Original Air Date: March 18, 1960
Writer: Charles Beaumont
Director: Anton “Tony” Leader
“It is death that gives this world its point. We love a rose because we know it will soon be gone…”
“You’re looking at Act One, Scene One, of a nightmare, one not restricted to witching hours of dark, rainswept nights. Professor Walter Jameson, popular beyond words, who talks of the past as if it were the present, who conjures up the dead as if they were alive…In the view of this man, Professor Samuel Kittridge, Walter Jameson has access to knowledge that couldn’t come out of a volume of history, but rather from a book on black magic, which is to say that this nightmare begins at noon.”
“Long Live Walter Jameson” opens beautifully as we enter into a college classroom. Walter Jameson (played by Kevin McCarthy of 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers repute) is a professor delivering a lecture on the American Civil War. He holds an extraordinary, almost unbelievable, amount of intimate historical knowledge. His friend and colleague, Sam Kittridge (played by French actor Edgar Stehli) invites Jameson over to his house. Why? Because Jameson is engaged to Sam’s daughter, Susanna (played by Dodie Heath who also appeared in a number of Hitchcock shorts).
Later at the Kittridge home, Walter and Sam have an extensive conversation while playing chess. Sam tests Walter with a pressing question: ‘how old are you?’ Sam describes how Walter has not aged during their time working together. Sam reveals a photo of a Civil War soldier who looks exactly like him. After much questioning, Walter relents. As it turns out, Walter is over 2,000 years old. A long time ago he paid an alchemist to help him overcome his fear of death. Over thousands of years he has watched his loved ones pass away, including his own children. Sam forbids Walter from marrying Susanna but things grow out of control when an elderly woman named Laurette (played by Estelle Winwood) tracks him down -his former wife. She grabs a revolver and shoots Walter as he rapidly ages in front of Sam: “nothing lasts forever… thank god…” In horror, Susanna enters the room to find Walter’s empty suit and a pile of dust where he once stood.
“Last stop on a long journey, as yet another human being returns to the vast nothingness that is the beginning and into the dust that is always the end.”
To the man who is set to live forever, after 2,000 years death itself becomes a sweet release. Birth, growth, and death are all intimate parts of life and efforts to minimize or overcome these stages of life are unnatural. Walter Jameson learned this lesson the hard way.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- The date of the diary entry of September 11, 1864 is said to be on a Tuesday, but in reality it was on a Sunday.
- The scenes of Walter Jameson’s aging was performed by using an old movie-making trick. Age lines were drawn on actor Kevin McCarthy’s face in red make-up. During the beginning of the scene, red lighting was used, bathing the scene in red and hiding the age lines. As the scene progressed, the red lights were turned down and green lights were brought up. Under the green lights, the red age lines were prominent. The lighting changes were unseen by the audience because it was filmed in black-and-white.
- For the DVD release, Kevin McCarthy returned to record an audio commentary for the episode, revealing that he never met Rod Serling and that aside from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, his appearance in this episode generated the most fan mail he ever received.