Sunday, July 15, 2018

"Bill the Boy Wonder" updated (post-credit change) edition

Six years ago this month, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman released. It ended on a tragic yet hopeful note, wondering if Bill Finger's name would ever be added to every Batman story.


Three years later, that happened.

At first I wanted the book to remain as is, a time capsule of pre-2015. But then I agreed to update it: we added only a blurb (teasing the credit change and mentioning the documentary Batman & Bill) to the cover and two sentences (explicitly stating the credit change) to the author's note.



This post-credit edition is available now.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Films where the climax involves the threat of falling

The climax of many an action/fantasy film involves height/the threat of falling. Easy way to amplify peril. A quick list which I encourage you to add to in the comments:

Back to the Future
The Empire Strikes Back
King Kong
The Incredibles
Batman (and many other superhero movies including The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Crow, X-Men, The Rocketeer)
Jurassic Park
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Beauty and the Beast
Die Hard
North by Northwest
The Poseidon Adventure
The Good Son
Up
Rear Window
Vertigo 
Saboteur
Blade Runner
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The Towering Inferno
The Lion King
Mulan
Cliffhanger (of course)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Nerd Camp 2018

I've considered every camp I've attended to be nerd camp, simply because I was there. Exhibit 1: me at camp in 1987, carrying around my Walkman...and journal.


Now I have finally experienced Nerd Camp In Caps. (Photos below. All Walkman-free.) 

The annual summer gathering, now in its sixth year, draws educators, authors, school administrators, and other book lovers/literary thought leaders to Parma, MI, for two high-energy days (this year, July 9 and 10) to learn from each other and celebrate the art, the craft, and the indispensable value of books. People come from far and wide. I even bumped into a teacher from an international school I spoke at in Malaysia!

For several years, author friends (hello Jenni Holm and Erica Perl) have urged me to go and I'm so glad this year brought me the chance to take that advice.

I speak at a lot of literacy/literary conferences, and the DNA of most overlaps: enthusiasm for reading, desire to gain new understanding from allies in the field, respect for and belief in children, long lines for mediocre food. But ask any Nerd Camp nerd (I otherwise avoid labels but Nerd Camp attendees embrace this one for this event) what makes Nerd Camp special and you'll likely get a response couching the event in near-sacred terms. The high school that hosts Nerd Camp is physically big enough to fit the 1,600 or so attendees, yet the love on site is bursting out through the cracks. 

The reasons for that love will vary from person to person, but one is universal: this is an event built from scratch by educators/child advocates, starting with Colby and Alaina Sharp (alas, I did not meet Alaina), and continuing right through the event itself because everyone has an equal chance to participate by pitching sessions on day 2. Many if not most attendees (educator and author alike) come on their own dime so they are vested. And I did not make it to any food trucks but hear good grub was to be gotten.

It's a camp of class acts. I came already knowing a good number of the attending speakers and teachers too numerous to list. It was an honor to meet—indeed present with—many more. The graphic novel panel that kicked off day 1 was a delight and the subsequent seven-minute Nerd Talks were capsule supernovas of inspiration. Everyone was so polished; many spoke truth to power in ways that felt new. (An important metric for me: if I'm getting a message I've already internalized, am I getting it in a different way?) After camp, the nerds scattered recharged and recommitted to being our best selves to help others do the same. An army of awareness. A sea of support. 

Naturally one does not get to hear or meet every presenter at an event of this scope, but experiencing even a fraction of it is enriching. Among the meaningful professional moments and realizations in my small corner of Nerd Camp:


  • having another opportunity to listen to Donalyn Miller synthesize best practices for promoting literacy with her trademark blend of knowledge, accessibility, and humor
  • becoming a fan of people I'd not met before including the dynamic Chad Everett and the compelling Sara Ahmed
  • bearing witness to the humble generosity of Dav Pilkey and John Schu 
  • sitting in on one of Jonathan Auxier's intriguing talks during Nerd Camp Jr. (when the audience was kids); his room was on the other side of the building from my room and I had only a half-hour window, but he made it totally worth the sprint 


I had lovely conversations (some for the first time in person, some for the first time ever, some for longer than two minutes!) with Travis Jonker, Elissa Brent Weissman, Jarrett Lerner, Jess Keating, Carter Higgins, Lindsey Anderson, Josh Funk, Don Miller, Tim Miller, Jim Bailey, Terry Thompson, Story Mamas Courtney and Kimberly, Debbie Freedman. Not enough time with others including Jen Vincent, Therese Hubbell, Courtney Doyle, Becky Calzada, Molly O'Neill, Pernille Ripp, Michelle Holstine, Andrea McEvoy, Hena Khan, Laura Shovan, Stephanie Stinemetz, Emma Ledbetter. 

Special shoutout to my carpool Minh Lé, Lauren Castillo, and Alison Morris. We didn't get into as much road trip trouble as I was hoping, but it was a blast nonetheless and maybe sandwiches should not be that big. Great to meet you along the way, Natasha Smith and Seantele Foreman.

Another special shoutout to Sarah Albee for e-introducing me to Andrea Childes months ago. Bummed I did not see Sarah more than in passing.

An extra-sized shoutout to Pam Warren for being such a great helper...and under such hot conditions! However, you were warmer than the room.

Great fun to talk pop culture and more serious subjects with Jarrett Krosoczka. Pure bliss to meet the glowing soul Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Huge treat to see Raúl the Third again so soon after first hanging out with him in March.

It was an absolute pleasure to get to know the gentleman's gentleman James Ponti, who kindly came back from Nerd Camp to unstrand me from the hotel and whose compassion and strength equals his quick wit. Same with Judd Winick, a name I've known for years; so nice to finally shake your hand and talk a bit of (comics) shop.

Thank you to Laurie Keller and Andrea Childes for agreeing to panel with me. You were both such team players. It was a privilege to revisit and break down hilarious books for an hour with you. Plus it was a boost to our immune systems!

Another tip of the hat to the fellow storytellers of my research panel/improv troupe: James, Kat Zhang, Stuart Gibbs, Sarah Mlynowski, and surprise guest/old pal Nathan Hale. You're all well-spoken and funny and I'm both friend and fan. I've done tons of panels and the chemistry on this one—patchworked together a mere hour earlier—was stellar. What a lively audience, too.

If I have left out anyone with whom I shared a nerdy word, I apologize. But please know that while my brain/memory sometimes lapses, my heart doesn't. 

There were a handful of people I was hoping to meet—I even made a (partial) list—but didn't. Yet another reason to return.

Thank you again to Colby, Alaina, Donalyn, Jess, and all others who made it possible for me—for all of us—to be there.

Glimpses:

 My carpool crew Alison Morris, Lauren Castillo, and Minh Lé flew 
into a different terminal than I did. (This photo would've been funnier 
ten minutes earlier when I was among many drivers 
holding similar signs.)

We stopped in Ann Arbor en route to visit Literati bookstore and eat.
We laughed at the sun spotlight targeting just my head.

 On day 1, Molly O'Neill made our carpool into a fab five.

 I hid four fairies around Nerd Camp.
Find one, find me, win a book.


 My day 1 panel on the educational value of funny picture books 
drew a great crowd and here you see why: creator Laurie Keller 
and teacher Andrea Childes. As far as I can recall,
this was my first time sharing a panel with both an author
and an educator. The different perspectives in part
informed by different job titles made this all the more
interesting for me and, I think, the turnout.

 My day 2 research panel: Nathan Hale, Kat Zhang, 
Stuart Gibbs, James Ponti, me, Sarah Mlynowski.
We were even kind of color-coordinated (except for me).

 Reunion with Lindsey Anderson and Nathan Hale,
both of whom I met when we three and James Barry did
a progam at the 2013 Southern Festival of Books.

 Debbie Ridpath Ohi. I'm holding a book illustrated by
her good friend Eliza Wheeler.

 Middle school teacher Paul Bach, who reached out 
to me a few days earlier to tell me he's used both
my Bill Finger book and TED Talk to great effect 
in his classroom. He clearly has great taste in T-shirts.
(As you saw in the research panel photo above,
it inspired my outfit for day 2.)

 At first I thought this photo was a hallucination or Photoshop prank, 
but turns out that on Monday night, we did did indeed go to 
Denny's at 1:30 a.m. A Nerd Camp tradition, I learned.
(clockwise starting with the closest to the camera:
Don Miller, Terry Thompson, me, Laura Given,
Donalyn Miller, Molly O'Neill, John Schu, Travis Jonker,
Jarrett Lerner, Josh Funk, Minh )




The Nerd Camp equivalent of fairy dust is now everywhere...

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Similarities between "Fairy Spell" and my superhero creator books

My latest book, Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real, shares certain narrative elements with two other nonfiction picture books I wrote, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman and Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.




Yes, both fairies and (some) superheroes fly, but there is more to this comparison.

Both Fairy Spell and Boys of Steel take place on the cusp of war (Fairy at the end of WWI, Boys at the start of WWII). Both are about giving hope to people in a time of grief. For some, the Cottingley fairies reaffirmed the belief that we didn't yet know all about the natural (and supernatural) world, which provided solace to those who wanted a way to try to reconnect with sons they lost in the war. Superman served as a patriotic inspiration to troops overseas—a morale booster with muscles.

Both Fairy Spell and Bill the Boy Wonder include a central figure who sought out the spotlight (though to differing degrees). Elsie Wright, the older of the two cousins who took the Cottingley fairies photos, told multiple versions of the story behind the fifth and final photo (see Reflections on the Cottingley Fairies, page 90) and arguably was more calculated than her younger cousin Frances Griffiths in keeping up the ruse. Cartoonist Bob Kane was notorious for embellishing (or simply lying about) his role in Batman (i.e. dismissing writer Bill Finger) and kept the lone-creator myth afloat his whole career. Elsie, however, did not remotely approach Bob's craving for glory. Elsie died after Frances, Bob died after Bill.

And both feature creators of famous detectives—Sherlock Holmes (Fairy) and Batman (Bill).

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

How you found me: part 8

It's been seven years since I last posted an installment of this series...and this one will truly be the last installment.

Search terms that led people to this blog:

  • brown haired girl from the back
  • hexagonal prism real life
  • gay posture problem
  • good ideas to be for a wax museum
  • canary music beds

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"The Twilight Zone" interview: "Little Girl Lost" (1962), "Living Doll" (1963)

Introduction to the Twilight Zone interview series (including the list of interviewees).

Tracy Stratford (now Shaw) played the title character of "Little Girl Lost" (season 3, 1962) and a girl with a cold-hearted stepfather in "Living Doll" (season 5, 1963).



[NOTE: Here is the first time I interviewed Tracy…about Peanuts.]

How old were you when you were first cast in The Twilight Zone

I was 5½ when "Little Girl Lost" was filmed, six when it aired. 

How did you get the role? 

I got the role after going on an interview, but don't recall the specifics. 

Any funny or otherwise interesting anecdotes about the experience? 

They filled the stage with fog or dry ice and filmed it by pointing the camera into a reflecting ball in which my character was reflected, thereby making me look like I was floating and sometimes upside down. They wired the dog to my nightgown so that it looked like it was "leading" me out of the 4th dimension.

Did anything go wrong during either shoot? 

Nothing went wrong in either shoot that I can recall, although Mr. Serling thought people wouldn't be able to understand a child's voice, so the talking at the end of "Little Girl Lost" is not my voice. I guess he changed his mind when it came to the "Living Doll." Even the crying was me. 

If you had any interaction with Rod Serling, what do you remember about him? 

I remember him behind the cameras observing and giving input. He didn't really interact with the cast that I can recall. Perhaps he did with the adults off screen. 

What do you remember about Telly Savalas? 

I was scared (really) of Telly Savalas. He was intense to act opposite and pretty intimidating! And the fact that he was playing a bad guy didn't much help. I believe he really "lived his role" while he was working. 

What did you think of your episodes at the time? Did you understand them (especially "Little Girl Lost")? Did you like one more than the other, and if so, why? 

I think I preferred working on "Living Doll," even though I had to cry in it. It is definitely the scarier of the two, in my opinion. 

After they aired, do you remember specific reactions from family, friends, and the public? 

Anyone who has watched Twilight Zone usually knows "Living Doll." And everyone talks about how scary it was, and how much they liked it. A couple of weeks ago, someone told me that "Little Girl Lost" was the scariest show they'd ever seen. They used to have their parent crawl under the bed every night and check the walls to make sure they wouldn't get sucked into the 4th dimension. Rod Serling was obviously way ahead of his time, and was the master of scary!

Did being on a hit show have any social/psychological impact on you as a kid (i.e. in school, on dates, etc.)? 

The only drawback to acting while a child was that other kids at school, if they didn't know me, automatically assumed, because I acted, that I was a snob. To my friends, however, I was just me. 

Did you watch the show regularly? 

I did watch a lot of the Twilight Zones, and my favorite scary one is the one with William Shatner and the thing trying to rip apart the airplane wing ["Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"]! Now that was creepy! 

How long did your acting career last, and why did it end? 

I began when I was two and worked until I was 13 or 14. In some cases, unless a child actor is under contract with a particular studio, working as an early teenager became a bit difficult because of the child labor and schooling laws (8-hour work days, three hours of school during the school year). Many studios found it easier to hire 18-year-olds who looked younger to play early teen parts. No worry about school or working overtime for an 18-year-old. 

Have you ever missed acting?  

Occasionally. I missed the actual work more than anything. I did not miss having to go on interviews, however. That was my least favorite part.  

What are you doing these days?  

I am a teacher-librarian at a high school, which I love. Introducing students to great stories is where it all begins! I have also directed plays for elementary through high school students in my current district and in my previous district.


Where do you live? 

I have lived in Washington state for a long time now. We love it. 

If you have children/grandchildren, have they seen your Twilight Zone appearance, and if so, do you remember their reactions? 

My daughters have both seen Twilight Zone, and think it's pretty awesome. One of my grandsons has seen it; I'm not sure if my younger grandson has. But they both love stories and adventures—we talk a lot about books and great movies. 

Have you participated in a Twilight Zone event (reunion, convention, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to doing so (i.e. meeting fans and signing autographs)?  

I have not participated in any Twilight Zone reunions—I didn't know there were any! I have participated in more things for A Charlie Brown Christmas than for anything else. 

Are you still in touch with anyone who knew you when you appeared on the show? 

I'm not sure what you mean by this question. Actors? No, I've not been in touch with either Telly Savalas, the lady who played my mom, or the directors. Friends? I am still in contact with friends who knew me then. 

When was the last time you watched your episodes? How did you think they held up? 

I cannot honestly recall the last time I watched either episode in its entirety. One of my daughters purchased the DVD of the shows because I didn't have a copy of them! 

Do you have any mementos from the experience such as candid photos, the script, or anything from the set? Autographed cigarette from Rod Serling? 

I have a few still photos and some newspaper clippings that my mom put into the interview portfolio book I would take to interviews. Casting people would look and see what you had done, who you had worked with as part of the interview process. 

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically? 

I don't believe I've been interviewed specifically about my work in Twilight Zone. It's come up occasionally in conversations, but never "interviews."

Do you have clippings from magazine/newspaper interviews/profiles published at the time? 

I do not have clippings from newspaper interviews. Just photos advertising the programs. 

How do you look back on your Twilight Zone experience? 

I loved the actual work as a kid. I loved watching how things were done, the setting up of lights and cameras, exploring sets, watching the rushes to see how things went during the shoots. 

If the experience changed your life in any way, how? 

Being a child actor was a unique experience. Acting taught me how to interact with a variety of people, taught me that being a believable actor meant that you had to "feel" what your character felt. That meant that you had to be empathetic and honest. The experiences taught me that there is way more to acting than the people you see on screen; the people behind the scenes are in many ways more important and have a more interesting role to play in creating the magic that is movies and television. All the people that I had the good fortune to work with taught me a lot about their own skills, how to be kind and honest, and how to treat others with respect—even curious kids, who may have been bugging them! Overall, I think I was very fortunate to have this experience growing up.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

"The Twilight Zone" interview: "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" (1961)

Introduction to the Twilight Zone interview series (including the list of interviewees).

Mona Houghton played a girl stopping at a charity donation station in "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" (season 3, 1961).


How old were you when you appeared on The Twilight Zone?  

Ten. 

How did you get the role?

My father was the producer of the show and I was the right age. 

Any funny anecdotes about the experience?

I was a very active kid. I am sure in today's world I would have been heavily dosed with Ritalin, but in the fifties, people seemed to understand that kids needed to run around. My need was extreme. On the day of the shoot, I do remember my father, who understood me and knew full well that there might be several takes of the scene I was in, spent most of the morning walking me around the back lot at in the hopes of depleting my seemingly bottomless reservoir of energy.  

Did anything go wrong during the shoot? 

As I remember it, the day moved forward without a hitch.  

If you had any interaction with Rod Serling, what do you remember about him? 

I remember Rod more from seeing him with my father in social settings. They'd be having a scotch and smoking cigarettes and talking about Jack Kennedy or the Soviets launching the first man into outer space. Once in a while my father would take me to the "office" for the day. When I saw Rod on those occasions, he was friendly, but at the same time, they all had a lot to do. I think they made an episode of Twilight Zone in five days.  

What did you think of your episode at the time?

At the time, I am not sure I really understood the full implications in the story. That came later.  

After it aired, do you remember the initial reaction from family, friends, and the public?

Sorry. Drawing a blank here. I am sure my family and friends were supportive and I had no interaction with the public. 

Did being on a hit show have any social/psychological impact on you as a kid (i.e. in school, on dates, etc.)?

I was pretty young. Not many of my friends even watched the show.  

Did you watch the show regularly?

Yes, as a family we watched the show. My mother was pretty strict about TV viewing.  As I remember it we were allowed about an hour or an hour and a half a week—and Twilight Zone was one of the shows we definitely caught.

At 9 and 10 many of the stories were over my head, and some of them were downright frightening. Of course I have watched them as an adult and have had the opportunity to appreciate Rod Serlings's genius, his insight—his ability to uncover some aspect of human nature and do it, 90% of the time, within the context of the day to day. And he could accomplish these feats all in a 30-minute TV format. It is pretty amazing when you think about it.  

Did you act in anything else?

I was not a natural. I had been in one other TV show, an episode of Man With a Camera.  My father was the producer on that show as well. (I always needed an in.) In that, my brother and I were in a house and the bad guy ran by on the sidewalk and threw a rock through the window. We were supposed to react to the sugar glass shattering all over us. All I really remember is being totally intrigued by the sugar glass (which tasted more like soap than sugar) and someone constantly telling me "Don't look at the camera." 

What are you doing these days?

I am a writer. I wrote soap operas, a few episodes of episodic television (co-written with my brother), and then I turned to fiction. I taught writing for thirty years at California State University, Northridge.


Where do you live?

I live in Laurel Canyon, about a 15-minute walk/hike from the house where I grew up.  

If you have children/grandchildren, have they seen your Twilight Zone appearance, and if so, do you remember their reactions?

I have a niece and a nephew. They were impressed. They are both wonderful young adults.  

Occasionally one of my CSUN students would make the connection. That was always fun. College students, like kids in K-12, still tend to view their teachers through very narrow lenses and so they are often surprised to find out that their teacher has a life outside the space where s/he interacts with them, especially when the activity is something as loaded as Twilight Zone.    

Have you participated in a Twilight Zone event (reunion, convention, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to doing so (i.e. meeting fans and signing autographs)?

I haven't—but answering these questions has been so fun, I wouldn't mind being part of an event at all.  

Are you still in touch with anyone who knew you when you appeared on the show? 

My brother…that's about it. And we are a close family.  

When was the last time you watched the episode? How did you think it held up?

I haven't seen it in years. But I do see one or two episodes of Twilight Zone a year for one reason or another. They are all pretty amazing. As I said before, Rod Serling had insight into how we humans work and that always holds up.  

Do you have any mementos from the experience such as candid photos, the script, or anything from the set? Autographed cigarette from Rod Serling? 

Sorry, I wish I did. 

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically?

I have a small blurb in Steve Rubin's book The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia. It isn't an interview but there is a paragraph in the book about "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" and there is a brief bio on me there. 

Do you have clippings from magazine/newspaper interviews/profiles published at the time?

No.

What did you think when you first heard from me?

I didn't realize how fun it would be to go back and think about all this.  

How do you look back on your Twilight Zone experience?

It was a good time. When I look back, it is more about a period of time in my life—the years when my dad was working on the show.  

If the experience changed your life in any way, how?

No…it didn't change my life. I guess you could say the experience let me know early on that acting was not for me, but then I never ever even engaged in the fantasy, so who knows.  

Anything you'd like to add?

It always amazed me how that signature Twilight Zone tune was a signifier for so many generations. As I said, I taught at CSUN for thirty years. Whenever something weird happened in class, someone would sing that Twilight Zone theme music and 99% of the time no one had a clue about the connection between me and the show. That riff is simply a part of our common language. That says a lot… 

Thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Friday, July 6, 2018

"The Twilight Zone" interview: "Night of the Meek" (1960)

Introduction to the Twilight Zone interview series (including the list of interviewees).

Larrian Gillespie played the North Pole elf in "Night of the Meek" (season 2, 1960).


How old were you when you were cast in The Twilight Zone?

Eleven.

How did you get the role? 

I did not audition. I believe the casting agent knew my previous work and I was told to show up at, I believe, CBS in the evening, and to bring my tights and ballet slippers.

Any funny anecdotes about the experience? 

It's not funny, per se, but something I won't forget: before shooting, Rod Serling was walking along the street scene and asking the children what they wanted for Christmas. I told him I wanted a Ginny doll. He took me over to my mom, who was my guardian on the set, and said "Your daughter is very special. I asked the children what they wanted and most said things like a mink coat, a car, etc. But your child wants a Terri Lee doll. I hope Santa brings her one." And he did. So I credit Mr. Serling with my Terri Lee doll in a majorette outfit…which I still have today.


Did anything go wrong during the shoot? 

Not that it went wrong, but in rehearsal, I was told to jump out from behind the trash cans when the lights when on. I was behind the cans with the jingle bells, and they would cue me to shake them. I was then to put them down and wait for the lights to go on. However, Art Carney did not make it to the sleigh in time, so I hesitated until I could see him at the sleigh. So if you watch that scene, there is a delay before I pop out, which worried the stage manager a lot, making him think I had frozen and was not going to jump out. Remember, this was all shot in one continuous take.

What was Art Carney like? 

He was very nice. However, at the time, he had an alcohol problem and had not worked in a long time. My mother was very worried about my working with him. But, of course, it was her fear, not mine. He was totally professional, knew his lines and marks, and did an outstanding job. 

Your episode became one of the most iconic of the series. What did you think of it at the time?

I thought it was a good story. I assumed, incorrectly, that Mr. Serling would do one every year…so no big deal.

After it aired, do you remember the initial reaction from family, friends, and the public? 

Nothing exceptional. However, Rod Serling's daughter told me that her father never watched any of his shows except "Night of the Meek," every year, as a family. He felt it was his best episode.

Did being on what became a hit show have any social/psychological impact on you as a kid (i.e. in school, on dates, etc.)? 

I always wanted to be a doctor, so this was a means to earn money to go to college and medical school. I learned discipline, a strong work ethic, conscientiousness, and the ability to speak in fearful situations. Served me well as a surgeon!


Did you watch the show regularly?

No. However, some years my grandchildren watch it at Christmas. And every year we set out the photo of me in the sleigh with Santa by the cookies and milk. 

When your children/grandchildren watched, what was the reaction?

"Can we build Legos now?"

How long did your acting career last, and why did it end? 

I acted until age 17, when I graduated from high school. Then my focus was on getting through college in three years and getting accepted into medical school…which I did, at UCLA.

Did you ever miss acting? 

Sometimes I think I would like to go back now in my retirement, but then I lay down until the thought passes over me!

What are you doing these days? 

I retired as a genitourinary surgeon. I trained at the pastry school Ducasses Education in Paris, studied cheese with Hervé and Laurent Mons/Max McCalman, and went to Italy to study olive oil. I have a company that has developed a food flavor database that stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain through flavor combinations unique to each individual. (Bet you are sorry you asked!)


Where do you live? 

Los Angeles.

Have you participated in a Twilight Zone event (reunion, convention, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to doing so (i.e. meeting fans and signing autographs)? 

I did the two conventions and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Are you still in touch with anyone who knew you when you appeared on the show? 

No.

When was the last time you watched the episode? How did you think it held up? 

I think the episode is timeless…and watched it this Christmas.

Do you have any mementos from the experience such as candid photos, the script, or anything from the set? Autographed cigarette from Rod Serling?

No.

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically? 

Yes.

Do you have clippings from magazine/newspaper interviews/profiles published at the time? 

No.

What did you think when you first heard from me? 

Another person appreciating the Golden Era of Television and the era when writers wrote fantastic plays.

How do you look back on your Twilight Zone experience? 

With warmth and laughter.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

"The Twilight Zone" interview: "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" (1960)

Introduction to the Twilight Zone interview series (including the list of interviewees).

Jan Lawrence Handzlik played what appeared to be the lone child in "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" (season 1, 1960).


How old were you when you were cast in The Twilight Zone?

About 12. 

How did you get the role?

I had a short cinematic career. You could have a Jan Handzlik Film Festival in one evening. 

My acting career had begun when I was six or seven. I was a pretty confident and independent young man—that's what my mother had instilled in me and what I've tried to instill in my kids. My mother was an operatic singer. Part of that was being in summer stock in New England. I'd go with her and get parts in the shows. My professional acting career began as kind of a fluke in 1956. I think we were living in Connecticut. My mother's agent told her that there was a Broadway show being cast and they needed a boy my age and would I be interested. She never pushed me. As a matter of fact, she encouraged me to get a good education and have something to fall back on. 

So probably along with 500 other kids—I'm not exaggerating—I read for the part of young Patrick in Auntie Mame. I had maybe three callbacks and eventually read with Rosalind Russell. She picked me. That was August or September 1958. I was in the show for a year and a half.

In what might be one of the few times in the history of Broadway, [a show's star] took a vacation, so the show shut down for that time! When Rosalind left the show, Greer Garson took over. When they were casting the movie, Rosalind said "I want Jan." Believe it or not, there was a tug of war over me between Rosalyn and Greer! But I left the show to do the movie.

The only other thing of note that I did was this Twilight Zone. Someone—not Rod Serling—was auditioning a handful of kids. A producer or someone who had seen me in Auntie Mame two years before remembered me and that's how I got the job.

Any funny anecdotes about the experience?

All I can remember that Jack Weston was hilarious on stage and off. He's a terrific actor. As I recall, he kept things pretty light. 

Did anything go wrong during the shoot?

Something always goes wrong! Things didn't work out as planned, like when the car starts in the driveway. On a couple of occasions, lights went on and off [when they were not supposed to] and whatnot. 

Where was your episode filmed?

I was wracking my brain…I can't remember right now. 

What do you remember about Rod Serling?

I have a very vivid memory of Rod Serling. He came to the readings. I remember sitting around a conference table and Mr. Serling was sitting pretty close to me as we ran through the lines. He changed a couple things as we went along. From my perspective at that age, he seemed like a pretty serious guy.

How was it to be (what appeared to be) the only kid on the shoot?

There were a bunch of other kids, I think. Or maybe that was Auntie Mame. I think early on there were other kids running around the neighborhood. But as a child actor you don't have [those kinds of] inhibitions. My mother had always treated me not like a baby—just talked to me like a normal person as I was growing up. I had an easy time speaking with the other actors. The part about me being the only kid didn't stick with me.

Your episode became one of the most iconic of the series. What did you think of it at the time?

Even when we were reading our lines with Rod Serling there, it was pretty clear that there was a message was being sent. Almost every Twilight Zone had a message, some sort of moral point it was making. [In my episode] it was right off the page. It was a situation where it didn't take much for adults, neighbors, and in some cases close friends to turn against each other. I recognized the moral was we are our own worst enemies—as we have found out [again] in the last couple of years. 

After it aired, do you remember the initial reaction from family, friends, and the public?

From friends, yes. Again, it was on different levels. Kids thought it was scary-funny and entertaining. Adults pointed out the message that was pretty clear. As time has gone by, it has not lost its meaning. 

Did being on what became a hit show have any social/psychological impact on you as a kid (i.e. in school, on dates, etc.)?

When I was a kid, yes. It was a must-watch show for a lot of people. Everyone I knew saw me in it.

I went to a private school called Hollywood Professional School for 9th to 11th grade, and I had status—but not as much as some of the other kids there. Peter Fonda was there. I came back to New York in 12th grade and went to another acting school, Quintanos. Gregory Hines and Christopher Walken were there. 

[Though my Twilight Zone episode] had an immediate impact, I think the more interesting aspect is that it still has impact today. I don't actually tell people [I was on the show], but when they find out and ask what episode, they know it right away. I wouldn't say this happens every week, but it does happen all the time. There isn't a couple-week period where I don't get a request in the mail for an autograph (for Auntie Mame, too). 

Do you keep up with the autograph requests?

I do answer them and sign the photographs they send. If someone's going to go through that much trouble, I honor it. Also, my kids like when I do it. How many people are remembered for something they did so long ago? 

Did you watch the show regularly?

Yes. I was a fan but I guess I became a bigger fan because of my involvement. 

How long did your acting career last, and why did it end?

While I was doing the Auntie Mame movie, they were forming the national touring company of the show and I was offered the role, but that didn't seem attractive to my mother or me. My mother was in 11 Broadway shows in New York. If we'd stayed in Los Angeles, it's possible I would have had a longer career. Of course, that's just my ego speaking! [There were other factors.] You can almost hear it in my voice in Twilight Zone that my voice was changing. I say I didn't leave show business, show business left me. I used the money I made in acting to pay for part of college. 

Did you ever miss acting?

I didn't then, though I can't remember for sure—sounds better if I say I didn't! 

What are you doing these days? 

I practice law—white collar criminal defense, fraud cases, some civil litigation. I now have my own firm. I'm not handling as many cases as I used to but I'm still enjoying it. There's a natural theatrical quality to being a trial lawyer. It takes some other people maybe a bit more time to get used to speaking in public.


Where do you live?

Manhattan Beach, CA.

Children/grandchildren?

I have six children. Three of them are older—Grant, Craig, and Anna Sekulow [married to Jordan Sekulow, son of Jay Sekulow, one of Donald Trump's lawyers]. Three are younger—12-year-old twins Jake and Maggie and 9-year-old Wyatt. I have four grandkids.

What do your kids think of your Twilight Zone appearance?

They think it's great. It holds their attention for maybe 15 minutes. (laughs) 

Have you participated in a Twilight Zone event (reunion, convention, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to doing so?

I went to one Twilight Zone show about ten years ago or maybe even 20. Lots of stars were there. I was so unknowledgeable about these things that I didn't bring my own photos. You're supposed to bring them to sell them! So they gave me some photographs and I signed them. I either donated the money to charity or gave it to my kids. 

I would go to another Twilight Zone convention but I wouldn't go to something just to sign things. I'd take my younger kids with me. They'd love it.

Are you still in touch with anyone who knew you when you appeared on the show? 

Yes, a good friend named Bob. He's a teacher, not in acting. That may be it who goes back that far. I did bump into Gregory Hines with his father at a restaurant in Venice, California. 

When was the last time you watched the episode?

I've watched it recently with my kids. When it's on one of the Twilight Zone marathons, my friends will tell me.

Do you have any mementos from the experience such as candid photos, the script, or anything from the set? Autographed cigarette from Rod Serling?

I'm pretty sure I have some photos but nothing else. I've gotten residuals for the Twilight Zone, sometimes 13 cents or $1.25. It's probably been four years since the last residual.

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically?

I don't think so. If I was, it was a long time ago.

What did you think when you first heard from me?

I was delighted. You keep the memories alive by doing things like what you're doing.

How do you look back on your Twilight Zone experience?

It was a great experience. A lot of nice people, very talented character actors. They made it look easy, not that it's brain surgery or Macbeth. I was honored to be in the cast with Claude Akins and Jack Weston. A very positive experience. 

Funny since it was a show about how people can be so nasty to each other.

Yes. (laughs)

If the experience changed your life in any way, how?

I will give you a good lawyer's answer: yes and no. Being in a Broadway show, a major motion picture, and an episode of a popular TV show certainly has affected me, if not changed my life. It's given me recognition far beyond what I should have gotten! Just having had the experience was invaluable.


Postscript:

Toward the end of our conversation, Jan mentioned the Jordan Peele Twilight Zone reboot that was announced in late 2017. We decided he should try to reach out to Jordan's camp to see about appearing in the new series. Superhero shows regularly bring in legacy actors and I'm confident Twilight Zone is geeky enough to do the same! In fact, if Jan is cast, we'll also suggest the other alum included in this interview series. Stay tuned…
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