On Rod Serling’s “The Whole Truth”

“Whoever owns that car –he’s got to tell the truth!”

In Rod Serling’s short story based on the memorably hilarious Twilight Zone episode entitled “The Whole Truth,” Harvey Hennicutt is a Stetson-wearing used car salesman –and an “exceptional liar.” He is the subject of numerous apocryphal tales. For example, he once bought the old General Sherman tank for $25, sending a postal worker riding home in an old-fashioned tank:

“Harvey wasn’t an innately dishonest man. He didn’t lie because he was some kind of devious bastard. It was just that his entire frame of reference was ‘the deal.’ He had to buy, sell, and trade the way most people find it necessary to breathe” (2).  

One day, he is found selling a 1928 beat-up Buick to an unsuspecting young couple, and then he buys a cheap 1938 Model A Chevy from an old man who claims the car is haunted. But Mr. Hennicutt simply laughs and buys the car anyway on the cheap only to find that he can suddenly no longer lie to his customers. This ghostly car has brought a cruse on his business! Some divine force is compelling him to admit the flaws in all the used cars sitting in his lot. As long as he owns the old Model A, he must continue to tell the truth. Imagine that? A car salesman forced to tell the truth.

Three days come and go, and Mr. Henniccutt has not sold any cars. This leads to a fight with his junior employee, Irving, who is requesting a raise and this is followed by a customer named Luther Grimbley who stops by the lot to learn about the car, only for it to be purchased by none other than the leader of the USSR, Nikita Kruschev! In a silly twist, the comrades in the Soviet Union will now be haunted by a car that forces truth-telling. Mr. Hennicutt picks up the phone and tries to call Jack Kennedy to share some urgent information. “The Whole Truth” is one of Rod Serling’s sillier stories that bears very little difference from the Twilight Zone episode of the same name, but it is still a charming bit of folklore that is sure to bring a smile. Only in the Twilight Zone could a used car salesmen and a communist politician be cursed with telling the truth!

Serling, Rod. New Stories From The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling Books: 1960 (republished in 1990 by the Serling family), Paperback Edition.

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

Click here to read my review of The Twilight Zone episode “The Whole Truth.”

On Rod Serling’s “Dust”

“There was a village built of crumbling clay and rotting wood. It squatted, ugly, under a broiling sun, like a sick, mangy animal waiting to die. It had a name, but the name was of little consequence. It had an age, but few people cared how old it was” (151).

In a remote town somewhere in the Southwest –a place haunted by misery, hopelessness, and loss of faith– a gallows is being constructed at the edge of town to execute an accused child killer named Louis Gallegos. At the same time, a shifty traveling salesman named Peter Sykes approaches the village selling a new rope for the hanging (albeit at a heavy price mark-up).   

However, the execution is controversial. Louis’s sixty-eight-year-old father Pedro and his young daughter Estrelita beg the local people for forgiveness. Apparently, he is a sad young man, lost without work, and despondent over the barrenness dryness of the earth. According to his father, Louis got drunk one evening and accidentally killed a little girl without realizing it.

Sensing his moment, Sykes decides to sell “magic dust” to Louis and Estrelita. He claims the magic dust has the secret power to turn hate into love, and he sells it for three gold coins. When the time arrives for Louis’s execution, the bloodlust and overwhelming roar of the crowd is suddenly hushed when the rope snaps and saves Louis’s life. He slowly shuffles back home while the crowd is left in a state of wonder. A shocked Sykes cannot believe the rope he supplied has. broken. In sober lament, he tosses his new gold coins at the feet of a trio of Mexican children standing nearby. Thus, presumably Sykes ends his petty quest for riches. For me, Rod Serling’s short story, while beautifully written, is not the greatest example of his pulp tales in The Twilight Zone, but it is still a worthy endeavor for true devotees of the show.

Serling, Rod. More Stories From The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling Books: 1960 (republished in 1990 by the Serling family), Paperback Edition.

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

Click here to read my review of The Twilight Zone episode “Dust.”

On Rod Serling’s “The Odyssey of Flight 33”

“They don’t talk about the flight much anymore –at least the pros don’t.”

An anonymous narrator reflects on events which took place eleven months prior. Like the vanishing of Amelia Earhart over the Pacific, or the disappearance of two U.S. Navy AD6 Sky Raiders, or even the mysterious case of two British airliners suddenly slipping into a fog never to be seen again, on a quiet morning in 1961 Trans-Ocean Flight 33 took off from foggy London en route to Idlewild, New York when it suddenly encountered an extremely unusual phenomenon. Forty-five-year-old Captain William Farver and his co-pilot, Joe “Magellan” Craig, were enjoying a safe and scheduled flight when suddenly Captain Farver sensed something amiss with the flight’s speed. The plane’s acceleration had grown exponentially and it was followed by a blinding flash of light which rocked the whole airplane –almost as if it accidentally broke the sound barrier.

Moments later, the airplane stabilized and emerged from the clouds to find Manhattan Island, much to the relief of the crew –only this isn’t the Manhattan we all know, instead it is all overgrown, devoid of skyscrapers and cars. They shockingly spot a dinosaur poke its head above the trees! Almost as if a cruel practical joke, Flight 33 has traveled backward in time millions of years. Captain Williams does his best to express both honesty and steadfastness to the people aboard, the trials of leadership are many, and then he decides to head back upward through the cumulus clouds into the jet stream in the hopes of returning to the present day. Once again, the airplane hits record propulsion and passes through a blinding light only to emerge on the other side and find the skyline of New York intact.

The crew practically jumps for joy while Captain Williams hails for a “radar vector” to Idlewild, but the operator on the other line is unfamiliar with this terminology and he seems to know nothing about Boeing 707s. As Flight 33 begins to descend, they suddenly spot the World’s Fair in New York far below –meaning the year is actually 1939. They have traveled forward, somehow, but not far enough! The airplane dips back up into the clouds while scores of cosmopolitan people below gently peruse the World’s Fair which is filed with Italianate waterfalls, Polish pavilions, and Japanese artwork, unaware of the darkness about to befall the world.

This was the last known communication from Trans-Ocean Flight 33 as it entirely disappeared from recorded history following this strange anachronistic flight. It was never heard from again. However, if we happen to look up into the night sky and see a wandering airliner, lost and desperate, that would simply be Trans-Ocean 33 trying to get home from… The Twilight Zone.  

Serling, Rod. More Stories From The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling Books: 1960 (republished in 1990 by the Serling family), Paperback Edition.

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

Click here to read my review of The Twilight Zone episode “The Odyssey of Flight 33.”

On Rod Serling’s “A Stop At Willoughby”

“’A place called Willoughby,’ Gart said. ‘A little town that I charted inside my head. A place I manufactured in a dream… An odd dream. A very odd dream. Willoughby. It was summer. Very warm. The kids were barefooted. One of them carried a fishing pole. And the main street looked like… like a Currier and Ives illustration. Bandstand, old-fashioned stores, bicycles, wagons… I’ve never seen such a serenity. It was the way people must have lived a hundred years ago” (118-119).

An under-appreciated favorite episode of mine from The Twilight Zone (among many such episodes), Rod Serling’s short story “A Stop At Willoughby” is about Gart Williams (played by James Daly in episode of the same name), a New York advertising account executive who. Hates his. Job. At forty-one years old, He has worked for the same agency for fifteen years and earns about $20,000 per year. Presently, he is on the hook for a $3M automobile account from an acquaintance named Jake Ross –but Jake has missed the scheduled meeting and is nowhere to be found. After making an urgent phone call, Gart receives a letter in the mail announcing that Jake Ross has resigned his position and is taking his automobile account to another agency. A distraught Gart is immediately lambasted by his corporate superiors. However, unable to bear the abuse, and before Gart is fully aware of his own words, he loudly shouts at his boss and calls him a “fat boy!”

Later, Gart Williams flees his Manhattan office and dozes on the train ride home when he is suddenly awoken by an announcement, “This is Willoughby!”

“The train had stopped at a small station with a sign that read, ‘Willoughby.’ On the platform of the station were women with parasols and long dresses. Boys in knickers ran back and forth. One carried a fishing pole. Beyond the station was a small village square with a bandstand. Williams could hear the strains of the Sousa. Music, happily discordant and marvelously reminiscent. The whole scene was bathed in a hot summer sun. Williams tried to digest it, knowing it was a dream, but confused by the absolute reality” (114).   

The lifeless chrome green plastic train car he had previously entered in Grand Central Station is no more, and instead he finds himself seated in an ornate 19th century wooden, velvet train car with gas lamps dangling from the ceiling. A kindly white-haired conductor in a brass-buttoned suit walks by and announces the stop again, “Willoughby!” Outside the window, Gart witnesses an idyllic scene –a warm July day in 1880. People seem happy and carefree and the pace of life moves slowly. Then, he falls back asleep and awakens on his familiar ride home in the mid-20th century. However, the beauty of the fabled town of Willoughby cannot escape him.

At home, Gart enjoys a drink while his cold, humorless wife scolds him for the day’s events. After he confesses his dreams of escapism, she chides him for even having such childish dreams of becoming “Huck Finn.” The next night on the train, he falls asleep once again and visits Willoughby where he is overwhelmed by a sense of calmness about him. It is almost too perfect a moment. However, when the time comes, he is afraid to step off the train. ‘Next time,’ he tells himself.

Some time later in January, Gart is once again plagued by a particularly difficult day at work. He decides to immediately depart his office and head homeward, entirely unable to handle the stress of the modern office. Once again, he falls asleep on the train and starts to feel warmth on his face. As he hears the conductor shout, “Willoughby!” This time he steps off the train and greets the friendly, genteel people of Willoughby as they casually stroll down Main Street and into the park. Gart walks up to a storefront and admires the pendulum of a beautiful grandfather clock.

In an epilogue to the tale, we return to the 20th century. A gaggle of police officers are investigating the strange death of Gart Williams, a man who fell asleep on the train and shouted something about “Willoughby” before leaping to his death in the snow below. His body is recovered and carted away to Willoughby & Son Funeral Home Co.

“Mr. Gart Williams had climbed on a world that went by too fast and then had reached out trying to grasp at a respite from torment. In a sense he had merely jumped off this word. He did not fee the snow melting over his dead flesh as the ambulance sped through the night. Quite the contrary, the sun was very warm in the little village and he’d taken off his coat and tie. He was with a group of boys heading toward a stream where the trout were and he was laughing because it was summer and there was peace. And this was a pace where a man could live his life full measure. This was Willoughby” (127).

Serling, Rod. More Stories From The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling Books: 1960 (republished in 1990 by the Serling family), Paperback Edition.

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

Click here to read my review of The Twilight Zone episode “A Stop At Willoughby.”