"The Twilight Zone" has re-entered the public consciousness of late, since it was 50 years ago this month that Rod Serling's anthology of fantasy storytelling premiered on CBS, where it would last for five seasons. Serling, already renowned as one of TV's best writers (and, like me, a native upstate New Yorker), gathered some of the entertainment industry's best talent -- writers, actors, directors -- for a series that was invariably thought-provoking. It's been revived on TV a few times (though neither version had the literate veneer that marked the original). The Serling episodes remain popular, and the Sci-Fi channel invariably gets good ratings when it conducts its occasional marathons of some of those episodes.
Some of those episodes featured people who had either worked with or knew Carole Lombard. One of the first episodes shown, "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine," was directed by Mitchell Leisen and starred Ida Lupino. Burgess Meredith starred in several episodes, and character actor Ernest Truex guested in one. But did you know Lombard herself appeared in an episode?
No, I haven't gone off the deep end, nor did Mr. Serling find a time machine to transport his crew to the 1930s (a concept that, come to think of it, might have made for a good "Twilight Zone" episode). The key word is "appeared"; we see an image of Carole, adding to the plot.
It came in episode 99, "Young Man's Fancy," which aired on May 11, 1962 starring Alex Nicol and Phyllis Thaxter.
The premise? We'll let Serling explain it in his own words (as the show's host, he introduced all the episodes):
"You're looking at the house of the late Mrs. Henrietta Walker. This is Mrs. Walker herself, as she appeared twenty-five years ago. And this, except for isolated objects, is the living room of Mrs. Walker's house, as it appeared in that same year. The other rooms upstairs and down are much the same. The time, however, is not twenty-five years ago but now. The house of the late Henrietta Walker is, you see, a house which belongs almost entirely to the past, a house which, like Mrs. Walker's clock here, has ceased to recognize the passage of time. Only one element is missing now, one remaining item in the estate of the late Mrs. Walker: her son Alex (Nicol), thirty-four years of age and, up until twenty minutes ago, the so-called 'perennial bachelor.' With him is his bride, the former Miss Virginia Lane (Thaxter). They're returning from the city hall in order to get Mr. Walker's clothes packed, make final arrangements for the sale of the house, lock it up and depart on their honeymoon. Not a complicated set of tasks, it would appear, and yet the newlywed Mrs' Walker is about to discover that the old adage 'You can't go home again' has little meaning in the Twilight Zone."
That's right -- apparently the house is exerting a strange power over Alex, who decides not to sell it. Virginia believes the spirit of his dead mother is causing this. Then the house itself begins to change, to revert to its past. Appliances develop a 1930s look...music from that era begins playing on a 78 rpm record...and items from a quarter-century ago begin materializing throughout the house -- including this magazine:
I'm guessing that was not an actual magazine from the 1930s, but one created as a prop. Lombard, who had been gone for more than two decades when this episode aired, was probably viewed as a perfect symbol of the past. I've never seen the original script -- written by famed writer and frequent Zone contributor Richard Matheson -- so I don't know whether it was his idea, or someone else's, to put Lombard there.
Eventually Alex's mother reappears on the stairs, and Alex himself re-emerges as a young boy:
Virginia is told to leave, and as she does, Serling closes the episode with this:
"Exit Miss Virginia Lane, formerly and most briefly Mrs. Alex Walker. She has just given up a battle and in a strange way retreated, but this has been a retreat back to reality. Her opponent, Alex Walker, will now and forever hold a line that exists in the past. He has put a claim on a moment in time and is not about to relinquish it. Such things do happen -- in the Twilight Zone."
"Young Man's Fancy," which ran near the end of the show's third season, isn't one of its better-remembered episodes; in fact, some fans of the series don't like it, arguing the concept is either too Oedipal or too reminiscent of "Psycho" (I concur with the former, but I don't see the latter). Many wish the mother had been more menacing, making it more of a battle of wills.