Wednesday, November 11, 2015

In the Eye of the Beholder

"Now the questions that come to mind. Where is this place and when is it? What kind of world where ugliness is the norm and beauty the deviation from that norm? You want an answer? The answer is, it doesn't make any difference. Because the old saying happens to be true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in this year or a hundred years hence, on this planet or wherever there is human life, perhaps out amongst the stars. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lesson to be learned ... in the Twilight Zone."

Closing narration

As I observed in this blog when actress Donna Douglas died earlier this year, her most noteworthy pre–Beverly Hillbillies role was an appearance on the original Twilight Zone. That episode was called "The Eye of the Beholder." Fittingly, it was about beauty, and it was shown for the first time on this day in 1960.

Douglas played a woman who was undergoing surgery on her face. Her face wasn't visible until near the end. For most of the episode, it was wrapped in bandages.

You couldn't see the faces of the doctors and nurses who came in and out of her room, either. They were photographed in shadows or at angles that made it impossible to make out their facial features.

But the viewer got a good idea of what was going on from the conversations between the patient and the doctors and nurses who tended to her. She was "disfigured" and seen as ugly by the normal people around her. She had undergone numerous surgeries to correct her deformities. All had been unsuccessful.

Her latest surgery had been one last try. Apparently, there was no other option if this one failed — except for her to go live in a separate colony with others like her.

I was already familiar with Donna Douglas by the time I saw this episode. I had seen the Beverly Hillbillies frequently, and I was sure I recognized her when I saw "The Eye of the Beholder." After all, she was one of the women on TV who was the subject of many a young boy's fantasies, including mine.

But I was bewildered. She didn't sound the same. Now, I was old enough by that time to know that actors and actresses alter their voices to fit their roles, but I also knew that, no matter how much they altered their voices, you could usually identify them. This actress didn't sound at all like Douglas.

When the patient's head was wrapped in bandages, she was played by an actress named Maxine Stuart, who was about 14 years older than Douglas. When the bandages were removed, the actress underneath them was Douglas.

She never spoke — well, she sobbed — but the leader of the futuristic society did. He gave a speech about "glorious conformity" that was being broadcast on devices that looked remarkably like the flat–screen TVs of today.

Actually, I should amend that. Words did appear to come out of Douglas' mouth — but they were in Stuart's voice. Pretty good job of lip syncing, too, considering that label wouldn't be invented for another three decades.

As Douglas ran down the hallways of the hospital, the leader droned on about "a single norm, a single approach, a single entity of people ..." and urged his listeners to "cut out all that is different like a cancerous growth."

It was an interesting episode, one that had allusions both subtle — to fascism — and not so subtle — to conformity.

And it made reference to the old saying that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Over the years, I have learned — repeatedly — how true that is.

How often have I wondered why someone who is drop–dead attractive is with someone who is ugly — or just plain? More times than I can count. And each time I do it, I feel ashamed for having judged a book by its cover.

But that's something we all do, isn't it?

And it isn't just looks, either, although that is probably the most convenient scapegoat. It can be anything — age, religion, politics, race, you name it.

But if this episode was to be remade today, it couldn't use age or religion or race as the dividing line because that wouldn't be politically correct.

You would just about have to stay with looks, and you would get away with it, too, because there is a general perception that good–looking people get their way all the time. That probably isn't entirely true, but, as one of the many nonbeautiful people, I sometimes wonder what it must be like to be one of the few truly beautiful people and be treated like royalty because of it.

Or to be a star athlete and have everything handed to you in school and on your way up the professional ladder.

I'm sure even the beautiful people have other beautiful people whom they imagine to be more attractive — and the star athletes are probably jealous of other star athletes whom they perceive to be more talented.

No one is immune.