Twilight Zone On Location – Part 1

Many of us can remember back in 1959, one of the more famous television series that came onto our black and white televisions sets.  It began with one of the most notable music introduction themes, that to this day is still used in many television commercials and video clips.  The penetrating background music, a gripping narration guiding us toward a vision of space…followed by a door careening towards us…a window which shatters into pieces…a creepy eyeball…e=mc2 …a flying spaceman…a crazy clock with its hand spinning uncontrollably…we just crossed over into…“The Twilight Zone”.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 50 years since we first heard those words, from the show’s extremely talented creator Rod Serling.  Rod’s genius, created a show that had been televised for 5 seasons, and had a generous following.   Over time, many shows have tried mimicking the shows vision and creativity, but many would agree, none were ever able to do so.

Over those 5 seasons, the show was mainly filmed on the studio lots in California, but occasionally, specific locations were required to accommodate explicit landscapes and backdrops for those various episodes.   Combining both the studio lot with these off-lot locations really gave some of these episodes a more realistic look and feel.

In 2010, a close friend of mine, Paul Giammarco, and I chose to take on the challenge of attempting to seek out these various off-lot locations.  With Paul’s passion, love, and extreme familiarity of the show, we felt that we might be able to create a “then-and-now” photo log of our journey to these somewhat forgotten locations.  With that, Paul began work on the project.  Utilizing DVD video stills to capture specific screen shots, along with various maps, and extensive Internet research, he and I were able to identify what we felt were some of these remote locations.   We booked our flights and our rooms and thus our journey began.

So as began our sojourn in the Death Valley area.  Our first region to visit was Zabriskie Point.   Zabriskie Point is a part of Amargosa Range located in east of Death Valley, in Death Valley National Park.  Named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, its composition is made up of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago, long before Death Valley came into existence.

Two episodes from the Twilight Zone series, “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air” (1960), and “The Lonely” (1959), were both filmed at Zabriskie point and at Desolation Canyon as well.  We eventually visited Desolation Canyon to obtain additional stills, and attempt to find those other filming locations and backdrops as they appear today.  Both episodes did involve space ships and asteroids, which made Zabriskie and Desolation Canyon perfect filming locations offering great backdrops, to create an un-earthly feel.  One interesting note I’d like to point out, is several of the “Star Wars” films were shot in and around Desolation Canyon, areas appropriately named “Banta Canyon” and “Jawa Canyon”, were home to many familiar scenes from those films.  These following photos depict screenshots from the original Twilight Zone episodes “I Shot an Arrow..” and “The Lonely”, comparing them to present day, from both Zabriskie and Desolation Canyon.

The episode titled “The Little People” was filmed was filmed at MGM; the process-shot with the landed rocket used Desolation Canyon as a backdrop.   Its premise, a spaceman finds tiny inhabitants on a planet and forces them to recognize him as a God.  Again, the backdrops of Desolation Canyon, do give it the look and feel of being on another planet.  The following are our photos from “The Little People” filming locations.

One of our final destinations was the town of Olancha, California.  Olancha is located in the higher elevations (3650 feet above sea level), just at the foothills on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  The episodes, “The Rip Van Winkle Caper” (1961) and “A Hundred Yards over the Rim” (1961).

“The Rip Van Winkle Caper”, an episode that involved four thieves, that in an effort to escape the police, create a plot to live in suspended animation for 100 years along with their stolen gold bars.   The foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range offered a great backdrop for this episode.  The barren and rugged terrain really conveys to the viewer the desolation and desert feel.  It drives home, what it must have been like for these individuals to fight for their lives.  The following are the photos from “The Rip Van Winkle Caper”.

And finally, we come to one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes.  “A Hundred Yards over the Rim”, tells the story of 19th-century western settler, portrayed by Academy Award winner Cliff Robertson, who sets off on his own to search for water to help his dying son, but instead finds he had stepped into the modern era.  Part of this “modern era” is a diner that we were fortunate to locate.  However, it was in a bad state of disrepair.  The gentleman that owned the property, was living behind the building, and structure did have a for sale sign in the window.   At first, it didn’t look at all like the original diner from episode, but with a little imagination, and after looking at it for a while you can see the similarity.   There were other scenes from the episode, where again, the director tries to convey the desolation and isolation that Cliff’s character was experiencing through the desert area.   Ironically, Paul and I experienced those same feelings of desolation and isolation when we first arrived.  Wondering how these earlier settlers could have managed with the extreme temperatures variations, lack of water, and isolation.   Death Valley temperatures have reached as high as 134 degrees, and virtually having no rainfall.  With that, photos from the “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” episode.

In closing, Paul and I really enjoyed our experiences in visiting those vintage locations.  This trip helped us develop a deeper appreciation, for the area, and for what the cast and crew must have dealt with on a day to day basis working in Death Valley.  On one occasion, Paul did make a comment to me during one of our photo shoots, “they call it Death Valley, this place is anything but death…”.   I really thought about his comment, and I couldn’t agree more.  Despite all its potential harshness, we discovered that Death Valley does have an abundance of natural beauty, making it truly come alive.   Artist Palette, The Devils Golf Course, Furnace Creek, Mesquite Dunes, are just a few of the other areas we visited, all of which offer life to this beautiful landscape.  As stated at the beginning of this post, this is “part one” of our journey.  Paul and I hope to return some day to visit several other Twilight Zone locations.  Please visit the following link to view Paul’s short video clip, “Twilight Zone On Location”.