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?  


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?


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.

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