Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The King and the Impersonator

As I wrote several times last spring, I thought the inaugural season of the reincarnation of Twilight Zone in 1985–86 was impressive.

I wasn't too keen on the season finale, but I felt the series had some momentum going for it as the second season approached, and I had high hopes when that season began 25 years ago tonight.

I was not disappointed.

The opening segment was one of those "what–if" tales from history that Twilight Zone — both the original series and the reincarnation — did so well — and far too infrequently, as far as I was concerned.

Nearly seven months earlier, Twilight Zone ran a great episode that speculated about how the Kennedy assassination might have been altered by a visitor from the future.

It reminded me of episodes from the original series that dealt with historical events like Lincoln's assassination, Custer's last stand and Hitler and the Holocaust.

And in "The Once and Future King," viewers were encouraged to fantasize about the prospect that maybe — just maybe — Elvis Presley wasn't who we thought he was.

In the story, an Elvis impersonator is driving at night when he encounters another person driving erratically. The impersonator swerves to avoid hitting the other car and flips his own car in the process. When he regains consciousness, it is daylight — but it is the 1950s, not the 1980s.

He hitches a ride with the driver of an old pickup truck, who turns out to be Elvis Presley (in one of the delightful lines from the story, the real Elvis tells the Elvis impersonator "you look all shook up") — and it turns out to be just before his recording session that changed the course of American pop music history.

But the Elvis impersonator was disappointed in the real Elvis, who was planning to record a rather mundane song instead of "That's All Right," which was the first single Presley released. And the real Elvis dismisses the impersonator's selections and the provocative dance moves he suggests as the devil's work and concludes that the impersonator must be the devil himself.

A fight breaks out, and the real Elvis is killed. The Elvis impersonator then decides he must take the place of the real Elvis and live his life for him.

Most likely, you wouldn't recognize anyone in the cast. Jeff Yagher played both Elvis and the Elvis impersonator. He's done some film and TV work, but nothing that most people probably would remember.

Lisa Jane Persky, who played his agent, might be marginally more recognizable. When you see her face, you might think that you have seen it before. And, if you were watching this episode when it first aired 25 years ago tonight, you probably would be right. She did co–star with Robert Duvall in 1979's "The Great Santini."

One cast member you might have recognized was Red West, who played Elvis' boss. He had a memorable performance as Red in "Road House," but that wasn't his most impressive credential for this particular project.

In high school, West was a friend of Elvis' and later worked for him, first as a driver and then as a bodyguard. He was fired by Elvis' father the year before Elvis died for saying Elvis needed help with his dependence on prescription drugs.

Shortly before Elvis died, West co–wrote the first book that discussed the singer's drug addiction. Elvis reportedly read it and was upset by it; some people asserted that the book played a role in his death.

At this stage, I'm sure, that can only be speculation. It is almost certainly the kind of thing that cannot be proven.

Nor, for that matter, can it be proven whether Elvis really was Elvis — or an impersonator from the future.

If you're old enough to remember the 1950s or the 1960s — or just the 1970s — was that Elvis you saw in the movies and on TV?

Are you sure?