Let me tell you guys the best part about William Shatner. He starred in some of the coolest shows of all time, but two of his dopest roles came from one of my favorite television shows called The Twilight Zone. *queue theme song*
Recently, I got into an argument with my best friend over William Shatner’s filmography. Mainly, the timeline for his appearances in Twilight Zone and Star Trek. She believed he starred in Star Trek first. I reassured her that he didn’t. I drove around to our best friends house as she looked it up on IMDb. With a cocky grin on my face as I turn the wheel, she grumbles at me and says, “Yup… You’re right.” So, long story short, I won the battle and the war. It showed her never to test my Masters Degree in Twilight Zone History, but it still made me think about something else. Many people still don’t know the brilliant stuff William Shatner appeared in before his Star Trek role. It was a lot of getting his feet off the ground, but one of the important things he’s ever starred in was The Twilight Zone.
If you don’t know about The Twilight Zone, it was an amazing anthology television series that premiered on CBS in 1960. It was a combination of many different types stories ranging from war, science-fiction, supernatural & paranormal, horror, thriller and more. The episodes were interesting and different. They weren’t only just stories, but they conveyed a lesson about mankind in every aspect. For example, the episode “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” was an episode about finding a supernatural being, but at the end of the day, taught you a lesson about prejudice. Brilliant! It was the first time that people used anthology storytelling like this on television in such a big way. It opened a lot of people’s eyes and minds to what was happening around the world and inside of their homes from the 1960s until now.
The Twilight Zone was created and hosted by Rod Sterling, a man who lived many lives, but being on The Twilight Zone was probably his best work to date. It created a conversation wherever the story took you. It had a lot of well known actors in different roles that we know very well today. For example, Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched fame played in the episode “Two”, Robert Duvall played in the episode “Minature” and Dennis Hopper, yes Dennis Hopper, even played in a Nazi inspired episode named “He’s Alive” (everyone should watch this episode at least once, seriously). There have been many different known and unknown stars on this brilliant show, but the most recognizable face has to be William Shatner.
Before Star Trek and Twilight Zone, William Shatner had a pretty low key, but active career starring in different movies and TV shows including other anthology shows like One Step Beyond and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. When I mention that Shatner starred in not one, but two super cool Twilight Zone episodes, people often flip out. Sometimes they didn’t know that he was even on the show, let alone for two episodes. The two episodes that he starred in were years apart, but still were important episodes of his career.
Nick of Time
In 1960, he starred in his first ever Twilight Zone episode called “Nick of Time” (S2E7). This episode tells the tale of newlywed couple Don (William Shatner) and Pat (Patricia Breslin) as they stop in a small town diner while their car is being fixed. At their booth, they encounter a small coin machine at the end of their table. This coin machine has a small bobble headed devil on it and if you put a coin in it, it tells your future. I know what you’re thinking, if you see a suspicious thing like… I don’t know… a fortune telling machine that has the devils head on it… You might wanna stay away from that? Right? Yeah…. they didn’t. Don starts to obsess about the futures that it’s telling them and Pat just wants to hop, skip and jump out of there. William Shatner’s first role in the Twilight Zone was an epic success, it not only was a turning point in his career, but it was also a brilliant and really cool episode to watch.
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
Just when The Twilight Zone was nearing the end of its long run, Shatner came back to give one last performance to the show that started making him a bit of a household and after this episode, it was going to be more than that. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (S5E3) is the episode that most people remember him from and most people make fun of him for. It’s an amazing episode, filled with suspense, science fiction and to top it all off, the greatest facial expression that Shatner will ever made onscreen. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” introduces us to Bob Wilson, a man who just recovers from a nervous breakdown, but is finally ready to fly with his wife Julia (Christine White). He starts to get a weird feeling while they’re up in the air, something doesn’t seem right. When he looks out of the window, he sees something that he’s not supposed to see. He becomes convinced that there is a monster on the wing trying to damage the plane and send them all to the ground.
Now, I don’t want to assume, but I think this is one of the most parodied episodes of the Twilight Zone. Many different characters have filled this episode with their graces including: Bart Simpson (Terror at 5 ½ Feet – Treehouse of Terror), Robot Chicken (Tapping a Hero), Johnny Bravo, and even Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. This episode was so popular that they even remade it for Twilight Zone: The Movie with John Lithgow as the Bob Wilson character, a fact that was parodied when Shatner and Lithgow shared the screen during a guest appearance on 3rd Rock From The Sun. No matter how you slice it and make fun of it, it fits purely inside the world of The Twilight Zone. It’s one of those episodes when you watch it, it sticks with you for awhile.
Shatner Before Star Trek
Twilight Zone sadly ended in 1963 after the 5th season where “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” found a home. Three years later, Shatner would land his infamous role in Star Trek as Captain James T. Kirk. It’s odd to say, but as much as I love Star Trek, I always remember William Shatner in these roles from Twilight Zone. Twilight Zone was always my home away from home, giving me life lessons and telling me to stay away from future telling devil coin machines. It was my first real introduction to William Shatner before he got his role and not a lot of people know that this show was one of his jumping off points. It’s incredible to see how far Shatner has come, especially from sharing out the window at a goblin whose trying to destroy you.