Original Air Date: October 13, 1961
Writer: George Clayton Johnson
Director: Buzz Kulik
“Someone has to keep the flame. Someone has to weed out those who haven’t got what it takes. The champions, the legends, they serve as a purpose, a challenge, an incentive.”
“Jesse Cardiff, pool shark, the best on Randolph Street, who will soon learn that trying to be the best at anything carries its own special risks. In or out of the Twilight Zone.”
One man plays pool alone at a pool hall on Randolph Street in Chicago. His name is Jesse Cardiff (played by “everyman” Jack Klugman of 12 Angry Men repute who also appeared in the Season One episode “A Passage For Trumpet” and several later episodes). He wishes for the chance to battle the late Fats Brown to prove once and for all who is the superior pool champion. Next, we are transported to another place and time where Fats Brown (played by Jonathan Winters) is still alive. He is called to Randolph Street to play pool against Cardiff. The two men decide to raise the stakes and play for life or death.
They battle for hours until Cardiff finally triumphs over Brown who merely responds by saying, “thanks.” Cardiff turns around and Brown has vanished. Cardiff realizes no one knows of his victory. Later, we find Cardiff being called to another pool hall to defend his crown in Sandusky, Ohio. He has now become the undisputed pool king but he has grown weary of his prominence.
“Mr. Jesse Cardiff, who became a legend by beating one, but who has found out after his funeral that being the best of anything carries with it a special obligation to keep on proving it. Mr. Fats Brown, on the other hand, having relinquished the champion’s mantle, has gone fishing. These are the ground rules in the Twilight Zone.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- George Clayton Johnson’s script originally featured an ending in which Jesse loses the game and yet finds himself still alive.
- Rod Serling called this episode “the story of the best pool player living and the best pool player dead.”
- This was Jack Klugman’s favorite Twilight Zone episode out of the four he appeared in.
- Jonathan Winters was a legendary comedian and this was a rare dramatic role for him.