A personal tour of Rod Serling’s “The Night Gallery”…

Some of the terrifying faces that populated the main credits sequence of “The Night Gallery”’s first two seasons.

When I was a little boy (far too little to watch horror, anyway), I was madly in love with monsters and the supernatural. I used to build monster model kits with loving patience. “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine was my first magazine subscription and monthly bible (rest in peace, Forry Ackerman). The late Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone” was my absolute favorite television show (that is, before “Star Trek” came into my life). The early 1970s were a time where the occult was everywhere. In fact, the 1970s seemed to be much more cool with those sort of things in popular media than we are today (I’m looking at you, Nashville Catholic School’s ban of Harry Potter books…).

The still-scary opening titles of “Night Gallery”…

December of 1973 saw the release of William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist”, which was the first movie I remember attending (at the wildly inappropriate age of 7) with lines going around the block outside of the theater. In those days, there was a witch’s brew of horror flicks & TV series/movies involving haunted houses, witch’s cults, or satanic themes (“Kolchak: The Night Stalker”, “The Devil’s Rain”, “Race With the Devil”, “Satan’s School For Girls” and “Legend of Hell House” to name a few). There was also, of course, an NBC-TV series hosted by none other than Rod Serling himself, called “The Night Gallery”.

I won’t lie; “The Night Gallery” scared the living s#!t out of me as a kid… and I couldn’t get enough of it.


Pilot (1969).

The pilot episode aired in 1969 as a 90 minute TV movie, and starred Joan Crawford, Roddy McDowell, Ossie Davis, and Richard Kiley. As most good pilots do, the “Night Gallery” pilot film successfully set the tone for the series that followed in December of 1970. It began with Rod Serling in a darkened surreal art gallery, introducing each segment via a single painting. The film was an anthology, consisting of three segments.

The first segment, called “The Cemetery”, casts Roddy McDowell as a spoiled, decadent, wealthy young southerner who returns home to claim his unearned inheritance from his freshly dead uncle. His uncle’s servant (Ossie Davis) has designs on the fortune as well, and the two try to out-screw each other for the inheritance, with deadly results. Artwork plays a pivotal role in the story, as the nephew sees a painting of the outside cemetery seeming to change…with his uncle’s corpse apparently returning to seek revenge. Each time he sees the painting the corpse appears to get closer and closer. The painting is actually a series of paintings created by a collaborator of the butler in order to drive the young man insane.
The second segment, “Eyes”, sees (excuse the pun) legendary actress Joan Crawford (“Mildred Pierce”) in a story directed by future wunderkind director Steven Spielberg, who would also direct an episode of the regular series as well, before becoming a legend himself (starting with 1971’s “Duel” and hitting it big with 1975’s “JAWS”). Spielberg was all of 22 years old when he directed Crawford (an acting legend since the 1920s). In “Eyes”, Crawford plays a wealthy woman who literally and unethically pays a doctor to perform an eye transplant with a still-living sighted man (“Happy Days” star Tom Bosley, who would later return in S1’s “Make Me Laugh”) so that she may have sight for a few hours. Her plan is fouled when her fleeting, temporary vision is restored…during a citywide blackout. Lacking any of “Night Gallery”’s usual supernatural/occult elements, this segment could’ve easily been produced as an episode of writer Serling’s previous series, “The Twilight Zone.”
The final segment, “The Escape Route,” sees a Nazi war criminal (Richard Kiley) living in South America, who finds temporary refuge from dogged war crimes investigators, and eventual justice, by fleeing into the paintings of a very unusual art gallery.

Season 1 (1970-1971).

Each episode began with Emmy-award winning writer and ‘tour guide’ Rod Serling…

The regular series began in December of 1970, and an eerie new theme for the show written by talented composer Gil Melle. The hour-long format of the first two seasons has each episode divided into 2 or sometimes 3 stories, with a terrifying ‘A’ segment, usually filled out with a slightly more comical ‘B’ (and sometimes ‘C’) segment.

One of artist Tom Wright’s 120 or so original paintings for the show. This one for S1’s “The House.”

Producer Jack Laird was more fond of the horror comedy potential of the show, in stark contrast to host/producer/occasional writer Rod Serling, who’d lent his name and credibility to the show. It’s no surprise that the Emmy-winning Serling’s stories were often the deeper, more human stories (“They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar”, “Dr. Stringfellow’s Rejuvenator” “Little Girl Lost” etc). As he did with his passion project “The Twilight Zone”, Serling wrote half of the first season’s six episodes, but his involvement with scripts in later seasons would vary as other writers such as Laird and Earl Hamner Jr. (“The Waltons”) submitted scripts as well. Despite changes to the show’s format after the first year, host Rod Serling, artist Tom Wright and composer Gil Melle’s contributions would remain staples of “The Night Gallery” throughout the three season run of the show.

Favorites of Season One.

Here are some of my personal favorite segments of the first season; I prefer to use the term ’segments’ instead of episodes, since some of the best segments of the series often had the misfortune to be paired up with some of the worst in order to fill out the first two seasons’ hour-long running time:

Season 1, episode 1: “The Dead Man” (paired with the farce, “The Housekeeper”).
“The Dead Man” is a horrifying tale of a reclusive medical researcher Dr. Max Redford (Carl Betz) who invites old colleague Miles (Jeff Corey) over to see his latest breakthrough in hypnosis. Redford has perfected a technique where he can literally will a handsome young volunteer named John (Michael Blodgett) into various states of health through a series of carefully timed taps while under hypnosis. Max can cause John’s heart to stop and restart, and can even cause the young man’s body to manifest different disease symptoms.
Things get complicated when Max suspects his young wife Velia (Louise Sorel) of having an affair with his test subject, and subconsciously uses the wrong series of taps during a session, causing the young man to die on the table. A year later, Miles examines the tapes of the sessions and realizes the jealous Max’s error, and confronts his still-in-denial friend. A still-grieving Velia overhears their conversation, and rushes outside to the nearby graveyard where she taps the correct sequence, and brings the now-decayed corpse of John back to life! “The Dead Man” is truly a superior installment, with exceptional acting from the entire cast (Louise Sorel’s mouth-agape catatonia still creeps me out), exceptional music by Gil Melle, and the nightmare-inducing zombie makeup of the previously handsome young John. It sets a very high bar for the series to come…

E1.3: “Certain Shadows On The Wall”
This excellent segmentinvolves a scheming English family reuniting following the death of their chronically ill oldest sister Emma (“Bewitched” costar Agnes Moorehead). Following her death, Emma’s accusatory shadow appears on a wall in the living room, despite efforts to change the room’s lighting or paint the wall itself. The two surviving sisters, Rebecca and Ann (played by Rachel Roberts and “Dark Shadows” star Grayson Hall respectively) are bitterly jealous of their insensitive, greedy physician brother Stephen (Louis Hayward) and plot against him. The silhouette of Moorehead on the wall is a subtle but genuinely spooky manifestation. Even without any movement whatsoever, it still sends genuine chills down your spine. This segment was paired with the far-less effective, sunny southern California ghost story “The House”, starring Joanna Pettet as a pretty young blonde who learns she is actually the ghost haunting herself in her own home…a real snoozer.
E1.4, “Make Me Laugh.
Future legendary filmmaker directs his second “Night Gallery” segment, which sees a failing standup comedian Jackie Slater (“Watermelon Man” star Godfrey Cambridge) making a Faustian bargain with a second-rate genie (Jackie Vernon) to be able to make people laugh. Success comes quickly, overwhelmingly and undeservedly, as Jackie soon finds he can make people laugh with zero effort. Merely making a gesture or opening his mouth causes his audiences to break into hysterics. Quickly becoming bored Jackie decides to give dramatic acting a spin, and asks the genie to help him make people cry…you can guess the rest. A predictable story, but Cambridge’s Jackie is a riveting presence, and the young Steven Spielberg’s camera creates mood and tension where it might not have otherwise existed. This segment was more-or-less remade by the new 2019 “Twilight Zone” for its first episode, “The Comedian.” “Make Me Laugh” was also paired with “Clean Kills and Other Trophies”, in which a murderer of wild animals (Raymond Massey, star of 1936’s “Things To Come”) bullies his sensitive son into hunting. I hate this episode for multiple reasons (not the least of which is my personal aversion to trophy hunting), but also because the ‘punchline’ simply isn’t worth the setup.
E1.5, “The Doll.
Paired with two thoroughly mediocre installments (“Pamela’s Voice” starring comedian Phyllis Diller, and a tired Titanic story called “Lone Survivor”), “The Doll” is well worth waiting for. The doll of this segment was one of the scariest things I’d ever seen as a kid. The cursed plaything was sent to act as an assassin by an Indian black magic operative (a miscast Henry Silva) who has a vendetta to settle against a retiring British Colonel (John Williams), who is returning home to London after a tour in occupied India. The doll arrives ahead of the colonel’s return, and his lonely orphaned niece Monica (Jewel Blanch) assumes it to be a gift from her uncle. Monica immediately bonds with the hideous doll, which survives all attempts by the colonel to get rid of it (not unlike “Talking Tina” from “The Twilight Zone”). I’m sure if the sight of an evil doll resembling the late televangelist Tammy Faye Baker is as terrifying today (in the post-“Annabelle” age), but in the early 1970s, this was the kind of s#!t that kept the lights on at bedtime for as long as possible…

Season 2 (1971-1972).

Changes to the format were very subtle in Season Two. Rod Serling pressed on and wrote some terrific stories (sometimes uncredited). A few new directors came onboard as well, such as Jeannot Swarc (“JAWS 2” “Somewhere In Time”).

Season 2 was where the series really hit its creative stride, producing more episodes than either of its other two seasons, as well as some of the more memorable segments of the series (“Dark Boy,” “Messiah on Mott Street”, “Green Fingers”). Behind the scenes, Jack Laird was assuming more creative control of the series, and his penchant for horror-based humor (Dracula visiting a blood bank to make a withdrawal) is all-too evident in some of the more juvenile segments of the season, which were unfortunately paired with some of its best. I can certainly understand Laird’s desire to give the audience a nice relieving laugh after a good scare, but many of his ‘comedy’ segments were not exactly rib-ticklers. Even as a kid, I thought some of them were just eye-rollingly stupid (the late Adam West’s “Mr. Hyde” joke is a true groaner).

The late Adam West as Mr. Hyde (“Go easy on the vermouth!”) in “With Apologies to Mr. Hyde.”

Overall, the quality of the series still favored the good stuff, and even the lame comedy segments boasted terrific paintings by the series’ in-house artist Tom Wright. Composer Gil Melle punched things up a bit as well, giving Season 2 the definitive version of his main title theme.

Here are some of my personal favorites of Season 2:

E2.2: “Class of 1999.
Paired with no less than three other segments (“Death in the Family” “The Merciful” and the mercifully ‘lost’ episode, “Witch’s Feast”), “Class of 1999” sees a college professor (horror legend Vincent Price, who like other series’ stars, would return in later episodes) in a sterile white classroom teaching his students to act on prejudice and blatant racial stereotyping. It is later revealed that the ’students’ are a graduating class of robots who are being programmed to replace their dead human makers… who presumably killed themselves off with the very behaviors their robotic progeny are acquiring. A bit too on-the-nose today, but somewhat groundbreaking in 1971.
E2.3: “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay.
Goofy, yet surprisingly effective witchcraft story which sees an aged ‘Aunt Ada’ (an over-the-top but effective Jeanette Nolan) paying a visit to her ‘niece’ Joanna (Michele Lee), who unquestioningly accepts the strange old woman’s word that they are related. Joanna’s skeptical logical husband Craig (James Farantino) is immediately suspicious. Turns out Ada is a centuries-old witch who achieves immortality by taking over younger bodies, and she has her sights set on Joanna’s. It’s a race against time as the disbelieving Craig has to embrace superstition and stop Ada before she body-snatches his wife…or is he too late? Everyone in this segment overacts to the Nth degree, including guest star Jonathan Harris (“Lost In Space”) as a colleague of Craig’s in full ‘Dr. Smith mode’. Despite its ridiculousness, the story works largely due to the utter spookiness of the late Nolan’s “Aunt Ada”.
The segment is paired with the aforementioned “With Apologies to Mr. Hyde,” and a weird little comeuppance story called “The Flip-Side of Satan” which stars “Laugh-In” star Arte Johnson as an arrogant disc jockey arriving for his first shift in a seemingly forsaken, deserted radio station.
E2.4: “A Fear of Spiders.
Fastidious theatre critic Justice (Patrick O’Neal) is forced to deal with the unwanted advances of lonely neighbor Elizabeth (Kim Stanley) while fighting his own titular ‘fear of spiders.’ As Justice’s cruelty and temper both rise proportionately against Elizabeth’s sadly pathetic attempts at connection, his bedroom is invaded by a spider the size of a coffee table (a rather silly-looking prop that is fortunately glimpsed only briefly). The fireworks of this Serling-scripted tale are the Edward Albee-style retorts between obviously gay Justice and the simpering Elizabeth, who eventually gets revenge against Justice’s stinging insults when the spider turns the tables; leaving a suddenly-vulnerable Justice too terrified to stay in his own apartment.

The segment is paired with no less than three other segments; “Junior” (a silly Frankenstein-monster story), “Marmalade Wine” (a surreally-staged yet ultimately disappointing “Misery”-type tale) and “The Academy”, which sees Pat Boone taking his son to a very unusual military school with a dark secret.
Personal note: “The Academy” was shot at my wife’s old alma mater, the University of California at Riverside, which was also a few blocks from my old bachelor apartment where I lived for 7 years.
E2.5: “Silent Snow, Secret Snow.”
No less than Orson Welles himself (!) narrates this fascinating story of autism (long before it was as topical as it is today) in which a young schoolboy named Paul (Radames Pera) escapes from his mundane sunny everyday existence into a version of reality where it is forever snowing; a permanent winter wonderland. As parents and teachers step up efforts to reach him, the ‘snow’ calls to Paul, drawing him increasingly inward. This was an episode I didn’t quite ‘get’ as a little boy, nor did it have any scary supernatural ‘hook’ for me, either. However, as an adult, I realized just how insightful, sensitive and ahead of its time this segment always was…I just had to grow up in order to realize it. The segment is paired with a hippie commune-werewolf story called “The Phantom Farmhouse”, starring former “Man From UNCLE” costar David McCallum.
E2.6: “A Question of Fear.”
The classic notion of paying someone to spend the night in a haunted house is well-realized in this stylish and scary segment. Leslie Nielsen (“Forbidden Planet” “Airplane!” “Naked Gun”), a few years before his comedic career took off, is cast as Col. Malloy. Malloy is a macho, eyepatch-wearing solider of fortune who accepts a bet at his men’s club from an Italian doctor named Mazi to spend the night in an abandoned (and allegedly haunted) house which turned Mazi’s hair white overnight, or so Mazi claims. The macho Malloy accepts the bet, and becomes the unwitting mouse to Mazi’s cat. The callous Malloy has conveniently forgotten that he’d brutally maimed and murdered Mazi’s pianist father during World War 2 by setting the elder Mazi’s hands on fire. Dr. Mazi has rigged the house with holograms, recordings and booby-traps to screw with the macho colonel. The next morning, via close-circuit TV, Malloy confronts Mazi, demanding his money, but the shifty doctor has one more trick up his sleeve. When I was a kid, the ghostly stuff scared the crap out of me, though I think the too-literal ending ruins things a bit. However, for sheer style and atmosphere, this episode is among the best. It is paired with the darkly comedic Nazis-meet-vampires story “The Devil Is Not Mocked.” Thematically, these episodes are perfectly matched (for a change), since both are horror stories locked with events of the Second World War.
E2.9: “Dr. Stringfellow’s Rejuvenator.”
Old west conman “Doctor” Stringfellow (Forrest Tucker) and his ‘assistant’ Rolpho (Don Pedro Colley) go from town to town peddling a useless ‘rejuvenator’ tonic to ignorant farmers and townspeople. When a desperate farmer pays Stringfellow everything he has to cure his dying daughter, a disgraced town doctor (“JAWS” costar Murray Hamilton) confronts the conman, who is preparing to leave town in search of fresh suckers just as the farmer’s daughter dies. The story ends with Stringfellow getting his supernatural comeuppance in a subtle but scary enough way; the ‘ghost’ could’ve just as easily had been his own conscience at work.
The segment is part of a particular crowded episode, which includes “House With Ghost” (a haunted house comedy with Bob Crane and Jo Anne Worley), “A Midnight Visit to a Local Blood Bank” (a lame Dracula joke) and a surreal afterlife comedy called “Hell’s Bells”, with John Astin (Gomez Adams himself) as an aging hippie whose shiftless, selfish existence sees him in Hell following a fiery auto wreck. Turns out “Hell” isn’t quite as exciting as advertised. One of the better (if hopelessly dated) comedy segments.
E2.10: “Dark Boy” is one of the best segments of the entire series, if not the best.
“Dark Boy” is the haunting (excuse the unavoidable pun) and deeply emotional story of a young widowed schoolteacher named Judith (the late Elizabeth Hartman) who is hired to teach in a rural frontier town. She later discovers that a shy, nocturnal visitor to her classroom (Michael Laird) is actually the ghost of a young former student named Joel Robb. Judith confronts the spectral boy’s widowed father Tom (Michael Baseleon), and the two are soon united in their attempt to reach out to Joel, whose spirit acts as an unwitting matchmaker for the two lonely adults. The ending, with Tom doing a bird call out to his late son’s spirit will tear your heart out. It leaves me blubbering to this day. Written by Earl Hamner Jr. (“The Waltons” “Twilight Zone”) this one hits all the right notes. It is paired with the far less interesting “Keep In Touch…We’ll Think Of Something”, which sees Alex McCord and a returning Joanna Pettet (S1’s “The House”) as a man and woman who are drawn together in a dark ‘fatal attraction.’ You can turn off the TV after “Dark Boy”… you’ll miss nothing.
E2.12: “Camera Obscura” is a rare successful exercise in style over substance.
Directed by John Badham (“Saturday Night Fever” “Blue Thunder”) the story sees an early 20th century British moneylender named Sharsted (the otherwise talented Rene Auberjonois, doing an unfortunate English accent) confronting a indebted elderly client named Gingold (chameleonic Ross Martin) whose ‘camera obscura’ novelty allows him a periscopic view of the entire city as it is…and as it was. Unimpressed, the miserly Sharsted leaves Gingold’s home… only to find himself in a twisted, surreal past version of the city, surrounded by ghouls and the ghosts of clients who’ve died because of his penny-pinching practices. Basically it’s a Scrooge-story without the redemption element. Not terribly original, but the inspired use of slow-motion, green filters, ghoulish makeup and echoing audio gives the entire segment a thoroughly nightmarish feeling. Along with a silly Poe gag (“Quoth the Raven”), the segment is paired with an intriguing macabre love story called “Cool Air.” “Cool Air” sees a woman (Barbara Hale) romancing a South American doctor who is forced to live confined within his refrigerated apartment. Turns out the charming doctor is, in fact, a reanimated corpse who will decay in moments at normal room temperatures. “Cool Air” is arguably the best segment of the three, but it lacks “Camera Obsura”’s visual panache.
E2.12: “The Messiah on Mott Street.”
“Messiah…” is Rod Serling’s ode to those living in poverty who still dare to hope. Abraham Goldman (Edward G. Robinson, in one of his last performances) is a bedridden dying old Jew, clinging both to life and his beloved orphaned grandson Mikey (Ricky Powell). Abraham refuses to give Mikey up to social workers, despite his own failing health. He also tells Mikey of his hopes for the arrival of ’the messiah’, as predicted in their Jewish faith. Mikey decides to stop waiting, and proactively seeks out the Messiah in the streets of Brooklyn. He finds a kindly black man named Bruckner (Yaphet Kotto) who, in Mikey’s mind, seems to fit Abraham’s description of the messiah as a ’tall dark’ man. Taking Bruckner back to the apartment, Mikey finds his grandfather’s health slipping. Within moments of Bruckner’s arrival, the family physician (Tony Roberts) finds Abraham making a miraculous recovery. Bruckner mysteriously disappears without a trace, but later reappears as a mailman delivering a telegram to Mikey that Abraham’s brother in California has made his fortune and offers a substantial portion of it to the impoverished Goldmans. Was Bruckner the ‘messiah’ for the Goldman family after all? A lovely what-if.
E2.22: “Caterpillar” and “Little Girl Lost.”
Both segments of this episode are outstanding. “The Caterpillar” sees British expatriates living in the wet jungles of Borneo. Steven (“Manchurian Candidate” star Lawrence Harvey) who is plotting with locals to put an earwig into his boss’s ear, leaving the boss’s pretty young wife (Joanna Pettet, yet again) a widow for Steven to woo. Things get bungled when the local assassin mistakenly places the creature in Steven’s ear by mistake…leaving the tenacious insect to tunnel through Steven’s brain (!) in order to exit (so glad I sleep with earplugs). Steven, nearly driven mad by the bug’s exit discovers that the creature had laid eggs before departure. “Caterpillar” is even more effective than the ear-tunneling alien eels of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982), and yet nothing in “Caterpillar” is explicit…it’s all conveyed in the performance of Lawrence Harvey.
“Little Girl Lost” sees returning William Windom (S1’s “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar”) as a brilliant professor whose mind holds the secret to a dangerous weapon. However, the professor’s mind is nearly shattered by the loss of his daughter in a car accident. Acceptance of her death will completely undo the professor’s tenuous grip on reality, so his associates help him maintain the illusion that she is alive; even going so far as to reserve empty seats for her at restaurants. Another story I didn’t quite get as a kid, but now love as an adult.
^ “Roly-Poly Fish Heads!”

Other standout segments of S2 include “Lindermann’s Catch” (an anti-“Splash” mermaid story with a perverse twist), “Pickman’s Model” (another outstanding Lovecraft adaptation with a slightly silly-looking monster), “I’ll Never Leave You…Ever” (a voodoo story about a long-suffering rural woman trying to kill off her terminally-ill but tenaciously alive husband), and “There Aren’t Any More McBains” (a creepy sorcery tale with Joel Grey acting his ass off… and a cameo by future “Star Wars” star Mark Hamill).
A burning voodoo doll from “I’ll Never Leave You…Ever.”

Season 3 (1972-1973).

The Season 3 opening titles were very different than previous seasons, both in style and music choice.

This final season of the show saw the largest changes to the series’ format. New episodes were now single, half-hour stories instead of multiple-segment hour long installments; this change echoed the successful formatting of Serling’s earlier “Twilight Zone” series. Gil Melle also changed his opening title theme completely; with a new mix of ghostly, electronic echoes combined with chaotic, panicked-sounding strings. While Melle’s new theme worked well enough, it lacked the menacing, foreboding quality of his previous work. It also sounded vaguely reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s classic theme to “Psycho.” Despite the third season’s unjustly tarnished reputation, it has many standouts as well.

My personal favorites of Season 3:

E3.1: “Return of the Sorcerer.”
The season 3 opener is a campy but effective dive into the rituals of the occult, with returning guest stars Bill Bixby (S2’s “Last Rites for a Druid”) and Vincent Price (S1’s “Class of 1999”) in a dual role as the titular sorcerer Carnby and his ‘dead’ brother. Tisha Sterling (“Village of the Giants”) guest stars as the sorcerer’s young assistant (lover?) named Fern, who wields the real power behind the sorcerer’s black magic. Bixby is thoroughly believable as an Arabic-to-English translator named Noel, who is hired by the sorcerer to read forbidden passages of an ancient book of rituals. Noel refuses, and soon all hell breaks loose. Scenes of Carnby’s dismembered brother returning (in pieces) to wreak his vengeance are particularly memorable. Bizarre and over-the-top, but a spooky season opener.
E3.3: “Fright Night.” Struggling writer Tom Oglivy (Stuart Whitman, returning after S2’s “Lindemann’s Catch”) and his wife Leona (Barbara Anderson) inherit a rural country home from the Tom’s late cousin Zachariah (Alan Napier, of “Batman”). Zachariah was into some weird Satanic s#!t, but he also left the home fully furnished and livable, but with one caveat; a large trunk in the attic is never be opened or removed. Strange things begin happening, with ghostly manifestations (cool optical FX for the time), disembodied witch’s cackling, and “ye olde” curses spontaneously writing themselves in Tom’s typewriter (a nice relic of the 20th century). The couple are slowly being driven mad in their haunted isolation. On Halloween night, the zombified Zachariah returns to claim the trunk…and he leaves another to be called for the following year. Episodes like “Fright Night” are Night Gallery’s bread and butter.
E3.5: “Spectre in Tap Shoes.” Memorable mainly for Tom Wright’s skeletal tap-dancer painting (a series’ highlight). Returnee Sandra Dee (S2’s “Tell David…”) stars as Millicent, who returns home from a trip to find her twin sister Marion has apparently hung herself. The fleeting image of the dead woman swinging back and forth was shocking for its time. Less effective is the ensuing murder mystery that follows, which almost plays like a special Halloween episode of “Police Woman.” Nevertheless, there are enough hints of the supernatural to keep it interesting.
S3.11, “Something in the Woodwork.” Another haunted house story, but far better acted than “Fright Night.” The late great Geraldine Page gives a tour de force performance as Molly; a pathologically lonely divorcee who drinks herself into oblivion in her new home. Her new home also happens to have the ghost of a dead bank robber trapped in its cobwebbed attic. The pathetic Molly attempts to befriend the antisocial ghost, who merely wants to live out his non-corporeal limbo undisturbed. Molly plots to use the ghost to seek revenge on her ex, Charlie (Leif Erikson), whom she still pines for, though he has moved on. The plot goes horribly awry, of course. Rod Serling’s script and Page’s performance combine to crackle with uncomfortable energy.
^ Lesley Ann Warren as a vampire who doesn’t suck (hehe).

Other highlights of Season 3 include “Rare Objects” (Mickey Rooney as a mobster with a bad heart who is given a shot at immortality), “The Other Way Out” (returnee Ross Martin as a blackmailed businessman trying to cover up the murder of his young mistress), “She’ll Be Company For You” (an underrated Leonard Nimoy stars as a recent widower ‘gifted’ with an unwanted cat from his late wife’s suspicious friend), and “Death on a Barge” (Lesley Ann Warren stars as a sympathetic vampire who has fallen in doomed love with a mortal; directed by Leonard Nimoy with some terrible day-for-night shots).

The artwork of Tom Wright.

After the 1969 pilot, artist and prolific future television director Tom Wright was commissioned to produce all of the artwork featured seen in the Night Gallery set over its three regular seasons.

Tom Wright’s painting for “The Dark Boy.”

Wright, who was only in his early 20s at the time, had an amazing aptitude for doing quality work very quickly. He could produce artwork in radically different styles (cubism, realism, impressionism, surrealism, etc) , and thus provided over 120 very different paintings to use for each episode. At San Diego Comic Con in July of this year, I had the chance to meet the prolific artist and TV director (“Smallville,” “Castle”, “The X-Files”, “Firefly” and many others). I told him that his artwork was pure nightmare fuel for me as a boy, and he smiled and we shook hands.

My own pic of Tom Wright, taken at San Diego Comic Con this past summer.
Tom Wright’s painting for “Quoth the Raven”, using a caricature of producer/writer/director Jack Laird as a model. Laird also played an Igor-type character in Season 2’s “With Apologies To Mr. Hyde.”

Night Gallery Required Reading.

A must-own for Night Gallery fans.

There is one book every fan of “Night Gallery” should not be without; it is “Night Gallery: An After Hours Tour” (c. 1998). This book is “Night Gallery”’s equivalent of Marc Scott Zicree’s brilliant “Twilight Zone Companion” (1981). “Night Gallery: An After Hours Tour” thoroughly chronicles the series’ birth, evolution, turmoil and eventual demise. The book is loaded with in-depth reviews of each episode, interviews with surviving cast members, producers, directors, as well as artist Tom Wright. Written by Scott Skelton and Jim Benson, “Night Gallery: An After Hours Tour” needs to be on your bookshelf if you love this series as much as I do!

Meeting authors Scott Skelton and Jim Benson at San Diego Comic Con 2019.

Night Gallery’s Legacy & Future.

Tom Wright’s painting for Season One’s “The House”; a painting that is far moodier and darker than the too-sunny finished episode.

During the Night Gallery 50th Anniversary panel at San Diego Comic Con 2019, it was also hinted that a large coffee table book featuring Tom Wright’s surviving original paintings from Night Gallery may be released sometime in the future. Many of the paintings were sold, some are stained, some were altered for other productions, and the locations of some of them are presently unknown… but they hinted that an effort to locate and photograph the paintings is underway. If theory, the book would feature lovingly detailed photo reproductions of as many of the paintings as possible. Fingers crossed!

Dana Andrews confronts his son about the melted cheese on his scalp in Season 2’s “The Different Ones.”

Given today’s penchant for remakes, reboots and sequels, I don’t doubt that we might someday see a remake of “Night Gallery” emerge from the shadows. “Twilight Zone” has been remade multiple times for the big and small screen (the most recent attempt by CBS-All Access is a decidedly mixed bag at best). All I can offer is that if a “Night Gallery” reboot is attempted someday, I wish the producers all the best (whomever they may be). While the original casts a formidable shadow, a new production could also spark a renewed interest in the classic series as well.

Finally, humbly submitted for your perusal is a link for the terrific “Night Gallery” website and resource, nightgallery.net

Images: NBC/Universal, nightgallery.net

19 Comments Add yours

  1. sanzbozo says:

    Thank you!! I still love this show, the paintings, Rod Serling, and the scares the episodes gave me! Now I’m feeling halloween in the air. (The ‘cool’ air!)

    1. “Cool Air”… hehe.
      I still love this show very much. Puts me in a Halloween mood, too.

      1. First, thanks for reading!

        And yes, there have been rumors of Night Gallery reimaginings since the early 2000s. I’m adopting the wait and see approach.

        As with the recent CBS AA attempt at rebooting Twilight Zone (an ambitious failure, in my opinion), I’m dubious. The original Night Gallery was pure alchemy; a combination of so many seemingly random things (the presence of Rod Serling, the artwork of Tom Wolfe, and even Jack Laird’s talents, topped off with Gil Melle’s haunting electronic music) not easily mass manufactured.

        We’ll see…

      2. scifimike70 says:

        After so many Twilight Zone reboots, one for Night Gallery would probably be even more ambitious. Because with all the successes and failures of Twilight Zone reboots over time, no longer having Rod Serling at the helm after his passing was always a very major challenge. So even a Night Gallery reboot somehow works, and speaking from how Night Gallery impacted me first when I was a kid before The Twilight Zone did, I might not be so quick to take my chances on it. But I would wish everyone involved all the best.

      3. Well, in fairness, Rod Serling wasn’t as hands-on with The Night Gallery as he was with The Twilight Zone (other than writing a handful of episodes & hosting chores), so I’m not sure a reboot would suffer quite as much as the various TZ reboots have under their showrunners (although the ’80s version of TZ is surprisingly good, in retrospect).

        All the same, it would be very tough to recapture that unique tone of Night Gallery, which was very much a product of its time. With its wild oscillation between horror and humor, it’s also tough to pin down exactly what makes for ‘good’ Night Gallery, as opposed to the Aesop’s Fables format of The Twilight Zone.

  2. firewater65 says:

    TZ was more my thing, but I have some pleasantly creepy memories of Night Gallery as well. The theme music always weirded me out. Also, I was living in Tennessee when churches began burning Harry Potter. It’s what made me read the Sorceror’s Stone.

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