Original Air Date: December 13, 1963
Writer: Lou Holtz/Rod Serling
Director: Bernard Girard
“Picture of an aging man who leads his life, as Thoreau said, ‘in quiet desperation.’ Because Harmon Gordon is enslaved by a love affair with a wife forty years his junior. Because of this, he runs when he should walk. He surrenders when simple pride dictates a stand. He pines away for the lost morning of his life when he should be enjoying the evening. In short, Mr. Harmon Gordon seeks a fountain of youth, and who’s to say he won’t find it? This happens to be the Twilight Zone.”
Harmon Gordon (Patrick O’Neal) is married to a much younger and abusive woman named Flora Gordon (Ruta Lee). Harmon can barely keep up with his demanding wife who is clearly growing bored with her elderly husband. One day, Harmon asks his scientist brother Raymond (Walter Brooke) to inject him with an experimental youth serum to help him stay young for his wife. Raymond refuses noting it is merely experimental and we do not yet know the full effects on the body. However, after witnessing his brother contemplating suicide from his upper balcony, Raymond reluctantly agrees to administer the serum.
When Harmon awakens he finds himself a much younger man to his own delight. However, his regressing age does not stop there. Soon he morphs into a child, then a toddler, and Flora tries to desperately leave but Raymond demands that she stay because she made a commitment to stand beside Harmon in sickness and in health. He also threatens legal trouble for her. Thus in a shade of poetic justice Flora must now care for a child and as he grows up their positions will gradually be reversed –Harmon will be young and attractive while Flora will become aged and tired.
“It happens to be a fact: as one gets older, one does get wiser. If you don’t believe it, ask Flora. Ask her any day of the ensuing weeks of her life, as she takes notes during the coming years and realizes that the worm has turned: youth has taken over. It’s simply the way the calendar crumbles…in the Twilight Zone.”
Occasionally The Twilight Zone hits the nail on the head with its stories of supernatural retribution, however “A Short Drink From A Certain Fountain” is not among my favorites in the series. That being said, I have yet to see a truly bad episode of The Twilight Zone and there are still some interesting themes explored here –the wayward dangers of love between two people who are wildly divergent in age, a glimpse at retribution for people who choose money over love, and also we see the problems inherent in unrelenting faith in modern science as Harmon Gordon hopes to obstruct the normal and healthy process of aging and it backfires, exponentially increasing his troubles.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- This was the only script contributed to The Twilight Zone by vaudevillian actor Lou Holtz. The story was adapted into a teleplay by Rod Serling.
- The certain fountain referenced in the title for this episode is the mythical fountain of youth.
- This was only episode in the series featuring Patrick O’Neal and Ruta Lee.
- Patrick O’Neal was a mere eight years older than Ruta Lee at this time this episode was filmed even though his character was intended to be 40 years older than his wife. In later years, O’Neal commented on the extraordinary make-up effects used to make him appear much older –and they were actually very close to what an aged Patrick O’Neal looked like.
- There was a deleted scene filmed with a 12 year old version of Harmon Gordon.
- A lawsuit filed against this episode prevented it from being aired in syndication until 1984 along with other episodes like “Miniature” from Season 4. Other episodes suffering from this type of copyright infringement included “Sounds and Silences” and “The Encounter.” When the legal issues were finally resolved in 1984 Patrick O’Neal hosted the television special when it was aired. I was unable to locate the details of this lawsuit and Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, also says the details remain hazy.
- The character of Raymond Gordon was initially intended to be a physician but CBS demanded his profession be changed to research scientist because of concerns over an ordinary physician experimenting on fellow humans. Rod Serling Serling complied with their demand.
- Brief sections of the score for “Walking Distance” are used in this episode.
- The apartment set in this episode was also used in “The Self-Improvement of Salvador Russ.”
Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.
I remember that Twilight Zone special hosted by Patrick O’Neal, where I first saw this episode. The consequences of tampering with the nature of aging has been one of the most common and crucial themes for our sci-fi literature. No one should ever have to be afraid of getting older and there are so many health issues for the elderly that should indeed be resolved by scientific advancement. If science ever does in real life find or create a fountain of youth, then maybe it would come down to individual choices, even with obvious reservations from society. With Flora’s abusive involvement in why Harmon wanted to be young again, it proves that even if reversing your own aging process can be the right thing, it should even more importantly be for the right reasons. Thank you for the very interesting Twilight Zone trivia on this one.
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