"A man will die, a writer, the instrument of creation: but what he has created will never die! And to be able to live for ever you don't need to have extraordinary gifts or be able to do miracles. Who was Sancho Panza? Who was Prospero? But they will live for ever because — living seeds — they had the luck to find a fruitful soil, an imagination which knew how to grow them and feed them, so that they will live for ever."
Luigi Pirandello (1867–1936)
Six Characters in Search of an Author
You may not recognize the name of Lamont Johnson.
That's probably understandable. He was an actor early in his career, which included playing Tarzan on the radio, but he moved on to directing mostly in his later years. Sometimes he directed theatrical releases; sometimes he directed episodes of TV series, other times he directed TV movies.
He worked on all kinds of projects, and much of the time, there seemed to be no real link between them. But, in truth, there was one common link, as Claire Noland observed in the Los Angeles Times — most of his projects dealt with sensitive topics.
Johnson, who died Sunday at the age of 88, "dealt with interracial romance in 'My Sweet Charlie' (1970), homosexuality in 'That Certain Summer' (1972), blacklisting in 'Fear on Trial' (1975) and the civil rights movement in 'Crisis at Central High' (1981)," Noland wrote.
It was also through Johnson that I learned the true story of the only American soldier to be executed for desertion since the Civil War. He had a fondness for history that I could appreciate.
He didn't just direct movies, though. He directed numerous episodes of TV series — including eight episodes from the original Twilight Zone series between 1961 and 1963. One of his earliest directorial efforts for the series was an episode that really lived up to the early reputation of the series.
It was called "Five Characters in Search of an Exit."
The episode's name was inspired by a play that was written by Luigi Pirandello nearly 90 years ago — "Six Characters in Search of an Author." When I was about 14 or 15, that play was performed at the college where my father taught. I remember that because my brother had one of two children's roles in the play — both of which were nonspeaking.
Just to briefly recap the story — and it has been many years since I have seen the play — these six characters interrupt the rehearsal of another play, and it is revealed that they are unfinished characters looking for an author who will complete their story.
The college production in which my brother participated was quite successful. It was entered in many dramatic competitions, and advanced to a regional competition in Fort Worth. I well remember driving to north Texas with my mother and my brother, picking up my grandmother in Dallas and going to Fort Worth, where we watched my brother and his castmates perform, then we saw some other truly special collegiate performances over the course of several days.
Anyway, the name of that play has stayed with me all these years, and it gave me a special appreciation for the Twilight Zone episode that was inspired by it. Five characters — a hobo, a clown, a bagpipe player, a ballerina and an Army major — find themselves in some sort of circular room, and no one knows who he or she is or how he or she got there.
If you've never seen the episode, I'll let you watch it for yourself and see how the story is resolved.