Original Air Date: March 31, 1961
Writer: Charles Beaumont/Bill Idelson
Director: James Sheldon
“As must be obvious, this is a house hovered over by Mr. Death, that omnipresent player to the third and final act of every life. And it’s been said, and probably rightfully so, that what follows this life is one of unfathomable mysteries, an area of darkness which we the living reserve for the dead, or so it is said. For in a moment, a child will try to cross that bridge which separates light and shadow, and of course he must take the only known route, that indistinct highway through the region we call the Twilight Zone.”
Billy Bayles (played by Bill Mumy, known for his several roles in The Twilight Zone series including the Season 3 classic “It’s A Good Life” as well as his role as Will Robinson in Lost In Space) is a little boy who receives a toy telephone on his fifth birthday from his ailing grandmother. We quickly get the sense that grandmother has a poor relationship with her son and daughter-in-law. Shortly thereafter, Billy’s grandmother suddenly dies. Somehow Billy is still able to communicate with his deceased grandmother through his toy telephone.
Things take a turn for the worse when Billy goes running out into the street one night and nearly gets hit by a car. He tells his parents that his grandmother told him to do so. The next time Billy speaks on his phone his mother grabs the toy and immediately drops it in horror -she can hear grandmother on the other line. Billy runs from the house and nearly drowns in a nearby fish pond. At this point, Billy’s father picks up his telephone and he demands that his mother allow Billy to live. At the last moment, Billy’s life is saved. “Long Distance Call” is a haunting ghost story -the idea of a spectral grandmother reaching back from the grave, driving her grandson too suicide is terrifying. It is a troubling story though it is overshadowed by other better episodes inn the series.
“A toy telephone, an act of faith, a set of improbable circumstances, all combine to probe a mystery, to fathom a depth, to send a facet of light into a dark after-region, to be believed or disbelieved depending on your frame of reference. A fact or fantasy, a substance or a shadow, but all of it very much a part of the Twilight Zone.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- “Long Distance Call” is the last of the six videotaped episodes featured in The Twilight Zone.
- Writer William “Bill” Idelson was a realtor and former radio actor who was eager to break into the television writing game. He got the idea for “Long Distance Call” when his son was given a toy telephone for his birthday. His initial titles for the story were “Party Line” and “Direct Line.” Like many others, he was friends with Richard Matheson.
- This episode features the re-used brilliant score of Bernard Herrman from the first season.
- Two lawsuits were filed against Rod Serling’s company Cayuga Productions accusing the show of plagiarism for this show (they were both unsuccessful).
Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.
Bill Mumy was quite a talented child actor to take on all the challenges of two of the most haunting Twilight Zone episodes.
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