7 Broadway Veterans to Look for During This Year's July 4 Twilight Zone Marathon
From Burgess Meredith to William Shatner, these theater stars traveled from the Great White Way into the wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.
Long before Law & Order became the "it" show for guest-starring theater actors, there was The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling's spooky black-and-white serial that ran on CBS from 1959-1964. Since then, this psychological thriller has become the go-to program for holiday marathons on the Syfy network, specifically Independence Day and New Year's Eve. If you're a Broadway fan watching this year, keep an eye out for these stars, who, once upon a time, trod the boards before (or after) crossing over into [dramatic pause] The Twilight Zone.
1. William Shatner has the distinction of being in two Twilight Zone episodes that will air on July 4: "Nick of Time" (8:30am EDT), where he plays a man obsessed with a fortune-teller machine, and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (7:30pm EDT), where he stars as a jittery fellow who thinks he sees a gremlin on the wing of the airplane he's on. Shatner is no stranger to Broadway, having appeared in the 1950s and '60s in The World of Suzie Wong and A Shot in the Dark, and his own 2012 solo show, Shatner's World: We Just Live in It.
2. Before he became a Tony Award winner for 1970's Child's Play, stage legend Fritz Weaver appeared in a pair of Twilight Zone episodes that you'll be able to see this July 4: "Third From the Sun" (12:30pm), as a scientist prepping for nuclear war by fleeing to the nearest planet, and "The Obsolete Man" (4pm), as a chancellor of the state tasked with determining which humans are no longer necessary to keep alive. He most recently appeared onstage in Atlantic Theater Company's 2006 production of The Voysey Inheritance.
3. Like Weaver, Burgess Meredith also appears in two Twilight Zone episodes this marathon: "The Obsolete Man" (4pm) and the classic "Time Enough at Last" (5pm). Meredith, who in both episodes plays a man longing to read, had three dozen Broadway credits as an actor and director, dating back to 1930, notably the 1933 original Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera and 1960's A Thurber Carnival, for which he won a special Tony Award for direction.
4. A lifelong member of the renowned Actor's Studio, Lois Nettleton made her Broadway debut in Dalton Trumbo's The Biggest Thief in Town. She appeared on Broadway multiple times in the 1950s and '60s before turning to television. Her Twilight Zone episode is 1961's "The Midnight Sun" (12:10am), where she plays Norma, an artist living on an Earth that has changed orbit and is rapidly falling into the sun. Following her screen successes, she returned to Broadway, receiving 1976 Tony and Drama Desk nominations for They Knew What They Wanted. Her last stage appearance was in 2004, in the off-Broadway play How to Build a Better Tulip.
5. Maxine Stuart had a storied Broadway career in the late 1930s and early 1940s, known for her appearances in at least three shows that had the distinction of closing within days of opening. After a three-month run in At War With the Army in 1949, Stuart turned to television, notably appearing as Janet Tyler in the 1960 Twilight Zone episode "Eye of the Beholder" (4:30pm). Except you never actually see Stuart — she spends the entire episode covered in bandages as a woman undergoing plastic surgery to make her look more like the rest of society. When she's revealed, her actual character is played by Donna Douglas, who'd later star on TV in The Beverly Hillbillies.
6. In 1960's "Night of the Meek" (9am), Art Carney, who had made a name for himself in The Honeymooners a decade earlier, played a down-on-his-luck Santa Claus impersonator in desperate need of a miracle. A few years later, in 1965, Carney would star opposite Walter Matthau in the legendary original production of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. He'd receive a Tony nomination in 1970 for Lovers.
7. "The Dummy" (noon) saw Cliff Robertson as an alcoholic ventriloquist convinced his dummy is actually coming to life. Robertson would go on to win an Oscar and perform on Broadway in the original 1957 production of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending and as a replacement in the 1990 original production of A.R. Gurney's Love Letters, opposite Elaine Stritch.
8. BONUS: Television pioneer Rod Serling, the blunt and occasionally creepy Twilight Zone host, had one play on Broadway, a stage adaptation of his Emmy Award-winning 1956 television drama Requiem for a Heavyweight. Premiering at the Martin Beck Theatre in 1985, a decade after his death, the production starred John Lithgow as a punch-drunk boxer and closed after a total of three performances. (Lithgow also starred in the 1985 anthology film version of The Twilight Zone, in a segment inspired by "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.")