My Night Gallery Traumafession By Senski

This Traumafession is likely to go on a bit, guys; please indulge me.

I was born in 1962, too young to be a fan of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. Since I was raised in a small town, and in the era before cable, I was severely limited by what I could see in syndication; for almost two decades that television institution that was TZ eluded me, and I would not see my first episode until I was almost 20. However, I was a regular reader of Gold Key’s entertaining TZ comic book – a title I began collecting when I was five. Through its illustrated pages I discovered that every tale was presented by a dapper man named Rod Serling, much in the same way that horror comics were graced by hosts in prior decades. Was he a writer? Director? Actor? I did not really know, but I knew he was associated with all things eerie and fantastical, and that made him a kindred spirit to me.

Then one day in 1969 I was flipping through the pages of a TV Guide – how exciting it was to see what entertainments lay in store for the week ahead! – and there, eight days after Halloween, was a highlighted box promoting a new TV movie named Night Gallery – hosted by Rod Serling! Missing it was unthinkable. I can still remember being curled up on the end of our old green sofa, pillow at the ready to stick in front of my face. The gentleman on the screen looked a little older than the one drawn in the comics; the hair a bit more modern, the skin more lined and leathery, but it was him. And with a voice like he possessed, how could he present anything BUT the weird and wonderful? The first tale,”The Cemetery,” was simply the most frightening thing I had seen in my life up to that point. I stayed awake for “Eyes” but had to be trundled off to bed by the end of “The Escape Route;” I was slipping in and out of sleep.

But I knew this: I was mesmerized. And my devotion to Mr Serling began in earnest on November 8, 1969.

When NG returned to NBC’s schedule in 1970 as part of the “Four-in-One” concept with a mere six episodes, I was ready, and far better at fending off sleep till the end of an episode. For the next three years, NG would become perhaps the greatest pop cultural touchstone in my life. My friends and I would reenact episodes on the playground, quote lines from Serling‘s intros (The Doll: “…and this one you’d best not play with”), and I, little nerd that I was, always got to play Television Horror Anthology Host. When we had to write plays for a 4th Grade class, I wrote a NG episode about a demonic hotel guest who refused to check out – and the painting was a Crayola masterwork of said demon hovering over the Planet Earth. I looked up the stories by the authors featured on the show, beginning a love for short supernatural fiction that has remained undimmed by time. I can point to incidents in my life that occurred on evenings dedicated to viewing NG, so transfixed are those moments in the mind’s eye. In fact, as I type this, I am sitting beneath a print of Tom Wright‘s painting for “She’ll Be Company For You.”

Night Gallery made me who I am. It defines Horror for me. I am unabashed in my love for the series (with the exception of the humorous vignettes). It genuinely grieves me to hear how Serling was mistreated during the series run and how he largely disowned the enterprise, but when it was good – and that was often – it was brilliant. And if, heaven forfend, there are any Kinderpals who are not familiar with NG, start with The Caterpillar, The Sins of the Fathers, Green Fingers, Certain Shadows on the Wall, The Class of ’99…so many delights await.

But that is not the subject of this Traumafession.

At some point in the production of the series, Jack Laird filmed what we in the TV business would call B-roll (secondary footage) for inclusion. It consisted of a number of disembodied heads, dressed in black, and shot against a black backdrop; you can see some of these faces worked into the opening credits for the first and second seasons. But he also used a montage of these heads at the station break; the time for affiliates to sell local commercials. Backed up by a faster version of the main title theme, and obscured by the show’s title, I found these faces to be terrifying. I could not watch as the music played, finally peeking when the piece had climaxed. At 9:30 every Wednesday night I was trained to look away. To the best of my knowledge, this footage has never been included as supplementary material on any of the NG DVD releases, and has been unseen by the public for decades…until now.

Freshly posted to YouTube just a little over a month ago, these “bumpers” are back. According to the poster, they were courtesy of a gift from authors Scott Skelton and Jim Benson, whose book Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour is not only the definitive volume on the show, but is a benchmark for how books covering a television series in-depth should be written. Scott and I communicated years ago on a forum dedicated to the show, and I was delighted to provide him with the printed stories behind several NG eps, for which he sent me a multi-CD set of music from that show that I treasure. Now at last I can see exactly what frightened me: Face Number Two. I imagined that bizarrely androgynous visage appearing over me while I slept, and woof! Sleep no more. There are three bumpers: 1) The full cut; 2) A tighter edit that eliminates the final face and speeds up the music; 3) The rather dull backdrop of gallery paintings backed by Eddie Sauter’s shrill Season Three theme.

Enjoy. And thanks for reading!

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The Real Cie
The Real Cie (@the-real-cie)
7 years ago

I am a great fan of all things Serling. His speculative and often socially charged style of writing greatly influenced my own writing, and even the way I think about the world.
The episode with that creepy doll was one of the most frightening in my opinion. That thing was horrible!

M Kitka
M Kitka (@m-kitka)
7 years ago

Great Traumafession! ๐Ÿ™‚

Mike Campbell
Mike Campbell (@mike-campbell)
7 years ago

Great Post! I am only two years older than you but I was lucky enough to already be an avid Twilight Zone fan when Night Gallery came out. I was nine years old when I watched the premier. “The Cemetary” was really scary! I credit that show with inspiring my love of dark art. I owned several posters from the Night Gallery. It introduced me to Lovecraft and August Derleth. There was the infamous episode about the guy with a bug in his ear, that was nasty. I liked “Cool Air” and “Sins of the Father” with Richard Thomas was really disturbing. Thanks for the memories!

Propagatrix (@propagatrix)
7 years ago

What a fantastic post!

My own introduction to NIGHT GALLERY came in the ’80s, when I was a pre-teen addicted to Chicago TV’s “Son of Svengoolie” horror movie feature. When the film ran short, the station would stick in one of the shorter NG episodes as filler. The first one I ever saw was “A Feast of Blood,” which made a huge impression on me and is still my favorite. (Norman Lloyd is so very, very creepy in that one.)

bigwig (@bigwig)
7 years ago

Wow, Senski…this is a great read, and my favorite traumafession, touching home more than once…
“Sins of the Father” had me creeped out for an entire summer, as did the rather innocuous “Big Surprise”, one episode of which I have been tempted to write about for some time. Funny with Night Gallery, or perhaps the mastery, was how they did so much without so much as garnering a PG-13 rating by later standards. If this is Horror, then indeed, I’m all in!

stexe (@stexe)
7 years ago

I too grew up in 1980’s Chicago with the Son of Svengoolie, and remember seeing the Night Gallery “Class of 1999” segment with Vincent Price. But it otherwise didn’t air in syndication until until 3am or something, so I didn’t start watching series until a few years ago, when they came to DVD and streaming.
Like “Twilight Zone”, I consider it to be very uneven. The comedic short subjects are just silly and dumb, and the one-hour format makes many of the longer stories drag on forever. But some of them are pretty terrifying. “The Cemetary” from the pilot and “The Dead Man” (season 1, episode 1) are the high points for me. “Feast of Flesh” is very strange and gruesome. “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay”, “A Fear of Spiders” and “Green Fingers” are all worthwhile. But I think their adaptions of H.P. Lovecraft are among the worst. And the third season is a misfire.

Somewhere out in the internet they’re selling high quality prints of a bunch of the original Night Gallery paintings. I’d love to get “The Cemetary” framed and hanging over my staircase. Ideally three or four different versions of it, that I can change on different days of the week. I’d enjoy that.

gcg (@gcg)
7 years ago

Those first two bumpers are perfection, in some ways more frightening than the floating faces that open the show. Great Traumafession! I used to shut my eyes before the Balok head showed up during the end credit montage after an episode of the original Star Trek. Those eyes glaring from underneath “Desilu Productions.” Brrrr… I can relate to your need to duck and cover!

jc1305us (@jc1305us)
7 years ago

Great story. I may be a bigger Night Gallery fanatic than you believe it or not! I am obsessed with NG and Twilight Zone as well. (I also own two NG posters) however, if there’s any way you could copy the music Scott was so nice to send to you, I would be forever in your debt! That is the one missing piece! Give me a pm if you can help. Thanks!