Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Occupying a World of His Own

"I made you too strong. I forgot to add some human frailty."

Keenan Wynn

On this night in 1960, Twilight Zone concluded its first season with an episode that I have always liked.

I wouldn't say it is in my top 10 Twilight Zone episodes, but it is probably in my top 20. Hey, that isn't bad. There were 156 episodes of the Twilight Zone between 1959 and 1964. The #20 episode on my hypothetical list would be in the top 13%, and I figure that the episode that aired 55 years ago tonight, "A World of His Own," probably deserves to be in my top 10% — which, I suppose, would put it around #15, and that is about right.

That really shouldn't surprise anyone. The theme was writing, and, for good or ill, I am a writer. (I also admire the work of the man who wrote this episode, Richard Matheson.)

Now, I understand about the drawbacks of profiling, but there are advantages to it, too. Profiling can be helpful in understanding why certain people seem predisposed to do certain things in life. To me, it has often seemed to be that way with writers. I often ask myself, why do writers write? Why do I write? Profiling could be useful in answering those questions.

Of course, writers come in all races so racial profiling doesn't really help. Nor does gender profiling because I have known both female writers and male writers. For that matter, age, religion, sexual orientation aren't very helpful. All those things contribute to the life experiences that writers so frequently write about.

After a lifetime of reflecting on the experience of being a writer — and writing about that experience — I have reached a conclusion. Writers want to be able to control their lives better than most of them actually do. Even writers of nonfiction — like the reporters with whom I have worked on newspaper staffs — want to have more control over things in their lives, and being able to write a complete eyewitness account of something that happened, whether a criminal trial or a football game, is a way of exerting that control.

I think most nonfiction writers secretly would like to be fiction writers because, in the pages of a novel, the writer alone decides what happens. If what happens in those pages seems unlikely but not entirely impossible, the writer's persuasiveness is what will determine whether the readers believe it is plausible.

In "A World of His Own," Keenan Wynn played a writer who had found a way to control his world. He used a dictaphone — one of those old–fashioned contraptions that busy people used to record ideas, dictate letters and other documents and so on half a century ago. Today's business executive probably sends out emails from his smartphone, which would require some extensive rewriting of this episode if someone was to remake it.

Anyway, Wynn's character could conjure up his ideal woman and the woman to whom he was married — different women — simply by dictating a description into this dictaphone. To make the character go away, he would take the tape describing that person and toss it on the fire in the fireplace in his study. That was how he "un–created" characters.

As you can imagine, his wife was skeptical. She was sure she had seen a woman through the window and was baffled about how that woman could have gotten out.

So Wynn's character did a demonstration for her, conjuring up his ideal woman — Mary.

It was all too much for his wife, who started to leave the house but was stopped when Wynn's character conjured up a rogue elephant to block her way. She assured her husband that she would escape at the first opportunity and have him committed.

Well, that left Wynn with no alternative. He had to dispose of his wife the same way he disposed of Mary — by throwing the tape describing her character into the fire. And that is what he did.

In an amusing twist, Rod Serling assured viewers, in the final scene, that it was a fictional story, that people couldn't really get rid of other people by tossing tape into a fire — to which Wynn took exception and tossed an envelope labeled "Rod Serling" containing tape into the fire.

And Serling dissolved, not to be seen again until the second season of Twilight Zone began in September.