks, school movies, or scared-straight driver's ed films. Van Voorhis, pictured up top, also worked as the narrator on television series with simple, dramatic titled like Justice and Panic!
In 1966, kids got to see the man himself in commercials for Life cereal. "The great Quaker Life debate!" he bellowed, "Is it for adults or kids?"
No wonder, then, that CBS gave him the job of narrating The Twilight Zone. Van Voorhis recorded the narration bits for "Where Is Everybody?" in 1959.
But, as we all know, Serling ended up landing the gig himself in the end. So what happened? The 1987 home video release of The Twilight Zone, from the CBS Video Library, explained the story.
"Westbrook Van Hoorhis, the voice of The March of Time, narrated the pilot, but it was decided that he was a little too pompous-sounding," the behind-the-scenes content explained. "Orson Welles was a favored choice but wanted too much money."
"Finally," William Self, the producer of the episode, William Self, said, "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. But he did a terrific job."
Well, yeah. He certainly did! However, he made one major goof.
"There is a sixth dimension beyond that which is known to man…" he wrote and read in the first take.
Wait, a sixth dimension?
Producer William Self again explained this amusing anecdote. "The opening line read, 'There is a sixth dimension,'" Self recalled. "I said, 'Rod, what is the fifth one?' He said, 'I don't know. Aren't there five?' I said, 'I can only think of four.'"
Thankfully, the error was caught, the audio re-recorded, and television history was made.