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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