The Twilight Zone: Season 4, Episode Eighteen “The Bard”

Original Air Date: May 23, 1963
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: David Butler

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In this goofy conclusion to the fourth season of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling offers a biting satire about a struggling television writer who accidentally reincarnates William Shakespeare who becomes a ghostwriter (pun intended). The writer’s name is Julius Moomer (Jack Weston). We first meet him pitching various far-fetched ideas to an agent, but when he learns that a big deal is in the works for a black magic tale, Mr. Moomer travels to a bookstore where he picks up an old book about black magic (or rather the book picks him).

“You’ve just witnessed opportunity, if not knocking, at least scratching plaintively on a closed door. Mr. Julius Moomer, a would-be writer, who if talent came 25 cents a pound, would be worth less than car fare. But, in a moment, Mr. Moomer, through the offices of some black magic, is about to embark on a brand-new career. And although he may never get a writing credit on the Twilight Zone, he’s to become an integral character in it.”
-Rod Serling

Using his new book on black magic, Mr. Moomer somewhat accidentally reincarnates William Shakespeare (John Williams) and promptly begins using his talent to draft winning scripts. As Moomer’s reputation grows so does his ego, especially in interviews on television. One day, William Shakespeare decides to attend a rehearsal of his script but he is horrified to find the studio executives butchering his writing. He is further dismayed to find a pompous, pretentious method actor named Rocky Rhodes playing the lead role (hilariously played by Burt Reynolds as an obvious satire of Marlon Brando). Shakespeare punches Rhodes in the face and storm off the set. In the end, Mr. Moomer catches wind that the studio intends to do an American history piece, so he uses his book of black magic to reincarnate various historical figures –Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Pocahontas, Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, and Daniel Boone.

“Mr. Julius Moomer, a streetcar conductor with delusions of authorship, and if the tale just told seems a little tall, remember a thing called poetic license, and another thing called the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

This silly episode highlights the distinction between ordinary, unrefined American television when contrasted with the language of William Shakespeare. It asks the question: what if an American television writer could channel the Bard? Would American television companies be able to recognize true talent if Shakespeare offered them a script? Would they try to butcher the Bard? Reminiscent of the meta themes found in the concluding episode of Season 1 “A World Of His Own,” I found “The Bard” to be mildly amusing, but, brevity being the soul of wit, if all The Twilight Zone is a stage then I would not soon suffer the slings and arrows of this episode as the be-all end-all in the series.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • Burt Reynolds plays Rocky Rhodes, an actor who is a direct satire of Marlon Brando. It also helped that he looked exactly like Brando at the time. In one particularly funny scene Rhodes’ pomposity draws a punch in the face from William Shakespeare. At the time Burt Reynolds was also featured on the show Gunsmoke.
  • Marc Scott Zicree makes note in The Twilight Zone Companion, that it is odd for Moomer to reincarnate historical figures at the end of the episode rather than writers like Shakespeare, because his problem is not in research but rather in writing.
  • At one point Mr. Moomer mistakenly hopes he wins a “Wurlitzer” (a little girl corrects him that it is “Pulitzer.”)
  • Shakespeare frequently quotes himself in his episode, though at one particularly memorable moment Shakespeare cannot remember his famous “to be, or not to be” soliloquy.

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

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