Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Bewildering Disappearance

The episode of the Twilight Zone that first aired on this night in 1962, "Little Girl Lost," tapped into that fear that every parent must experience when a child is missing — and, while I have never been a parent, I can imagine both that every parent must have had this experience at one time or another and that it must be a moment of indescribable terror and panic.

For, it seems to me, there are few things on this planet that are more vulnerable than a small child. It is a parent's responsibility to protect that child. The inability to do so must be the source of a sense of helplessness that I can't imagine.

The majority of the time, I suppose, the child is only missing temporarily — in a crowded place for a few minutes, maybe an hour, but long enough for a parent to imagine all kinds of things and none of them good.

But there are parents whose children go missing — and are never heard from again.

Somewhere in between were the parents in that episode of the Twilight Zone. Their young daughter was missing — but they could hear her whimpering and her plaintive cries for "Daddy!"

It began as cries in the night that every parent has heard when a child awakens from a bad dream or wants a drink of water. The parents were roused from their sleep by her cries, and the father went into her room, fully expecting to see her in bed — as any parent surely would.

But Tina wasn't in her bed. Her father presumed that she had fallen out of bed, but she couldn't be seen. Then he figured she had rolled under the bed, but she wasn't there, either.

The only thing the father could think to do was to call a friend who was a physicist (played by Charles Aidman, who appeared in another Twilight Zone episode as well as episodes of many other TV series). He agreed to come over right away.

The family had a pet dog who had been in the back yard barking hysterically. The father went to let him in; the dog ran under the little girl's bed and disappeared. Like the girl, only the sounds of the dog barking could be heard.

After the friend arrived, the men moved the bed so they could have an unobstructed view of the floor and the wall. The friend explored the area and discovered some kind of opening in the wall.

And then he used a piece of chalk to mark on the wall the points where the opening appeared to be.

The father reached his hand through the opening in hopes that his daughter would come to it, but then he seemed to fall in. His friend told him to stay where he was and call for the girl and the dog. They came to him, and the friend pulled them out.

Turned out they were pulled out just as the opening was closing.

You know, it's a lot handier having a physicist for a friend than I thought — especially one who will come to your house in the middle of the night.

Literary scholar Camille Paglia has called the story the "first great script" of the original Twilight Zone series. And I agree it was good, but I don't know if I would go that far.

I must admit, though, that I was surprised that the episode was not remade when Twilight Zone had its second incarnation in the mid–1980s. Several original episodes were remade with varying degrees of success, and I thought "Little Girl Lost" would be a natural.

But it was not remade.

Still it would be hard to improve on the performances of the parents. Their reactions rang so true. I could see myself, faced with an incomprehensible riddle and a missing daughter, reacting as they did — confused, frustrated, anxious.

Yes, I agree with Paglia that it was well written. But the series' first great script? Hmmm.